I left Dushanbe with Alex in the comforting hands and home of Véro and Gabriel who were terrific hosts to me also in my three day stay with them. A hike the previous day up to 2500m just North of Dushanbe gave great views of the fan mountains and demonstrated the ease with which a Dushanbe city dweller can melt himself into the countryside and discover such eccentricities as one piste soviet ski resorts!
My itinerary was towards Khorog, where Alex would hopefully catch up with me, all being well. The uncertainty in his recovery time coming from sources as reliable as our families meant that the meet up could be a lot later or even not at all as had crossed Alex’s mind during a particularly painful day…
Véronique set off to work by bike at the same time as me and guided me through back roads to the Southern highway, avoiding the hectic rush of taxis pulling into the kerb without warning on the main roads and sending me swiftly on my way. Unlike the North where one can delve straight into valleys, leaving by the East took me along relatively flat and smooth major roads with a steady rise for 60km or so.
This left me with plenty of time to discover the main benefit of riding alone: you don’t have to share the bread. I exploited this advantage for a few loaves, some kindly donated by bystanders, and made good progress in the knowledge that the road would worsen so it was key to capitalise when I could. Having reached 2000m, the road then wound down gently for 20km, clinging to the rock face and lulling me into a valley exemplary of the Western Pamirs: deeply cut and home to raging waters below.
The road did worsen, and for the last 10km or so I was brought to a snail’s pace crawling up sandy paths to a Chaixana a local had promised me was ahead. I made it very grimy and tired and threw myself under a fountain, to the amazement of others watching, before sitting down for a plate of plov and another tasty loaf. Two cars that had passed me in my last few kilometres witnessed my hunger and were seemingly impressed enough by my efforts for the first to offer to buy me my dinner, and the second to simply give me money which they would absolutely not take back!
The next customers to arrive were three policemen on their way through the valley, who found it silly I should put a tent up to sleep and instead asked the tea house owners to let me stay inside – an offer neither I nor they, it seemed, could refuse! The night was comfortable, though interrupted multiple times and cut short by truckers coming in to pray with mats out, lights on, and voices aloud!