I got to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan at 3 AM on October 15. My bike arrived at the baggage claim area half an hour later, looking like it was still in one piece. The airline attendants had added an air pump to the contents of the bag (!), and the airport staff were quite confused when I told them it wasn’t mine. I assembled the bike, cycled to the hostel at 3 AM, and spent the day meeting other travellers in the hostel.
The next day, Marjan — a traveller from Belgium who wanted to try to cycle the Pamir Highway – and I started our ride with no small amount of help from more experienced overlanders in the hostel. However, it rained so hard that we just made a 20 km tour of Dushanbe. It wasn’t all a waste though, because we got to get our bikes serviced at a good bike shop in the city, and I gained some confidence in the waterproofing of my jacket.
Another day, another attempt, and we were off! But then, before we got too far out of the city, Marjan’s chain broke. A nice army officer stopped to give her a ride into the next city, where there were a few cycle shops that could help. The army officer’s son, a student in the 11th grade, skipped afternoon classes at school to come help us out and practice his English. They invited us to stay at their place, and fed us quite a lot of food. This was the Tajik hospitality I had already heard so much about.
Our next stop was Nurek. While eating a very late lunch, I asked the restaurant owner if he knew a campsite nearby, and he replied by offering to let us sleep inside the restaurant itself after it closed. A visit to the sauna, followed by conversations about Yoga and spirituality ensured a good night’s sleep!
From Nurek, we started to make our way towards Danghare. In July, four cycle tourists had been killed in a terrorist attack just North of Danghare. As I made way slowly up to the pass before the downhill to Danghare, two policemen in their car, decided to escort me until the town. It was quite amusing; they would overtake me, stop a few hundred metres ahead, wave at me as I passed by, and then overtake me again. This went on…for two hours! They didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Russian, so all we had were waves and smiles!
In the city, we stayed in police-approved accommodation, and even had to inform them about our movements. I’ve met a few other cyclists, and they didn’t have this escort. I’m not sure why we were the lucky ones! That night, we were taken to the Tajik version of a club, which was an awkward mix of a club and an Indian dance bar.
After Danghare was the first big climb of the trip, and I ended up walking a lot. Close to the pass, the road was quite steep and stony. A nice gentleman offered me a ride in his car, but I proudly refused and kept biking, I mean walking. After the pass was a breezy downhill on good road, straight into the mechanic’s shop where we got Marjan’s flat tires fixed, and then to the only hotel in town.
The next day, after many issues with her cycle, Marjan decided to ditch the cycle and move on by local transport. I hitchhiked with her for the first half of the day, just to see how hard it was with my bicycle, and it was not hard at all. First, a car stopped, and the driver happily strapped my cycle to the top of his car. Then, there was a truck with hay in the back. They were a little afraid of the police troubling them about us, so we had to hide in the back whenever the police stopped to talk. They dropped us off before a checkpoint. Marjan got a ride almost immediately. After a quick farewell, I was on my cycle again, riding on decent roads.
After a fun interaction with two teenagers about my bicycle, Mithun Chakraborthy and Shah Rukh Khan — the usual — I pulled into a guest house for the night.
That was my first week in Tajikistan, and my first week of bicycle touring. Quite eventful!