Friday, 19 July 2013
My story of riding the Panj River section of the Pamir Highway is one of managing sickness in a rather inhospitable place, as I was hit with five days of giardia and other stomach and dehydration troubles. In some ways it was a rather profound experience, and a phrase occurred to me as I slowly, gently pedaled around another bend in that great gorge: that I was tapping into a new rhythm, a ‘rhythm of weakness’.
In our stage of life and health, we usually face the world with strength. We can move quickly, strongly, do a lot, suffer little. This was new for me. As I pedaled slowly along, limited by a nausea barrier that would stop me if I got too ambitious, I didn’t feel as frustrated (most of the time!) as I would have expected, but instead felt that this was somehow, on some level, ok.
This was a new rhythm that tied Ollie and I ever tighter together, he relying on me to keep on moving, and I relying on him to do everything else that life out here required. This rhythm where the giant pulsing river and the mighty rock peaks above, were companions that lent me some of their strength. Where prayers and trust were constant conversations. Where hopes for being healthier in the morning were deferred again, but I knew not forever. A very slow rhythm, of many small goalposts: a hill, a corner, a village. Where very simple things became very important – a flat rock to sit on, a tree to give shade, water that is cold, a boiled potato with salt, a time to rest.
We rode in the clear cool of the morning, and again as the gorge filled with shadows in the evening, but in the middle of the day we rested. Dushanbe, our goal, seemed a long long way away, but each corner brought us closer. Our rhythm was new to us, and not particularly comfortable, but somehow in our humbled slowness and newly-set limits, I felt like I had gotten in tune with some new song of the earth and the heavens, and this was our “rhythm of weakness”.
The Bullet Points
-We have arrived in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, after a further 12 days of great adventure cycling from along the ‘Pamir Highway’ from Khorog. Included in this time was a wonderful four day side trip spent in the Bartang Valley and one of it’s tributaries, the Ravmederra Gorge.
-Tajikistan is an amazing little country. Its landscape and its people have continued to astound us and give us a rich experience.
"Routines Of The Road." A snapshot of just one day out riding our bikes and some of the in's and outs of our cycle journey.
Above is a link to a short film I've uploaded to Vimeo. Youtube is currently blocked in Tajikistan due to a video being posted which showed the president dancing drunk at a party. He objected to this and subsequently had all of Youtube blocked. Once we have access again and I've got this blog sorted you'll be able to watch it directly from here but for now just click on the link. Hope you enjoy!
Friday, 5 July 2013
“Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.”
James K. Baxter
This is the second half of the poem “High Country Weather” by James K. Baxter. Along with other poems, this was gifted to us by my mum as we left NZ.
Little did I know at the time of departing NZ that the words of this poem would become so valuable as we cycle.
As well as simply exploring some new countries we hoped that this year of travelling slowly would allow us to enjoy some new rhythms, to take some time out from normality in the hope of having time to reflect and grow our inner selves.
After three months I can see it takes quite a while to learn to properly slow down and enjoy the chance to live with new routines and opportunities. Time and time again there is the temptation to rush, an inner pressure to squeeze in more experiences, to get somewhere quicker, to keep moving. I am slowly learning to ‘ride easy’. Slowly learning. A work in progress.
Amongst the cycle touring community the commonly spoken of enemies are headwinds and rough roads. We’ve several times met with these two so-called enemies. To begin with they drove me crazy, they slowed me and frustrated me, it was easy to fear them. Over time I’ve begun to make a greater peace with the head-winds and the rough roads, in an almost cliché remedy I’ve discovered that the best way to overcome them is to make friends with them. If they force us to ride slow, then we simply ride slow. It really is that simple. Nothing is wrong, things just take longer! To fight against these things becomes painful, to find a new rhythm and surrender to the slowness has been a wonderful discovery.
On occasions other things, like illness, become the slowing factor. Again my first reaction is frustration, I want to move on but can’t, or shouldn’t! Yet in this too, pleasant surprises have repeatedly arisen. This week in Khorog has been a classic case where we planned to depart after two days rest but sickness prevented such plans from eventuating. As a result we’ve enjoyed four wonderful days of relaxing sunshine, shared meals with new friends, games of chess, reading books, writing, darning socks and gloves, making movies and even the promise of the annual Khorog Arts Festival opening tonight! (mmm…that all sounds busy rather than slow doesn’t it?? I assure you it’s been slow time!!) Had we had our way how much we would have missed!
How richly we are blessed by the slowness, even if it’s often not of our own choosing. I suspect and hope that the surface has just been scratched and many more good lessons of life will come to us as we make our way through this land.
The generally slow speed of cycle touring seems to lend itself to becoming more observant. The roadside world goes by slowly and the senses are all so richly engaged. The simplicity of riding day after day also lends itself to plenty of day-dreaming and mind-wandering, when not dodging potholes or oncoming cars or cows!
Over the past weeks of riding I’ve loved observing the way that the land generously allows life to be sustained. I was first struck by this nearly three months ago as our train rolled it’s way west through the sprawling mass of civilization that is Shanghai. While the earth is struggling and groaning and in need of great care, I found it miraculous that it has even managed to provide for the enormous demands humanity has placed on it thus far.
More recently these thoughts returned to me. As we’ve ridden from Bishkek (Kyrgystan) to Korog (Tajikistan) the diversity of the land and how that land provides life has been fascinating. In the green pastures in the northern Kyrgystan hill country we rode past long lines of tables balanced precariously in the wind on the roadside, stacked with Kumyss and little white ‘kurd balls’. Over the Ala-Bel pass we dropped into river valleys and lakes famous for their Salmon. Interspersed amongst the Salmon stalls were shelves stacked high with pottles of honey and hives buzzing with busy bees. Further south as we rolled through the busy and fertile grounds of the Fergana Valley great loads of juicy melons were beautifully stacked in identical stalls, lining the road one after another. Often we ride early in the morning, the sound of roosters crowing serves as a constant reminder of the origins of the masses of eggs that are stacked artistically in every bazaar. While these lands were overflowing in obvious abundance, as we entered Tajikistan the high altitudes of the Pamir region didn’t boast such richness. Yet here, one of the driest and harshest places on the planet, the earth still provides. The goats provide milk, yoghurt and butter, and delicious breads are still cooked. That life goes on here in these barren lands is quite astounding.
And of course collecting water is a regular routine for us. Water has an incredible ability to bring life, often even in the most unexpected places. Unlike the turn of the tap that we're more familiar with, having to travel to a central point to collect water has the special knack of bringing people together. I don't want to over-romanticise the hard work that locals have to do to get their water, but it does have some nice social benefits!
As we move from here I’m looking forward to observing the ongoing changes in the way that the land provides life and seeing how people interact with their land in order to meet their daily needs.
|Kumyss and Kurd Balls and Yurts|
|Bees, Hives and Honey|
|Melons are serious business.|
|Egg Art in the Osh Bazaar|
|Hot bread, chai, yoghurt, butter, cream and shelter from the wild winds.|
|The hard working old girl that gaves us these treats!|
|Water: Brings life and brings people together.|
Wednesday, 3 July 2013
|Supporters accompany me as I near the top of Taldyk Pass (3700m), one of the mountain barriers we must cross as we slowly climb towards the Pamir Plateau.|
- We rode from Osh, Kyrgyzstan up the Gulcha Valley, over two passes to Sary Tash, the final outpost village in the south east corner of Kyrgyzstan.
- In Sary Tash we stocked up on food to ride over Kyzyl Art Pass which doubles as the Tajikistan border and the gateway to the High Pamirs.
- Six days after leaving Osh we crossed our highest point in the Pamir Highway (Ak-Baital Pass at 4650m), and rolled down to the town of Murghab. We had climbed 5,500m in 5.5 days.
- Three more days saw us gaining our final pass (Koizetek Pass 4370m), before we dropped down towards Khorog on the Panj River.
- We will now continue on the Pamir Highway from Khorog to Dushanbe.
|As we ride out of Sary Tash towards the Pamir and the Tajik border a dramatic sunset graces our last night in Kyrgyzstan.|
|Riding into the Pamir, an impressive Lenin Peak (7000m) guarding our entrance. Our pass onto the plateau (Kyzyl Art Pass) is hidden somewhere up ahead.|
|Having gained the plateau, we roll down from Kyzl Art Pass to Lake Karakul.|
|Our camp in the salt desert valley below Ak-Baital Pass|
The High Pamir
It is the light that is different up there. The vast plateau scapes glow with a shimmering clarity; the plain browns and ochres take on an incredible richness. In the arching bowl of sky above us, the cloudscapes against the deep blue have an intense 3D quality. And when it is quiet, and the daytime winds die away, you feel the stillness reach away from you right to the distant horizons of this roof of the world.
|Morning riding, still and bright.|
|On Ak-Baital Pass, our highpoint at 4650m|
|Murghab, the regional centre of the Eastern Pamir.|
|A welcome break from some windy riding, in the form of a lovely family who feed us fresh bread, tangy yoghurt, cream and chai in their stunning yurt.|
|Getting a little afternoon nap in the peacefulness of the yurt.|
|A facinating array of hardy and well adapted plants still survive the challenging conditions up on the High Pamir.|
We were also fascinated by altitude related phenomena. The tarseal on the roads was in many places very soft and spongy. Is melting temperature reduced at altitude, as well as boiling temperature?? After noticing our hearts were beating extra fast, we took our resting pulses at a high camp. They were about 80 up at 4100m, and dropped to 48 when we dropped to 2500m. No wonder we got a bit tired!
|Enjoying a calm evening above our campsite. If you went 50km up the valley to the right, you would drop into the Wakhan Corridor and the border with Afghanistan.|
|I bought these beautiful Pamir socks from this lady in Pish Village, Ghund Valley. She bargained hard, but once the purchase was made I was her best buddy!!|
|As we dropped off the Plateau to the east, we revelled in the lushness, growth and warmth of the lower lands on the Ghund Valley.|
|The beautiful Ghund Valley.|
|Shitam Village is nestled at the mouth of this rough side valley. Their irrigation channels allow them to grow trees for shade, snippets of pasture, and a few vegetables like potatoes and onions.|
|We were overwhelmed by the sharp peaks of the Western Pamir that towered over us as we rolled down the Ghund.|
|A delicious lunch of watermelon,a massive flat bread and a delicious pasta dish was offered by this kind group of workers. They are building the stone walls around these new houses, one of the many Aid funded programmes we saw in the valley.|
|What incredible greeness after the barreness of the Eastern high Pamir. We are nearing Khorog, a town on the Panj River (the Upper Oxus) in the Western Pamir.|