To Kalachum 86km
I reckon the last three days cycling, down this amazing river gorge, following the Pamir River, that doubles as the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, would have to rank way up there near the top of my favourite days cycling on this adventure. The road has not always had the best quality surface, but the proximity to this amazing river, the amazing peaks and steep walls that surround the gorge, and the feeling of isolation, really add to the experience.
This morning we were woken by several helicopters buzzing up the valley. Perhaps today is the day the President arrives. Not long after, a couple of heavily armed Police vehicles roared past. We've cycled through two police checks, and passed a heavily guarded border crossing, with a Tajik army base on this side of the river, and an Afghan base on the other side of the river. We've seen soldiers patrolling both sides of the river, some of the Tajik soldiers, casually wearing pistols slung under their arms in holsters, and two heavily armed APCs. All a bit alarming really, because everything seems pretty peaceful in all the villages we pass through. Maybe it's all for the President's visit.
Today we've met nine cyclists coming towards us. It seems as if the dam has been released. They were all held back, not knowing whether avalanches had closed the roads, but now they are coming in droves. As usual, they've all got good information and advice for us re the road ahead, and we exchange with hopefully good advice for them. Today's cyclists came from Germany, Poland, China, France and Turkey.
We think we've got another 80km before we climb 2000m out of the valley, towards Dushanbe. Will be sad to leave such an awesome area.
The fourth day following the gorge, river and border is even better than the first three. The road is a little more challenging, in places fairly rough, and with a few more short climbs. But the rewards were emmence. Amazing views looking across and down into Afghan villages, and some of them look like postcards. Afghan kids were yelling greetings at us over the river. Donkeys were warning Afghan villagers that strangers were nearby, that was us, across the river. We saw the villagers working in the fields, walking to and from work, chatting in the villages. It seems surreal to be able to watch from across a border, but not speak to them, or hear them, almost like watching a silent movie.
There was a bit of traffic on our side of the border too. The Chinese trucks are on the move. We think they are going through the Wakhan valley, which would be a really tough drive, and not very pleasant for all the cyclists. Today we saw 12 cyclists, but mostly very late in the afternoon, as they escaped Kalachum to go camping.
We've had a couple of amazing campsites. Last night we found an amazing site, in an orchard, above the Pamir River. The farmer invited us to help ourselves to as many apples as we wanted. Tonight, we're about 2km uphill from Kalachum, right next to a river. Two young lads came and helped us set up our tents. They'd been fishing, with wooden pole and line. Apparently they caught two, but they were very very small. Lovely lads.
We, Nick and I, (and let me say how much I'm enjoying his company, someone to share the wonder with), stopped in Kalachum for a feed. We couldn't make ourselves understood, so went out into the kitchen and pointed. The very best part of the meal, was a whole loaf of still warm, fresh bread and butter. Have to admit I made a bit of a pig of myself..... but hey, when it's offered.....
So a big climb tomorrow. I'll be sad to be leaving the river and gorge. Definitely a highlight of my cycle in Tajikistan, Central Asia, and right up there with the best days of riding since I left home.