When cycling through Tajikistan there are a few reasons to lose your breath. There’s the usual problem of being at altitude and not having enough oxygen to feed all the little cells in your body, but there are a few that are way more interesting and so much more fun. These are what I have experienced so far on our trip on the Pamir Highway.
Climbing to altitude starts the moment you cross the border from Kyrgyzstan into Tajikistan. After getting our exit stamps at the Kyrgyz border post we had to travel through a 15km no-mans-land to the Tajik border post. After leaving Kyrgyzstan we went from mountains as impressive and picturesque as the Alps to imposing rock structures towering thousands of meters above us. Cue the jaw-drop as we hit switchbacks on rough gravel road until we reached the top of the pass at about 4100m.
Frigidly, toe-numbingly, snotsicle-forming cold. At night temperatures drop to freezing and it’s a challenge to brush your teeth with a water bottle that’s water nozzle has frozen shut overnight. Not to mention the pain if you have cold-sensitive teeth. Had to hold my breath every time I faced this ordeal in the morning.
If you don’t know how to deal with difficult conditions take the locals’ advice. We have very friendly drivers and as we were trying to remember tropical beaches one particularly cold afternoon (add an icy wind to snow and hail) we were invited into one of the trucks for vodka shots with a local chocolate as chaser. Not only did the vodka make us gasp for breath, it also heat us up within minutes and we were ready to face the conditions outside again.
There is of course the altitude and when it catches up with you, you know it’s there. Fall asleep on your tummy at night and you might just wake at midnight gasping for oxygen.
There are several self-supporting cyclists on the Pamir Highway and it doesn’t take long to realise why they all chose this route. It takes blood, sweat and tears to reach the top of every pass but the view you are rewarded with every time is simply spectacular. At the top it feels like you own the world as the mountains reach into eternity. If you survive the extremely rough descent you get to see the mountains from the bottom and the sheer size of it all is sure to take your breath away once again. That and the freezing water in the Gunt River that speeds its way to the west, all fed by melting snow on the mountain peaks.
We’re in Khorog now and will head further west toward the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, all along the Afghanistan border. In about a week we should be ready to head on to Uzbekistan, always on the lookout for more breathtaking moments.
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