I set off from Kalaikhum with Pax and Ross, the American couple I’d met in Argentina. We soon passed Loretta, running out of town pulling her cart. Before too long Pax and Ross both had a puncture. While we were stopped to repair those, Ignace and David caught up and we went off again in a group of five.
We cycled along the Panj river which forms Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. Although the country lay fewer than a hundred metres away, none of us had plans to visit so we contented ourselves with looking out across the river.
We rode slowly along the bumpy road, taking the occasional break and stopping after a couple hours for lunch under the shade of some trees. While we were there, a local woman kindly came over and gave us some bread.
We continued on, stopping occasionally for long rests, particularly when we found some shade to protect us from the over-warm weather. Gradually we progressed eastwards, still following the Panj river.
In the evening we tried to find somewhere to camp, a task made difficult by the narrow canyon through which we were cycling. We stopped at a couple of spots but couldn’t find enough flat ground to house the five of us. We knew of a place about an hour away that should have good camping, but this would mean cycling a bit later than the others were used to. We decided to push on. A few kilometres before that spot, though, we spotted a large flat area between the road and the river. We stopped and set up camp.
I tend to ride more hours in a day than most cyclists, and part of that is due to the fact that for me, camping is mostly about finding a place to sleep. Some people cooked breakfast and we all chatted for a while so we didn’t set off until a couple hours later than I’m used to.
The road continued to alternate between tarmac and dirt, the bumpy motion of which did nothing to help Ross, who was feeling ill. We met up at a shop, where I stopped to replace my front inner tube after getting a pinch flat. Ross showed up a while after everyone else, clearly not feeling great. Tajikistan has a bit of a reputation for making every tourist ill – it was just Ross’ turn right now.
We rode on for a couple more hours, taking it easy, until we reached a large beach. We wandered over and set up our tents. This is another thing that’s different in a group – alone, I prefer to camp out of view of the road. With five of us, I didn’t mind setting up right next to the road.
The next morning we set off toward the town of Rushan, which supposedly had a bakery. After a military checkpoint (where we were given a big bag of apricots) we reached the town and all bought some fresh bread and pastries. We also decided to try and fix our sim cards – since a couple of days ago, none of us had working internet. We went into the Megaphone shop, paid 2 somoni, and watched as the woman there pressed a few buttons on her keyboard – and now the internet worked again. We heard later that all SIM cards need to be re-registered after the second of every month, which seems bizarre, but that’s Tajikistan.
The roads after Rushan improved and we rolled along easily towards Khorog. Ross was feeling unwell so the rest of us took longer breaks as he cycled slowly on ahead. Ignace then began to feel unwell too, right as the wind picked up into a ferocious headwind sending waves of sand at us. He drafted behind me until we reached a shop and took a break with a nice cold cola.
We stopped at a supermarket in Khorog before continuing on to our planned accommodation, the Pamir Lodge. Khorog was a peculiar town with some interesting western-ish venues. There was a KFC (Khorog Fried Chicken), MacDolands, and a minimarket called “Shop Walmart.” We actually ended up ordering takeout from KFC as the Pamir Lodge was quite a way out of town and we didn’t feel like going back into Khorog.
The next morning we planned to cycle out to visit a market. Once a week, the borders are opened and people from Afghanistan come to trade with those from Tajikistan. Just as we were about to cycle the 8km over there, Pax saw she had a flat tyre. She joked that she should just get a taxi rather than repair it and we suddenly realised that we could do just that. We arranged it through the hostel and paid 50 somoni (a little under £1 each, a bit of a ripoff it turned out) and made the journey with far less exertion on our parts.
The market was rather small but we managed to spend an hour or so wandering around looking at the various items, and particularly at the Afghans in their traditional clothes.
On the way back we took a taxi from a nearby stand, headed to the center of town (paying only 10 somoni this time). We met up with Adam, Tom, and Karl for an early lunch. We then visited the bazaar and picked up a few things before making a last stop at a supermarket. Amazingly, they stocked peanut butter. I ended up buying 5 jars – 1.7 kilos! Well, if I might be lactose intolerant I’ll need another protein source.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing. There were a couple options from here: the tarmac Pamir Highway or the longer, more challenging and more remote Wakhan Valley. Most planned on riding the Pamir Highway but Ignace, David and I were set on going to the Wakhan.
July 3: 77km
July 4: 84km
July 5: 93km