The other side of the Pamirs.

Khorog -> Kalai Khumb -> Dushanbe (via the new road).

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Khorog is a lovely place to relax.

We do apologise for the long delay between blogs and thank everyone who wrote to us to check if we are okay. Yes we are! We have been in the Central Asian internet blackhole and as daylight hours are getting shorter cycling and everyday living is taking up our time. So after a long hiatus, the stories of cycling and food are back. Our rest days in Khorog were truly relaxing. Time was spent tinkering with our bikes, people watching in the park, exploring the bazaar and stuffing ourselves with food. After weeks of bland, meat heavy central Asian cuisine, the local Indian restaurant was a vegetarian cycle tourist’s wet dream. Plates of curries were ordered and devoured with relish. We ate to celebrate and we ate to commiserate. After setting off from Japan a year earlier, MacG’s current cycle tour was coming to an end and our little pedal through the Wakhan together was his last cycling leg. MacG, you rock! Thanks for the awesome times and we hope our wheels cross paths again.

Thanks for the great times MacG!!

Thanks for the great times MacG!!

Back to being our family of three for the last time, the road would now take us 900 kilometres to the capital Dushanbe. It was a relaxing first day back on the bikes, the road meandering alongside the Panj River. The warm afternoon sun persuaded us to stop early and we found a lovely campsite under some trees at the junction of two rivers. As I lifted my leg over the bike an all too familiar feeling filled me with dread. I had been experiencing niggles in my back since pushing the Dirty Salmon up the hill of doom to Bibi Fatima, and now she let me know she’d had enough. I have learnt that movement rather than rest is what my back injury requires, so a yoga session was followed up by some pre-dinner Frisbee. I’m not the best player in the world and this coupled with me running about like I was sitting on a horse was a hilarious sight I’m sure.

Back to camping.

Back to camping.

The road hugs the Panj River.

The road hugs the Panj River.

The following morning we met up with Christine, a French woman who has been working with an NGO in Tajikistan for the last 4 years. She was a fountain of information and we spent the morning cycling together chatting about Pamiri and Tajik life, history and culture. What Christine shared was fascinating and at times frustrating and sad, especially with regards to health, education and equality. At my request she also pointed out the road leading to the Bartang Valley which is on my list of must do cycle routes for the future (Kev, Pabski and Rich – booking you in for this now). At 10am we arrived in a bigger village and the smell of shashlik lured Neil and Jude into a kebab-based morning tea. Neil amused the owner by doing a chicken dance and he confirmed that it was indeed chicken on the skewers. My back continued to give me grief so I decided to stop often to stretch and by the late afternoon I needed to get off the bike altogether. Our campsite was set up, perched on the edge of a cliff with a steep rocky scramble down to the water below. I interchanged yoga and walking exercises, while Jude and Neil cooked up a storm and brewed our mandatory cups of tea.

Calm waters of the Panj.

Calm waters of the Panj.

Looking up the Bartang Valley, a future cycle tour for sure.

Looking up the Bartang Valley, a future cycle tour for sure.

Camping on the edge.

Camping on the edge.

The road continued to follow the Panj River, but the wide valleys soon gave way to rocky canyons and little villages were located on the only flat land amongst these. The undulations along the canyon walls and the poor road surface provided a challenge for my back and I commenced a regime of cycling for 40 minutes followed by 20 minutes of yoga. In addition to these extra breaks we continued to be stopped regularly by locals offering us chai (tea). We learnt only to accept an offer when we were hungry, as chai is never just chai and today was no exception. We were provided with tea, fried eggs, bread, fresh tomato and cucumber, biscuits, confectionary and peaches picked from the tree we sat under. Such kindness and hospitality is the norm in the Pamirs

The valleys narrow into canyons.

The valleys narrow into canyons.

The valleys become canyons and the waters become choppy.

And the waters become choppy.

Afghanistan's mountains continue to impress.

Afghanistan’s mountains continue to impress.

Chai never means just chai.  Invites all round on the side of the road.

Chai never means just chai. Invites all round on the side of the road.

Late in the afternoon we crossed the dodgiest looking bridge thus far and proceeded to our final check point. While waiting, three boys came by and asked to have their photo taken. Little tough guy poses ceased when their (?extra) undies came out to be worn like hats. Once the photo shoot was over they asked to try riding our bikes. We told them it was not a good idea as they were heavy but they chose to give it a go anyway. Needless to say there was some falling and bruises, but they were super happy and they pushed us on our bikes through the sand track which the road became. Camp was set up in a sandy basin and we fell asleep to the roaring of the river (and the occasional truck).

The stunning scenery continues.

The stunning scenery continues.

Tough guy poses become funny with underwear.

Tough guy poses become funny with underwear.

Sand bank next to the Panj makes a lovely camp spot.

Sand bank next to the Panj makes a lovely camp spot.

Relaxing after a day of cycling.

Relaxing after a day of cycling.

Pedaling off in the morning I knew it was going to be a slow day. I chose to continue my cycle/yoga regime, and the road continued to undulate through the canyon. I was so slow that Neil was able to finish an entire book while waiting for me to catch up. At lunchtime a roadside restaurant appeared and the advertising signs were promising. As usual, reality did not match the picture. The only food available was fried eggs and frankfurters. And Cornetto ice cream – yes two of them did accidently fall into our mouths. Somehow during a yoga session Neil failed to see us as he cycled by and he spent the next hour and a half trying to catch up to the two of us who were now behind him. Not being sure where we were comparatively, we decided to spend the night separately. Jude and I pitched our tent on a beach with an Afghani village overlooking our campsite. The lights of the houses on the mountainside joined the stars in the sky and a deep feeling of peace settled on the night.

Canyon riding, the road on the right side is ours.

Canyon riding, the road on the right side is ours.

Sometimes the Afghan side looked more agriculturally developed that the Tajik side.

Sometimes the Afghan side looked more agriculturally developed that the Tajik side.

Yoga after cycling heals a sore back.

Yoga after cycling heals a sore back.

Late the next morning we met Neil at the township of Kalai Khumb. The size of a town here can be judged by the presence or absence of aisles in the supermarket – this one had many. Staples and many treats were purchased and eaten. Kalai Khumb is located at the intersection of the new and old roads to Dushanbe. Most cyclists take the old dirt road – which is 100km shorter and supposedly more scenic. Despite being longer I had chosen to take the new road as I thought it would be better for my back if I pedaled a road that was mostly tarmac. Neil’s bike continued to have rack issues so he made the decision to join us on the new road. Our decision to stay together was celebrated with a large bowl of plov and an afternoon beer. Afternoon beers are not so conducive with cycling, so after about 20 kilometres we pulled over and set up our tent in a food forest. It was an incredibly magical place. An old man from the village discovered us and used every excuse under the sun to convince us that we needed to come and stay at his house. Wolves would eat us, an avalanche would bury us, or the Afghanis across the river would shoot us. Realising that all his protestations were in vain, he then took pleasure in showing me all the edible fruits that were to be enjoyed around us. I’m so planting a food forest when we buy a property on our return!!

The children continue to request to have their photos taken.

The children continue to request to have their photos taken.

Our food forest, everything grown here is edible.

Our food forest, everything grown here is edible.

None of the aforementioned incidents occurred during the night and we pedaled into the morning well rested and happy. The canyon narrowed even further and I felt as if I could reach over and touch the mountainsides of Afghanistan. Being so close provided a different kind of problem for us though. The police along this stretch of road were hyper paranoid about us getting shot by Afghani’s. I stopped to do my usual yoga, to have 3 police officers materialize out of nowhere to try and inform me that I couldn’t stop there as I was in danger. I did my best ‘dumb tourist’ look and continued on with my stretching much to the officer’s chagrin. The same officers received the one finger salute from Jude when the last one blew her a kiss as she cycled passed. Our tolerance for sexist and overt attention from men continues to decline. Lunch was then interrupted by another group of police who again warned us of our imminent danger. Luckily for our paranoid police friends, we spent that night camped among giant trees next to a natural spring at a local families property. They found my yoga extremely amusing, especially the sun salutations. I wondered if they knew it was for stretching or if they thought it was some kind of weird religious ritual.

Lush greenery surrounds us.

Lush greenery surrounds us.

Looking back down to the canyons we had just cycled out of.

Looking back down to the canyons we had just cycled out of.

Knowing that we would have a climb, we woke earlier than usual and set off in the cool morning air. The road became super smooth tarmac after a few minutes and we flew along enjoying the lack of bone shaking corrugations and potentially bike breaking potholes. The canyon soon opened into a valley and rolling hills, the first difference in landscape for a couple of weeks. The tarmac soon disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Being more exposed to the elements the heat soon became oppressive and we stopped at the first Magazin for a cold drink, an ice cream and some treats. After sampling a selection of chocolate bars imported from Turkey, we are aware that we will be chocolate free for our time there. As the temperature climbed, so did we. The road now turned away from the border and up the pass that we were expecting. Finding some shade at lunchtime proved difficult, but not impossible. It was hard to get back on the bikes and start climbing again, but we were soon able to rest again. Road works were being carried out and as we waited, giant boulders were being dropped over the edge of the switchback above us. Ah the switchbacks and the false summits, not a good combination as the day comes to an end. The top of the pass remained elusive and we set up camp in a quarry as twilight set in.

The land opened up from the canyons we had been in.

The land opened up from the canyons we had been in.

Turkey fails to produce good chocolate.

Turkey fails to produce good chocolate.

Parking for lunch.

Parking for lunch.

The top of the pass was reached the next morning and soon the wind was rushing through our hair as we descended into the next valley. On the way down I noticed an apiary and stopped to see if I could buy some honey. Next thing I knew we were seated in their tent drinking tea, eating melons and enjoying freshly gathered honey on homemade bread. In true Tajik style we were gifted more honey on our departure and made to promise to visit again when we were next in the area. You would think that after stuffing ourselves with such good food and not expending much energy due to cycling downhill, lunch would have been the last thing we wanted. Sure enough it wasn’t and soon we were sitting in a shaded restaurant garden eating more. This was followed by a couple of ice creams, as we bought our own and then were gifted others. The valley we were in was fertile and the townships well developed. It came as no surprise to find out that the president was from the area and that most governmental funding is spent here. Our good luck did not last into the evening – we had been offered a place to stay but the guy didn’t return, therefore we made camp in an orchard next to the freeway and the roar of trucks and cars didn’t abate all night.

Chai again does not mean just tea. Our feast with the honey man and his family.

Chai again does not mean just tea. Our feast with the honey man and his family.

A farewell salute from our lovely honey host.

A farewell salute from our lovely honey host.

Descending into the next valley after the never ending climb.

Descending into the next valley after the never ending climb.

Our waitress tries on Neil's glasses.  I wanted to capture her gold teeth but she wouldn't smile.

Our waitress tries on Neil’s glasses. I wanted to capture her gold teeth but she wouldn’t smile.

French toast and coffee cured our fatigue and feeling rejuvenated we continued to cycle through fertile fields. The greenery gave way to golden grass as we climbed and then undulated our way through hills as far as the eye could see. Being gifted melons and grapes was a welcome treat as the heat of the day came on rapidly and shade was scarce. A post lunchtime break was enjoyed in the shade of the petrol station where we spent two hours reading books and drinking cold drinks. The road again improved but the attitude of the drivers didn’t. A plastic bottle was launched at me and luckily missed its target. Needing a good nights sleep we pulled off the main road and asked an old man if we could camp on the land there. He was obliging and very much wanting to converse with us. Despite his knowledge of seven languages and the combined five that the three of us knew, we unfortunately had none in common. After a quick chat in Russian he left us to set up camp and enjoy our evening of peace and quiet.

Camping in the orchard.

Camping in the orchard.

French toast of awesome.

French toast of awesome.

Golden hills rolling as far as the eye can see.

Golden hills rolling as far as the eye can see.

More donkey love.

Donkey love.

With cups of tea in hand we watched as the sun rose over the valley. It was another hot day and we had two big climbs to really make us feel the heat. After the first ascent lunch was eaten at a roadside rest stop where every stall sold the same two dishes. The next climb, some tunnels and a lovely downhill placed us further along the road than we expected. Finding ourselves only 30 kilometres out of Dushanbe with at least three more hours of daylight we decided to make a push for the hospitality and warm shower at Veronique’s home in Dushanbe. Fortune was with us as the road was flat and we sped along with happy hearts. The last gift of hospitality on our Tajik crossing came from an old man who presented me with a pear and some sweets. He had cycled his grandson into Dushanbe and back that day for medical treatment, but still had the time and inclination to welcome a guest to his country. Such acts of kindness continue to remind me of the inherent good that is found in the world.

Donkeys feeling as hot as we were.

Donkeys feeling as hot as we were.

The iridescent blue of the dam near Dushanbe.

The iridescent blue of the dam near Dushanbe.

Entry gate to Dushanbe, a welcome site.

Entry gate to Dushanbe, a welcome site.

Our family of three cycled into Dushanbe, the last leg of the road together since we joined forces in Turpan.  The feeling was bitter sweet, but this didn’t last too long.  The haven of Veronique’s awaited us, as did a cold beer to celebrate achieving our dream of cycling the Pamirs.

Love, Astrid.

I don't think this needs an explanation.

I don’t think this needs an explanation.

Note: I’m sorry for the less than usual amount and diversity of photos, I don’t take as many if I’m unwell.  Oh yes, and my back did fully heal with my cycling and yoga regime. Yay for freedom of movement!

Into the Pamirs.

Osh -> Sary-Tash -> Tajikistan border -> Murghab -> Alichur -> Lake Bulunkul.

Quintessential Pamirs.

The lady didn’t blink an eye when I asked for 6 kilograms of oats. She just piled them into two large shopping bags and we were left to wander the rest of the Osh bazaar to buy the last necessities for our time in the Pamirs. We had been warned that food was scarce in this high altitude dessert and being hungry cyclists we didn’t want to be caught out. Our bikes were significantly heavier but being well fed is worth the extra weight. Our plan was to hitch a ride back to Sary-Tash and from there our estimated 28 day journey along the second highest highway in the world would begin.

Our fantastic companions on the way to Sary Tash (plus the drunk local on the right).

Our fantastic companions on the way to Sary Tash (plus the drunk local on the right).

Relaxing in the warmth our homestay.

Camping was abandoned for the warmth of our homestay.

The sound of rain pounding on the tent woke us early and mud soon covered everything. Not dissuaded by this abnormal weather, we were ready by mid morning to hit the road and try the luck of the thumb. I spent the first ride sleeping in the back of a pick-up surrounded by milk pails, while Jude and Neil fretted in the front as the farmer continually fell asleep and hit himself to remain awake. The second ride was a little more favourable, despite Neil’s truck catching on fire and smoking out the cabin, Jude being proposed to again and again by our driver, and the weather getting colder and colder the higher we climbed.

A white wonderland.

A white wonderland.

The way to the toilet.

The way to the toilet.

Cattle in snow.

Cattle in snow.

Sary-Tash was hidden by cloud and a cold sleet began to fall on our arrival. Our idea of camping was quickly abandoned when we were offered a room and full board for the equivalent of $4 each. A heater as old as the ancient house was supplied to us and we were glad of its warmth as the sleet turned to snow overnight. A white wonderland captivated us in the morning and I walked around in awe at the transformation that a bit of frozen water can bring to an already stunning landscape. Dark clouds closed in and with heavy hearts we chose to spend another day in Sary-Tash. Cycling the Pamirs has been a long-term dream, and being held back when we were so close was irksome. The disappointment and cold were driven away by our attendance at the local banyan (sauna and washing house) with the ladies of the house. Tomorrow we resolved, would be the day of our departure.

Sheltering from the snow during lunch.

Sheltering from the snow during lunch.

Leaving Kyrgyzstan behind.

Leaving Kyrgyzstan behind.

Excited selfie.

Excited selfie.

No mans land.

No mans land.

Finding shelter from the wind and snow.

Finding shelter from the wind and snow.

Yes it was freezing!!!!

Yes it was freezing!!!!

Snow had fallen again during the night, but the low hanging clouds remained only on the higher mountains. The sun peaked her rays through to us and we knew it was time to go. We had a last coffee at our favourite little restaurant and were slightly delayed by making the acquaintance of many other cycle tourists. They had just come from the Pamirs the night before and were eager to share their experiences and to ask if we knew a place to get some good food. This question would be asked of us time and again by cyclists coming from the opposite direction and we were glad that we had packed all the extra food. The Tajikistan border was a days cycle away and we set off across the valley that we had first entered Kyrgyzstan along.

Delicious tea, bread and homemade Jam is far superior to my Russian language skills.

Delicious tea, bread and homemade Jam is far superior to my Russian language skills.

Looking back at the warm cosy house.

Looking back at the warm cosy house.

Having a rest on the switchbacks.

Having a rest on the switchbacks.

Reaching the top of our first 4000 plus metre pass.

Reaching the top of our first 4000 plus metre pass.

The border!! Country number 10...

The border!! Country number 10…

It was a steady ride, marked by the occasional drunken shepherd on his horse and one lying in the middle of the road. As we approached the far side of the valley, the storm clouds were blown eastward and the view of the road and surrounding 6000m peaks opened before us. It was time to climb. The ascent was gradual and as we ate lunch snow began to sporadically fall again. We crossed the Kyrgyzstan border without incident and returned to climbing through no-mans land. The Tajikistan border was still quite far away, on the other side of our first pass of 4336m, not a distance or height we would be able to reach that day. We collected water from the river we had been following and sought shelter from the constant wind behind the remnants of an old mud brick house. The snow set in as we cooked dinner and I must admit going for a pee that night was one of the coldest experiences ever.

Glacial rivers and snow capped peaks will be our constant companions.

Glacial rivers and snow capped peaks will be our constant companions.

High altitude desert of fun.

High altitude desert of fun.

The change is immediate.

The change is immediate.

Riding the rough roads.

Riding the rough roads.

Collecting water from the freezing cold lakes, lucky we have a filter.

Collecting water from the freezing cold lakes, lucky we have a filter.

"Neutral" territory between China and Tajikistan, despite it being officially Tajikistan.

“Neutral” territory between China and Tajikistan, despite it being officially Tajikistan.

Ten centimetres of snow covered our tents and the landscape when we woke. We estimated that it had been approximately -8 to -10 degrees overnight and the frigid temperatures continued that morning. Our fingers and feet froze no matter what we did and getting ready that morning took us almost 3 hours. The sun provided welcome relief and we were eventually on the road warming ourselves by the energy required for cycling. At the base of some crazy looking switchbacks we came across a house where the family entertained us with tea, bread and homemade apricot jam, and I entertained them with my faltering Russian language skills. I had no idea that people were allowed to reside in no-mans land, but their house was comfortable and warm and it was a pleasure to rest there for a while.

Salt lakes and marshes are can be found throughout the region.

Salt lakes and marshes are can be found throughout the region.

Windswept landscape.

Windswept landscape.

Red marmots.

Red marmots.

Alpine hares.

Alpine hares.

12 cyclists and 4 cars seen that day, a great ratio.

12 cyclists and 4 cars seen that day, a great ratio.

The top of the switchbacks marked the top of the pass and the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border. I was breathless but excited to have made it, being country number ten on our journey and the gateway to the Pamirs. We snapped the mandatory photographs and were super excited to have made it to the top of the first 4000 plus metre pass. Tajikistan’s border post was a kilometer down the other side and could easily have been mistaken for a couple of derelict buildings of insignificance. Friendly guards completed the mandatory paperwork (no computers here) and we were soon on our way to explore the wonders that awaited us. The difference between the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan landscapes was immediate. The lush green of the Kyrgyz plains, was replaced by the barren beauty of a high altitude desert. Blue glacial rivers cut through the brownish red rocky valleys, backed by the ever-present snow capped peaks.

Cycling down to the lake.

Cycling down to the lake.

Yes it's really that blue.

Yes it’s really that blue.

Sand and lake.

Sand and lake.

The lake used to be this high at some stage.

The lake used to be this high at some stage.

Collecting the grasses that grow in the marshes.

Collecting the grasses that grow in the marshes.

Our road now undulated through valleys at approximately 4000m and the wind storms created dust towers taller than buildings. Finding shelter that night was a little difficult and the tents were tightly secured with guy-ropes and stones. This was the first night that I would experience the displeasure of altitude induced sleeplessness, my brain behaved like a crazy monkey and for two hours (from midnight until 2am) it ran riot. This phenomenon was to continue nightly until we again slept below 3800m, numerous days later.

Ghost town.

Ghost town.

Karakol mosque.

Karakol mosque.

The living is easy.

The living is easy.

If it wasn't for the mozzies I would have gone swimming.

If it wasn’t for the mozzies I would have gone swimming.

Heading away from Lake Karakol.

Heading away from Lake Karakol.

The wind continued in our favour and by mid morning we crested our second pass and were rewarded with views of the iridescent blue Lake Karakol. While waiting for the others I was offered a glimpse into rodent life with red marmots and white hares dashing about. I laughed at the antics of two marmots having a punch-on, as it reminded me of men in pubs. During our descent to the lake we came across many cyclists heading the other way – 12 in all and only 4 cars, a good ratio I believe. Karakol town was located on the far side of the lake and we cycled through sand beds that had once been the lake floor. The fence that had started from the border continued, and Jude let us know that the Chinese had built it (surprise, surprise). The area is now considered neutral territory despite officially being part of Tajikistan and entry is not permitted. I think the locals disagree as holes have been cut in the fence and many of the wooden poles have been removed for use as firewood. In 2011 China claimed 1% of Tajikistan’s land mass in that area as it’s own and I continue to be convinced that water will be the next commodity that wars will be fought over in this region due to climate change and the large amount of glacier fed rivers in the region.

Just cruising with wings of roadside brush.

Just cruising with wings of roadside brush.

The Chinese fence in the Tajikistan desert.

The Chinese fence in the Tajikistan desert.

Heading down into the valley.

Heading down into the valley.

Collecting water is a constant job.

Collecting water is a constant job.

Don't be fooled, it's freezing.

Don’t be fooled, it’s freezing.

A nice afternoon cycle.

A nice afternoon cycle.

Riding into Karakol felt like riding into a ghost town, I could almost hear the banjos playing in the background. We wound our way through the deserted streets and white washed buildings until we reached the lakeside. We spread our goodies on the salt-crusted earth between clumps of grass and as we ate, the mosquitos noticed our arrival and we were soon covered in bites. I had hoped to spend the night camped by the beautiful water but our intruders convinced me otherwise. After a fruitless search for a magazin to replenish our biscuit and chocolate supplies we hit the road again for a few more hours of riding. Exiting a narrow valley we came across a big river and found a derelict building nearby where we set up camp for the night. Neil had collected some dead bushes on the way and Jude collected some old dung so that we could have a campfire. After the initial smoke-out we settled by the fire and enjoyed our view of the stars and the Milky Way.

Collecting scrub and poo for the campfire.

Collecting scrub and poo for the campfire.

Sheltered from the elements.

Sheltered from the elements.

Tea and shoe fixing, all in a nights work.

Tea and shoe fixing, all in a nights work.

Great pastoral land.

Great pastoral land.

The caravanserai of old.

The caravanserai of old.

Yaks!!!

Yaks!!!

The valley we followed was good pastoral land for the area and as such we saw numerous yak herds as we cycled along the riverbank. The path we followed had been an old trade route and caravanserais from centuries past still dot the landscape. Except for the section of dirt road from the switchbacks to the top of the first pass, the road conditions thus far had been reasonable – until now. The corrugations and loose gravel began, bad enough to bring back memories of our time along the Savannah Way. A chance encounter with our friend Dave provided a respite for our shaken bodies and a chance to carb load before the next climb.

The crazy corrugated roads.

The crazy corrugated roads.

More corrugations.

More corrugations.

Looking towards our next challenge.

Looking towards our next challenge.

Having a break with our mate Dave.

Having a break with our mate Dave.

The start of the Ak-Baital Pass.

The start of the Ak-Baital Pass.

Ak Baital Pass was our next challenge, the highest pass on the Pamir Highway at 4655m. It was tough going and I must admit that during the steeper sections I probably spent more time gasping for air than I did cycling. Snow capped peaks looked close enough to touch and they provided welcome distraction from the reality of pedaling a 40kg bike up a gravel road at altitude. Despite the lack of oxygen my inner lesbian had me belting out Melissa Etheridge at the top of my voice and I received a standing ovation from the Austrian motorcyclist who greeted me at the top of the pass. It was more likely for having made it rather than my singing abilities…

Flat is good at altitude.

Flat is good at altitude.

The flatter section of our big climb.

The flatter section of our big climb.

Jude continues to climb.

Jude continues to climb.

The top is further than it looks, especially breathless at altitude.

The top is further than it looks, especially breathless at altitude.

Looking back down from the pass.

Looking back down from the pass.

Neil takes a break at the summit.

Neil takes a break at the summit.

We made it!! Top of Ak-Baital Pass at 4655m.

We made it!! Top of Ak-Baital Pass at 4655m.

Now it was time to enjoy some chocolate, followed by some sweet downhill. As we freewheeled amongst orange, red and brown peaks, I dubbed the area ‘the multi-coloured pyramid valley’. Thinking that we would again be camping that night, Jude and I went for a wash in the river while the sun was still hot. An (un)fortunate German cycle tourist arrived just as we both jumped out and stated that we were the best scenery he had seen all day. Hmm. He also said that he believed the town of Murghab was only 40kilometres away and that he would be cycling there that evening. Inspired by the news, we took a vote and it was decided that we too would push on to Murghab. As the sun began to kiss the horizon, I saw a fox running along a hill and the length of the day unraveled. I was tired. 40km had turned into 55, and we had cycled almost 100kilometres that day including a 4655m pass. Luckily Erali guesthouse was a true home away from home, and after a massive vegetarian feast and many cups of tea, we fell into bed content with the world.

Coming down the mountain.

Coming down the mountain.

Cycling pyramid valley.

Cycling pyramid valley.

Multi-coloured pyramid valley.

Multi-coloured pyramid valley.

The river we were busted swimming naked in.

The river we were busted swimming naked in.

Good roads, great scenery, what more could you want?

Good roads, great scenery, what more could you want?

Reminded me a bit of home.

Reminded me a bit of home.

Looking hot.

Looking hot.

A welcome sight to a tired traveller.

A welcome sight to a tired traveller.

Erali sits at the top of a hill overlooking the town. In the early morning hours I watched the town come to life. People walked or cycled to work, fresh cow’s milk was collected and then boiled in huge pots, a goat was butchered by neighbours, and dogs roamed and scuffled in packs guarding their territory. After a lazy breakfast, supplies for the next leg of our journey were bought at the local bazaar and we eventually commenced cycling at midday. A climb took us out of the valley we were in and after a couple of hours we met up with a group of other cyclists heading in the same direction. Our group of three was now a party of six – our own bike touring gang. That evening we set up camp together in a dry riverbed and as dusk turned to darkness the galaxy opened before us in a spectacular show of stars.

Murghab town.

Murghab town.

The lovely owner of Erali Guesthouse.

The lovely owner of Erali Guesthouse.

Cycling through the back streets of Murghab.

Cycling through the back streets of Murghab.

Out of Murghab.

Out of Murghab.

Back to barren.

Back to barren.

The six meet and cycle.

The six meet and cycle.

New family home group.

New family home group.

What's for dinner?

What’s for dinner?

Under the Milky Way tonight.

Under the Milky Way tonight.

Cycling the next morning took us over a handful of undulations and into a wide valley that cradled the Alichur River. Men and women used scythes to hand cut the grasses that grow in the marshes. It is collected and dried to feed their livestock in the coming winter months when this area is numerous feet under snow. Reports had reached us that a fish lunch could be had somewhere in Alichur, so we searched out the local restaurants but no fish could be found. Instead we had the usual soup, tea and bread (we later found out that the fish is found about 10km earlier at the restaurant next to the sacred blue spring). Just outside of town we spotted a beautiful patch of grass next to the river and an afternoon of fun in the sun commenced. We all splashed about in the freezing water, Didier threw in his fishing line hoping to catch us some dinner, Jude & Jeff went to town and bought some beer to share and we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening relaxing.

The valley opened up as we followed the Alichur River.

The valley opened up as we followed the Alichur River.

Men and women hand cut the grass with scythes.

Men and women hand cut the grass with scythes.

The blue spring where fish can be caught.

The blue spring where fish can be caught.

Collecting water from the local well.

Collecting water from the local well.

Splish splash...

Splish splash…

Camping site luxury, grass and all.

Camping site luxury, grass and all.

Lake Bulunkul had been suggested as a detour from the Pamir Highway and we were all keen to explore off the beaten track. Yet beaten track it was, a mixture of old 4WD paths that had us wishing for mountain bikes to explore with, as it was awesome! Sparse rocky terrain surrounded the undulating tracks, the occasional salt lake, ramshackle village and river valley added stunning diversity to the scenery. A geyser was marked on the map and it turned out to be a trickle of cold water coming out of a metal pipe in the ground. Cresting to a plateau our maps didn’t match what was in front of us so we headed straight into a gale that blew half of our group over with its strength. 3kms of windstorm and dust tested our endurance to the limit and we sought refuge at some deserted buildings not far in the distance.

Wishing we had mountain bikes to go off trail and explore.

Wishing we had mountain bikes to go off trail and explore.

Into nowhere.

Into nowhere.

Making sure we are going the right way.

Making sure we are going the right way.

Desolate villages, people actually live here.

Desolate villages, people actually live here.

4WD tracks of awesome.

4WD tracks of awesome.

Green and red breaks the rocky monotony.

Green and red breaks the rocky monotony.

Salt lakes of beauty.

Salt lakes of beauty.

Can you spot the cyclists?

Can you spot the cyclists?

Valentina dwarfed by the surrounds.

Valentina dwarfed by the surrounds.

When the dust and wind had settled we walked to the edge of the plateau and were rewarded with views of the glittering Lake Yssykul framed by the rugged mountains of the Tajikistan National Park. Following another track we meandered along the river that joined this larger lake to the smaller Lake Bulunkul. At the lake’s edge we watched as birds skirted and dived into the water hunting for the fish that would be theirs to eat. It was here that we waved goodbye to our new friends Valentina and Didier who were continuing their journey along the Pamir Highway and therefore stopping for the night at Bulunkul town. Thanks for the awesome days together guys and we hope to see you in Switzerland. Jeff decided to join us on our detour to the Wakhan Valley and our threesome became a foursome of fun as we headed south towards the river valley that divides Tajikistan and Afghanistan. A new road and a new chapter in our journey through the Pamirs, and one that Jude will share shortly.

Having a group rest.

Having a group rest.

It's like being on another planet sometimes.

It’s like being on another planet sometimes.

Cycle touring gang on the move.

Cycle touring gang on the move.

Exploring the not so exciting geyser.

Exploring the not so exciting geyser.

Neil filming the dust and windstorm that blew him and Jeff off their bikes in front of me.

Neil filming the dust and windstorm that blew him and Jeff off their bikes in front of me.

The green fairy finds shelter from the wind.

The green fairy finds shelter from the wind.

Prepared for the dust storm.

Prepared for the dust storm.

Until next time,
All my love, Astrid.

The river that joins Yssykul and Bulunkul Lakes.

The river that joins Yssykul and Bulunkul Lakes.

Cycling down off the plateau to Bulunkul.

Cycling down off the plateau to Bulunkul.

Jude and Neil walking to Lake Bulunkul to collect water for the night.

Jude and Neil walking to Lake Bulunkul to collect water for the night.

Neil, Jeff, Jude and I about to leave Lake Bulunkul for our adventure to the Wakhan Valley.

Neil, Jeff, Jude and I about to leave Lake Bulunkul for our adventure to the Wakhan Valley.