Category: Stockholm-Beijing 2008/09

Through East Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and China

Morning Rest by Lake Karakul, the Pamir Plateau, Tajikistan

The previous day was one of those that simply makes you feel alive: we had passed the 4,650-meter Akbaital Pass, gotten caught up in a snowstorm and then spent the night in the ruins of an ancient roadside caravanserai.

Living today and this autumn — with the challenge of being in the present despite life’s lingering questions of what is to come — I recall how I felt that day in the Pamir’s:

A feeling of absolute, serene comfort in being free, but also vulnerable, in meeting what is unknown and beyond ones control. An urgent desire to find out, but at the same time a freedom from the urge to control. A feeling that comes effortlessly while on the road, but that requires focus to attain in day-to-day life.

– Maybe the most valuable feeling to recall, on a busy autumn day?

Photo by Jean-Denis, a random cycling friend for two days.


I finally reach the country’s second largest city, helped by a good tailwind. Dirty industrial quarters line the road for the last twenty or so kilometres, before giving way to city proper. Hospitality Club member Mehdi meets me in the suburb where he lives and takes me to the flat that he shares with his mother.

Remembering all the good people who have cared for me as I have traveled this beautiful country, here are a few words by modern Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri (from “Footsteps of Water”):

“I, don’t know
That why some say: horses are noble animals, pigeons are beautiful.
And why there is no vulture in any person’s birdcage.
What do clovers lack that red tulips have.
Eyes should be washed, in another way we should see.
Words should be washed.
A word in itself should be the wind, a word in itself should be the rain.

Umbrellas we should shut.
In the rain we should walk.
Thoughts, and recollections, should be carried in the rain.
With all the people of the town, in the rain we should walk.
A friend, in the rain we should call on.
Love, we should seek in the rain.
In the rain we should play.
In the rain we should write things, speak, plant lotuses.
Getting drenched from time to time,
swimming in the pond of ‘right now’, is what life is.”


Also mentioned in this haunting report by Robert Fisk:

“Have you ever picked hazelnuts? We will have lots of fun!”

It reminded me of that day in Western Sahara, when Lina and I were invited to leave our bikes at a petrol station by the main road, and join a man in his Land Rover to his oasis in the desert.

When someone invites you to their home, and besides tells you to leave the bike behind because of the difficult or even dangerous road, it means that they want to show you some place special and beautiful; that they want to show you their paradise.

Aydin presented himself to me at the café in Limandere, and invited me to his house. His son Erdem helped to translate from a distance via SMS: “Have you ever picked hazelnuts? We will have lots of fun!” My bicycle was taken care of by Aydin’s friends at the bus station in Kocaali, and his neighbour drove me up to small village Acmabasi. The road winded up and down steep hillsides, and I was thankful that I did not insist on going by bike. Reaching Acmabasi after some ten kilometres, Erdem welcomes me.

In the late afternoon sun, we sit down on a mattress on their yard. They have a simple wooden house, and around it and us are their vast fields of hazelnut trees. The air is clean; the silence is meditative. We crack hazelnuts (of course!) and eat sweet pears and figs from their garden. Erdem’s mother Mülkiye joins us with some homemade Turkish delights (sweets).

When Aydin comes home, the sun has almost set and Erdem and I have already spent one or two hours at his neighbour’s house, helping them with their harvest. We fill sacks with eighty or so kilograms of nuts each. They sell them for just two Euros per kilo, although with the remaining work of cracking them.

We spend the evening in the village with friends of Erdem, visit the mosque and greet the elder men at the tea saloon. The morning after is a near tearful goodbye — the peace and the feeling of family in Acmabasi really made it a paradise.