After a couple of nights at Basid, we were all keen to get back on the road, even if the road was terrible. But the buzz of cycling into the unknown helped us overcome any difficulties with the terrain. We found a large patch of grass and trees at the foot of the river from Bardara and made camp. We were fortunate to find a large black cooking pot there and made a tremendous soup and thus getting rid of some of the many vegetables we had collected from the locals. The temperature was pretty good, so we could still sleep outside without a tent. It would be the last night that I could do so for about a month. Things were going to get cold.
It was odd that at our camping spot that night, all the people that happened to pass by from the nearby village asked us for painkillers. Apparently it’s quite a common thing here. Seems more common further up the valley you go, and could be because the nearest pharmacy is now so far away. But it’s very peculiar that everybody would individually ask for the same thing. All of them told us they had a headache, even the kids! Do they crush it and snort it? Does that even do anything? Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re just being nice or aiding some strange addiction. So I kept my painkillers to myself.
The following day we didn’t get very far before being invited for lunch. On the menu was allegedly Marco Polo sheep. It’s now illegal to eat since it’s such a rare species. But it’s supposedly much cheaper than other meat and so the locals still do. It’s a calamity to be eating an animal that’s going extinct, but the food was already in our mouths by the time we knew. I really hope it was something else.
Besides this, the men that invited us for food were pretty nice. A young lad showed us around the village…the school, the new toilet being built and the miniature hydroelectric generator that powered the whole village through a tiny phone cable. He was studying language and aims to be the first person to document the particular grammar in the Bartang Valley.
We learnt that it was too late to continue further. There is a river further up that completely submerges the road and can only be crossed before 10am. So we camped in the field with the horse. They actually don’t like the horse much, saying “He eats all the potatoes.”
Nick and Antoine left earlier than expected in the morning, so I had to cross the river alone. Actually it was divided into four or five rivers. It was nice to wash my feet. Nah actually it wasn’t, it was bloody baltic. The water is fresh from a glacier further upstream, and I suppose it’s around freezing point, kept liquid by the force of the rapid current. I chose to carry my stuff across one at a time in case I fell in or dropped something, that way I’d only lose a few things. If you do drop something, you don’t get it back. There is a famous story of two French cyclists who walked back down the whole valley with only a pannier bag left. Fortunately there was a random guy who happened to be passing who helped me across. He was wearing the shortest shorts known to man. Actually not at all sure why he was even there since the river isn’t near anything.
I put some Tajik music for the soundtrack, I hope you don’t mind.
I thought at one point he was going to fall in and take my bike with him!
The views after the river and the subsequent climb were quite spectacular as usual.
And the village of Savnob, next to a huge ravine, where we regrouped. We are getting further and higher now.
In Savnob we were invited in for tea by a man named Dolér. It was pleasant to sit and chat there, and we ended up staying for lunch too.
It was here that I decided to part ways with Nick and Antoine. It had been great travelling with them, but our plans up ahead differed slightly. I also just felt like being alone for a while. It was especially sad to say bye to Nick. We had been in four countries together, through deserts, mountains, headwinds and an awful lot of shit.
It was funny talking to Dolér. He was interested in dating and marriage in Europe. He found it strange that couples would live together before they get married. He says here that once you find the woman you love, you must ask for her parent’s permission to marry her. So you need to find out her address, which can be a tasking process. Once you have the permission you may start the process of organising the wedding. Sounds quite sweet and romantic…but what I learnt about clubs in Tajikistan easily cancels that out. Here you go to a club with your friends (male friends, since here clubbing is strictly a guy thing) call over a girl that you like, find out the price (between 8-15 dollars, he said) and once everything is agreed, you take the woman away in your car and must return her before 6am, when the club closes. Not so romantic.
Even though all these villages are similar, each have their own character. One thing this village is famous for is the last well-stocked shop in the Bartang.
Inside there was some pasta, out of date juice, some sweets and a single egg.
It wasn’t my intention to stay with Dolér that night, but he invited me to hang around, so I helped him farm his potatoes and carrots on the field and he made me some pretty nice dinner. He also had a TV, and we watched reruns of the fat and bored president’s grand trip around the country by helicopter, and of all things, Johnny English. Who would have thought that in this inaccessible and remote valley, where there is barely even a road or a phone signal, that I’d be sipping tea and watching Johnny English on the telly.