From Mashhad, two cloudy and rainy days of cycling – 185 kilometers – took me to the Sarakhs border with Turkmenistan. It was an easy but time-consuming crossing – way too many stamps and papers. If only the British had pushed on a little bit further north in ‘the Great Game’, I’d have a little bit less of Soviet bureaucracy to tackle.
Ahead of me was 500 kilometers of old, bumpy tarmac to Uzbekistan, to be cycled in the five days my visa was valid. Unfortunately, I got a problem already the second day. My left knee was aching so badly that I had to start hitchhiking, which I did for maybe a quarter of the distance from there on to Samarkand in Uzbekistan. The doctors in main-towns Mary ( Turkmenistan) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan) spoke no English, so any remedy had to wait until the Uzbek capital Tashkent. Good then that the Turkmen and Uzbek people were so friendly – my first hitch-host invited me for lunch, dinner and sleep at his home in Mary. Another good memory was the old men in southern Uzbekistan who invited me for their annual May 1st lunch with lots of vodka (although I was able to escape that and instead drink green tea – delicious and common here).
All the way from Iran was much more lush than I had imagined – irrigation canals were everywhere in southern Turkmenistan and even the desert in the north was surprisingly green with thorny bushes scattered across the landscape of small sand dunes. Historic cities Bukhara and Samarkand were of course impressive – but at least for the latter of them, its name will always be much more magic than the over-tidy monuments it presents.
I’ve also spent some days on a side-trip by bus back and forth Tashkent. Visa to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – totaling more than 200 US dollar – were the last ones that I had to get for this trip since my Chinese one will come by courier in my second passport from Sweden (thanks to my father!). An English-speaking doctor could finally check my knee – “just a ligament strain in a joint; after some rest it should be fine”.
I’ll now continue East, crossing the Tajikistan border tomorrow and past the famous Pamir Highway reach Kyrgyzstan some two weeks later, and China after another two days on the saddle. The road (the world’s second highest tarmac) will pass above 4,000 meters a few times – 4,600 at most – so I really hope that my knee will cope with it. But given the age of trucks here, and in fact the age of the roads themselves, the inclines should be gentle enough.