Thursday, June 15, 2006

Near Gusar

It was the first day of validity of my Tajik visa & there was no time to be wasted in entering the country.
I figured that even though I wouldn't be traveling a great distance in Tajikistan my daily distance would be much less than elsewhere due to poor roads & the large amount of climbing. I wanted to be able to enjoy the country without rushing especially at the end.

It was half a days ride from Samarqand to the Tajik border. The road on the Uzbek side was similar to that which I'd passed along on the way to Samarqand, varied but intense agriculture, tidy villages & people everywhere. The mountains of Tajikistan got closer & closer. At Samarqand the altitude was just over 400m whereas the border was just over 1000m.

The exit from Uzbekistan was very easy. No-one went through my luggage to see if I was taking out something that I hadn't declared on the way in. No-one seemed interested in the accommodation registration forms that I had altered to cover every night of my stay.

Likewise the entrance into Tajikistan was simple though the contrast in border facilities was stark. On the Uzbek side there were proper buildings, there were computers (though everyone's details were entered into a folio with pen & paper), there was even an x-ray machine for luggage though it wasn't turned on. The Tajik side comprised of a series of old caravans for customs & passport control. So relaxed was officialdom that I had to insist on getting a customs declaration & entry stamp in my passport.

Once in Tajikistan the landscape was quite similar to that of Uzbekistan. Though the mountains were getting closer. The shape of the valley was clearer, the river running through it was very wide. There was plenty of agricultural land & with little sign of mechanisation there were lots of people working it. I saw groups of people gathering wheat by hand with sickles. There was very little traffic on the road, with almost as much being donkeys as cars. The road surface was quite bad, as expected.

I stopped to camp in an orchard, though as I explored it to find a nice spot I realised that it was rutted from being ploughed. Just as I set about dismounting my gear from the bike a farmer came past on a donkey & called me over. I wasn't sure if it was his orchard so I explained what I was doing & asked if it was ok. He invited me to follow him to camp, as I thought, by his house. He, his heavily pregnant wife & 5 kids lived in a small & rather pungent room of what I imagined must have been a cooperative farm building. Where tractors & other farm machinery was once kept there were cows. A couple of donkeys were tethered to a rusting bulldozer.

The farmer laid out a mat & some mattresses on the asphalt in front of the building, this I shared with the farmer & his youngest 2 kids. The whole family sat & stared as I cooked my dinner. I found the empty stares of the kids quite uncomfortable & regretted the decision to accept the invitation. Fortunately it was quite late when I stopped so it was soon bed time.

I cycled 88 km in 6 hours & 16 minutes
Total so far 6790 km in 99 days

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