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After a quick delay which led me back to China to see Kashgar, I was finally ready to enter Tajikistan. By far, the most sought after destination for people traveling to Tajikistan is the Pamir Highway. This road is on many cyclists, and adventure (motorcycle) riders’ bucket list. The highway is a high altitude road stretching from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to Khorog, Tajikistan. The central section crosses Tibetan-style, high plateau scenery and then slowly drops into the Wakhan Valley, which shares a border with Afghanistan. The road was built by Soviet military engineers between 1931 and 1934 to help with troop transport and provisioning. Now it is filled with mostly foreign cyclists and motorbike riders seeking adventure. The first day of riding from Sary-Tash, to Murgab didn’t dissapoint, the scenery was truly something special.


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Top to bottom: At times desolate, there was still beauty. 

Murgab is one of the most isolated cities in the country. It is so isolated that it has been called by some people, the “wild-east.” The western part of the country, where the capital of Dushanbe is, is much more developed. Because Murgab is part of the Pamir Highway, it attracts hundreds of tourists every year. Although the city is far from anything, not only do they not have wifi, but almost every building is powered by solar energy. There is no running water for showers, people heat up water by fire and then use a large bucket to get clean. From that city onward, almost every time I saw people on the road we would wave at each other. They were so accustomed to seeing tourists on motorbikes/bikes, seeing me wasn’t strange to them. In fact just a simple wave, brought me almost as much joy as it did them.

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Top to bottom: Slowly making my way across the bumpy plateau. It was quite amazing to see homes in some of the most isolated areas I have seen. Sunset in Murgab. I stopped to chat with a nice couple from the Netherlands at a police checkpoint. They will end their trip in Thailand. What appeared to be an abandoned sidecar a couple hundred meters off the main road. 


The next day would be the first of many challenging roads to drive on as I pushed further west. The Pamir Highway is notorious for having bad roads, but when the road turned south and became the Wakhan Valley, even more so. Pavement with an abundance of pot holes became rock, gravel, washboard, sand, and sometimes a fun mix of all of the above. But the pay-off is that the scenery was breathtaking. After a long day of riding and my first 70 kilometers next to the Afghanistan border finished, with only the Panj River inbetween us, I had arrived at the small village of Langar. It was the first of dozens of small villages I drove through. Like Murghab, it is very isolated, with only two roads in or out. The difference is that it is in a very lush valley next to two rivers and with tall mountains on each side.

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Top to bottom: the last time I would have pavement heading into the Whakan Valley. Driving by a small salt lake. I knew I would be in for some tough roads, but I never would have expected pure sand. Langar and the Panj River. Homes built high up on the mountainside above Langar.


The next day, I had two very different experiences to start and end my day with locals. I spent the first part of the morning hiking up the hillside near a village to get a better view of the valley and eat an early lunch. It was interesting to see some homes that were hundreds of meters above the main road, with just a footpath to access them. When I got back down, I had only driven maybe 15 kilometers, so I was anxious to keep moving. But a man in a car pulled up next to me as I was looking at my map and invited me for tea. Outside, the house looked simple, but inside it was fully covered wall to wall with carpets. I sat down with him and his wife and we talked for an hour while snacking on nuts, cookies and bread, and enjoying the tea. The man was a driver and his wife majored in English but can’t find any work in the village. She offered to let me stay in their home that night, implying I would need to pay for it, like a guesthouse. But I told her I was only in the area to look for a scenic spot next to the river. Then she offered for her husband to drive me, implying I would need to pay him. Because of time and the little distance I had traveled, I explained that I needed to keep moving.

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Top to bottom: Inside a typical Tajik home. The friendly couple whom I drank tea with. A couple of people waiting for a car. 


The rest of the day I drove by a few different groups of people sitting on the side of the road, many children waving and some families walking their goats up the road. Despite the difficult road, driving next to the river and Afghan border was truly something special, like out of a movie. Tall mountains were beside me with the river and a lush valley in front of me. Near the end of the day I was looking for a place called Khaakha Fortress, but I couldn’t find it. When I pulled over on the side of the road, I was slowly swarmed by more and more kids. I told them I was looking for a place to stay. A few minutes later, the oldest girl invited me to her home. Ten minutes later I found myself being introduced to her older brother Zerev, and the rest of the family. The whole night he would refer to me as his brother and showed me some of his family’s photos, and I showed him mine. The next morning, I thanked him for his and his family’s hospitality. He was very insistent the night before and that morning that I wouldn’t have to pay anything. I didn’t have much to offer, but I was able to give him a jar of Nutella that I had bought a week earlier. I told him that he and his family would enjoy it with bread. After we said our good byes, I went to take a quick peek of Khaakha Fortress.

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Top to bottom: More sandy roads. I pulled over to take a break and a nice guy insisted on taking a picture of me. One of many times I would pass by sheep on the Pamir. Zerev, his cousin and I. Khaakha Fortress with Afghanistan in the background.


The rest of the day I slowly made my way back up the valley to the largest city in the region, Khorog. I passed through more villages and saw dozens more happy children smile and wave as I passed by. This relationship that kids have with riders passing by isn’t because of me but because of all the riders that came before who set the standard of being friendly to locals. It wasn’t until later that day, that I was very happy with myself for giving Zerev the Nutella. On two occasions when I stopped to say hi to local kids, they asked me to give them chocolate. After those instances I knew that chocolate was a rare commodity in the region. I’m glad I was able to give a jar to a kind family.

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Top to bottom: driving to Khorog, and the kids I met along the way. I stopped for the boys because they yelled at me to tell me one of my sidecases was falling off.


I then spent the next three nights in Khorog to catch up on some rest and to explore the only real town in the Pamirs. My first full day was the first of a three-day celebration of the country’s independence. In Central Park, there were singing and dancing performances all day. The next afternoon, I drove to the other side of town to get some pictures of the city. While I was setting up my shots, I met a couple of other riders from the US and Germany. We chatted briefly about seeing each other on the road on the way to Qalai Khumb, but didn’t make any plans to meet. 


My last night there, as I had done each of the previous nights, I ate dinner with my host family. Despite the language barrier, they were still incredibly friendly and gracious with their time. Even going so far as to ask a neighbor to let me park my bike in their driveway. They were very curious about where I came from and I was happy to show them pictures of Seattle and of my family. Despite all of the curiousity between us, there was still a language barrier. I only needed to hear one word from them to know they wanted to talk about American politics. All I could do was gesture my opinion. The next morning, they wouldn’t let me leave with out giving me some pears from their trees.

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Top to bottom: Singing and dancing performances in Central Park to celebrate Tajikstan’s Independence Day. View of the city from the river, mountainside, and from the neighbor’s driveway. A few membors of the family I lived with while in Khorog. 


The next day and a half of driving to Qalai Khumb were brutal, but I was able to drive by and see a little more of Afghanistan. Every once in a while I would drive by a village, see cars, people walking around and the occasional motorbike drive up and down the mountainside.  About 240 kilometers later I arrived in Qalai Khumb. It was a very well developed town, but small enough that I ran into the two elder riders I had met in Khorog. We reminisced over the ‘fun’ day of riding on the road that looks like someone took a jackhammer to it.

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Top three: tough roads, but can’t beat that scenery. Bottom two: inside the hostel I stayed at and view of Qalai Khumb from up above. 


The night before I left for Qalai Khumb, I was told by local police that the president would be flying into town and that the roads would close at 7am. But getting an extra early start was something I had already been well accustomed to on this trip. A few hours later, I met the two elder riders one last time at a police checkpoint, and from that point on the road was perfect and we rode the rest of the day together. At least that’s what the plan was.


 Eventually the road would diverge from the Panj River and I would say goodbye to Afghanistan. It was truly an honor to drive next to that country. I’ll never forget a moment I had when I stopped my bike and waved at some people across the river that also waved back at me. After a check point the road would continue to be perfect almost the entire way to the capital, and the scenery remained awesome. Riding with others on great roads in amazing scenery…doesn’t get much better than that.

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Top to bottom: such a great feeling to be back on paved roads. Remote village in Afghanistan.


Unfortunately, this joy wouldn’t last long. At the next checkpoint, I noticed that my phone had fallen off of the phone-mount and I would have to split up with the other riders. I passed by some Germans driving a massive RV truck, hoping they had seen it, but they didn’t. By the time I found it, the phone had been run over by a car. But I had been told that there was a place in Dushanbe to get it fixed. With my thoughts on the phone, the rest of the ride into town was a little stressful, but the roads were great and the most important thing was that I found it!


 A couple of months ago, while I was still waiting for my ATA to get made in China, I read the tragic news about a group of tourists cycling in Tajikistan that were killed. About 50 kilometers before arriving in Dushanbe, I passed by a small mural where this tragedy occurred.


Note: for more information on the attack. https://eurasianet.org/four-foreign-cyclists-killed-in-tajikistan-traffic-incident


When I arrived at the hostel that one of the two riders, Wolfram, recommended, I was greeted by one of the Germans. She was jubilant to see that I had found my phone. The two riders, Wolfram and Steve, were happy to see that I had made it into town safely.

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Top to bottom: Good-bye beautiful views of Afghanistan. Road snakes its way further inland. Cyclists memorial. About to drive through a Chinese built tunnel. View of Vakhhsh Lake.


Over the next couple of days, I applied for the Uzbekistan visa, got my phone fixed, replaced my front tire with one better suited for paved roads, explored some of the city and had some good talks with Steve, Wolfram and other travelers at the hostel. The first two nights I was at the hostel, I had some really great talks with Steve about life, exchanging riding stories and receiving some advice about the future. He told me to, ‘take things one day at a time and make the most of your time here.’ The next morning, he had to press on. But Wolfram and I would stay one more day and then we left the next morning to drive to Samarkand.

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Top to Bottom: Tajikistan BBQ for dinner. Tallest flag pole along with the largest tea house in the world. Standing next to a statue with the emblem of Tajikistan. The courtyard in the hostel I stayed at. 


After getting all of my errands done, I had just a few hours to ride around and explore some of the city. With the little time I had before dark, I was able to see the world’s tallest flag pole and biggest tea house, see the Palace of Nations and walk around a neighborhood to see how some locals live. The next morning, Wolfram and I were off to Samarkand, Uzbekistan. On the way there we got rained on hard while driving over a mountain pass. It was the first time I had experienced rain while I was driving since Khorgos, China. Once we got through the Fann mountains and crossed the border, it was clear sailing to our final destination. Entering Uzbekistan was such a surreal feeling for me. When I first started planning this trip I made the difficult decision to not go because the visa was too expensive and difficult to get. But this past July, the country started issuing E-Visas for a fraction of the price. When I set off on the trip, I never imagined being there, and yet, there I was. Driving through one of the countries with the richest history tied to the Silk Road in Central Asia.

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Top to bottom: growing infrastructure next to the Varzob River. Wolfram and I taking a break. Driving by some locals in Uzbekistan. First meal in Samarkand. My first look at the Registan.


When we first entered our hostel, one of the first people I saw was a couple of guys whom I had first met in Osh a few weeks back. It was great to see them again and share stories of what we had seen and experienced since Osh. That night the three of us walked to one of the most iconic buildings in the country to see it beautifully lit up, the Registan. Upon completion in 1660, it was the center of town, and in between each building was probably a wall-to-wall bazaar. The city remains underdeveloped, but well-equipped to handle hordes of tourists. I saw more groups of tourists in one day there, than I did in all of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan combined. Out of “The Big 3,” Samarkand, Bukara and Khiva. Samarkand is the largest but all the sights are all within walking distance of each other. The most interesting part of the city was the one place I wish I could have spent more time. The Old Jewish Quarter is home to multiple mosques, madrases, mausoleums and synagogues, each of which has been or is currently being restored. The road was smooth the next day and Wolfram and I only needed a half day to get to Bukhara.


Note: a mosque is a place of worship of Muslims, a medressa is a school of the Koran, a mausoleum is a building with a tomb inside, and a synagogue is a place of worship for Jewish people.

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Top to bottom: walking around the Old Jewish Quarter, posing at Mechet Khazret-Khyzr, Registan at sunset. My bike with the Mausoleum of Gur-Emir. One last shot of the Registon. 


With our one full day in Bukhara, we really made the most of it. In the morning, we walked to many different mosques, bazaars and madrases. My favorite was the Kalon Mosque. In the afternoon we went to the Ark, which is a royal town within a city and is Bukhara’s oldest structure. The ancient town was occupied from the 5th century all the way till 1920. Sadly, only a fraction of it is open to the public, while the rest is still in ruins. The remainder of the afternoon we went to a carpet museum and a photo gallery. And to end our day, we went back to two of the mosques to take some photos as the sun and the light became perfect.

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Top to bottom: Chor-Minor at sunset. Mirzo Ulugbek Madrassa. Kalyan Minaret and Kalon Mosque. View from a restaurant near our hostel. Carpet shop near Lyabi Hauz Pool.


The last major city on our list to visit was Khiva. The most interesting part of the city is the Old Town which is completely surrounded by a wall. Inside there were a few mausoleums and beautiful mosques. As well as dozens of buildings that locals still call home. There were no cars inside the town. As we walked around, it almost felt like being thrown back in time. The city walls acted as a dome protecting it from the passage of time. Even with all the other tourists walking around, it was still a special place to be.

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Top to bottom: Outer wall of Old Town. Medressa of Muhammad Amin Khan, Medressa of Amir Tura. Again with Medressa of Muhammad Amin Khan in the background. Saying good bye to Wolfram. I could’nt have asked for a better travel companion for all of our time in Uzbekistan. 


After Khiva, Wolfram and I went our separate ways. He to Turkmenistan and me back to Kazakhstan to catch a ferry to Baku, Azerbaijan. What should have taken me a day and a half to drive to Aktau ended up taking twice as long because of getting a flat tire not once but three times. There were also bad roads and a blown fuse to handle. But with the help of many different strangers, I was able to get each problem sorted out in a semi-timely manner and keep pushing forward. By the time I arrived in Aktau my rear tire was completely destroyed, and it would need a miracle to be replaced because Aktau is no Almaty. Luckily I met another friendly person who went above and beyond to help me find what he claimed was the only tire in the city that would fit my bike. An hour later I was all set and ready to go. A final issue I ran into in Aktau was that my phone got a virus from using someone else’s power bank. The endless cycle of it restarting and only sometimes turning back on would be something to get fixed when I arrived in Baku. It was a longer than expected road to get to Aktau from Khiva, but once again, through the kindness of strangers, I was able to keep my journey moving.

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Top to bottom: taking a break with some camels  on my way to Shetpe, in Kazakhstan as the sun sets. Locals trying to repair my flat tire in Zhetybai, Kazakhstan. Last tire that could fit my bike getting ready in Aktau. Ticket office for the Caspian Sea ferry.


Now it was time to finally cross the Caspian Sea. This was a big deal for me. While planning for this trip years ago, this was a stage of the trip that I knew would be a major milestone. Russia wasn’t an option for me because at the time of planning, I didn’t want to pay extra money for a visa to see a country I would only spend a couple of days in. Turned out to be the same issue for Turkmenistan, but a transit visa was my only option, it would have only lasted for a few days. As soon as I crossed the sea, as far as countries and politics are concerned, there would be no more major obstacles to tackle. The only ferries that cross the sea on a regular basis are for trucks and trains. Tourists like myself are only able to hop on for the ride.  


I had heard horror stories from other riders on the road and online that the ferry schedule was incredibly unpredictable. Some people had to wait up to a week for the next one to come. But this was never the case for me, as I only had to wait two days after first enquiring about when the next ferry would be. I arrived at the port at 1am as instructed at the ticket office. After hours of customs and paperwork, I was on the ferry and ready to set off by 6am.

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