Whilst we are still here on our little Paradise Island in Thailand waiting for the borders to open, we are looking back at our time cycling through the “Stans” in Central Asia, from cycling through the hot deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to cycling over the worlds second highest road
“The Pamir Highway” in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Cycling through these countries was extremely tough, they’ve got to be the harshest environments on earth, but some of the best adventures and experiences of our tour yet, if we can’t continue on our planned route to India and Nepal, maybe we will head back there! So we’ve put together a selection of short film clips from our time cycling the Stans. Have you ever been to the Stans? if so, we would love to hear about your experiences, and if you’ve not been, we highly recommend it, you will have experiences that nowhere else in the world can offer, its a place where you literally go back in time, its not for the faint hearted, but it’s a place of true adventure. If you have any questions please ask away in the comments below.
As we cycled over the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, we followed the border of Afghanistan, with only 50 metres of river dividing the 2 countries. There were many soldiers on both sides hiding in the rocks, we were often stopped by patrols. Look carefully and see if you can see the soldiers and the people that have carved out little houses and hideaways in the mountains, I bet you cant see them, but they are always watching you!
In Tajikistan there are many shepherds with hundreds of sheep, goats and donkeys, when we hear that all too familiar sound of bells and whistles, its time to stop cycling and let the cattle pass through.
At the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan we spent 5 days camping in the Tobacco fields waiting to enter Tajikistan, each morning at 7am, we were greeted by the local Tobacco farm workers, they were 8 year old girls, here they are giving us a Geography lesson about the Stans.
A typical morning on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, we camped here for 5 days as Chris had severe food poisoning and altitude sickness, theres no roads here, only rock trails, and the next village was over 500 km away, difficult times. Here you can see the cattle are being brought down from the Pamir as winter drawers in, from an altitude of 16,000ft, our next destination, The Pamir Highway, the second highest road in the world!
Finding water is much easier to find in the Pamir Mountains, unlike in the previous deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. There are many water sources such as rivers and streams, but its important to filter the water you drink, as if you become sick, you’re on your own, there are no medical facilities out here!
When we cycle through villages we are often followed by the local children, this was at the start of Uzbekistan as we made our way to the desert following the famous Silk Road.
After sailing across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan, we finally reach Kazakhstan, not only is it the start of the Stans, but for us the start of the famous Silk Road, for the next few weeks our neighbours were only camels.
Finding a place to camp for the night is easy in the desert, but theres nowhere to hide, especially from the sun, as theres no shade here, sometimes we would find a few giant rocks, and try and shade by them, in these areas there are many fallen meteorites, which are quite valuable, they can be worth as much as $1,000 per gram, meaning 1 pound could be worth $1 million. “Meteorites are rarer than gold, platinum, diamonds or emeralds!
Finding water in the desert of Kazakhstan is very difficult, we both require 20 litres each per day, yes thats each, 20 litres of water weighs 20kg, so thats another problem having to carry all that extra weight, the temperature throughout the day was generally in the high 40’s, so we had to carefully plan our route and make it to villages by the end of the day, at times this never happened..as sometimes these villages would be 180 miles apart, and they were not always on the map, and the main worry was we never knew if they would still be there!
A typical village in Kazakhstan would be just a few wooden and tin huts in the desert, with about 30 people living there, with no mains water. Every few days a man would come to the village with a flat back truck, which had a water container on the back, the villagers would fill their empty bottles and buckets with the water, so timing was key, or should that be pure luck!
In some parts of Uzbekistan we would find small villages with markets, a great place to stock up with supplies.
After weeks of cycling through the deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan we finally arrived at the border of Tajikistan, but 3 days early, meet our friend Narus.
A common sight on some of the roads on the Pamir, women cleaning their carpets on the road, they may live from small tin huts in the mountains, but they are very house proud and super clean, they scrub their carpets with soap and fresh water from a nearby stream, sometimes we know when a village is ahead, as we can see carpets hanging from rocks drying out in the sun and cool breeze of the Pamir.
The roads on the Pamir, thats if you can call them roads! this has got to be one of the toughest places on the planet to cycle, we even get the occasional sand storm thrown in. Cycling in these conditions is tough going, at times you have to get off your bike and walk, lets just say pushing a bike weighing over 80kg up a steep mountain on rough terrain with a 60mph sandstorm is relentless, then you’ve to put the tent up!
Towards the end of Stans, we are in Kyrgyzstan, where we finally make it to the border of China, but its a Sunday and the border is closed, so we camp at the gates with all the rubbish and cows, arriving here we cycled past endless miles and miles of trucks, hundreds if not over a thousand all waiting to enter China, this was the start of our troubles entering China, we woke up the following morning after a terrible nights sleep due to drunk truck drivers fighting outside our tent, and cycled into China, little did we know that we would be interrogated for over 7 hours by the Chinese Police and Immigration! we then continued to follow the Silk Road to where it was created in the ancient city of Xi’an, home to the Terracotta Warriers!
In Tajikistan the fresh water of the Pamir thats melted from the snow caps is a great way to wake up in the morning, as you can imagine, its freezing!
The regular bedtime dance outside the tent, Gabs like to dance with the Tobacco farmer girls each night.
When cycling across the desert of Uzbekistan you see nothing for days if not weeks, just camels, until you suddenly come to one of the ancient villages, it’s almost like seeing an oasis in the desert, heres Khiva and Bukhara.
As we were cycling through the desert in Uzbekistan, we could see a plane in the distance, we thought it was our minds playing tricks on us, maybe it was a tree that just so happened to look like a plane..? this happened quite often, but this time it was a plane! oh yes, and then there were soldiers!
One of the butchers shops in Uzbekistan, we never eat the meat in the desert, its generally stale horse meat, if you’re really lucky you get camel, but we don’t chance it, erm well I did (Chris) not long after this video and got food poisoning!
Meet some of the shepherds in the mountains of Tajikistan, I’d just given them my machete and a winter cycling jacket, so to show their appreciation, they insisted that I rode one of their donkeys! NOTE: for all those people that have already sent me numerous messages of complaint, stating animal cruelty bla bla bla.. this donkey was not mistreated, in fact if you could see the load that these donkeys carry over the mountains here for months on end, which is at least twice my weight! this is what donkeys are used for, they also eat them once they are past their best, this is not the western world where people have pets donkeys and groom them for shows, so get real people, this is the real world, and if you don’t like it, move along and stay in your little bubble.
After weeks of cycling across the desert of Uzbekistan we finally made it to the border of Tajikistan, but were too early to leave Uzbekistan due to our visa’s, so we camped in the Tobacco fields with the local farmer girls, these 8 year old girls start work on the tobacco fields at 7 in the morning, we spent 5 days living and helping these children and their families.
Heres some highlights from our time cycling across Kazakhstan
Heres some highlights from our time cycling through Tajikistan and over the Pamir Highway