Oct 112013

There’s not a lot I dislike about bicycle touring, the difficult bits are far outweighed by the good bits. But if there’s one thing I really hate and utterly revere it’s being ill on the bike. In the middle of a nauseous turn the world becomes a recoilingly negative place, the bicycle journey becomes a stupid idea and everything takes a thousand times more effort than it should. I miss friends and family unbearably and I miss the silly little things that make home homely – Heinz Tomato Soup, a cosey bed, a bacon sandwich, a danish pastry…

I’m not sure what’s happened this last month, but it seems the wheels have fallen off when it’s come to my personal health. I’ve been ill four times through no real fault of my own. First a mysterious nerve condition in Tashkent which brought on debilitating chest pain and sent the doctors running around conducting an ECG, ultrasound, X-ray, blood tests – the works – but which thankfully disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as it came. An equally mysterious stomach bug which had Daniel and I sweating out fevers in the Fann mountains. A dodgy Indian in Khorog which brought on two days of stomach cramps. And finally, the piece de la resistance, an antique tin of fish with a broken seal which had me heaving my guts up at 4400m the night before Daniel and I rode the highest pass on the Pamir Highway. It’s been an utterly frustrating month and I’ve been close to despair at times, but I don’t think I’d have ever got through without Daniel. He’s patiently waited through the delays, helped me along with food and been the best travel partner anyone could have hoped for. So here’s a quick thank you to him.

A woman strolling through Murghab’s bazaar which consists almost entirely of shipping containers.

More picturesque doorways.

Back on the road and sleeping under the stars, where I like to sleep best (when I’m not ill).

Looking back at the final climb up to 4655m and the highest point of the Pamir Highway. Ridden with lungs gasping and, after my stomach’s evening performance, energy utterly spent.

With encouragement from Daniel and between waves of nausea and bursts of hyperventilation somehow I managed to grind the bike over

and we descended a washboard ridden track with an amphitheatre of 5000m and 6000m peaks.

Plenty more wonky telegraph poles to guide our way.

The day’s riding finally ended in Karakol where we booked in for another rest to give me a chance to recover. Another tiny village at close to 4000m. It’s well off the grid, but yet, as with everywhere I’ve travelled no matter how poor or remote, satellite dishes still adorn the roofs of buildings. It sometimes feels as though the world is hooked on television.

Whilst wandering the streets the little details on worn and weathered materials decorating the buildings captured my attention. Recycled and repurposed bits and bobs; gates made from old oil drums and doors from salvaged wood. Within these materials there are whole worlds of pattern, colour, contrast and beauty to be found hiding amongst what most of us in the west would consider rubbish.

Battenberg metalwork.

Brush strokes mirroring wood grain.

Resu and his grandson outside their home. Like many they are supported by other family members who work in Dushanbe or even abroad.

The final climb up to 4350m and the Kyrgyz border.

We passed by several 7000ers and on the rapid 20km descent through no man’s land to Kyrgyzstan things began to change. The dusty deserty landscape we’d been riding through began to be punctured by grass and with a new country came an entirely new landscape.


Through the Kyrgyz border and racing towards Sary Tash a quick glance over a shoulder brings us both screeching to a halt and we stood in awe. Two 7000ers and a host of 6000ers rise out of the plain like a fortress, it was without doubt one of the most astonishing mountains views I’ve ever seen. Click to get a bigger version.

Quick close up.

Once in Kyrgyzstan we dived into the first teahouse and gorged on Kyrgyz lagman (noodles), unlike the Tajik equivalent it’s bursting with peppers, tomatoes, aubergine, garlic, onion and Chinese 5 spice to bring our taste buds back to life, begin the fattening process and get those ribs back out of sight under a layer of flab.

From the Kyrgyz border it’s a two day ride on road to Osh where we find a cheap Russian built hotel to collapse into. The rooms have… “character”

and the decor wouldn’t be my choice, but at $4 a night we’re not fussy.

The unglamorous side of cycle touring.

Colours in Osh’s bazar.

A stall worker grabbing forty with his traditional Kyrgyz head ware.

Somewhat unsurprisingly given Central Asia’s internet connections, which are few and far between, the blog is a little behind. I’m now in Bishkek having spent two weeks on the road riding sublime tracks across central Kyrgyzstan. A full write up is in the work schedule and will be coming soon (I really mean it this time), but for now enjoy this teaser…

  13 Responses to “The Pamir Highway – Up and Over the Roof of the World”


    Some of the best photos yet kiddo Xxx


    Wonderful to hear about your amazing journey. The photos are great and the scenery looks amazing. If Daniel is still with you say a cheery ‘hello’ to him and tell him tahini is on special offer in The Happy Apple if he fancies popping back! Good luck to both of you.. Ali.


      Thanks Ali. Daniel and I are still lounging in Bishkek and he says hello. I’d definitely go for one of those tahinis if you’d be so kind as to pop over with one!


    Greetings from Darjeeling. Lovely pics and inspiring story telling, I’ll get out to the Pamirs one day. Keep Pedalling.


      Thanks Mike. I was originally planning on pedalling down to the himalayas, but winter seems to have come on all too quick so I’m going to try my luck across China. The Himalayas will have to wait for now.


    Another awe-inspiring and fascinating blog – keep it up Alex and I wish you some better health over the rest of your trip!


    Funny how without a scale bar one of your metal pictures kinda looks like an aerial photo of a landslide scarred landscape… Looks like you’re pedalling towards China? Keep going! You’ll probably find a multitude of green tea herbal remedies for poorly tummies.


    […] stunning mountainous regions of Central Asia. A couple of months would do it. I’m attracted to this route not just for the yawning landscapes and ancient cultures, but because I’d be able to speak the […]


    Fantastic pictures, I really need to up my game on that front.


    Hi Alex
    Awesome pictures!! In which time of the year exactly did you do the pamir higway? how was the heat? We plan to do it in the beginning of august…
    Keep up the great photography!

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