Every morning, a new adventure awaits us in the East. After the last sunset in Uzbekistan, a new day begins in Tajikistan. In the saddle of our motorcycles we cover many kilometers raising kilos of dust. We ride along a road that flows like a river in the middle of rocky canyons. At one point, we are literally surrounded by Tagiki people of all ages who are cheering for us. At the border, we realize that my back rim is bent, so we straighten it a bit. At 11pm we arrive at Dushanbe where for just $6 we sleep in a hostel, on a stack of rugs. The next day we head to the shop to replace the rim, repair the tube, lubricate the chain and replace a bolt we lost along the way. We then get back on the road and stop at Kulob and then, in 2 stages, reach Khorog. All along, the road challenge us with more and more mountains, and turns at times overhanging the river. Once in Khorog, in the shop, I notice a huge nail stuck in the tire and ask them to pull it out.
We only get a sleep little at the Pamir Lodge, the most famous hostel in the city, because during the night it gets cold, and in the morning we run to the nearest thermal spring to tray and warm ourselves up. Recharged and excited, we continue our trip on rock and sandy trails, towards Ishkashim. We arrive at Langar and, from the vantage point at high altitude, we can see the Afghan mountains stretching almost all the way to Pakistan: a breath-taking view! We conquer the highest pass of the Pamir at more than 4,600 m and reach the Karakul Salt Lake. A cold windy night, in a drafty yurta, makes us appreciate the 20 kg heavy blankets! The next day we cross the border with Kyrgyzstan finding a grassy plateau with yurtas and free-range horses. After Osh, we stop at Arslanbob, here we are hosted by a family with unruly children: we eat warm bread, potato soup and homemade jams. We then leave and ride our last two Kyrgyz stages to Toktogul and then Bishkek.
In Kazakhstan, we have some fun on the broad roads of Almaty, a town whose name means “the place with apples”. We make friends with Dastan, a rider in a racing suit aboard a Kawasaki Z1000, and he kindly takes us to the shop where they set us up with 2 brand new tire sets! After Almaty we visit Sarkand, Ayagoz and Semey. But we will also remember our short Kazak adventure thanks to two tickets we got from the cops.
We arrive at Barnaul and it almost doesn’t look like we are in Siberia: the temperature is 35 degrees. As the sun goes down we also go down the stairs of the famous Bike Bar, a cool and definitely not to be missed spot: there is even a car coming out from the ceiling! Drinking at the table with us are 2 nice members of the Black Cat Motorcycle Club, Sem and Bandos, and they offer us another round of beers. The following morning, however, it’s freezing but fortunately we have our Hevik gloves and wear them to ride to Manzherok and then to Koš-Agač, in the Autonomous Republic of Altaj.
Getting out of Russia is fast and easy, but Mongolia is in a different time zone, two hours ahead: we just arrived and we are late already. We fly like horses in the wind, encounter snow-capped mountains and a beautiful lake, we only slow down in the sand, and finally arrive at Khovd, where we head straight to the “Grand Hotel”: in quotes, because we find it in bad conditions, semi-abandoned. For that reason we decide to continue for another 230 km, then spend the night free camping. We wake up in the late morning and while we pick up the tent, a shepherd comes by and invites us to ride his horse.
What can we say… we like the motorcycle better! We get back on our bikes and find a mile of pristine asphalt on a new road not yet opened to traffic, then after a bit of off-road we get back on the new Southern. We dine in the middle of the steppe, and for the night we camp in a sandy area among the lizards. The next day we reach Altaj City where we repair our boots, take a stroll around the bazaar and eat… goat cheese ice cream! At these latitudes, the sun puts on a show every day, with beautiful sunsets and sunrises. Orientation is not easy, at some point we decide to follow the high-tension cables and, after meeting a convoy of camels, we proceed to to Bayankhongor and then continue on a hard-pack road with some puddles until we arrive to Kharkhorin, the Ancient Capital of the Mongol Empire: Karakorum. Nearby is the Erdene Zuu Monastery. We stop to listen to some music and Mongolian Throat Signing, we visit the Buddhist temple, then get back in the saddle and head to Ulaanbaatar. The modern name of this city means “Red Hero”, but in the past, it used to have another name, which meant “Residence”. It was also home of the living Buddha, and therefore considered the Mongols’ Holy City. In the centre of Genghis Khan Square, we admire the bronze statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar, hero of the revolution fought on horseback. The imposing statue of the great Emperor Genghis Khan, instead, is inside the Parliament building. We eventually head back towards Darkhan. The last thing we watch in Mongolia is the National TV, and the last thing we hear before we fall asleep is karaoke.
When we wake up, we turn back towards Russia. We pass Mostovka and, at Ulan-Ude, we turn left and take the M55 to Baikalsk and then to Irkutsk.
At sunset we park in a motel for truck drivers. When the sun raises our last day of this adventure together begins: we decide to spend it by the lake, at Dubinino. We love it all: the warmth of the nice day, the beautiful sky dotted with puffy clouds, the sunlight on the lake, the green shores… and the fishermen’s friendship, offering us a drink and a handful of pine nuts. After sharing everything it’s time for us to go separate ways: Matteo will return home via Siberia, and I will continue my trip East, towards Japan.
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From Russia to Japan