So this was the plan… cycle through the Pamirs and on to Dushanbe, pick up my Uzbek visa and be on my way to Uzbekistan to see the Silk Road cities, make a brief detour to the remains of the Aral Sea and cycle on into Kazakhstan and fly home in time for Christmas. It didn’t leave much time for lingering. So, for once, I was well organised and had applied for a Letter of Invitation from a tour agency so that I could get the Uzbek visa in one day, rather than one week, or ten days or longer, such are the whims of Central Asian embassy officials.
But as we all know, plans don’t always work out…

When I reached Khorog, which meant being able to check my emails, I found out that my request for a Letter of Invitation had been rejected. And there I was thinking the letter was simply a formality to squeeze dollars out of tourists hands. If I couldn’t even get a letter of invitation, logic would follow that the visa would also be equally unobtainable. Or maybe not. Who said logic came into it.

So now I was in limbo, knowing it would take a good while to get an answer either way from the embassy and until then I didn’t know if I could continue my journey through central Asia as planned, or would have to make another. The alternatives were not so appealing. South lay Afghanistan, not the safest of countries and I didn’t have it in my heart to face the challenges of a female travelling alone in such a conservative Muslim country. East lay China and I was in no rush to go back there, even if getting a visa had been easy. North was the way I had just come, through Krygyzstan, and what to do there, having seen much of the country just recently? But that may have been my only option…

So therse were the thoughts running through my mind in Khorog. Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, would take almost a week to reach. A week of wondering followed by a week of waiting and then I could get on with the journey, one way or another.

Or I could get a lift to Dushanbe and get these visa proceedings underway a little faster…

But then I would miss cycling the rest of the Pamir highway. No, the visa could wait. I cycled out of Khorog. The road twisted and turned, following the river. Mountains all around, me in Tajikistan, and Afghanistan just over the water. Downstream, downhill. Just a few rises and falls and some rocky patches of road. All in all an easy ride. But the trucks would come hurtling past, going to or from China, leaving dust in their wake and dirt on my face. That wasn’t so much fun. And as the second day wore on, it just seemed to me that each twist and turn brought more of the same views. I’d had splendid panoramas for the last two weeks and now I was bored like a spoiled child. Where’s the challenge, I asked myself. And all the time I was wondering about whether or not I’d be allowed into Ubekistan.

Then I reached a checkpoint, and while my passport was being scrutinised, a truck driver offered me a lift. I hesitated. I had been thinking earlier that if an overlander happened to pass I might just get a ride with them. But it hadn’t. There aren’t so many tourists up here this time of year. So I was resigned to cycling. But now…

‘It’s going to rain soon,’ the driver said. True. You know what, I will take that life. I’d quickly done the maths; I could be in Dushanbe on Sunday evening, with time to get my visa application prepared and ready to present to the embassy staff first thing Monday morning… let’s get on with this trip. Decision made.
‘But how much money?’ I asked.
‘No money,’ he replied.
Nothing is free, I thought. If I hadn’t have been surrounded by other men, I would have said there’d be no sex either and checked if he would still give me a lift. Instead, I put thoughts of men’s ulterior motives aside and hoped it was a simple altruistic gesture.

I knew it was going to be a long journey when he commented that if I wasn’t with my husband and had been travelling for five months, then what did I do for sex? ‘We all need to have sex,’ he said…

Well, I made it safely to Dushanbe. There was no sex. The only exchange was that I gave him some money for the dinner and beer he brought. And on the Monday I went to the embassy. And a week later, I returned to collect my passport. It had a one-month Uzbekistan visa stamped in it. Yes!

Just a few pics this time:

While I was in the truck, I saw two cyclists struggling up a hill. They seemed to be having a tougher time than I’d had. Upstream, uphill.

Well, I later heard that one cyclist was now in Khorog, having been in an accident with an SUV on the road. That narrow winding twisting road with the trucks thundering past. But at least the truck drivers are good drivers (well, all things are relative). The locals with more money than sense in smart 4x4s and marshrutka drivers who go rushing past – they aren’t. And one of them hit a cyclist… His name’s Derek.

Derek’s blog is here – his story is worth hearing, but it’s his words you should read…