Tajikistan. Probably one of those places most people have never heard of. I made a point of deliberately not googling the fuck out of it before I left.. leaving it to describe itself to me in 3D surround sound and vision rather than on a small piece of glass.
The border is just like all the others round here. Lots of big hats and guttural accents, headscarves and hijabs, people just moving from one place to the next. Another tourist expedite zone too. We’ve shown from one place to the next to the next.. pay our road taxes .. and pop out the other side PDQ. No insurance though ..
My thought was that Tajikistan was going to be a step back from Uzbekistan but I was wrong. The same person who operated the humanity hoover has driven a beauty bulldozer right across Uzbekistan and piled it all up in Tajikistan. The scenery immediately welcomes bikers with spiky mountains with tight narrow gorges, like riding through the wrinkles of an old mans face, then added some lakes and drinks cooled by running mountain streams ..
Oh yea… and the Tunnel of Death ..
5km unventilated and on a constant downwards slope to make you feel like Jules Verne on a journey to the centre of the earth. Dark and wet and with the air bluer that during one of my best swearathons. They advise cyclists to get a lift through .. or they’ll be lifted out ..
Get to Dushanbe and an overland hostel. Everyone is here for the same reason .. at the beginning or the end .. the start or the finish .. the Pamir Highway .. hell yea. Lots of boys toys .. some big .. some small .. some with lovely long brown legs, hair in plaits, and knickers drying on a line ..
They take one look at us and decide that we’re too old and crusty to mix it with the yoofs so they direct us up the road to an old peoples home instead. So we wade back out to the bikes through the ankle deep bullshit and bollocks and hashish fumes and go to the abandoned building round the corner. We’re on the 180th floor I think. No lift.. 45 degrees .. and dead bodies on the stairs like the approach to the Everest summit. Fuck me sideways its hot..
Hot and sweaty calls for cold milk. I’m thinking milk stations should be included on sat navs… every evening starts with a hunt.. I can almost sniff it out .. the smell of a cool dripping udder. Follow my nose down past some shops selling things with sell by dates that are either 70 years in the future or 30 years in the past, down to a main road. 6th sense says left .. steps getting quicker .. I can feel it’s close .. then I see some supermarket trollies .. shit I’ve not seen any of those for about 3 weeks .. I’m running now .. addiction driving me forward .. I’m in .. where is it? WHERE IS IT … there it is .. natural.. strawberry… banana .. HELL YES.. I’m in… standing in the cooler with a pint in each hand .. pouring it in stereo .. Strawnana flavour .. Get to the checkout with a dozen empty containers and half a dozen full ones .. milk dripping down my chin .. that should do for tonight …
Dushanbe to Osh.. the Pamir Highway. You can get a taxi no problem .. for about $1000 dollars. You can sit in a 4×4 in a cloud of dust and be thrown about like a small teddy bear in a washing machine for 5 days, or you can strap on a pair of tight sports pants, write a short letter to your loved ones, fill up, fuck off and ride the bastard..
We’re heading for Kalaikhum, a little town with it’s face pressed up against the border with Afghanistan. Again, I deliberately didn’t Google the Pamir, other than to identify the route. Surely I’ll know it when I see it .. this is pretty .. is this it?
Nope .. oh well .. this then?
Really? Still no? … what about this..
In my mind the Pamir Highway doesn’t really start until Khorog but who cares .. it’s just a name .. and this will do for me. We get to the Afghan border, I think I’ll go for a paddle
or maybe not ..
Afghanistan. It’s just there .. just 100m away from me. 100m separating sectarianism from sanctuary. It’s surreal to stand at one end of the bridge to the border. Like ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ and all the other words that have been overused to the point of pointlessness .. surreal is what this is. The Russians.. Bin Laden .. ISIS .. death and destruction. And here I am on my bike, staring the entrance. Maybe sometime I’ll have the nerve to go in ..
The road soon turns to shit as it threads itself between the tight shoulders of the mountains with the river rushing between. Seldom have I seen such a natural border as this.
We’re climbing and falling and the bitch is on fire .. almost.. the temperature is going through the roof again and I have to stop to let her cool down. This is getting to be worry now.. and pretty bloody annoying too.
We come to a section with a big waterfall coming off the mountain and across the road so I ride underneath it and stop. The weight of the water is punching my head and shoulders and screaming in my ears .. the bitch is steaming beneath me and I’m wondering what her problem is.. It’s loosing coolant but not a massive amount .. the fan is on all the time. We’re quite high but that shouldn’t make much difference. Christ knows.. perhaps at her age she’s just getting hot flushes ..
Get to Kalaikhum and the electricity is out. Cans are the order of the day ..
There is a hotel in town, and from the car park outside it looks like this is for the tourists who only like dust on the other side of a piece of glass. It has it’s own generator and sits with its middle finger in the air to everyone on the outside
Guest house ‘shepherds’ greet you as you turn across the bridge into town and we’re corralled into a small guest house by the river. Cheap and cheerful and full of restless souls. Two of the souls are nice middle age Kiwis couple on a Tiger 800. They started in the UK too and are riding all the way home over 7 months. Word is the riding gets a bit more serious from here on so we decide to ride together and see how it goes. We spend the night in a sweatbox while the taxi drivers get the penthouse with the river view.
I love places like this in the morning, everyone wandering about half asleep trying to synchronise their own morning routines with everyone else, sharing a single sink, shivering in with a mixture of the chill and excitement.
The town has been treated to about 200m of tarmac then it’s out onto the rough. The road and the river, Tajikistan and Afghanistan moving left and right together like perfect dance partners, always close but never touching. Villages are visible cross the water, people too, sometimes waving as they pass on horseback .. AK47s that is .. not hands ..
It’s a beautiful road, it’s an amazing road, but it’s a hard, slow and dangerous road too. The temperature is mid 40s again and the Bitch is boiling. Every opportunity I get.. every time I see running water.. I have to stop throw water over it, wait a few minutes .. carry on ..
Find some kids washing some cars in the middle of nowhere .. a completely pointless operation .. do something useful instead and try to put out the fire in the Bitch’s belly .
I’m stopped in the shade, letting the bitch cool down … again .. and I suddenly see a priest. What are the chances? Right.. mate.. over here .. please can you exorcise this bitch for me .. I’ll try anything ..
I can feel the tension rise as he approaches .. I can hear metalic tinkling as the Bitch tenses herself for a fight .. I see him grab his cross and start mumbling low chants .. and the next thing I see is him running for the river with his cassock on fire and his beard ablaze .. sorry mate .. it seems this Bitch really is the daughter of the devil..perhaps she belongs on the other side of this river..
Fuck what a road that is.. I’ve been lucky to ride some good routes but this one is quite special.
Towards the end of the day the sun seems to be coming in to land directly on the back of my head. Hotter and hotter and hotter.. we come to a small town with a river full of kids .. make that a river full of kids and 2 bikers in full biker kit .. Mark the Kiwi and I just walk down to the river surrounded by kids .. convinced we’re going to stop .. they’re definitely going to stop .. I bet you they stop .. we don’t stop .. we just walk straight in .. full leathers .. and in we go. It’s not until I’m up to my neck I remember my money and my phone .. oh well .. they’ll have to take their chances ..
Get to Khorog, nice hotel with a hen party going on in the restaurant. This particular hen looked like she had already laid quite a few eggs.. and she liked her music LOUD. The sort of LOUD where you can feel your ears actually moving with the base, and your food vibrates in front of your face. I ordered … it doesn’t matter what I ordered because the bloke couldn’t hear me anyway .. so got plov by default.. I do like a bit of plov with my bass though..
From Khorog you can either take the road directly east to Murghab .. or you can take the diversion south and loop through the Wakhan Corridor. Bollocks .. no choice .. we’re going to take the Wakhan route.. I know I won’t regret it ..
I’m about a mile in and I’m regretting it already .. christ this road is an absolute shitter. Rough as arseholes with deep sand and even worse .. deep gravel. The three of us come into a small village where the bloke with the gravel truck has obviously got bored and just dumped the whole bloody lot. We’re all going too fast .. up to our tits in small round polished greased pebbles .. slewing about like 3 elephants on ice. Some bloke chooses this exact moment to get out of his car and step right into our path.. and leave his door open.. leaving us next to no room to get through. How on earth nobody got hit I’ve no idea. Given a million tries, this is the only one that would have ended without disaster. Must have looked spectacular though.
I can always tell how shit the riding has been by the number of pictures I take and on this section I think I took .. 1
The destination is just a small collection of houses. Follow a hand painted sign down a rocky track.. sound the horn and some very grateful local will come out and steer you towards their home stay where you can inspect the damage of the day ..
My tyre rack has snapped, my number plate is hanging by a single bolt and several bolts from the luggage rack have MIA.
We’ve managed to avoid death all day but someone out there still wants to get us. Mark goes into the ‘shower room’ reaches up to turn the water on at the shower head and gets a big shock. Electricity and water aren’t best mates obviously and they’ve got acquainted somewhere. He chickens out and takes his singed body hair back to his room. I just grab a rag, walk in, reach up, turn it on.. it’s a bit tingly .. I quite like it ..
We all sit around on the floor for more plov before settling down for the night with the mozzies.
Between us and Murghab lies the Khargush pass. Ever heard of it? Neither had I. It’s on the list of the worlds most dangerous roads. Dangerous usually means spectacular. Its an arse clenching sandy windy steep and loose hideously corrugated cold and inhospitable bitch of a road. It’s one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden.
The Bitch is really really really unhappy today. She really chooses her moments. I think yesterday didn’t do her any good, all day with her tits and arse bouncing about. She’s loosing water and there isn’t much of that up here. I don’t want to turn her off. Who knows if she’ll ever start again, so she’s being punished to within 1 bar of her maximum. Eventually we get to a check point, complete with a cold stream. I wash her down, fill her up .. wish I’d bought a [insert any other bike on earth here] instead ..
Eventually we spot tarmac on the horizon and spend the last couple of miles getting ever faster like the ground could collapse beneath us at any point.. Jesus .. what a ride that was.. not that the future looks to bad either
Get to Murghab and a nice hotel for about $15, plus another $20 dollars an hour just to sit in a comfy chair and watch the receptionist.
I’m looking for a drone spot .. I jump on the brakes.. I get off the bike ..where is that coming from? There is water on the road.. and it’s coming from under the covers somewhere..
I’ve got to look at the Bitch.. see what’s occurring. I get the side panel off and the problem is immediately obvious. Another KTM genius decided that the overflow pipe would run between the reservoir tank and a sharp piece of plastic. The shaking and vibration has made the reservoir tank shake about and pinch the pipe against the plastic. It’s nearly cut all the way through. I need to take the reservoir off then I can probably cut and shorten the pipe for now. In these days of ‘that’s two hours labour to take that off mate’ you need to take the tank off to get at the reservoir mount .. and so all the plastics have to come off as well .. but as luck would have it Mark the Kiwi is an avid collector and purchaser of random products from petrol stations promising all sorts of miracle cures to all automotive ills.. and he’s got some magic tape that supposedly seals onto itself and can fix split hoses. He’s having a good day and he’s smiling. a) because he just had a shower and b) because there was an uninhibited French girl walking about in the showers with her pert lady bumps on display .. perhaps the French aren’t so bad after all. 5 minutes later.. job done..amazing
Follow the Tajikistan exit signs towards Kyrgyzstan. Just like the exits of your local supermarket, the last bit of the journey is lined with treats and temptations .. and I’m tempted .. I’m tempted to just turn around and just do the whole thing again ..Kyrgystan