Tajikistan: Mountains again!

I left Samarkand fairly early, setting off from the hostel at around 6 AM. This meant the streets which had been so busy the last few days were mercifully quiet. Traffic did pick up though as I rode along my last couple of hours on the bumpy Uzbek roads.

Traffic dropped again as I neared the border. There were very few people making the crossing and I didn’t have to wait at all. The guard, probably bored and understandably so, looked through every page in my passport. He found the woman pictured on one of the pages attractive and was very keen to find out who she was. I unfortunately didn’t know, but he let me out of Uzbekistan anyway.

After having my e-Visa printout checked, I was stamped into Tajikistan and welcomed with wonderfully smooth tarmac roads. I rode through several villages and the reaction of the kids was somewhat overwhelming. Almost all were waving and shouting hello, often with another English phrase they’d learnt – “where are you from?”, “What is your name?”, and so on. Several stretched out their hands for a high-five as I passed. This had happened in a few of the previous counties, but to a much lesser extent and almost always from boys. Here girls seemed almost as likely to be greeting as the boys, if less aggressively.

Look how smooth the tarmac is!

I was still not feeling great and made more frequent stops than usual. I was roused from sleep in a bus stop by a pair of young girls sitting next to me and wanting a selfie. A few more kids came to stare after that and I moved on to find a more secluded spot under some trees for an afternoon nap.

The rest of the day proceeded with a series of rolling hills trending gradually upwards. I was planning on finding somewhere to camp, but when I stopped at a shop and was offered a place to stay I decided to accept. I ended up staying in a room just above the shop.

The rolling hills continued the next morning making for slow progress as I continued to follow the river Zeravshan, which I’d been riding parallel to since Bukhara.

I reached a small area of roadworks where a narrow ditch had been dug in the road, presumably to lay a pipe. Traffic had stopped on both sides but instead of forming an orderly queue, they had spread out to fit three cars side by side in the two-lane road. I carried my bike past; traffic seemed like it would be a bit of a mess when the road reopened.

After a while the road became steeper, averaging about a 9% grade for six kilometres. I stopped every couple of kilometres at that point, the exertion didn’t feel great when I was already sick! As I was taking a break a passing truck driver indicated I should throw my bike in the back and take a lift. I wasn’t giving up that easily!

Just before the end of the climb the road passed through a small tunnel. There was an alternative route around it which I followed and managed to get on top of the tunnel, where I set up camp.

The next morning saw me make a very early start – I was on the road by 4AM, well before the sun came up. The reason for this was the upcoming “Tunnel of Death.” This 5km tunnel is lit for less than half its length, and has zero ventilation. I made this early start in the hope of avoiding traffic.

The first couple of kilometres had lights, and was at a very gradual uphill. Even with the lights I couldn’t see far – the dust and fumes were overwhelming. Around the point the lights cut out the tunnel became a gentle downhill and I stopped having to pedal. I continued on, my powerful headlight struggling to penetrate the dust. After 15 minutes I rounded a corner and emerged from the tunnel. I’d only been overtaken five times, vindicating the decision to take an early start.

By the time I left the tunnel it was light enough to see and I set off on the long descent that would bring me to Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital.

The early morning light when I emerged from the tunnel. I didn’t take photos during the descent as I was too busy riding!

I arrived at the Green House Hostel at 8 AM and checked in, one of my earliest stops! I planned to stay there for a couple of days. My right shin was hurting a little and I assumed I’d knocked it against something. The next day it was hurting quite a lot more and looked quite bad too!

Aren’t legs supposed to be straight?

As it happened there was a doctor staying at the hostel so I spoke to her about my various conditions. She said my leg lumps were infected insect bites and recommended an antibiotic. She thought my stomach sounded like Giardia and recommended another antibiotic.

While I was waiting in Dushanbe I received a delivery. The manager of the hostel has a contact in Moscow who will go to the shops there and send items via courier. I’d arranged to receive two pairs of bike shorts, a bike chain, 2 puncture repair kits and a bottle of chain lube. All of them arrived on time and as described.

Many familiar faces arrived at the hostel while I was recovering there. Adam and Tom, the Brits I’d met in Samarkand arrived with two Americans, Paxton and Ross. I chatted to them for a few minutes and thought they looked familiar. Eventually I realised that we had met for a few minutes some eighteen months ago, in the south of Argentina. I was the first cycle tourer they met on their tour.

I also saw Karl, who I’d met in Georgia, Bukhara and Samarkand, Victor and Pierre from Samarkand, David who I’d met first in Khiva and then in Bukhara and his friend Ignace who I’d briefly met in Bukhara. Loretta arrived at one point, having walked from Samarkand to Khiva and now planning on walking the Pamirs. There were many other cyclists I hadn’t met before too – this was definitely the place to be for a cycle tourist in Dushanbe!

After a few days on antibiotics both my conditions cleared up. My leg looked less bumpy, I was able to walk, and my stomach seemed all better. I was ready to ride again!

June 19: 128km

June 20: 89km

June 21: 83km

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