In the year 2005 I had an accident during my cycling tour in Tibet. I fell and broke the collarbone and had to end the trip that should have lasted 6 weeks after only 12 days. Ever since I had tried to come back to the region and finish what I had started.
In 2006 and 2007 I couldn't make it due to obligations at home and at work and in 2008 riots broke up in Tibet and the Chinese closed the region. For 2008 I figured out a substitute tour that included some of the world's top cycling destinations: the Pamir Highway and the Karakorum Highway. The more I looked at the itinerary the more this tour seemed an ideal one: breath-taking mountain scenery, rather good roads with little traffic, poor but friendly people willing to share what little they had with a stranger, a cultural kaleidoscope spanning 5 countries. If it were a woman, I'd call it "famme fatale". But it's just a tour, so I'll let it be: "le tour fatale".


Me, the bike and the luggage
near the Karakol Lake in Tadjikistan.
In the last few years I have been cycle touring extremely lightweight. I made a philosophy out of it which is best described on one of my pages: ultralight cycling, where I collect tips about lightening the load. I may seem fanatical about this lightweight bussiness, but in fact I don't take it too seriously and to those of you who wish to follow, I suggest that you don't either.
The bike used on this tour is Giant's OCR3. It's an entry-level road bike with aluminum frame and carbon fiber fork, with Sora group, triple chain ring (50/42/30 teeth) and 8-speed cassette (11-26 teeth). The wheels are built on 32-hole Alex road rims DA22 and "noname" hubs. The back tire is Kenda "noname" 25-622, the front one Schwalbe Marathon 32-622. The rear rack is simple aluminum Bor-Yueh - a copy of Blackburn's MTN-1. It is intended for 26" wheels, so there was a tight clearance to the tire - the reason that I had thinner tire at the back. I covered carbon fork with electrical tape to protect it from scratches. I didn't make a science of configuring the bike: it was essentially the same as it came off the peg three years ago, except for wider front tyre, brake pads and worn chain and cassette, which I changed after ~12000 km for the same brands as originally.
I don't use classic panniers, in fact I think they are inapropriate to carry things on a bicycle, just another unfortunate transplant which came from motorcycling along with suspension and disk brakes. Instead I have a 30 liter stuff bag which I keep on the rear rack together with the tent and modified underseat bag on the handlebar. In the stuff bag I have sleeping bag, warm clothes and few miscellaneous items, all wrapped in body-sized strip of bubble wrap which functions as bag water-proofing as well as a sleeping pad. In the front bag I have few things: camera, overshoes, towel and skin ointment. Jersey pockets are filled with minor but frequently used objects: a distance card, notebook, pencil, money, snacks. I don't carry cooking equipment, (guide)books and usually not even the map. For more detail about this approach, go to the site mentioned at the top of this page.
The weight of all of the equipment, not including the bike, water or food, was 6.7 kg. With the bike and maximum amount of water and food it was 19.8 kg. The packing list is in another post.


The location of a donkey with a broken leg.
Day 1: 130 km. 26-June-2008. The plane landed in Dushanbe early in the morning. It was a quick flight from Istanbul, just about 4 hours, and there was no time to take a nap. I was surprised to see so many western-looking people going to a place lost somewhere in the middle of Central Asia, until my neighbor from Jordan explained it: half of the people in the plane were attending a Water Disaster Conference to be held in Dushanbe.
The box, my bicycle was in, arrived pretty beaten up, but there was no apparent damage to the bike. I put it together, changed the money (got 3.42 Tajik somons for 1 $ US), bought a bottle of water (3 somons) and pedaled off to the town to find an internet cafe. That was not an easy task, it took me 3 hours before I sent e-mail and then headed out of town, to the east in the direction of Khorog. For the first 50 km the road is rough, the traffic busy. At midday my thermometer showed 37 degrees C. The air was misty from the heat. I had a bit of jet lag, was feeling sleepy, and stopped for one and a half hours, laying under a tree drowsing, with one eye on the bicycle. I have bad experience in Central Asia, it would be shame if I got it nicked on the first day. On another occasion I stopped by the 'ошхона' (restaurant) and ate a water melon, which was all my stomac showed interest for.
The camp on day 1: the best one of the tour.
I saw a donkey with a broken leg. The part of the leg below the elbow was dangling like a piece of rope. A car must have hit it a few moments ago; the animal was limping from one side of the road to the other, appearing totally lost and disoriented. It was a terrible sight which I couldn't forget for another couple of days.
After 50 km the quality of the road improved greatly. The good roads in Tajikistan are made by Chinese. There was a nice climb and a fantastic descent, then after Obigarm the road fell apart to rough gravel, which would stay for a long time At the end of the day I found a splendid place for a camp, on the edge of a cliff overlooking the river. I made 130 km today, but 20 of them were lost in Dushanbe searching for internet, so in fact I was already behind my schedule, 117 km/day.

The valley opens up.
Day 2: 100 km. At the end of the day I was sure it would make the toughest day of the trip. The road followed river gorge and the scenery was excellent, but the road was not. It's gravel road, sometimes so terrible that 6 km/h on flat is the maximum speed. It's going up and down every half kilometer, so there must have been about 200 little climbs this day.
I camped 8 km after the check point in Tavildara. During the night I dreamt that I returned home. The dream was so vivid that in a sleep I asked myself where actually I was. Then I woke up. The dreams like that are a sure sign that I am not enjoying the trip.

Day 3: 89 km.  A catastrophic day. By the end of the day I felt totally weak and knackered. I can't explain why, I drunk a lot of water, there must be something wrong in my system. Maybe lack of salt or something. Also, little and ring finger on my left hand became permanently numb and I knew it was going to stay that way till the end of tour. This happened to me 3 years ago in Argentina; it then took 6 months to recover.
The altimeter stopped working. The front shifter didn't work well either, sometimes after shifting up to the middle ring the lever wouldn't return to its position. Since it's combined shift/brake lever I was reluctant to shift too much, being afraid that I would loose the braking function as well. As a result I was either spinning like a rat in cage in the small ring on flat parts or grinding in the middle ring uphill.
Going up to Kaburabot pass.
I got over Kaburabot pass (30 km long and 1600 m of climbing, top at 3253 m) by 14:00. That was the best part of the day. The pass has two different sides. Going up from the west it's constant gradual climb through alpine-like pastures with wild flowers and singing buntings. On the other side, you drop through wild ravine on gravel road, where you need to stop every 10 minutes to articulate fingers from becoming numb from braking. As it turned out this first pass was the only real pass of the whole tour.
After Kalaikum the road follows the Pyanj river - the border river between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The scenery along the river is fantastic, yet I was impatient to find a proper camping space. Putting up a tent required much of my energy. I crawled in for an early night and took a couple of aspirins, hoping for a health improvement by the beginning of the next day.

Afgan footpath on the right, Tadjik road on left
and Pyanj river in between.
Day 4: 67 km.  I started the day with throwing up. Which was a very good thing, since it cleared up the reason for my weakness - it was the food poisoning from the dodgy soup and meat that I ate yesterday, just before starting the climb to Kaburabot. I was slow today, using every possible opportunity to stop and recover. Around 16:00 I stopped near the check point and took an offer for a cheap overnight in a truck stop dormitory. It was 5 somons for the bed and 4 somons for the dinner - the borscht.

Day 5:  152 km.  I slept in a dormitory together wit about 10 Tajik big-boys. One of them was praying before going to bed - it took him at least 15 minutes. I really envied his dedication.
Few more km along the river.
At last one good day. In the morning I felt fine. I took a tea and chocolate for breakfast and started cycling before 7:00. The road is smooth and the shifter miraculously started working again, so I could make a full use of it. The road is still a roller-coaster following the river valley up and down, but the river is wider and more peaceful, and so is the road.
Nevertheless, I felt my stomach is not totally recovered (too much unripe apricots maybe?), so around noon I lay down for a half an hour. Later, I came across the Chinese petrol station featuring real beer, so I drink a couple of them, which gives me unexpected burst of energy. It seems I'll reach Khorog today before dark. Yes that's right. I'm in Khorog around 20:00 and failing to find a hotel, I get accomodation in a separate dining room in one restaurant. I take a shower, have borscht and yoghurt and another beer (a nice combination) for dinner and go over to my séparé for a good night sleep.

Day 6:  53 km.  In the morning I went to the OVIR office, to get registered with the police. What I expected to be a swift process, took half of the day. I made a couple of photocopies from my passport, went over to the post to get some forms filled (a lady with a patience of an elephant spent half an hour filling two copies of the forms for me), paid the fee (73 somons), went over to OVIR office to apply for the registration and there an unfriendly official stored my passport in a cabinet and told me to come 5 hours later.
I used one hour to clean and oil the chain, and then I laid down in my room thinking how the trip was going so far. Not particularly good. I was behind schedule, my left hand was numb, my back was aching, my arse was in blisters, Tajiks appeared to be not so much hospitable as curious and their dogs quite annoying. I canceled the planned Wakhan valley loop and decided to go the fastest way through Tajikistan.
The Pamir highway starts.
At 15:00 I got the little piece of paper from OVIR, jumped on a bike eager to leave this unfriendly town. 5 kilometers further there was a police check point. The policeman examined the OVIR certificate and decided that it was no good - some stamp was missing. I should go back, he said. I gave him 20 somons which transformed him into a friendly, smiling person, wishing me a very good luck on my way. So, the OVIR pulled a little scam on me. The seed of anxiety sneaked into me. I don't suppose they did this little game just for 20 somons. There will be more check points ahead, and some of them might insist that I turn back, all the way to Khorog.
These thoughts occupied my mind for the next 50 km, so I don't remember much of the road. I made an early camp at the first appropriate location, well hidden from the road, in case the police was coming after me.

A harvester preparing for the job.
Day 7: 102 km. I used yesterday's early camp to fix the altimeter: the battery was dead, so I took a battery from the flash light (bike's taillight) of which I don't expect much use.
I was socializing a bit today. In the morning a group of harvesters invited me to join them for a tea and bread, before they started working: cutting the grass with sickles. In Jelandi I tried to find a restaurant. There was a 'sanatorium' before that village with a smart and probably expensive restaurant to which I didn't belong. Instead I found a store in the village selling only raw food like uncooked pasta, rice, flour and sugar. Since my lightweight religion prohibits the possession of cooking utensils and bans self-cooking, I bought half a kilo of pasta and asked the owner of the store to cook it for me and prepare it with butter. She added a bit of 'каимак' and green onion leaves, and made the most delicious variety of 'carbonara' I have ever eaten.
Kyrgyz jurt.
The road form Khorog on is paved and quite good. Today's start was also exceptional. The ride was up the river valley, but fast, on excellent smooth road. That continued almost to Jelandi when the gradient became steeper and ended with steep gravel 4 km climb to the top of Koy-Tezek pass (top at 4272 m). The pass surprised me; it was not marked on my distance card. I hoped it was because of the altitude and not because of lack of fitness that I crawled the last bit to the top, stopping every 100 m and panting like a bulldog. The road doesn't drop after this pass, it leads gently undulating toward another pass, so I decided to stop and camp shortly after the top.
This was a good day.

Easily moving through high plateau.
Day 8: 123 km. We can call this a very good day. We are still waiting for an 'overwhelming day'.
Last night was the coldest night of the tour, the temperature was -1 degrees C in the morning, and probably few degrees lower during the night. I was comfortably warm in my sleeping bag; the only evidence of a cold night was a layer of ice that formed inside the tent. I scrapped it off with my distance card, wiped the moisture with a dish washing cloth and refreshed my face with it. Good examples of multiple use of things.
In Alichur's home.
From the Koy-Tezek pass the road is unpaved at the beginning, it leads gently undulating toward another pass. Then there is a mix of paved/unpaved parts which lasts to crossroad with the Wakhan valley road. From there on it's good asphalt road. I had a good wind too, there was a lot of coasting. The scenery is dry high plateau, just the way I like it, and yet I am somewhat reserved. I must have become highly finical.
I stopped in Alichur today, where a woman invited me to her home for a meal. Then I moved on, anxiously awaiting the climb to Nayzatash pass (4314 m). The road did climb a bit, but there was no sign of a pass. Then it suddenly started to drop. After 8 km of downhill I realized that I went over the pass not even noticing it. I made a camp near a stone encirclement made for cattle.

Good road through Pamir.
Day 9: 115 km.  An old man woke me up in the morning. He said he had walked over from Murgab during the night. I was wondering what he really wanted, we exhausted the little communication abilities we had quite fast and he was still standing there. I offered him water and it seemed he was waiting for that; he drank the water hastily, than said good-bye.
I descended to Murgab. There was a check point before the village. To my relief they didn't address the question of the missing stamp on the OVIR registration. They said I should report to the police in the town. I certainly had no intention of doing it. I went to the bazaar to buy some food, then stopped for a lunch in a jurt. It was so cozy inside that I just couldn't leave. I must have spent two hours there.
Mountains near Akbaytal.
In the bazaar I saw a westerner with a bike, probably a German that I knew was ahead of me. He was talking to another man, so I didn't stop for a chat. At the end of the village there is a road sign - the only road sign I have seen since Dushanbe. It says: 415 km ahead to Osh, 90 km to the right to Kulma pass. Kulma pass leads to China and would be a big shortcut on my itinerary, but it's not open to foreigners, and besides, I don't care for shortcuts.
From Murgab the road gently and steadily ascended and became steep at the last 5 km to the top of Akbaytal pass (the highest cycle-able point of the trip at 4655m). The road downhill was bad and the wind started to blow, so as soon as I found a place sheltered from the wind I put out a tent.
All in all, today was a good adventure.

Karakol Lake.
Day 10: 76 km.  Another cold night, below zero, but again, I was happily warm in my sleeping bag. Just after the start I met the first cyclist on the road. He was a German whose plans were drastically altered by new Chinese policy with visas - he couldn't get one. I got mine at home. As usual, he was surprised how little I was carrying. 'Unbelievable', he said. It was unbelievable to me what stuff he had in his 4 big panniers, one big waterproof sack atop of panniers and a big handlebar bag. At least he arranged everything very neatly. He and his bags looked so clean and fresh as if he had started the trip just around the corner. Cleanliness, that's one thing I'm starting to miss.
After 13 km the gravel road is replaced by asphalt. The headwind started to blow, and lasted to the end of the day. I stoped twice for a meal, last time at a guesthouse in Karakol. There I got something a bit different then just bread and tea. I was so fed up with such food that even a bit of ketchup came as a delicacy.
I walked towards the shore of the Karakul Lake, hoping to get an opportunity to take a bath. 200 m short of it I waded into ankle-deep mud and turned back. The whole Karakul area is infested with mosquitoes. The only sure way to avoid them is never to stop cycling.
I thought: 'If, by any chance, I now meet my friend Zlato, who is cycling in opposite direction, I won't stop at all. Because if I do, the mosquitoes will kill me.' Half an hour later, coming out of the mosquito zone and starting a gentle climb, I see an unmistakable silhouette of a cyclist, coming down the opposite side. As he approaches, I recognize him: yes, it is Zlato. We both don't seem too excited about the encounter; 14 days ago we were sitting at one of Ljubljana's cafes discussing our oncoming trips. He tells me the terrible news: from 1st of July Kyrgyzstan introduced obligatory visas for Slovenian citizens. I started my trip on 26th June when Slovenians still didn't need the visa. Jesus! It's just what I needed! So what was I to do? There is a 17 km stretch of 'no-man's-land' between Tajik and Kyrgyz immigration points. Should I go through the Tajik immigration, get an exit stamp and try to enter Kyrgyzstan without visa? If they don't let me in Kyrgyzstan, I'm stuck in between, as I have only single entry visa to Tajikistan. Should I try it anyway and in the worst case forge my Tajik visa so it reads 'double-entry'? Should I bribe the Tajiks not to put an exit stamp in my passport? Should I turn back and make a shortcut to China by somehow crossing the Kulma pass? Or should I just drop it all, go back to Dushanbe and end this trip, which is already giving me too much headaches?
Those were my thoughts as I continued toward the border. The headwind was considerable now, so 25 km from the border I stopped and put up a tent. Maybe I'll think of something by the morning.


Janne Corax 2001: "This sh..s on KKH".
Day 11: 71 km.  In the morning I was just as clueless as the night before. At least I didn't let it interfere with my sleep: I slept quite nice.
A lot of worries yesterday and today - what a waste of health and energy - it all turned out it's own way, differently and naturally.
I started early in the morning in cold and strong headwind. Couple of hours later I reached the Tajik immigration post. There is a 3-course procedure. First you face the drug-squad. They turn up your luggage inside out, pretending to search for drugs, but are in fact just amused of what sort of idiotic stuff the foreigners are carrying with them. They were most impressed with my card reader - as all of my other stuff it is stripped of unnecessary plastic and appears as a mysterious microscopic electronic gadget. The card reader disappeared, but as a compensation they warmed up a tin of beef meat for me to devour it right there and gave me another tin to take away. After the drug-squad there is customs. They meticulously fill in data from your passport into their big ledger book. Then there is immigration. They do the same thing as customs, just that they are much more important, so you are facing a long wait before you are allowed into their quarters. The immigration also puts an exit stamp to your passport, which is the final act of the whole procedure.
My host's kids in Sary Tash.
I went through all this, still tormented about what would happen on the other side of the 17 km no-man land. These 17 km are quite scenic, it's this part of the road which made Janne Corax proclaim: 'This shits on KKH!'. But as I said, I was too tormented to appreciate the view, I even lost interest in photographing. From Tajik immigration there is a short climb to Kyzyl-Art pass with the famous monument of big-horn sheep. Then it's big downhill on terrible surface and quite a lot of water. Some 8 km further the asphalt starts and lasts until the Kyrgyz immigration point. There it all went more then smoothly. While waiting for the gate to open I tried to seduce the young border soldier with sweet smiles, and it seemed to have worked, as he recommended me to higher ranked officer for mild treatment. I started babbling right away about no-visa regime for Slovenia and managed to persuade the officer. He nodded and gave my passport to a subordinate to put in an entry stamp. So there it was, I was let into Kyrgyzstan without the visa. Just then it started raining, so I hung around the border post for another hour, having a meal with the soldiers.
The road to Sary Tash is flat and paved. Just before the village the rain storm caught me. I was here four years ago and nothing seems to have changed. I think I got a room at the same family house as years ago. It surely was the same kind of food: nan and tea.

Lookout on Pamir where I came from.
Day 12: 86 km.  'Down the memory lane' day. I rode in my own tracks traced back in August 2004. I remembered the road very well: first a long gentle climb on gravel which you can escape by riding on secondary roads through the field; then crossing the Irkeshtam ridge - this is probably the part that gives this road a 'Irkeshtam pass' notation; from the top of the ridge you descent on big stone surface, which had seen quite a few blown out tyres; at the base of the descent there is a check point - the guard will want to try out your bicycle and will give you his Kalashnikov in hold; you then climb another smaller pass and descend to the village of Nura; from Nura is it 6 flattish kilometers to the Irkeshtam border post.
On the Irkeshtam ridge, just at the location where my rear tyre blew out in 2004, I stop and inspect the tyres. Quite incredibly, I find a 4 cm long cut in the middle of the thread of the rear one. Are Gods trying to tell me something? I look more closely and find out that only the outer rubber is damaged, the inner casing is still sound and strong. I put a piece of duct tape over it. I am quite sure it will hold, Gods or no Gods involved.
Summer camp.
Irkeshtam ridge is still maintaining its glorious status of disastrous road where your only chance of surviving is to walk the bike downhill. But the road from the checkpoint to the border has been recently paved. What an incredible contrast in half a kilometer! I ride this impeccable piece of asphalt with utmost respect. I feel like being in one of those car commercials where a car is driving through magical desert landscape on traffic-less road, black and smooth as Zimbabwe's baby's bottom. At the Kyrgyz immigration post they remind me of the new visa regime, but it's too late to be worried. With a remark that I should get a visa next time, they wave me out of Kyrgyzstan. There is again a couple of kilometers of no-man's land to the Chinese immigration post, although now days it should be called truck-man's land: for a couple of kilometers I overtake an endless queue of waiting trucks. One chinese official is interested in my camera. He scrolls through my last photos, but soon looses interest (maybe not finding pornography?). Few more kms and I head right into the immigration building where Chinese officials treat me as undercover VIP. In no time they greet me out of the building, richer for an entry stamp in the passport. I change a little money there, just enough to get me to Kashgar, and then head straight on. 8 km later I decide to make a camp.


Big red river.
Day 13: 224 km.  Last night I came to the idea of cycling to Kashi in one day. The road stone close to where I camped indicated 208 km. That was just the number of kilometers till the end of road No. 309; there were another 40 km to Kashi. If I started at 6:00 and cycled to 20:00, I could manage it with 18 km every hour.
I started at 6:10, after breaking down the camp and oiling the chain - I'll need smooth transmition today. There is a lot of downhill in the first part, so in a first few hours I am ahead of the schedule for half an hour. I overtake one French on a recumbent and stop for few minutes to chat. The road then goes through mountainous land for 120 km and I struggle to keep up with the schedule. I lost almost an hour there. At midday I stop for a lunch. After that I drop into the plane, shift the chain to the big ring and ride with high pace for few tens of km. I caught the schedule again and was now sure I'd make it. After the long gradual climb there is the final downhill and I expect no troubles more. But there is one. The big stream broke out, floated across the road and made a road block. I tried to cross the stream but there was a strong undercurrent throwing stones at my feet, so I backed up. Someone made a good suggestion that I cross downstream of the road where the river was wider and the flow weaker. And so I did. Then it was a quick ride on poplar-lined flat road until the road marker indicated kilometer No. 1. I took a right turn there and made the final 20 km to Kashi on a freeway. The ride was 20 km shorter from what I expected, so I was in Kashi around 19:00.
Kashi was again a surprise for me - a big town where I couldn't orient myself. I asked for the directions to Seman hotel and got a bed in dormitory. I'll check to a better hotel with my own room tomorrow. Tomorrow's my first rest day. I feel filthy as a pig; there's going to be a big wash up.

Kashi streets.
Day 14: rest day.  So, I took a day of rest. In the morning I went over to a Qinibagh hotel to ask for a room. The cheapest was 360 Yuan, but I said I was looking for something around 100. I got a room with two beds, clean sheets, air-conditioning, TV, tea, separate bathroom, toilet paper, towels, soap, tooth brush, tooth paste, comb, bathroom slippers and cloth for cleaning shoes. An unheard-of luxury for 80 Yuan.
I then proceeded with a long list of errands waiting for me today. I washed myself, washed the cycling jersey, shorts, socks, gloves and cap, charged up the battery, patched up the holes in my clothes, plastered the blisters, changed the money, called home, sent a couple of e-mails, went for a lunch, bought cigarettes, cleaned the chain, borrowed a book and read much of it. Hooh, a lot to do on a rest day!

Up the Ghez river.
Day 15: 125 km.  It rained in the morning and the skies remained overcast for the rest of the day. An ideal day for cycling! I lingered a bit too long, it was so pleasant in my hotel that I almost stayed another day. After the breakfast (never order a western-type food in a third world country!) I finally moved on.
The first 60 km are flat on smooth road through the villages and only after 80 km you get to the Ghez river bed. Then up the river bed on gentle incline with tailwind - despite the few rain drops it was the best part of the trip so far. I intended to cycle until 20:00, but just after a check point a man invites me to spend the night in a jurt. I accept after bargaining down the price a bit.

Kongur Shan group.
Day 16: 165 km. It was a miserable night. The jurt may have looked good, but it had a smell of dirt; it would have been much better in my tent.
The morning is sunny, the road excellent and I proceed quickly up the canyon to the top at 'fossil point'. It's totally unreal place, in the middle of grey desert with grey lake where a big crowd gathers to sell and buy stones. From here there is a rather long way to Karakul lake - a renown place with a lake at the base of two 7000+ peaks, Muztag Ata and Kongur Shan. The views are much better before you come to this tourist trap. The Chinese have put up a number of concrete jurts for tourists there. It's a joke just like plastic palms along the streets of Ali and Lhasa. But this joke is at least functional - you can comfortably spend the night in one of those jurts; they probably even smell better than the one from last night. I ate an exceptionally expensive and untasteful lamian here, went over to the lake - because it's THE thing to do here - and moved on. I know the road very well, of course, I was here in 2004. I expected an easy climb to Ulugrabat pass (at 4098 m), but it isn't entirely naive: you get a good workout over 7 km. The big downhill to Tashkurgan is somewhat spoiled by a strong side wind, turning to headwind before the town. At least, you get a good lookout to the left on Muztag Ata group, which changes appearance with every kilometer. Memories come back as I pass the group of jurts: it was here that a dog bit me in 2004.
The view from the "fossil point".
In Tashkugran I bargained down hotel room to 80 Yuan. A little knowledge of few Chinese phrases did me a lot of good here, it charmed the receptionist. I took a shower and went for a dinner. I couldn't make anything of the Chinese menu, so I ordered something I knew the word for: chicken meat and plain rice. I got a plate full of small pieces of meat which were chopped from a whole chicken. Every little piece had at least one bone in it.
With regard to scenery and road quality this was the best day of the tour.


Pakistani truck.
Day 17: 38 km.  There is a bus from Tashkorgan in China to Sost in Pakistan, over the Khujerab pass at 4693 m. The Chinese don't allow cyclist to cycle past Tashkorgan and they put up a number of check points to assure nobody tries it. It may be possible to arrange a cycling trip with an escort, but that surely wouldn't be cheap. I was told that, on the contrary, many cyclists cycle to the top from the Pakistan side, starting in Sost, and then return.
I woke up early not to be late for the bus to Pakistan. There is confusion about what time to consider: Beijing time or Xinjiang time; they are 2 hours apart. To be on the safe side I chose the earlier one. So, I was two hours early, but everything was unrolling very slowly, it was 3 hours after the timetable departure time that the bus actually started to move. There are two buses a day, at 10:30 and 16:00 (I think) and the cost is 224 Yuan plus 10 EURO for the bike. The bus was tightly packed, everybody occupied at least two seats, one for her/him and one for her/his luggage. Yet I was the only one to pay addition for my bike, which was put - oh, what an irony - on the roof. And as my bike was the last to board the bus, I got the worst seat. Isn't this an unjust world? I can easily envisage a raged cyclist becoming a mass backpacker-murderer.
We got to Sost at 15:00 local time. Or maybe at 16:00. The confusion with the timing continued in Pakistan. They shifted the time for one hour last October and now they refer to 'new' and 'old' time. Not surprisingly, old time is preferred by the folk, even if it's the new time that is official time. I am on vacation, so one hour more or less is of no importance to me.
In the Hunza Valley.
The bike survived the rocky drive perfectly. As soon as I got it from the roof, I continued the journey down the Karakorum Highway. Yes, the famous KKH. I barely managed to make 5 km when a car pulled at my side, filming me as I rode. I happened to be a big attraction for the family in the car, and they showed their appreciation with a blessing and gifts of food and drinks.
Pasu is a small village at the widening of the Hunza river valley. I stopped at a modest looking dwelling with the sign 'Batura Inn'. I had only 180 Rupees, which I got as a change from the Khunjerab National Park fee that I paid with Yuans. That was enough however for one night in the room no.7 and the dinner that I shared with three Czech trekkers. The dinner: soup, rice, potato sauce, pumpkin sauce and tea was, by the way, the best dinner so far, and in retrospect, the best one of the whole trip.

Passu catherdrals.
Day 18: 154 km. This Pasu is a fantastic place. I slept so well, there was no mosquito in sight (or in hearing). In the morning I took off for Gilgit with anticipation that this was going to be the best day so far. It must be so: downhill on good road, following the Hunza river downstream, with fantastic views on surrounding snow caped peaks above and roaring river below.
The first disappointment was the road. It was too bumpy, I could get no satisfaction going downhill. Then there's this downhill assumption - there was so little of it. The road is constantly waving up and down around the valley bottom. I had the impression there were more ups then downs. The wind was blowing upstream, meaning into my face. The heat was hard to bear, temperature was 36 degrees C and more. The family from yesterday came across again and saved my life with a gift of 1.5 liter of water. The Rakaposhi was in the clouds. I thought I would get a better look at it later, from another point, but there were very few points to have a glimpse at it. There is no doubt that scenery is fantastic along this road. It is only a question if the bicycle is the optimal way to appreciate it. I came to Gilgit late in the day, really disappointed, not only with today's part of the road, but started to doubt about the whole KKH. At least I got a room in a nice friendly guesthouse cattering for westerners. I took a shower and dinner and thought that was the best event of today.

Beginning of the Skardu road. 
Day 19: 101 km. Ah well, that day came, after all. The 'overwhelming' day. It didn't look like it from the beginning. I had a late start from Gilgit, I was waiting until 11:00 for the money changer to open his shop. Money business is really curious in Pakistan: the banks don't change money at all, and there are just a few, 1 or 2, money changers in bigger towns. After Gilgit, I don't think there is another money changer before Abottabad.

Dramatic setting.

I cycled the first 30 km down the KKH in headwind that was constantly blowing each day from noon to 5 pm. I tried to be as resigned as possible. After 37 km there is turn-off to the left for Skardu. Until yesterday I was quite certain I wouldn't take this detour, but now I was not so sure. I took half hour break, smoked 4 cigarettes, and turned left.
As soon as I left the Gilgit river valley the wind turned and was now in my back. The road was now leading along the Indus river upstream, and it seemed that my predictions about the wind always blowing upstream were correct. I had a fantastic rest of the day. I wasn't complaining about the road going predominantly uphill. The surface was excellent, even better then on most of the KKH, and the presence of wild roaring river was energizing. I entered into a cycling frenzy. With the bursts of adrenalin I spent half the time out of the saddle, frequently playing games with the trucks, overtaking them uphill and downhill, letting them overtake me only when I took photographs or just stand there amazed with the sight.

Drying apricots.
Day 20: 101 km. Today was a 'soft drinks' day. I must have had 4 and half liters of them. It was a hot day and I found myself racing from one shady tree to another. On one of these occasions when I was sitting under a big plane tree two boys came along and just kept on hanging there looking in my direction and whispering in conspiracy. After a while I got up and continued on the bike. 10 km later I stopped to take a photo, but when I reached for camera, it wasn't there. Oh, no, no!! I must have left it at the rest place! I turned and raced back, making the fastest 10 km of the tour. As I expected, the camera was gone. I rode another couple of km to the village hoping that I might see the boys, in vain. I returned to the big plane tree, sat at the same place, lit a cigarette and started thinking what to do. After ten minutes I heard voices, a little girl came and then one of the boys.
'My camera!', I said severely.
'Yes', said the boy.
'Bring it here!'
'Yes', he said, run away and two minutes later came back with the camera.
Relieved, I pedaled on. I planned to be in Skardu at the end of the day, but this unexpected return made me camp 20 km before the town. It was a nice camp though, amongst big boulders hiding me from the road.

Day 21: 37 km. It was a short ride today, which doesn't mean it was easy. In the morning when I came to Skardu I had a sudden urge to stop and check in at a hotel. It would be the shortest day ever. I however, postponed the break after the demanding climb to Sadpara. It's a village 400 m above Skardu in the direction of Deosai NP. I checked into a hotel with nice view of Sadpara lake.

The climb to Deosai plains.
Day 22: 44 km. The climb to Deosai plains waited for me today. This was the only part of my itinerary of which I had no information and which was a bit "original". A gardener from neighboring hotel advised me to start early, at 5:00, to avoid the heat. I was happy to start at 8:00. The first 6 km to the village of Sadpara are still paved and flattish, and then a long 25 km climb starts. It is a great climb with fine views down the valley towards Skardu, although the road is in places so bad that you have to push. I think it was the only 'true' climb after Kaburabot pass, 1800 km ago. My 25 mm slick back tyre was skidding on a couple of steep sections with loose gravel. It is the tyre with cuts in the thread on two places now. I was patching it with pieces of duct tape every 50 km, for over 1000 km now and it's holding good, even on a surface like this. It is just a proof that anything will work, no matter how unorthodox it seems.
Somewhere in the middle of the climb I noticed I had blood in urine! In the last day or two I felt frequent needs to urinate, but I couldn't produce more then a couple of drops. And now, I was pissing blood! A similar thing happened to me on Australian tour during the ride on gravel Gibb River road. But there was no blood then and the whole thing stopped after a couple of days. I wondered what was wrong. If it were something wrong with the kidneys, it would certainly show in a day or two with some big changes like swollen limbs, fever or something. It's more likely infected bladder or maybe prostate, caused by the pressure of a saddle. In any case it was serious and meant another hard blow in this tour, which just can't pass into the positive stage.
The top of the pass is around 4000 m. There is an office to collect 4$ for the Deosai NP. 'Where are the bears?', I asked and got the answer that they are on the other side of the mountain, individually controlled and kept away from the tourist path. A group of Pakistani tourists invited me for a lunch, fried rice and onion salad, and after that they took photograps of me with each of them in a row. I felt like a movie star.
I moved on through wavy Deosai plains on the road with less stones but still unridable in a couple of places. After a while I descended to the river with suspension bridge, the ranger station and tourist camp. I got a big applause as I was coming down to the camp, I was already accustomed to my reputation of a champion. I stopped for a lunch here, even considered to spend the night in a tent, but when I heard the price (1000 Rupees), I just moved on and few kilometers further put up my small tent for free.

Deosai plains.
Day 23: 34 km. The tourists in jeeps warned me yesterday that there is a big ford ahead with the water deep 1 to 1.5 m. It seems that riding in a jeep has a side effect of completely loosing one's ability of objective assessment. When I came to the river in question the water barely reached to the ankles.
After the ford I got caught in the rain storm. In a few minutes I was wet and cold. The danger of hypothermia seemed quite real, so, when I saw road workers' tent below the road I retreated into it without invitation. The workers didn't make a question of it, they made me tea and put a blanket over my shoulders. When the rain stopped they continued with their work (they were digging a ditch for telephone cable) and I continued with my ride. It wasn't long till I came to Sheosar Lake, which marks the end of Deosai plains. Soon after that the gravel ends, the road is now narrow and paved and it starts to drop down to the village of Chilim. Just before Chilim another storm caught me and I again retreated under a roof of one house under construction. I waited 2 hours there before proceeding to Chilim where I took a basic room in 'Deosai Tourerest Cotage'. It was an early end of the day and it was now third day of miserable mileage, but I couldn't help it, I don't like riding in rain.

Curiosity from both sides.
Day 24: 119 km. For a start there is an amazing 40 km downhill on excellent road following green Astore river. The highlight of the trip. Just after military barracks, in less then 200 meters, the river miraculously turns to gray. Before Astore town there is an unexpected 200 m climb with fine view from the top. And then it's 45 km to the junction with KKH, along a dramatic river valley.
The Astore road meets the KKH at the lookout on Nanga Parbat. It's also a region renown for high summer temperatures: my thermometer shows 41 degrees C. I ride down the KKH in the direction of Chilas and the first 20 km are fast, with good wind. After crossing to the other side of the river the road turns into patches of asphalt interspaced with unpaved parts damaged by landslides. It's slow progress now and I start to loose hope of reaching Chilas today.
Alpine feel along the Astore river.
I am running short on water and when I see a spring I empty my water bottle and start to pour in the spring water. I can't believe it! It's a hot spring! I wasted a whole bottle for water which must have 50 degrees! With less than one liter of water I carry on, now against the headwind. And finally, I get a puncture on rear tyre. 500 m away from the road I find reasonably good place to camp. The wind is now quite strong, but it doesn't bring refreshment - it is hot wind as if blowing from the oven. I am thirsty and wonder what should I do: drink the whole bottle of water now and quench the thirst or drink in small gulps so that the water lasts to the morning. I opt for the first option, I guess it says something about my personality. I spread the tent on the ground and lay on it. I will sleep just like that, it would be unbearably hot if I slept inside.

Back to the KKH and Indus.
Day 25: 63 km. That was some night! During the night I put up the tent and brought it down again. It's a miracle that I didn't loose anything in the dark.
In the morning I found a thorn (goat head) in the tyre. So the reason was not in the cut thread. I therefore decided non to change the tyre with the spare one. The valve of the tube was broken and I couldn't inflate it, so I threw it away. 100 grams less to carry. 10 km after the start I got another puncture, this time on front. There was also a thorn, most likely picked up at the same time as the one from yesterday. I wanted to put in the new tube, but found 5 holes in it! I carried spare tubes taped to bicycle's head tube and one of them was punctured while fretting against the handlebar bag. What an idiotic mistake! I am now left without spare tubes. Still, 200 grams less to carry.
I came to Chilas around noon, so it seemed there was time to reach Dasu today. My enthusiasm however was deflated by strong headwind and 10 km later I turned back. I checked into a hotel in Chilas and kept myself busy with washing the clothes.

Monotony in the world's best cycling destination.
Day 26: 122 km. It was a hard day today. The weather was ideal though - a bit of drizzle in the morning, then overcast day without wind. But somehow I was slow as a snail. It seems that my motivation tube for this tour had a slow leak right from the beginning and was now almost completely flat.
I searched for the cheap hotel in Dasu and got a hole of a room for 150 Rupees. I rode through Kohistan today. The kids were more aggressive than usual and they even threw a few stones after me, but obviously not aiming to hit me.

Picking wood from the river.
Day 27: rest day. My god, what a night! The fan didn't work. The mosquitoes ate me alive. That's the price of a cheap room. In the morning I spent an hour in a toilet, vomiting yesterday's dinner and having attacks of diarrhea. I felt too weak to walk or cycle. Leaning against the bike I walked over to another hotel, checked in, fell on the bed and spent the most of the day in it.

Day 28: 74 km. I lost weight terribly. I look like a skeleton. The problem is that you can't get proper food in Pakistan. Even the sight of their hole-in-the-wall restaurants makes my stomach turn.
Teacher and farmer.
In the morning the hotel owner takes me for a breakfast. Tea and miserable paratha made yesterday in a restaurant into which you enter through the corridor stinking of human feces. I lost too much weight and must eat, so I force myself to it.
The ride starts promising. The road climbs high above Indus and stays there almost all the way to Besham. Half way I stop in a hotel in Pattani and have a big plate of rice and 3 drinks. It weighs me down considerably. The rest of the day I spent grinding, panting and resting in the shade.

Day 29: 126 km. It was an interesting day. I started in high pace for 40 km of flat or downhill road, until the bridge across Indus. The road then followed smaller river upstream. I thought I missed the turn, but the road signs indicated it was the road #35 - the KKH. It all smelt of another climb. And so it was. The road chose the highest hill to cross: the top of this climb was at 1700 m, which is, by the way, 200 m higher then Gilgit. It was a nice climb though, this district had a mundane feel about it ("Pakistani Switzerland", I named it), and since the road was recently paved it was the first downhill that I enjoyed for a long time. The last 20 km before Manshera the traffic becomes very busy. I guess the peace that I was used to on KKH is over.

Highway no. 5.
Day 30: 124 km. At the end of the day I was completely exhausted. Starvation, diarrhea, heat, traffic and unexpectedly bad road on the highway #5, it all took its toll. I should take a day just for eating. But it is not possible in Pakistan. I have to get out of this country, and quick. I lost all the appetite. I can't swallow even a biscuit. I have to mix it with water to take it down.
In the middle of the day I took refuge in the grove at the edge of the rice field. A couple of Pakistanis stopped their political debate, turned over to me and asked:
"What is the reason for your trip to Pakistan?"
"A mistake", I replied.

Lucky them.
Day 31: 151 km. I waited until 9:00 when bursts of diarrhea finished. While waiting, I replaced the back tyre with a 20 mm spare one. The old one could probably make it through the tour despite the now increasing number of cuts in the thread, but if it tore the tube would explode and that would be bad, bad as I have no spare tubes left. On the other hand, the miraculous circle of weight reduction appeared again: now that I threw away two tubes, I am about to leave behind another 400g of the tyre.
Right from the start I took off in wrong direction and ended on a motorway #2, which is closed for cyclists. Police stopped me and turned me back. At noon I came back to the starting point in Islamabad - called "Zero point" by irony - making pointless 41 km. I don't remember much of the rest of the day. If I must describe it, I'd say: heat, dirt and exhaust fumes.

Day 32: 108 km. I rolled into Gujranwalla today. It's practically all I have to say about this day. I am loosing will to express myself (like Molloy).

Day 33: 77 km. I was at the edge yesterday. I wanted to call a doctor. Today was better, although cycling was far from enjoyable. Today I discovered a heavenly refuge: CNG filling stations. They are extremely clean (because trucks don't drive on gas), have air-conditioned stores where the prices are the same as in street stalls, and extremely friendly staff, who will turn on the fan for you, invite you into cooled office, offer you juice and even give you medical advice. I came into Lahore today. I was too tired to take my bike upstairs to my room - a hotel boy had to help me with it.


In Amritsar.
Day 34: 36 km. I slowly cycled to the Wagha border (Pakistan-India border). The Pakistan side of the immigration building is cool and clean unlike the Indian one. Standing in a line for a passport stamp was too exhausting for me, I had to sit down and wait until everybody else cleared the immigration. I made another few kilometers in India. It is 30 km to Amritsar - small distance, but unreachable in the state in which I was. I saw a sign for a railway station and went over there, but they said bicycles were not accepted on a train. I should take a bus. And so, 2 km later, I took a bus to Amritsar. I sat by the window in case I'd have to throw up.

Pilgrim in the Golden Temple.
Day 35: rest. I spent the morning in the Golden Temple and the afternoon lying in my room. My appetite returned and I managed to eat some food - I opted for bananas and French fries and not for Indian food, to be on a safe side.
I had big plans for the grand finale of this tour. The final touch would be a quick ride from Amritsar to Pathankot, climb to lesser known Sach pass (above 4000 m), descending along Chandra valley and joining Manali-Leh road at Keylong, then up to Rhotang La (almost at 4000 m), down to Manali, Mandi, Chandigarh, and, who knows, maybe all the way to Delhi. But I will have to leave this candy finish to someone better prepared.
When I was undressing for a bed that evening the bicycle computer fell from my jersey pocket, bounced few times off the ceramic floor and went blank. It stopped working. Someone was trying to tell me that this tour is over. I didn't object.


September 2008. Bicycle tours are always more fascinating if you look at them from a distance of few months. Well rested, well fed, the travelers diarrhea receding, the (slightly touched-up) photos look much better than at the time you took them, re-thinking the good and the bad moments from the adventure-less present, it all seems so attractive, you seem to enjoy your tour much more now than at the time when it was happening.
When I look at the picture of asphalt strip running in the middle of stunningly colored hills of high Pamir, or the dramatic road cut into the Indus canyon, I feel the urge to jump up and get back there again. I forget that at the time when I took the photograph I hated every meter of a gravel road, I was fed up with cycling, with dirt and sweat, with kids stalking me at every village, with answering over and over again the same six uninteligent questions.
This was "le tour fatale", after all: fatal for the future trips. At the day 34, the last cycling day, I was sure I'd never come back to 'developing' world, to dirt roads and to places where you can't cycle through the village without being attraction to every man, woman, child and dog. I was sure that my dream of completing the RTW tour one day was ridiculous illusion - it would be impossible for me to go over such things day after day. I am in envy of the ones who can take that. But now, just over one month later, I start to dream of a big tour again.
So, which is the real tour: the one you cycled or the one with the after-the-act make-up? And being fair to the audience - or to yourself - to give the picture to those who are planning something similar: which story would you tell?