Fast facts Tajikistan:
- A small landlocked jewel with huge and beautiful mountains, second only in height to the Himalaya/Karakoram range
- Neighbouring countries: Kyrgyzstan (North), China (East), Afghanistan (South), Uzbekistan (West)
- Population: 8.5 million people
- Poorest country in Central Asia: a teacher earns approximately 80 USD per month and it is estimated that 20% of the population lives on less than 1.25 USD per day.
- Drug trafficking is the major illegal income source
9 – 20 September 2015 – We’ve had a wonderful time in Dushanbe. Only then we realized how tired we were. Not only from a 24-hour drive heart-stoppingly close to cliffs but also from the hard work over the past few weeks. The coming days we did not set an alarm, we did not struggle against headwinds and instead just slept, read, ate, updated the blog, slept, strolled through the city, relaxed a bit more, applied for our Turkmen transit visas, slept again, met a few other cyclists and enjoyed the luxury of our guesthouse.
The day our visas should have been ready we nervously cycled to the embassy. We had heard too many stories of people getting rejected for no obvious reasons. We arrived at around 9am only to hear that they would only open by 9.30am. Finally inside we were told to come back the next day, the visas weren’t ready as yet. Now we were even more thankful that we had arrived on time in Dushanbe as the next day was Friday and Sunday was the day we had to leave Tajikistan. If we wouldn’t get the visas on Friday we would have to leave without. But lucky as we are the next day it was ready – we only had to cycle across the city through mad traffic to pay our 110 $ visa fee to a Pakistan Bank located at the other end of the city and pedal once more all the way back.
Finally we were ready to hit the road again. The next morning the alarm went off early again but we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was raining! We haven’t seen any rain in weeks. The forecast was bad for the whole day and eventually we stayed another day. Good decision, the following day we set off on a clear and sunny day with slight tailwinds. Mostly we cycled along boring cotton fields, apple plantations and grapevines, with a barren mountain chain in the background. But after 12 days off the bikes we enjoyed sitting once again on our hard saddles. Halfway to the border we got a water melon and ate it together with the friendly and very well English-speaking people. Later that day I got fresh grapes and Johan a freshly baked bread. From everywhere we once more heard friendly ‘Hellos’ and ‘Salams’ and people kept asking us how we liked Tajikistan. We were no longer ‘normal’ tourists but cycling travellers attracting a lot of attention and causing much confusion. ‘Why do you cycle? Why not go by car? This is so much easier!’, were the questions and comments we got from locals. Only the poorest or kids are cycling in Tajikistan, everyone else rides a car.
We entered the country from a very poor area and cycled through one of the most remote regions. The climate is rough with hot and arid summers and very cold winters. People are shy but very friendly and hospitable. Food is basic with little variety. Soup is the staple dish and if we were lucky there were a few other vegetables than potatoes in it. With it we usually got stale bread and sweets. Sometimes fried potatoes or plov (fried rice with carrots and mutton meat) was served. If we were very lucky we got tomato and cucumber salad, most likely the cause for our constant stomach issues.
Bathrooms are basic and usually quite dirty. This surprised us as they are very tidy if it comes to their houses. You must not enter the house with shoes, that’s a major offence. Early in the morning they start sweeping the floors and it continues throughout the day, often to our annoyance as they cause more dust than anything else. Squat toilets are built as far away from the house as possible and shower facilities usually don’t work – there was either boiling hot or ice-cold water, nothing in between. Sometimes there would only be a few drops coming out of the tap. But then these were bathrooms built for tourists. Locals on the countryside only have toilets, washing takes place in front of their houses with water out of a tin pot or a bucket.
Tajiks are very bad drivers, same as everywhere else in Central Asia. Due to the condition of the roads, cars – the majority being old ladas from the Sovjet era – are in the same poor state. Tajiks only know one speed: fast. Wheels spin whenever they leave, they are overtaking everywhere whether they see something or not, they are always on the phone and we’ve hardly seen cars without broken windshields.
Landscapes were absolutely stunning and breathtaking most of the time. Being such a mountainous country it’s been the toughest cycling experience for us ever. Despite all the pain and effort we’ve been through we are very grateful that we made it through the Pamirs in one piece and that we were able to explore these extraordinary landscapes.