The scenery of the old Silk Route will sweep you off your feet. The fact that it follows the border of Afghanistan makes it even more interesting.
ON HER BIKE: Through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and TurkmenistanMotorcycle Diaries
Tajikistan is on the top of many adventure riders’ bucket list. The reason? It is the cradle of the Pamir Highway, one of the most popular routes for off-roaders.
The border crossing from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan is 4600m above sea level. You have to be very careful and allow yourself some days to adapt to the high altitude. Take two days to make your way up there as a lot of people suffer from altitude sickness. The moment I got to the border I wasn’t feeling all too well either: shortness of breath and very dizzy. I told the officials to check my documents as fast as they could, because I really needed to go downas soon as possible, but they still took a while on the Tajik side. They also tried to rip me off by charging taxes that don’t actually exist.
Eventually, I took off as fast as I could.
The border between Tajikistan and China - the first 180km of Pamir Highway - is made out of a feeble fence full of holes. It’s so tempting to just go through one of the holes into China. So tempting! Unfortunately, there are a lot of land mines along the border. So, don’t do it! It’s too dangerous. Stick to the main road and don’t wander off.
On that same day I realised my suspension had blown. My bike was leaking shock oil. I had to do the next 2000km on a motorbike that was jumping like a yo-yo. How annoying! I was on the Pamir Highway though, and its beauty was able to ease a bit of my frustration.
I did not expect to be surprised by nature so soon again, but when I switched from the Pamir Highway to Wakhan Valley (it runs along the border with Afghanistan) I was heading onto the most beautiful ride I’ve ever done. 300km ofincredible scenery!
You can easily camp, but just be sure not to set your tent up too close to the riverside. You still need to watch out for land mines.
The first night I camped randomly and in the morning Chillie and I rode in the direction of the Bibi Fatima natural hot springs. It’s on the way and quite interesting. It's the place where women who can’t have children go three to five times a day hoping to become fertile. You can sleep there for $10 a night and experience this “alternative treatment” the day after. Just be prepared for some nudity!
180km further on you’ll pass Khorugh, a little village and the only place in the world where you can get a tourist visa if you would like to go to Afghanistan. It’s a good tip to know, but unfortunately for me, I learned this a bit too late and my planning didn’t allow me such an interesting“detour”.
And talking about planning: be prepared for inevitable delays on your trip through Tajikistan, as it is one of those countries where everyone I know who travelled there got really sick. Myself included!
Before leaving Tajikistan, try not to miss the beautiful turquoise water of Lake Iskanderkul. I totally advise you to check it out. It’s stunning! I was able to dive into the surprisingly warm water, chit-chat with a few Russian riders and camp for the night. It was totally worth the bumpy rideto get there.
The moment I entered Uzbekistan I went straight away to Tashkent to fix my suspension.
Uzbekistan seems to have the weakest economy in terms of everything is really cheap. However, make no mistake, they’ll try to rip you off all the time. Take restaurants for example, they have no fixed prices. It all depends on the country you’re from,I mean it’s still cheap… but it’s frustrating.
You can also forget about camping in Uzbekistan. You have to stay with someone who is registered at the police or stay at the hostel where they’ll give you registration papers. At the end of your stay you need to give the border officials all the papers for every night you stayed. You have to prove you were always registered. That’s how it works.
Uzbekistan also lacks motorcycle dealers! There’s nothing. So I got in touch with the motorcycle community and found out that there are bike posts throughout Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. You just have to call them and they’ll take care of you! They’re amazing people!
Another problem in Uzbekistan is the fuel. It’s not available readily and they usually only have 80 octane. All the petrol stations are closed.
The way to find itis to go on the street and look for bottles of fuel on the side of the road. You can just stop and buy it there. Unfortunately, the fuel is so bad that I recommend anyone who’s going to Uzbekistan to take fuel octane booster and a filter sock.
After one week, my visato Turkmenistan still wasn’t ready,so, I thought I would just continue and hoped to get a letter/mail that I could pick up at the border. I continued riding, following the Silk Road past the most beautiful ancient cities that Uzbekistan is known for.
My favourite one was Khiva, a very tiny and charming old town with a bohemian vibe. But hats off to Samarkand, “The pearl of the Eastern Muslim World”. It has a big variety of mosques, all of them with outstanding architecture.
When I finally got my visa, I went to Nukus, where there is absolutely nothing to see; however it is the best short cut to the border with Turkmenistan. I got a four day visa, and that’s pretty much all you can get.
When you’re on that visa you have to declare a route. You can’t go anywhere else. It’s not a very tourist-friendly place. The Police will even follow you. I had a tail for a little while.
I ended up choosing a route to see the only attraction there is: the Darvaza gas crater!
In the 70’s - the Russians were drilling for oil but hit gas - so they thought: “Oh, we’re going to light iton fire and it’ll just burn out.” But it has been on fire since the 70’s. It’s just one big hole with the gas on fire. It’s incredible. Though it’s only 7km from the main road, you have to go through a freaking sand hill that is very hard to do on your own. I tried everything and…nothing! Luckily, I managed to get a ride there. You can read about the whole adventure to get there, and out of there, here.
One good tip: cigarettes are quite expensive in Turkmenistan. That’s how the president tries to fight smoking. A pack of cigarettes is thirty-five dollars. For this reason, Turkmenistan people don’t buy cigarettes by the pack, they buy one or two cigarettes because that’s all they can afford.
As a tourist, you’re allowed to take five packs of cigarettes and you can exchange them for anything you need: fuel, food… it’s really worth it!
My last stop before heading to Iran was Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan. It is so weird! I think everything is weird about this country. The president built a capital city made out of marble. The whole city consists of beautiful white buildings where no one lives. You can drive through the city and you will see no cars. It’s a ghost town. Weird!
I stayed there just for one night; I couldn’t take the risk of staying four days, in case they wouldn’t let me enter Iran. In Iran bikes over 250 cc are illegal and women are not allowed to ride them. Great!
Luckily for me, the law is one thing, what they do is another…