Khujand to Dushanbe

We leave our hotel in Khujand at 6.30am and by 7am it is 30 degrees!! Lucky we will be climbing over a couple of passes today so it should be cooler – we even have our sweaters handy. I have had butterflies about today’s ride for sometime: the thought of going through 2 tunnels over 5kms long, and a shorter but pitch dark one still makes me gasp for air. The other reason I have been stressing out about today’s ride is because Streak has been behaving eratically since we left Almaty: the engine just cuts out when running slowly. That means when slowing down for tight turns or traffic, at traffic lights, when pulling up to park basically at all those potentially awkward times. I just hope it doesn’t die completely inside one of those tunnels!!

I am relieved to say now that as of this afternoon, Streak has been fixed. More on that later.

The scenery over the 2 mountain passes over 3200 m altitude is breathtaking and the road is good. Traffic isn’t too bad, but it can be very slow at times as overtaking is a challenge and the number of broken down cars and trucks makes it interesting at times. It is no problem for locals who regularly overtake, ever so slowly, on blind bends. The tunnels were ‘interesting’ as one says!!! The first one, the Shakhristan tunnel was completed in 2012 and the famous Anzob tunnel, in 2016. That one used to be known as the Tunnel of Death. While it no longer warrants that title today as the road had been fixed, massive potholes filled, dim lighting installed and there are vents so you won’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning anymore, but it certainly did feel like the tunnel of death as we entered it: an old truck was just exiting as we arrived, leaving the entrance filled with thick choming fumes… I always let Anthony lead when going through tunnels as it makes it easier for me to follow – I find it quite disorientating otherwise. Luckily, we had heard of the pitch dark one and its cows!! Yes, cows live in that tunnel – they’re not silly cows, the tunnels are cooler than outside.

Leaving Khujand

Typical road in this part of Tajikistan, cotton fields on the right

Workers carrying their daily melon to work

Why so many part built and boarded up new houses in this region?

Khujand-Dushanbe

Another broken down vehicule

Khujand-Dushanbe

Fruit sellers on the pass

We have just ridden the switchbacks across the river before going back up again – Khujand-Dushanbe

The dry apricot seller was proud to sit in Streak

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

An unnerving situation – a car has driven off the road and people are searching the river

Part of another fabulous CCCP mural

Part of another fabulous CCCP mural

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

About to enter the Anzob tunnel – notice the fumes!

Getting through those 3 main tunnels was such a relief. I was so glad to make it to the otherside of them – my reference in my last post.

I made it through the 2 long tunnels!!

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe


Must learn to take better selfies!


All the tunnels were much smaller and manageable. The scenery once again kept changing and was stunning. It was such a great ride.

Down from 3200 to 1500m altitude here

All partly built houses 20kms north of Dushanbe – future weekenders?


We get to our hotel in Dushanbe after our 300 km ride very hot and tired – the extreme heat takes a lot out of us. It only went down to 25 degrees at the high passes and we never needed those sweaters. We are told it must be over 40 degrees but the authorities don’t like to admit to such high temperatures. First priority is to cool down, shower, change and get some lunch. The restaurant “300 metres down the road” is really more like a kilometre each way. In this heat, it feels like a lot more. Fed and watered, it is time to look for a mechanic for Streak. We have two potential mechanics in Dushanbe – motorcycle forums are so full of helpful information! So we decide to get a taxi to take us to both. The first one we go to, Bike-House, we feel comfortable with straight away and decide not to bother to seeing the other but return first thing the following morning – we could not be bothered riding again that day so late in the afternoon!

When we get to the Bike House, Aziz get to work on my bike immediately. First thing he does is start it up – it dies of course which is great, there’s nothing worse than reporting a problem and finding you cannot duplicate it when you want to – and dies again as it should, perfect. He found 4 problems!!

1. A split air intake pipe
2. Cracked casing where the Scottoiler vacuum pressure pipe goes in
3. Pipe that had at sometime possibly been reinstalled twisted, we could see the small fractures
4. Faulty throttle sensor, very loose, we swapped with Anthony’s and tested ok

He and his colleagues made me feel good by their reaction when I told them I had ridden with Streak in that condition from Almaty, 1550 kms away. Going down the steep mountain pass hairpin bends required quite a bit of throttle and brake work together.

Aziz was fantastic. At one point we considered either trying to Fedex the throttle sensor part so wait however many days here for it, or just soldier on until Istanbul. But Aziz was not going to stop working until Streak was fixed. 4 hours later, Streak is fixed – with the throttle sensor, Aziz did a ‘Tajik’ fix!… – well enough anyway to move on.

Streak being fixed at the Bike-House, Dushanbe

The first of 4 problems found – split rubber pipe

Ecstatic Aziz, aka Copperfield, and Anne

We highly recommend the Bike-House Dushanbe, Druzhby Narodov Street, Dushanbe, Tadzjikistan, Latitude: 38.57002 | Longitude: 68.81145.

Riding Streak away from the Bike-House back to the hotel was wonderful! Streak feels like a new bike. I feel great. And drivers here are the best so far.

The rest of our time in Dushanbe is spent doing washing, downloading/uploading photos, shopping at the Sultoni Kabir market for empty containers to have extra fuel for crossing Uzbekistan which still has a bad shortage of fuel, visiting the Auchan hypermarket for more snacks, resting in the very comfortable Lotte Palace hotel (the best hotel on our trip so far) and best of all, making the most of good internet to call family.

Our opulent hotel!!

A chandelier in our hotel!!

Our hotel garden

Mural on the side of a fabric factory next to our hotel, Dushanbe


Off to see our friends in Samarkand next – no idea how long that will take – all depends on the next border crossing. Til then, thanks again for all your comments!!

– Anne

Almaty to Khujand

It is 6 days since we left our bubble life in Almaty already. By the time we have finished our ride for the day, cooled off, recovered from the exhausting heat and intense concentration due to potholes and locals’ driving style, then downloaded the photos, and spent hours to upload the selected photos to the blog, we have had no energy to write before going to bed not too late for our early morning start. It is a real pity we can’t record our thoughts as we ride as there are so many details we’d like to mention…

We have seen the most amazing scenery, often dramatically changing from one bend to another, from stark and majestic mountains, to lush green valleys and to desperately dry and hot desert where breathing seems to dry your lungs. And once again, we have met more wonderful, friendly and generous locals.

Here’s a silent picture drive from Almaty, to Bishkek, Toktogul, Osh, Konibodom, Khujand – for the last few days, riding through the fertile Fergana Valley and past numerous enclaves and exclaves, the result of the post Soviet break-up and local feuds. Luckily, the new M13 road allows drivers to skirt these safely.

The history in this part of the world is fascinating but too long to talk about here. Just very briefly though, where we are now in Khojund for example is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. It was established by Cyrus the Great in the 7-6 centuries BC and Alexander the great built “Alexandria the Furthest” nearby in 329 BC. Located on the Silk Road it soon became a cultural hub. Khujand was later captured by Arab armies in the 8th century, fought Genghis Khan’s army then got destroyed in the 13th century. Then in the 19th century, it was occupied by the Russian Empire and became part of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. The result of various invasions is seen today in the ethnic mix of Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz people.

As depicted by the fabulous huge town monuments, the Ferghana valley saw cotton cultivation mandated by the Soviets and continues to this day. Seeing how dry this region is, except along the rivers, it seems like a tragic waste of precious water to grow cotton. We have seen people drinking from water channels in the streets. Riding through those valleys and along the treed villages always gave us a welcome respite from the oppressing heat – we love the sweet wafts of rotten fruit as we ride along the inumerable fruit sellers along the side of the road. How many water melons do people eat here?!!

Enjoy this 6 day ride!

Ever changing scenery

Too-Ashuu Pass, Kyrgyzstan – see where we came from at the bottom

Hello from Too-Ashuu Pass, Kyrgyzstan

Scenery from the other side of the Too-Ashuu tunnel

Time for lunch – more manty!

The beautiful Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

The beautiful Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

The beautiful Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

Love the carefully painted and placed white pebbles

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

Good to know there is a clinic and ambulance around

How many greens are there?!

and honey, lots of honey

Back to fertile valleys

Heading down towards Toktogul

Kyrgyz man with traditional hat

Toktogul reservoir, Kyrgyzstan

Toktogul reservoir, Kyrgyzstan

Sunset over Toktogul reservoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, south of Kara-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, south of Kara-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, south of Kara-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Coming into Uzgen – those colours made me wish I could paint

We skirted around numerous enclaves, the result of post Soviet breakup and new borders – see fences in the distance

Town or region monuments

Soviet monument outside Almaty

Jalalabad town

Entering Batken, Kyrgyzstan

Mosaics

Entering Osh – look at that mosaic!


Fabulous Soviet monument, Isfara

Konibodom

Welcome mosaic – Khujand, Tajikistam

Safe travels mosaic – Khujand, Tajikistam

Ismoil Somoni monument – Tajikistan currency is named after him

Part of Ismoil Somoni monument, acknowledging his ancestors’ Zoroastrianism

Driving style

Typical driving – expect to move over

Move over for the Merc in a hurry

Typical driving

Typical driving

Typical driving

Osh

They love stretched limos in this part of the world

That’s a metallic car!!

Beautiful and delicious local bread, Osh market

Kids cannot resist playing with water, Osh park

A Yak 40 plane in the Osh park!

Anthony finally tried some local cheese in Osh – he did not finish it…

Lively local park, Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Museum Sulaiman Too, Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain – Unesco listed – and Museum, Osh, Kyrgyzstan

People and what travelling is all about

Random kindness – they got us a bottle of cold water as we were leaving this restaurant

We get so many waves and beaming smiles as we ride by


Buying some dates in Osh market, Kyrgyzstan

Met Laura and Toby on the road, looking for a restaurant – funnily they were going to the same hotel as us in Osh

A common occurence whenever we stop


A special time after stopping here:

I turned back to photograph this stunning mosaic…

and got invited into Nenuphar’s garden

Nenuphar picked 2kgs of nectarines for us which we could not refuse as we did the cheese

Little Aziza enjoying her new pencils

Next stop, Dushanbe – see you on the other side!! By the way, we are going with Plan B as we did not get our Turkmen visa so cannot return to Iran this time.

– Anne

Reflections while becalmed in Almaty

We have been here in Almaty for 2 weeks now and I am reminded of the last line of the Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ which says ‘You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!’. As our plans keep changing, we keep making and cancelling reservations at the hotel Parasat, not California. We have stayed in five different rooms here so far.

Two weeks in the same place for us is a strange experience after almost four months constant travelling on the road, it feels to me like we are becalmed and have lost steerage , the sail is gently moving in a very light breeze, causing the mast hoops to creak from time to time. A little strange analogy so far from the ocean but the loss of direction is like malaise that has made one feel listless and sometimes happy just to read, watch TV or sleep, although parts of our days have been busy with unexpected activities, see below.

Our friend serendipity has also caught up with us, I thought we had left her in Mongolia, but she seems keen to travel with us again. As you may recall from the last blog, we were waiting to hear back from the Turkmenistan Consulate on our visa application which we were told to call about on 31 July. We planned to leave for a week and do a loop around Kyrgyzstan and then return to Almaty until Anne’s right shoulder froze overnight and left her with limited movement and significant pain. We were lucky to be here in Almaty not on the road in a remote location, hence the return of Serendipity. We were lucky enough while seeking medical advice to be pointed in the direction of an English speaking orthopaedic specialist whom Anne is now seeing daily for some lovely shockwave therapy, not painless sadly, to restore movement to her right arm. Progress is being made.

While my writing may give the impression that we are doing little or nothing, we are walking 8-11km / 5-7 miles a day as we go to for Anne’s treatment, Costa Coffee and exploring a new location each day from the Green Market to Hard Rock Cafe Almaty to meeting ex Soviet sailors celebrating Russian Navy day (31 July) . We do feel however that we are in a bit of a ‘bubble’ here in Almaty, which is the term we also use for the Dostyk Plaza, a modern shopping centre that would not be out of place anywhere in the world where Anne gets her excellent ‘Costa’ coffee. The rest of Kazakhstan, and the more distant parts of Almaty do not reflect the environment we are living in.

Ex Soviet Navy sailors on Russia’s Navy Day – “no more war” they told us…

Almaty Green Market

One huge peach for Anthony

Lovely wheelchair ramp!!


Almaty – mixture of modern and less so

Anne’s treatment is progressing better than our Turkmenistan visa application. We had the nurse at the specialist call on the 31st as planned to have a Russian speaker talk with the consulate, “no answer, call back in a week” she was told. The nurse said it was too long, “call back tomorrow”, she did, “still no decision, call back”. Today we got “нет”, “нет what” asked the nurse, “still no decision, probably no approval”. We believe we are just getting the run around after our difficult application, but it’s hard to tell. We will wait till tomorrow morning, Thursday, but leave then if there is no answer. While it has been frustrating, we wanted to try here to see if it was possible, so we could tell others YES/NO since we could find no recent attempts in Almaty. If no one tries, based on previous information, it could have changed and no one would know, hence our effort here, which has coincided with Anne’s injury. Hence Seredipity…

Amazingly, Shane, a friend from Brisbane, http://www.tiredanddehydrated.com, is also waiting to find out if he’ll get a transit visa at the same time as us and has chosen the same transit route as us – he is travelling in the opposite direction. If we are all successful, we would meet up somewhere in Turkmenistan. That would be so much fun!

While in Almaty, we also get to watch the daily world news cycle, on the only English channel here, CNN, which seems so distant and unimportant to us, but we realise the events are likely to have an impact on people. We are in a bubble in so many ways.

Yesterday, we continued our search for some vinyl to patch the holes both our seats have developed. We were recommended a car repair and detailing place. As staff are desperately trying to explain the cost of completely recovering our seats, a customer comes over to us and asks in perfect English if he can help. Almaz offers to take us to a motorcycle spares and repair place he knows. Off we go in his beautiful black Range Rover to FreeRider which also has a hostel and pub.

Almaz took us to FreeRider store, Almaty

It was so interesting finding out more about life in Kazakhstan, and especially the difference between pre and post independence in 1991 and the impact on people. Almaz was quite a character with a great sense of humour. We appreciated his openess. And his help of course too!! Once again, people coming to our aid.

The repair man hasn’t shown up for work yet (it is 11.40am) – he had a big night we are told. The store is impressive, stocked with all sorts of spares and tyres. When we finally got a call back from Jana at 4pm that we could turn up at 10 tomorrow, we decide it was too close to our departure to take the risk of the man having another big night and we’d be left with no seats. We’ll patch up the seats with our liquid vinyl and some rubber mat we found at the supermarket.

A new experience today as we wait to see Anne’s specialist: the ground is shaking. It lasts 10 seconds. It can’t be a jackhammer outside, we are in a high rise. Did you feel that, Anne asks Anthony. Yes, he replies calmy. An earthquake? Probably. Within 15 minutes, it repeats 7 times. Quick check on Google – yes, we had a small 4.3 earthquake in the night. So these are aftershocks. Anne wants to get out. We walk downstairs to the ground floor: the exit door is locked. Back up we go. Why is everyone so calm Anne wonders? The nurse didn’t feel anything. “You won’t die in Kazakhstan today, just relax” she laughs, this happens all the time here apparently. That was enough to calm Anne down. By that time, after 12 aftershocks, we had lost count of the number. The funny thing is that on our way to the specialist, Anne had pointed out how strange it was that granite tiles on a building facade were cracked. The building must have moved she thought…

Anne’s shockwave therapy was painful but extremely effective. Thank you Aliya and doctors. For anyone visiting Almaty and needing some orthopedic rehabilitation, contact Doctor Dana Abildinova on danarehab@mail.ru.

Hello!!


Anne’s lovely doctor Daulet and nurse Aliya


The pointy towers of Nurli Tau where Anne went for rehab


Just for fun, Amaty

Thank you Almaty, we’ve had a great couple of weeks here.

Almaty, the apple’s ancestral home

What is the plan next then? Unless a miracle happens tomorrow, we have to give up on our wish to visit friends in Iran and change our route. We will head to Aktau, and cross the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan on a cargo ship. Another adventure – we hear we can wait up to aweek to get onto a cargo ship. First, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan then back into Kazakhstan.

The 2slowspeeds

A week in Almaty

Once we have checked into our hotel in Almaty, we have a quick late lunch and decide to head to the Uzbek embassy: it is late in the day so we are not expecting to achieve much but at least find out the local process for applying for a visa tomorrow. I quickly pack paperwork and passport photos just in case and off we go. It is 4pm by the time we get to the consulate and there is a throng of people milling around a small wooden shack, some with papers in their hands, some without. Hmmm, wonder what the process here is. I walk up to a young lady and ask her if she knows. She speaks English! Fantastic. I explain we want to get a visa to visit Uzbekistan. She goes to the guard to explain what we are after and he opens a metal gate and waves us through. I will not go through the details of the next steps here as they are numerous and all are listed in our Borders and Visas section. Suffice to say here that on day 1 in Almaty, after a 2 hour process, we leave the consulate with our Uzbekistan visa in our passports! What a fantastic start.

With the first visa in the bag, next on our agenda is the Iranian visa. We are grateful they are open on a Friday. While it is close to our hotel, it is a strenuous 3km walk due to the steep terrain and streams here. It makes for an interesting walk!

Stream running through Almaty


Walking to the Iranian Consulate in Almaty

No masses of people here, we are let in through the massive metal door and walk right up to a lovely office with leather couches, coffee table and picture books, water fountain. No one else is there so we walk right up to a little window, hand over all the appropriate paperwork and are told to go to the Pakistani bank to pay for the visa and come right back. (There is a little more to this but again, all detailed in our visas section). Surprise surprise, the bank is not next door but 3kms away! We walk all the way back down the hill to town but to a taxi rank outside a fancy plaza to take us to the bank then back to the Iranian consulate where they eventually tell us to come back Tuesday morning to collect the visas and back to the plaza. Time for some lunch in this amazing ‘bubble’ that this plaza is here: shiny, airy, modern, air conditioned, all sorts of stores we recognise, and Costa Coffee!!! It also has an amazing food store with all sorts of prepared salads and dishes.

Enjoying yet another Costa coffee in Almaty

While having lunch, we decide we should visit BMW to check them out and maybe ask about a service. Another cab takes us there. My pathetic Russian does not cut the mustard and someone is quickly called to help us. We are introduced to Alikhan, the BMW Autocentre Bavaria Regional Manager, and Eva Antimonova, Business Development Director at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Almaty. They both speak perfect English. As we chat about our trip and our service requirement, Alikhan is amazed that we have no problem with the bikes, nothing is broken and we have all the spares we need for the standard service. They can do the service for us now if we like and we are welcome to wait the 2 hours. We quickly return to the hotel, change into our riding gear and ride back to BMW. For the next couple of hours, we chat to Alikhan and Eva about the car market in Kazakhstan while having drinks, cakes, and watching Streak and Storm being worked on the large tv monitor! As we’re chatting, we find out the BMW general manager had got his driver to find us Kazakhstan stickers, as we had earlier explained how we had looked for Russian and Kazakh stickers for our topboxes without success, and has been successful!!

2 hours later, Streak and Storm are ready for us with a clean bill of health and they are gleaming!!!!

Alikhan and the BMW Almaty service manager

Before we leave Alikhan invites to take us up the mountain tomorrow Saturday. What a lovely offer. It is always great to meet locals especially when we can converse easily in English. It is a great day out with Alikhan, going to places we would not have known about and learning more about him and his country.

Alikhan, our wonderful guide for the day

On the cable car, going up Shymbulak, Almaty

Alikhan and us on Shymbulak mountain, Almaty

We are at 32000m altitude, view of Ile-Alatau Nat’l Park with glacier, Almaty

As Alikhan leaves us at our hotel after lunch, he took this photo of us which I love:

A private moment caught by Alikhan

Thank you Alikhan for a fabulous day!!

We have walked so much in Almaty – an average of 8kms a day minimum – in this heat, it feels like much more! The second half of each walk always harder as it is a slow walk up the hill to get back to our hotel. It has been so hot, it feels like my skin is sizzling, even in the shade, as it is dry heat. Thank goodness for all the trees, shade and running water everywhere. It is fantastic that Almaty city council have made the most of their natural resources – the mountains and therefore glacial melts so close to the city. Sunday, we must have walked at least 10kms:

One of many fountains in Almaty

Glacial water runs through channels that criss-cross Almaty city centre

Typical Almaty centre street

Typical Almaty centre street

Almaty centre, restaurants, apartments, bowling alley

Panfilov war memorial, Almaty

Ascension Cathedral, Almaty

Almaty Independence Square

Step onto a pedestrian crossing and traffic will stop for you!


Walking back to our hotel in Almaty

Monday is spent washing our panniers and riding gear. I was very lucky as I did a ‘boy look’ emptying my pockets and only realised a couple of hours later that I had left 2 camera batteries in one of my inside pockets. I quickly get a cup of uncooked rice and place the batteries in a couple of zip lock bags. A couple of days later, they seem fine. That was lucky!

Washing day in Almaty


Tuesday is a big day for us: it is Iran and Turkmenistan visas day. We turn up at the Iranian consulate as requested at 10am to collect our visas to be greeted with 45′ of confusion – our paperwork is nowhere to be found. Luckily we have the tiny paper slip that shows we paid for our visas last week. We are not sure if they found it or if they were too embarassed and just printed the visas to get us out of their hair!! Anyway, visas in hand, first stop is the photocopying store to get colour copies of this latest visa to add to the paperwork we need for the Turkmen visa.

The Turkmen consulate in Almaty cannot be a prime job: the offices are located at the back of an apartment block… There are not masses of people, just one being processed and 2 in front of us. As it is only 11am, we have a comfortable 2 hours before closing time at 1pm. Haha, you guessed it!! That was not plenty of time. It was a re-run of the sloth part in Zootopia. Watching the guy, who was obviously not having a good day, checking applications and comparing passport photocopies with the actual passport, was comical he was so slow. Then having spent over 30 minutes checking their paperwork, it took him 45′ minutes to get a tiny pre-printed piece of paper with bank address and fee to the couple in front of us. Maybe he disappeared to have lunch we wondered at the time. Anyway, our turn next. He looks at my paperwork: no no. Blue pen. Not black pen. I have to redo my form in blue pen. So now someone else slips in front of us… aarrgghh, and he is obviously a tour operator with many applications. But he is helpful and he stays behind a few minutes to translate for us: we had to write a letter asking the consulate to grant us a visa. We managed to hand all our paperwork just before 1pm. It is finally all good, we get that tiny piece of paper and are told to come back today. No one else is processed today and he closes his little window. We rush off, 2kms walk each way to get to the nominated bank and get back and find his window open: he was waiting for us. That could be promising we think…. but his parting words are: call this number or come back in a week and I will let you know my decision…. We have no idea if we will get our transit visa… I have to add that we have found no report of a transit visa being granted from this consulate for the past couple of years but the other two visas having been processed so quickly, we felt a duty to try in order to report back to the travelling community. We can go for a tour of Kyrgyzstan for a week and come back. Will see what happens next and what we decide to do…

We have enjoyed our time in Almaty so far, the leafy streets, numerous parks and fountains, constant sound of running water, well maintained pavements and streets, the choice of foods, the fresh fruit juices, the ‘bubble’ that Almaty seems to be with modern, glassy, flashy highrises inter-mixed with Soviet era apartment blocks – such a contrast with the rest of the country.

While we travel, we still often think of home and all the work that awaits us there, yes, those renovations we put off to come on this trip, and Anthony’s fountain.

Could this fountain work in our back garden?!

– Anne