Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Near Alichur

After the horrible weather of the previous night it was a relief that I was greeted with blue sky in the morning.

I finished off the monster that I'd started the previous day, the 4344m Khargush pass! What made it such was not just its height but the state of the road up to & the down from it.

The pass linked the upper part of the Pyanj river valley with the Pamir Highway. However there were few reasons (other than tourism) to take this route & as such it had never been asphalted. I got most of the truly nasty unridable section out of the way the day before. The remaining 800m of ascent was the most difficult I'd ever ridden on. Above a certain altitude I simply couldn't get much power out of my legs & had to push the bike.

The scenery was equal to the difficulty of the climb, with wonderful views of the Wakhan across the Pamir river in Afghanistan. On the Afghan side of the river stood the lonely ruins of a caravansaray that some speculate Marco Polo may have stayed at on his way through the Pamirs. I also spotted a group of wild camels grazing by the river, who'd have imagined to see them at 3500m altitude. All through the day I heard the cry of what I thought was a bird, until I saw a marmot-like creature making it. I think it was an alarm call to their mates that something dangerous (me, I suppose) was around.

I passed by the military base & checkpoint at Khargush. This would have been a strategic spot in a strategic region when such things mattered. But now they don't & the base looked distinctly run down. A short distance later I was invited by a man to have a cup of tea, which I gratefully accepted. I was provided with fresh homemade bread, a bowl of goats milk, another of fresh yoghurt & some shirchoy (black tea mixed with milk). Thus fortified I struggled up the last few kms. The pass itself was a bit of an anticlimax. I only noticed it once I'd gone over it & for one so high it didn't offer much of a view.

I'd hoped to be able to freewheel all the way down to the point where the road joined the M41 & the Pamir Plateau. Unfortunately the road was so bad that it was almost as much work to go down as the other side had been to come up. At times it was like cycling down a dry river bed. I pity the cyclist who tried to do this pass in the opposite direction to me. Lower down it was all sandy & corrugated. Sand is a bit like ice to cycle on & a corrugated road surface is extremely unpleasant without good suspension. My suspension was my arse & it wasn't up to it. All of this had to be done at speed as I'd run completely out of water & needed to find some before nightfall, which wasn't far off. The Southern side of the pass had lots of water however on the Northern side the only water was in salt lakes, several of which I passed.

I was so relieved to reach the smooth asphalt of the M41. It was totally different country from that of the earlier stages of the cycling in Tajikistan. Instead a narrow well watered twisting valley I was in a very wide, dry, parallel-sided valley with almost no sign of any habitation, at just under 4000m altitude. The valley ran East to West, to the North was the Northern Alichur Range & to the South was the, you guessed it, the Southern Alichur Range. Both had peaks at 6000m & were very scenic with the fading light of day.

I'd figured to try & make it to the village of Alichur before it became completely dark & find a homestay. I spotted a small stream with a suitable spot for camping & stopped there.

I cycled 80 km in 8 hours & 42 minutes
Total so far 7996 km in 117 days
GPS Coordinates of end point - N 37°42.033, E 73°14.124

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