Our Unlimited Cycling Dream: Tajikistan Part 2

Food poisoning, horrible roads and brutal heat: The second half of our adventures in Tajikistan was quite testing…

All photos are by Yuily, the text represents my view of things.

Rest days in Khorog

Saturday, July 23 to Monday, July 25, 2016

We had lots of time left on our Tajik visa, so we decided to have a second night and full rest day. We enjoyed being lazy, talking to other travelers, cooking our meals and doing more nothing.

Unfortunately my mobile internet crapped out around midday, while the hostels Wi-Fi was also broken. Other guests who used Tcell SIM cards reported the same problems, so we figured it was a severed cable leading up to Khorog, cutting some people off from the internets.

This was annoying as I wanted to do loads of things: update our Facebook page, Skype with mom, contact other cyclists and, most importantly, apply and pay for an Iranian visa code. I could do none of that and retired to sleep, hoping it would work the next morning.

It still didn’t of course, so we checked out and packed our bikes to roll to the information center in town which had Wi-Fi, planning to spend a few hours there to get shit done.

After managing most of it, I researched about Tajik visa registration: for stays over 30 days, you officially still have to get properly registered in Soviet style. Crossing at land borders, this requirement gets often ignored by the guards, but we were most likely flying out. A quick chat with the boss of the information center, a German expat himself, revealed that he knows people who got fined for this upon leaving. So, we’d better do it. I read and heard about the process being ridiculously complicated in Dushanbe, involving bribes, while being comparatively easy in Khorog, where due to the city’s touristy nature, the officials even speak some English.

So, I set off to get it done. In the office the English speaking lady was insisting that registration can only be done after staying 30 days. Remembering a group of cyclists who tried to do exactly that in Murghab and almost getting deported for being too late to register, I wasn’t having any of this excuse. After discussing back and forth, she came to the conclusion that registration needs to be done exactly on day 31. ‘Bullshit’ I thought and said to her how unfriendly this is to tourists. Finally she had a second glance at my visa and told me to make copies and payment in a bank and come back with the receipts. Relief.

Doing these things took a bit of time and as I went back, she insisted on Yuily being there for signing a paper (she was waiting in the information center). I went back again to take her and got back to the office to find the lady gone – in true fashion of government employees, she took the closing time of her office to the minute, dashing out exactly at 4 pm. We arrived 4:02. Cursing was no help as the other staff just told us to come back tomorrow.

Back at the information center, we wondered what to do for the night. We didn’t fancy pushing our bicycles up to the Pamir Lodge again, which is on a steep hill, nor the USD10 it would cost to sleep there just because of a lazy government worker, so we looked for a campsite. A patch of unused, dry land just behind the center looked good and we carried our gear there.

A guard from a nearby restaurant spotted us doing this – he called staff from the center, who came there to check. She was just relieved we were no burglars and fine with us staying, just confused why we didn’t go to a hotel (remember, tourists are all rich in their eyes).

Khorog to Rushan

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 – 58 km

We had a good night and were spotted by cleaning staff in the morning. But all they asked is if we slept well in the morning!

We picked up our finished registration slips and went to a inconveniently far out-of-town supermarket to stock up. By the time we were done it was 11 am and already uncomfortably hot. We just about managed to bear it.

Following the Panj river all day, the most interesting thing was on the other side of it: Afghanistan. One of the most unfortunate nations on the planet, war-ravaged since decades, almost exclusively only due to foreign powers, interested in its geo-strategic location.

Houses looked slightly different and the road on the other side was noticeably worse (not to say the Tajik side was good, either), with only occasional jeeps and motorbikes carefully navigating it.

We heard about the area before Rushan having good campsites, so we found a decent patch of grass there and went to sleep overlooking Afghanistan.

Rushan to Deh

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 – 62 km

An early start was planned, and indeed we were on the road before 7 to beat the heat. It was a pleasure to cycle in the cool morning air.

The road deteriorated little by little, but thanks to heavy trucks, the gravel sections were always solidly packed and never too bad. The Afghan side had entire sections missing that were worked on by diggers, so we still considered everything to be good and well.

We had a long lunch break to wait out the worst of the heat and continued to a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The teenage staff, brother and sister, spoke decent English and happily let us sleep on a raised, sheltered platform.

Deh to Poshkarv

Thursday, July 28, 2016 – 64 km

Thanks to not having to pack a tent, we managed a record 5:40 am start. It was still warmer than the previous morning and I was worried about another very hot day. Thankfully it was 9 am before the sun’s rays really reached us over the steep mountains and we crunched out 35 km by then.

Our longest lunch break yet lasted from 11:30 to 4 pm. Finally my mobile internet started to work again – whether we cycled past the broken area or they fixed it was anyone’s guess. I was happy to see that we’ve been accepted by a couchsurfing host in Dushanbe. We were going to spend a bit of time there waiting for visa stuff – a hostel bill for those nights would hurt our budget quite a bit.

Finally continuing, there were some clouds coming up, shielding us from the sun. The road made up- and down patterns, hugging the side of a deep canyon by now, with no camp spots.

Eventually, a derelict soviet bus stop came in sight, which was the perfect campsite and shelter from a thunderstorm that brewed up by now.

Poshkarv to Khalaikhum

Friday, July 29, 2016 – 62 km

We were now within days reach of Khalaikhum town, a village by most standards, but still the biggest settlement on the way to Dushanbe. Stories of a TJS20 p.p. hotel there encouraged us.

We started at 7, but this time still lingering rainclouds from the previous night made things a lot more tolerable heat-wise. Occasional rain had us stop and shelter in restaurants and under trees. An invitation to tea then came from two lovely young women, one of which liked Yuily so much she gave her multiple kisses on her cheeks.

Pushing on to Khalaikhum, we noticed our flags were missing. This was devastating as we loved them and they brought us lots of positive attention. The roads were really bumpy and we figured they must have dropped somewhere. I could probably find a new one in Dushanbe, but a Taiwanese flag for Yuily would be really hard to find. We could only go on to town now and cycle back to look without luggage the next morning.

We cycled up to the hotel and TJS20 was too good to be true as their offer started at TJS100. After intense bartering, I managed to get us a price of TJS50 p.p. including dinner and breakfast – which turned out to be very tasty. Three more cyclists were staying there, proving that this is the cheapest place in town.

Khalaikhum to Khost

Saturday, July 30, 2016 – 11 km

We planned half a rest day here, but due to the loss of our flag and Yuilys meaning a lot to her, I promised to cycle back and search for them. Using photos, we narrowed the area where I lost them down: between 8 and 13 km from town. Even though it wasn’t really far, I was still annoyed to cycle on a morning I wanted to rest…

But it wasn’t nearly as bad. Without luggage I was flying over the hills and never even used my lowest gears. On the way, the same children as the day before screamed their usual “Hello” and “What is your name”. Whether I reply or not, they just keep screaming the same thing – to them, foreigners on bicycles are just entertainment. It’s cute at first, but it starts to get annoying after several months.

A worry came up as there was a police checkpoint on the way and I left my passport at the hotel. Fortunately they let me through after I managed to explain that I was there yesterday and will come back in 30 minutes.

I reached the 13 km point, a water fountain where one of Yuilys photos proved that I still had the flags there. I didn’t see it anywhere and turned back, looking more closely. But then I saw something red beside the road and bingo, it was a Taiwanese flag. I found mine also not far from it. The stick was gone, but not really important anyway.

Yuily was really happy upon my return with both flags. We relaxed the rest of our time: a 3200 m pass with – quoting other cyclists – “absolute shit” roads lay ahead of us. Doing this in the heat of the day would surely give us a stroke, so only 10 km in the evening were planned.

We did this at 5 pm. The road went along a big stream so I expected those 10 km to be easy, but no. It was really steep and had us huffing and pushing our bikes.

It flattened out and we took our opportunity to camp at a nice spot, next to the road, close to the river.

Khost to Saghirdasht pass

Sunday, July 31, 2016 – 22 km

Annoyingly, we didn’t get up early enough, so at 8 am we were under the sun already. It was steep climbing, but with a surprisingly good road, most of it asphalt!

After some switchbacks it got incredibly beautiful, the road hugging a cliff with sheer drops on one side, navigating thight gorges at multiple points. We heard about the spectacularness of this road almost making up for the road conditions and it was true.

A rain shower gave us a break, being invited in by some beekeepers. It turned the roads on the other side to mud, as two cyclists coming the other way told us (they were jealous that our bikes were still all clean). Normally we would’ve pushed over the pass and camped on the far side, but this made us reconsider.

When we saw a nice location 1 km before the top next to a stream, we didn’t hesitate. Normally we avoid camping close to mountain passes, but we were at 3200, we camped over 4000 many times, what could go wrong?

Saghirdasht pass to Tavildara

Monday, August 1, 2016 – 49 km

Well, I was winding all night looking for body heat. When I looked outside, I knew why: everything was covered in frost. It seems that passes are always subject to colder temperatures than plateaus…

We quickly went to the top and after photos cruised down. The road was gravel and dirt by now, but still easy to ride on. Waiting for them to dry paid off immensely: we could see the tire tracks of the cyclists we met yesterday and how deep they went into the mud.

As we reached a wide river, the road became flatter and went up and down. We knew of a cheap hotel in Tavildara, but originally only intended to restock there.

Coming into town was bizarre. Every building was clean and modern, the roads were top quality and there was a traffic light! (Although not much traffic to warrant it). It seemed very much like a model town they have in authoritarian dictatorships.

We bought a watermelon and (as we do normally) wanted to eat it by the roadside. A man working on his house spotted what we tried to do though and quickly invited us to eat on his outdoor platform. His wife and daughters quickly brought us snacks, bread, tea and more fruits. The man came by and, without us even offering, insisted that he doesn’t want money from us. We insisted to share the watermelon, but they refused. So generous.

Normally so far in these situations, our hosts would be fine with us crashing on the platform. However, over our language barrier they did manage to say that “this is not a hotel”. They went to get the lady that manages the hotel in town to pick us up and bring us there. Small town after all: They didn’t want to take customers from the hotel.

We still bargained hard (we planned on camping after all) and scored dorm beds for TJS40 each including food. Inside already was Tomasz, a Polish backpacker, who we had good conversations and a nice evening with.

Tavildara to Emerald lake

Tuesday, August 2, 2016 – 38 km

The bumpy roads easily let things fly off the back of our bikes that are not 100% secure. This time Yuily realized that one of her socks was missing. Knowing it was less than 3 km away, she decided to go and get it.

This meant that we started cycling in the usual heat. From here on the predictions on the road really came true: gravel, big rocks, deep river crossings with brutal up and down patterns. This made progress painfully slow.

A couple of New Zealand cyclists told us about a beautiful lake that you can swim in up the road. This seemed great to spend the night, so we rolled up and found four motorbikes parked there already with their riders pitching tents in a restaurant garden. They mentioned a TJS5 fee for camping, which we were ok with. I went for a swim and chatted to the motorbikers. Life was good.

Rest day at Emerald lake

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Life was not good. Yuily was already feeling weak the day before, and now the food poisoning completely resurfaced. She was absolutely nailed to rest and by 10 am I knew we wouldn’t go anywhere today. So Yuily slept in the tent most of the day while I read the Iran guidebook the motorbikers have left me.

I wasn’t good either. For the past few days already I was doing emergency stops at bushes because of diarrhea, but luckily it was never bad enough to affect my cycling. The lack of food we had out here contributed: we only had bread and cookies, and the only thing the restaurant offered, meat soup, was most likely parasite infested. Needles to say, the instant noodles I cooked that evening didn’t taste well to us. I went to bed feeling weak.

Emerald lake to Village

Thursday, August 4, 2016 – 7 km

By morning the full brunt of food poisoning hit me as well. I vomited out the instant noodles. We were knackered and absolutely needed rest, but not here. We had to get out.

The horrible road was now really testing us. Each bump was  a punch in the gut as we crawled up even the smallest hills in our lowest gear. As we arrived in a village, we collapsed under a tree. No further for a while.

After 30 minutes of resting, a man came by. We asked if there is a shop, which he declined. He then invited us for the usual tea and food at his home. We didn’t eat since yesterday so we needed to get something into us and agreed.

Annoyingly his home was up the hill. We pushed the bikes up, gasping and me falling over once even. Arrived, he showed us the tea room where I collapsed on the mat – he completely understood. He brought us bread with honey, which was great for our stomachs.

There were loads of children in the family who were as usual super curious about us. Yuily was feeling significantly better than me, so drew most of their attention. Thanks to her doing this, I could lie down and rest. After a while the eldest son would usher them out to let us rest, but hours later the curiosity became too strong and they burst into the room again, Yuily directing their attention away from me thankfully. She is the best.

The curiosity was not limited to the kids. The head of the family, a 55 year old man, asked us lots of things. We did well using Google Translate and I tried my best to sit upright and participate. He was understanding and patient.

After sleeping almost the whole day I was feeling a little better and my appetite returned, so I wolfed down dinner. I was still very dizzy and in no condition to ride, so we crashed out in the tea room, our hosts bringing us blankets.

Village to Roghun

Friday, August 5, 2016 – 55 km

Our sickness was really really frustrating. We originally hoped to be in Dushanbe by today, resting for the rest of our stay. Instead we were nailed down on this forsaken road. Luckily, we were just 10 km away from an intersection where it was supposed to get better (but still not good…). Just before leaving, our hosts asked for money. Fair enough, I thought – originally they just invited us for food. The lady seemed confused, but accepted when I gave her USD10. She then asked me to give a somoni for each of the kids – maybe that’s all she originally wanted.

We struggled on to the intersection, hoping to find a shop. When we arrived we found a perfect tarmac road, which made us really happy. No shop in the village there, we continued on and heard Yuilys rear tire fizz… it was a puncture on the inside.

I kicked the tree we were sheltering under in rage, then chiseled the spoke holes clean and patched the tube immediately. After putting it in, it fizzed empty immediately again. Repeat a few times without success – none of our patches sticked in the heat. Fine, so I changed the tube. It fizzed again – a broken valve. I screamed “WHY!?”, which was heard all over the Pamirs. We had no other tube that fit the huge Schwalbe tire now, so the only choice was to revert to the Maxxis we were carrying around and insert one of the narrower tubes. That worked and we were back on the road. I got to admire Yuily in these situations: She stayed calm and pitied the tree that I kicked.

We were told by villagers that there would be a shop in 4 km. 8 km and there was none – only dodgy cafes which probably serve days old soup. We were craving for watermelon.

Luckily, a few km further I saw a few watermelons outside an old building. A man came and sold us one of them – he was nice enough to give us another one for free when we opened it and it was all dry inside.

Re-energized we continued on a road that became gravel again. Bumping along, we saw it snaking up a big hill. We picked the first possible camp spot, a quarry pit next to the road. It was highly visible, so two kids came to see us. Luckily they were the polite kind, just watching us and even helping to peg the tent, wishing us a good night.

Roghun to Fayzobod

Saturday, August 6, 2016 – 68 km

There was a 500 m climb in store for us today, the start of which was still 13 km away. We needed to do this in the cooler morning hours to avoid death by heat – luckily, the climb and everything after it are good roads, we were told.

For now though, we kept bumping on gravel and covered in dust by the passing traffic. I was really sick of all the ordeals. At least my sickness calmed down a little. I still had to make emergency stops at bushes though.

Eventually the gravel stopped for good, evident by the multiple shops that offered a car wash. We started cruising uphill and finished the worst of it before it got too hot.

We rested around in a well-stocked shop for hours. The owners were fine with it and even brought us some soup, what a nice gesture.

Slowly, the downhill started and my food poisoning seemed to come back again. When will it stop? I figured that the water I refilled this morning from a roadside fountain was no good as Yuily drank none of it and was fine. Luckily another fountain appeared soon and there were many cars stopping to refill their water. A good sign. One of the passengers even spoke English and said that this is “very healthy” water. We replaced all of ours.

Come to camp and I didn’t have any appetite yet. I was close to vomiting many times and just lay down. I was so annoyed that this keeps happening and just wanted to get to Dushanbe, so I took another antibiotic…

Fayzobod to Dushanbe

Sunday, August 7, 2016 – 58 km

Thankfully, my appetite returned in the morning. We had an easy cycle into Dushanbe to look forward to, but heat in the high 30s to avoid.

It was all downhill on good roads, so we reached the outskirts of Dushanbe by 10 am. Here we waited around in a cafe for a reply from our couchsurfing host where to meet him.

Unfortunately the reply never came and we sought other options. During her solo cycle in China, Yuily met a businessman who owns a bicycle parts factory in Dushanbe. He already promised to invite her for food when she was there, so she sent him a message. A reply quickly came and he invited us for lunch. He was really friendly and treated us to a lot of delicacies in a nearby Chinese restaurant, many of which we could only dream of in the Pamirs. Awesome man!

He couldn’t host us but said we could camp at one of his storage facilities. There we had access to water and a shady place to camp below some vines. It would do for the night while I tried to organize another couchsurfing host.

Rest days in Dushanbe

Monday, August 8 to Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Luckily I got a positive reply from a host, but just for one night again. Before we could meet him, there was stuff to do: We had to secure flight tickets to Iran. There were two flights connecting the two countries, one to Tehran and another to Mashhad. The one to Mashhad sounded very convenient as it would be the first city we reach anyway if we would cross Turkmenistan and would give us the whole country to cycle through without too much circling about. Since this one was operated by an Iranian airline however, online booking was impossible due to international sanctions against Iran. That would mean we just had to book it in a traditional way: Visit the airline office in the city and pay in cash.

After asking around, we found their office in the five star “Tajikistan Hotel”. The price for the flight turned out to be TJS1551, a little under USD200, while the excess luggage for the bikes would be charged at TJS24 per kilo at the airport. Fair enough, we booked it straight away.

It pained me a little to take a flight and not cycle all the way and missing out on the sightseeing in Samarkand and Bukhara, which are supposed to be filled with spectacular attractions. But other than that, the flight had several advantages: We could avoid all the visa bullshit of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and even save a few bucks as the flight was cheaper than all the fees for invitation letters, visas, registration and taxes of these countries combined. We would also avoid the intense heat of the Karakum desert, which was above 45°C these days.

Unfortunately, payment had us crossing the city in search of an ATM that worked. Half of them were turned off while the other half didn’t want to take our cards. Luckily the airline was happy with us paying the next day as we met up with our host, Delshad. He confirmed that there is a banking crisis in Tajikistan with many banks going out of business. He gladly helped us to find a working ATM, the location of which I marked on my map.

We had dinner in a great place that actually prepared food on order. What should be normal is an exception in Tajikistan: Many cafes would just serve what they have prepared already, possibly the day before or even longer ago.

After a good nights rest in Delshads place, the next morning we successfully paid the airline. The rest of the day, we spent in the Tajikistan Hotel to relax. The staff there didn’t mind us being around and we were spotted by the airline staff again. They were super nice to us and a great introduction to the famous hospitality and politeness of Iranian people. After lots of talking about our trip and our cultures to the branch manager, he invited us for lunch and brought us food from a Iranian restaurant.

In the evening we went to meet up with another couchsurfing member, who had arranged for us to stay in one of his friends place, along with another cyclist, Pierre. They cooked up a feast for us and let us crash in the living room for a night.

The next morning went to apply for our Iranian visas. It all was good as the embassy worker immediately found our reference numbers we applied for back in Khorog. He then gave us a paper slip with our visa fees to be paid at the Iranian bank: €75 for Germans, and €128 for … Chinese? We challenged this and stated that Yuily is not Chinese but Taiwanese, to which he pointed on the passport which has “Republic of China” written on top of it.

We were bummed by this unprofessional staff behaviour. It’s bad enough already that common people don’t know the difference between the Republic and the People’s Republic, but someone working in an embassy should know! But he just stubbornly insisted that because the passport has China written on it, it is China. We spent a lot of time arguing and going back and forth, even going so far as saying a normal Chinese passport is red, not green like the Taiwanese one, showing Taiwan on a map and comparing the difference to North and South Korea. He finally gave in and took a second look on his price list to finally find Taiwan on it. Disappointment, as he revealed the price to be the same, €128. I could only assume that, just like many other governments, the Iranian one considers Taiwan and China to be the same country, so they charge them the same visa fee.

To be treated like a citizen from another country that just claims Taiwan was too much for Yuily. I comforted her as good as I could, the least I could do was offer to share the excess cost of her visa. I ran off to the bank to pay. Quickly done, we handed in the application just as the consul was about to close his office. He told us to come back the next day at 5 pm to collect the visas.

We went to the Tajikistan hotel again to relax and met Pierre there. Later we found out that we couldn’t stay another night in the same place and had to move our stuff out. Pierre luckily found another host, Buzur, who was there to pick him up. On that chance I asked him if he had any additional space for us, when he said we could camp at his Uncle’s house, unfortunately far our of town. Great.

We cycled there, when he had another idea, that for tonight we can stay in his relatives flat, which were gone for the night. The next morning we were ushered out and shown to his uncles house to set up camp there and this time, finally, since moving to a different place for 5 straight days, were told we could stay there until our flight.

While it was not a bad place and I had comfortable nights, the house was 10 km outside the city, a torture to cycle in the heat and bad traffic. The house didn’t have running water and consequently no shower while the mobile reception, and thus the internet, ranged from bad to unusable. Call me spoiled, but I couldn’t relax much in these conditions and was yearning for some comfort.

We picked up our Iran visas one day late from the unprofessional worker who complained why we didn’t come yesterday. A good chance then to bum out in the Tajikistan Hotel lobby and leech off their WiFi for the rest of the day.

In the afternoon I arranged a meeting with a cycle touring legend, who was in the city: Jin. I should explain: Jin, a South Korean female, set off from Canada in 2011, crossing North and South America, Africa and Europe and now on the process of going through Asia on a bicycle, all solo. I’ve been following her blog for a long time and was excited to meet her. We had a fun afternoon and evening, watching a show and having a few beers and agreed to meet up again.

The subsequent days ticked by as we were waiting for our flight. I would’ve liked to work more on our blog, but the frustratingly slow internet made this impossible. After a second meeting with Jin, this time together with Pierre and Buzur, spending a long time in a bar killing beers, I got a surprise invitation: A hostel worker I met two years ago in Malaysia now had a Tajik boyfriend, who invited us to stay with his family. We were looking forward to move somewhat closer to the city and to somewhere with running water, so we gladly accepted.

As we got there, it was just as far with the mobile reception just as bad. But still a lot nicer: There was a water hose to have at least cold showers with and the family treated us awfully nice with delicious food while we could watch some Olympics on their TV. Two brothers could speak a little English which also eased the communication.

Still, for the last night before our flight, I convinced us to finally give in and go to a hostel in the city. Our Bulgarian mate Timo also made it by now and we joined him in the same hostel. Yuilys Chinese friend was able to get us some bicycle boxes for the trip tomorrow while we spent the last night in luxury. And I mean luxury: This hostel, “Hello Dushanbe”, was newly built and with all kind of conveniences found in a botique hotel, with the only difference that you sleep in a dorm for USD9 per night. I wondered a bit why we are on such a shoestring, but am confident that the USD100+ we saved by scrambling to different hosts and camping without running water will go a long way later.

Final impressions on Tajikistan:

For the whole time even before I started this trip, I was looking forward to one thing: The Pamir Highway. It went so far that the route and visa time in Central Asia was planned out in advance to make sure we are in Tajikistan in the height of summer. I read many many stories about the highway and its remote beauty before, I just had to go there.

Was it worth it? Meh. Would I do it again? Definitely not. Do I regret going? No.

In some way, the Tibetan plateau in China spoiled me. Everything that I saw on the Pamirs was there as well and some more, while the infrastructure was much better. It was sad to see that the curse of tourism arrived in the Pamirs, with locals setting up a sign saying “Hotel” next to their yurt and expecting money for their tea “invitation”. We heard stories of extremely hospitable locals before, to which I would have to think “… really?”.

Tajikistan made me realize that I am not an adventure type. The poor state of the Tajik economy, one of the world’s poorest countries, left most roads in a miserable condition, towns without electricity, houses without running water, shops with a lack of choice and spotty mobile reception which often breaks down. To some cyclists, that’s why they come out here, to experience a real adventure away from western conveniences. Not for me. I like a hot shower and stable internet, please.

The food poisoning requires a separate mention. We spent too many days with diarrhea to count. Each time we thought it might be over it started again. It wasn’t until we left the country that our guts finally calmed down for good. Many times when we wanted to eat out, we were informed of only two or three menu options, all of which have possibly been sitting around in the kitchen for days, acquiring parasites. What’s the big problem of preparing meals on order? They did it in Kyrgyzstan, even for a cheaper price.

All of this might sound pretty negative, and while Tajikistan is definitely not entering my “favourite countries” list, it did have plenty to offer and I don’t regret coming here. Pamiri people were awesome, liberal and hospitable. The cities were more modern and pleasant than in neighboring countries. The scenery was absolutely stunning, even though I would give Kyrgyzstan a slight edge here. Meeting so many other cyclists and overlanders was awesome and always made for good conversations on the road or in the hostels.

Still, I would advocate for any cyclists who consider coming here to take a serious look at Western Sichuan in China instead. If you just want to cycle across a high altitude plateau with friendly and hospitable people, it’s the better choice. If you want to get away from modern life and look for an adventure on gravel roads on which you are far, far away from an emergency exit, Tajikistan is for you.

Previous: Tajikistan Part 1