After a couple of eventful days in Samarkand we were back on the road again, making a start on the last 500km and some challenging climbs until the Tajikistan border. Directly outside the city our way was leading us into the mountains and the soft hills, covered with dry yellow grass and occasional herds of sheep or skinny cows, that were slowly turning into steep, multicolored rock formations were a welcome sight after the monotonous steppe plain we crossed so far.
Together with the altitude our mood was rising whereas the pitiless heat was finally decreasing, another more than welcome change. And when we found a well sheltered spot just a few kilometers from the first pass to pitch our tent in the shade of some old trees next to a babbling brook, we haven’t felt that happy and peaceful in a long time.
The next day we reached Sharisabz, the hometown of Timur the Great that once upon a time probably put Samarkand itself in the shade. Today there is not much more left of its former majesty than some derelict ruins, which are half covered under the rubble of the currently ongoing modernization efforts of Uzbekistan’s government. It might be that in a couple of years this plans come to fruition, but at the moment the whole town seems like bombed in ashes. Due to Uzbekistan’s restrictive registration policy, we had to stay anyway one night here and were lucky to find a charming little hotel that had more resemblance with an ethnological museum.
Some young Uzbek people that were staying there as well – they were actually on a common honeymoon trip as we should learn later – straightaway invited us to dinner with them, which inevitably resulted in a boisterous, vodka drenched evening.
Incapable of sticking to our regular biking rhythm the next morning, we instead spend a hang-over day all together in the cool, mountainous backcountry having three BBQs, several naps and a refreshing bath in an ice-cold mountain brook pool to clear our heads.
Along with the remoteness of the area also the hospitality of the people was increasing, which gave us the chance to try oil-soaked but delicious homemade plov and spend a night sleeping with the whole family on the terrace under the star-spattered sky.
We weren’t on a hurry during this stage and hence we really enjoyed taking time to come in contact with the friendly but endless curious population of this region, including an acrobatic clown show, fit for the finest circus, in front of 20 kids roaring with laughter.
Closer to the Tajikistan border, scenery was changing completely and within 50km we were suddenly cycling through green and fertile plains with more vegetation than we’ve seen in the last two months – hard to believe but even some high shade-giving trees weren’t missing and one day it was indeed cloudy, a weather condition we didn’t expect to welcome so much one day.
Only a few kilometers before the border, the most dreaded and most inevitable travel disease (do we have to give more details?) stroke Martina hard and we had to pause for a couple of days before we could pedal the last section until the border. Obviously Uzbekistan was especially sad to see us leaving and said goodbye with an unexpectedly heavy rain shower – the first at all we’ve seen since Iran! One extensive border control on the Uzbek side and another, practically non-existent one on the Tajik side later, we entered Tajikistan, the 7th country on our unforgettable journey, where we will face one of the biggest challenges so far – one of the world’s highest roads, the roof of the world, the famous Pamir Highway!