On 25th July I depart heading for Tajikistan, with every intention of returning home by the end of August. Along the way, I will be crossing the nations of Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan whilst returning via Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Slovenia and all to experience the Pamir Road in Central Asia.
The legendary Pamir Highway, the second highest international road in the world after the Karakorum Highway, begins in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan and after following the M41, ends in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Its route winds along the plateau which carries the same name and rises to a height of 3,000 – 3,500m, and then rises again to 4,655m at the famous pass. This artery is “naturally” rough and is the home of “off road” riding but it is also the victim of landslides, earthquakes, avalanches and overflowing rivers.
In the early 1930’s, the road was partially paved by the Russians, but since then it has never been properly preserved and maintained. At most, it has only ever been restored as a result of real need, even though it is the only country road that connects the region of Gorno Badakhshan, often abandoned to its own destiny. Traveling on the Pamir Road is a unique experience as it is the altitude of the mountains, which, in the midst of stony slopes and barren lunar landscapes, take your breath away. Here the solitude factor really takes effect, coupled with the excitement of surviving for a few days in desolate locations, only exchanging pleasantries with the people of the limited villages scattered along the way, or perhaps with unlucky truck drivers, forced to stop for days at a time, as a result of an incident or mechanical breakdown.
Passing the Afghan border for a hundred miles, along a tormented, violent, impetuous and slimy river, which seems to be there to separate the two countries; the Chinese border, on the other hand, is simply beyond a fence made of wood and barbed wire; only two meters away from China … but I do not deviate from the road as here, it is best to continue along the highway.
It takes several days of travel to savour these amazing places; endless fields of sunflowers in a seemingly quiet Ukraine; forests as far as the eye can see and infinite fields of corn on the limitless plains of Mother Russia; deserts, grassland, arid pastures and Hollywood-style cities on the beleaguered plains of Kazakistan. Then there is the real Asia, with the bazaars of Tashkent and Dushanbe with their aromatic spices and pottery. With the smells, the colours, the tastes and the people who welcome and greet you smiling with their almond-shaped eyes … it really is another world.
This time, as on previous trips, the motorcycle was the small Kawasaki KLE 500. Sleek, low-quality, safe, easy to use, prepared and well-equipped with the best accessories available on the market. Those that for years have accompanied me on various adventures. I believe that the success of a journey, especially if travelling alone, derives from bags, cases, trousers, jacket, boots, helmet, tent, sleeping bag etc. A set of equipment to be carefully evaluated.
16,000 kilometers in 37 days, with only a few technical problems that could be solved on the spot, and so many emotions, but there is also the fatigue, stress and even fear, the fear of falling. Especially falling into the uninhabited lands along the Pamir “pits”. Whilst at first glance the motorcycle seemed overloaded, it has capacity for such a long, varied journey.
Reaching these distant lands, starting from home, riding day after day, traveling one kilometer after another, crossing one border after another … has made this experience more authentic, complete even, and a real conquest. A truly unique and alternative experience, born out of a thought, an idea, a simple curiosity. This has been an important life experience that has allowed me to know and discover the people, cultures, customs and another corner of Asia.
I have seen enchanted places, suspended between the earth and the sky, border villages in locations with exotic names, made of gher or mud, straw and dung, which appear like a mirage. I have traveled on roads that are infinitely lost amongst mountain ridges covered by perennial glaciers, at altitudes that are unthinkable for travel by motorcycle and the 4,000m plateau surrounded by absolute emptiness, enclosing magical lakes.
I’ve taken thousands of photos and shot hours of video footage, but there is only one way to understand the emotions experienced during such a journey: put aside all fears and stereotypes and leave! Leave the port to witness astonishing locations, discover extraordinary things and to come into contact with a population that is distant but not so different.