Only two hours by bicycle away from Samarkand we were already at the border to Tajikistan. The first impressions of the new country were great: good roads, the wonderful view of the Fann Mountains, English speaking young women who talked to us at the tea stop, two fresh breads from the baker’s family who took selfies with us… We were excited, felt comfortable and welcome!

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Whole groups of children ran up to us on the side of the road shouting “Hello, Hello”! When we stopped, we were immediately pierced with polite questions and every detail of our bikes was carefully studied. Already on the second day we met Leon, who insisted on celebrating his birthday together with us. In addition to the obligatory Plov, plenty of Tajik cognac was poured, causing David to drive into the mountains the next day with tired legs😉.

As expected, we were too early in the season for a trek of several days over the passes in the Fann Mountains, which are up to 4000m high. However, on the two side trips to the Seven Lakes and to Artuch Alplager we were able to breathe some mountain air and enjoy the panorama with lakes and snowy peaks. In places we had to push each bike in pairs up the steep slope to the Artuch alp camp, which deprived me of all my nerves and strength. In the alp camp we were amazed when we met our bike friends from Germany again (Link to their blog), whom we had met a few days earlier in the valley. We were reassured to hear that for them, too, the ascent was a grind. They traveled on the next morning, while we sat out a cold rainy day and had a nice hike.

Back in the valley, our route took us along the beautiful Zarafshon Valley to Ayni. Here we had to accept that we were not able to cross the Pamir Highway into Kyrgyzstan on this trip. Because of water conflicts all border crossings between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are closed. Until the last moment we had hoped that the rumors about a border opening for tourists in the Pamirs would come true. Unfortunately this did not happen and we did not want to take a 2000km long dead end road, so we decided in Ayni to return to Uzbekistan via the Shahriston Pass.

The pass road goes at the top through a 5km long crest tunnel without light or ventilation, understandably forbidden by bicycle. The search for a ride was taken from us by the security guards at the tunnel entrance. They called a transport cab for us: an ancient Lada with a cracked windshield, broken doors and windows that no longer closed. With the bikes on the roof or in the trunk and the bags on the back seat, the driver took us in the rickety Lada with dim headlights to the other end of the tunnel. If he transports cyclists through the tunnel more often, he can hopefully soon afford a more trustworthy vehicle😊.

Until we reached the next town Khujand, it was practically all downhill and almost on its own. In Khujand, we visited the largest remaining statue of Lenin in Central Asia and briefly plunged into the bustle of the bazaar. Our stay in Tajikistan was almost over. We would have loved to visit this beautiful country with its refreshingly cheerful and very hospitable people in more detail… another time😊. Our enthusiasm for the country, or rather for the region we visited, was only clouded by the omnipresent signs of a barbaric custom: in the misconception that donkeys do not get enough oxygen in the thin mountain air, their nostrils are cut open. This is supposed to make them more efficient and more enduring. The sight of the afflicted donkeys made us so sad that we didn’t even take an explicit photo of evidence…

When we entered Uzbekistan again, the border officials were interested in our travel pharmacy for the first time on our trip. They feared the import of illegal opiates or psychotropic drugs and therefore looked (only the travel pharmacy) very closely. We calmly informed them that Immodium would help against “too much toilet” and were allowed to pack everything again😊.

To our delight, we found much better roads in the Fergana Valley than in the rest of Uzbekistan and a strong tailwind. Only the search for campsites was difficult in the densely populated and built-up area (10 million people on half the area of Switzerland). But we were lucky and always found a good spot. One evening we asked a farmer if we could camp next to his fields. He wanted to be such a good host that he woke us up at 11pm to bring us kefir, cherries and vodka. Fortunately, he took the vodka back with him, and we enjoyed the rest for breakfast. Another night we were allowed to spend in the datcha of a nice gentleman, whom we had asked at an irrigation canal for a place to stay. He fed us with plov, bread and tea and challenged David to billiards. We were able to fend off the vodka (with memory of the cognac) here too😊. We planned our trip so that we could visit the 19th century Khan Palace in Qo’qon, a pottery in Rishton and a silk factory in Margilon. Although the silk factory was under reconstruction, the tour was very interesting. A few days earlier we had looked up silk production on the Internet and came across this clip (external on Youtube). What is shown in it (or individual steps from it), we could see in Margilon on site.

Although Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have a common border of 1314 km, there are only two open border crossings for foreigners! We decided to take the pedestrian and bicycle crossing in Izboskan and cycled from there to Arslanbob. Here we stay in a guesthouse and get ready for a three-day hike in the wonderful mountains.