Three weeks ago, I arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and about a week ago I finally got my last visa for the region; the rare 5-day transit visa for Turkmenistan (80-90% are declined with no reasons given) preventing a 1,500k desert detour back into Kazakhstan and via the Caspian to Azerbaijan. The visa application procedures for Central Asia have been both expensive and time consuming, so the last months I have spent more time waiting than biking - only 3,700k the last 2½ months making my trip total 48,700k. On the positive side, I have spent a lot of time in hostels socialising of which there was little in SE Asia and China because of the language barriers. When you read this, I’m riding west through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to Iran where I will spend 1-1½ month before continuing west towards Southern Europe where I expect to arrive at the end of the year.
Since my last newsletter in June, I biked the eastern part of the Pamir highway in Tajikistan - stunning and desolate landscapes with huge snow-capped mountains of which the highest pass I climbed was 4,635m. I had strong winds (luckily from changing directions) but otherwise great weather. The road, however, was terrible so I cut my trip short and took a shared taxi back to Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan from where I rode north to the capital Bishkek. Hot and dry valleys and more big mountains to navigate unfortunately mostly in bad weather. Despite being the only road that connects the country it was another horrible highway, so until I changed back to my Australian wonder wheel, I had countless broken spokes (as well as many flats and an exploding tire). From Bishkek, I headed east to Issyk Kul Lake providing beautiful views against the backdrop of the mountains, though it was difficult to enjoy navigating yet another horrible road. Despite the elevation of 1,500-2,000m, it was a hot ride. Crossing into Kazakhstan, I did a loop around the southeast with its big valleys and lush highlands/mountains and from Almaty I later continued west through the open Kazakh countryside to Tashkent. The first part to Almaty was unusually overcast and rainy (pleasant for riding but less so for views) while the latter part to Tashkent was back to normal with temperatures around 40C in the shade of which there was little. Kazakhstan was not as interesting as I had hoped, but it’s difficult to be impressed after the Pamir mountains. While waiting for my Turkmenistan visa, I did a 3-day bike trip up to beautiful Charvak Lake 100k east of Tashkent.
Until now, I have a mixed perception of the Central Asian people. I didn’t stay long in Tajikistan but the old people seemed nice while the young people seemed unhappy and frustrated about their lives/destinies. In southern Kyrgyzstan people were friendly, smiling and relaxed and the drivers fairly considerate. However, as I came north the drivers became extremely selfish and aggressive constantly honking and deliberately trying to squeeze me off the road despite lots of room to go around. I have encountered countless bad drivers around the world but the fact that half the drivers deliberately tried to squeeze me makes them the worst in the world and combined with the horrible roads, I also consider Kyrgyzstan the worst place for biking. I guess I’m lucky to have avoided accidents entailing injury or death. More than 15 times, I was by the roadside fixing the bike, and not once did somebody ask if I needed help. Had I not been to Kyrgyzstan, I would have considered Kazakh drivers bad, but now they seemed quite civilised (less so in and around Almaty). The biggest problem was speeding as few people went below 100 k/h even through construction and school areas, towns and villages, etc. Within 24 hours of arriving in Tashkent, I had two accidents though nothing serious for the bike or me. However, biking up to Charvak Lake drivers were generally considerate, so I was likely just unlucky with the accidents.
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I wish you and your family all the best - may you be as happy and fortunate in life as I am.
Many greetings from Michael