Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
We decide to enter Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan via a secondary border, hoping it would be less busy than the one that was situated midway between the capitals of the two countries. Luck is on our side. When we arrive at the border checkpoint, there are no vehicles in line. So we don’t even have to wait! Visas are not required to enter the country and the procedures for importing motorcycles are quite quick and simple.
Instantly, we make a number of observations. Being poor here is the norm, but everyone is easygoing and always smiling. Children play noisily all around and they run after us amused and enthusiastic as we slowly pass through the villages where they live. At about halfway through one of these villages, a policeman invites us to stop and I realize that, even here, we’re going to have to argue with the authorities. After buying a local SIM and discovering that we could pay for fuel with our national ATM card, so we wouldn’t have to carry too much local cash with us, we head towards the capital, climbing up a pass that the map marks as being over 3,000 meters high!
It’s the first time that both Arianna and I tackle these altitudes on a motorcycle. So we take off, excited and happy to finally be back in the mountains, which we had not seen since the time we spent in Armenia and Georgia. Look, snow! Once over the pass, we reach one of the main roads in the country, the one that connects the capital, Bishkek, to Osh, the second largest city, a crossroads between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. After passing a large service station, we reach a green valley with lots of yurt camps, which are the tents that belong to the farmers who move to the mountains during the summer. Among these, some sell local cheeses, others offer a variety of packaged products, as if they are a convenience store, while others offer the possibility of overnight stays where you can enjoy a typical dinner. We decide to move towards the river to pitch our tent in a freedom camping area, ready to spend a cool silent night with the snowy peaks as our companions.
Once in Bishkek, Arianna decides that she does not want to ride during the last part of her trip so earlier than planned, she decides to leave her motorcycle with the forwarder that will be transporting it back home. She books a flight to the capital of Tajikistan to travel back along the Pamir road using public transportation. This will be a story in a story!
After having serviced my motorcycle in the courtyard of the hostel and rearranged the bags in view of the time I’ll be spending alone, I’m ready to leave for this new part of my adventure. Traveling alone, I’m able to follow my own instincts more and I feel like it’s easier to meet new people. To the point that, having decided to spend the first night alone in a freedom camping area along a river, and having found a great place to pitch my tent, I go back just to buy some water in a small shop (that at first seemed almost empty). After a chat with the owners, they invite me to pitch my tent in their yard. The evening ends with a nice plate of pasta prepared in their very modest kitchen!
I realize that I no longer want to speed through this trip following specific timetables. I prefer to enjoy every moment, riding just for the sake of it, not just to get from one point to another, even if the roads I travel are beautiful. So, I abandon the idea of arriving in Mongolia, let alone Vladivostok. I’ll enjoy a month traveling around Central Asia and then I’ll decide whether to return home on my motorcycle or end up sending it to Bishkek. I spent my whole life planning this moment and now I really want to enjoy it. I travel along as many secondary roads as I can, trying to meet the locals. Every day, I learn a few new words in Russian or Kyrgyz, constantly surprising the people I speak to along the way, while the roads are ever more beautiful than I anticipated. One night, I dreamt of the moment when I would be standing in front of the Pamir mountain range. When I finally arrive in Sary-Tash, everything is exactly as I imagined it! Very high peaks, completely covered with snow are the backdrop to this village of rundown wooden houses, a crossroads between Kyrgyzstan, China, and Tajikistan. After spending a night at 3,600 meters above sea level, in the base camp on Lenin Peak – over 7,000 meters high – I decide that the time has come to cross the last border: Tajikistan is waiting for me!
It is a beautiful day and I calmly head towards the border. The asphalt is quite good, and I ride along with no worries, even if I already know that after crossing the border, the road conditions will be a lot worse. It doesn’t take long for the asphalt to give way to red and yellow dirt covered with stones. Once I reach the foot of the Kyzyl-Art pass, I stop just long enough to take a picture and catch my breath to face the bends that await me on the gravel. I played a wildcard when I suddenly had to brake hard to dodge a huge pothole caused by a pipe that had yielded to the weight of who knows how many vehicles that had previously driven over it! In all this, the snowy peaks and strong wind keep me company and never abandon me, not even for a second. It’s already afternoon when I reach Lake Karakul, a lake that was formed millions of years ago after the fall of a meteorite. Its colours seem unreal, or maybe I’m just hungry? I can’t believe there is a village at this altitude, with a tavern ready to feed travelers.
Continuing on, the road becomes even more perilous and I begin to feel tired. The washboarding kills by back and my motorcycle. But ahead, I see a sign: Ak-Baital Pass, 4,655m! at this point, Murgab is not very far. That’s where I’ll stop tonight and it’s also the starting point of the treacherous Pamir Highway. I really don’t know what to expect after today. Thanks to its unique and constantly evolving scenery, Tajikistan has taught me to enjoy every kilometer. Deviating onto the Wakhan Valley, bordering with Afghanistan, I can enjoy fantastic natural views and humble, yet, moving encounters with the locals. Children approach me when I stop to fill my water can. One of them is holding the handlebars of a bicycle that was laying on the ground not far away. I quickly open my side bag to get my tools and voila! The bicycle is fixed! Other children approach me and one girl speaks English. We talk briefly and I realize once and for all, how far from home I’ve travelled. I definitely convince myself that I want to enjoy these last few weeks travelling in these areas, without pre-planning anything. Taking advantage of this trip, as long as I can … I’ll ship my motorcycle back from Bishkek, so that I can spend as much time as I can on these roads so far from home.