The fresh mountain air encouraged me to wear my trousers for the first time while cycling as I set out from the tea house, fuelled with rather stale bread. The climbing that set in immmediately ensured I had reverted back to shorts before the sun came up over the mountains. As I followed the valley, riding up and over the rises which are inherent in mountain roads, it became more and more deeply incised with towering mountains either side offering streams of fresh water and even a freezing waterfall into which I could not resist to jump.
The police checkpoints along the road made it clear that I was heading into the ‘autonomous’ region of the Pamirs, previously very ill at ease with the president in the recent civil war and thus requiring slightly more careful treatment than the rest of the country, as riots and shootings last year made very clear.
I stopped by the road in the afternoon sun and sat cleaning my bike with a young honey seller. Other than realising I was sporting a broken spoke, no doubt due to the bumps, the pleasure of riding a well oiled bike for a few kilometres until the next dust cloud clogs the chain up again is well worth the clean. After an hour or so, the father of the honey seller came to join us from his house, the only one for miles around, high up on the valley side. The poor son was sent up to fetch tea, bread and grapes for us while the father proudly explained to me this was his fifteenth offspring, and he was now retiring from his role as populator of the valley! Luckily for me, his price for the honey was far more reasonable so after buying 600ml, I continued my route down the valley and bade them farewell.
The road turned out to be further than expected from my google predictions and as the sun came down I ran out of steam and found another chaixana to eat and sleep in, this time without persuasion from any policemen being necessary. The mother of the family was away for the day and the father, impossibly clueless, had been left in charge of the business. Quickly realising I would not be fed too handsomely, I took my stove out and started cooking my own meal which suited him just fine – he just made the tea!
My second night in a tea house in a row was thankfully less interrupted by prayers, though a stranger came to join, switching on the lights and offering me an apple as he spoke on the phone, a few hours after I had fallen asleep!