We arrived into Dushanbe with little more planned than to get Giles cleaned and serviced with new oil and fuel filters and plenty of grease to his underbelly after the hardships of the Pamir. We’d had a recommendation for a garage who reportedly serviced the cars of all the embassies so that’s where we took him and where Mike and the young apprentice jointly checked him over. It’s been pretty customary in these areas to be invited to watch, if not contribute to and help with, the work which is nice!

As with most of the cities so far, Dushanbe has shiny new developments and colourfully planted roundabouts but the residential areas comprise narrow dirt streets edged by open drains and unpromising-looking walled and gated compounds. It’s one of my favourite things to sneak a peak through an open gate. Sometimes it’s hiding a gorgeous shady courtyard and huge family home, other times the entire space has been filled by a mishmash of additions and lean-tos and houses multiple generations of several families, complete with livestock and light industry. In the evenings the animals are usually brought in as the kids are thrown out into the streets where they play together till long after dark (far outlasting Mike and I).

Our accommodation was at the house of Zafar, or more accurately under his grape vines in the courtyard where he allowed us to pop the tent, but only once we’d agreed to join him and his family for dinner. This was, as usual, eaten on the Tapchan (raised bed-like platform) with legs crossed and feet increasingly numb (you really have to plan your departure well in advance), and consisted of tea, bread, salad and soup.

The next day we completed various bits of admin and left the city via the market (this is my probably second favourite thing…) and having stocked up on Kurut, fresh fruit and bread (to go with the litres of jam we had made) we continued north towards the Fann mountains – another exciting drive of high altitude hairpins and the delightfully named ‘tunnel of death’. Actually a series of tunnels on a narrow but busy stretch of road these (unsurprisingly) got their name after a multitude of fatal accidents oweing to the fact that they are long, winding, completely unlit and completely unventilated. This in mind, the locals respond the only way that’s sensible and get them over with as quickly as is humanly possible…

The Fann mountains are an astonishing range of 5000m peaks and glacial alpine lakes. We took a bumpy side trip through remote villages full of kids furiously waving and screaming their hellos, past the women working the fields, up to a stunning campsite by a fast flowing stream. The following morning we were finishing breakfast and putting the bikes together with a plan to ride the remaining few km up to a lake when two elderly men on donkeys stopped in to visit (donkeys and bicycles replaced horses and motorbikes as the main form of rural transport somewhere around Kyrgyzstan we reckon…). Smiling and gesturing they invited us to their home up the valley for some tea when we passed – tea being universally signed by raising a teacup and holding a saucer, even though in every country so far tea has been drunk from a bowl…

It’s funny the gestures you might take to be international, but which turn out not to be. Where a quick headlight flash at home might mean ‘please manoeuvre, no, do go ahead’ in Central Asia it means ‘I am coming and I will not stop!’. Along with a shaky knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet and hello, please and thank you in most central Asian languages we have now learnt to decipher the various formations of rocks on the road: several stacked = makeshift car jack; four laid out at the corners of a rectangle: had been holding down a carpet for scrubbing; spaced pairs of rocks at some distance from each other: our football pitch – do not disturb play!!

‘The best camp ever… if only there were fish in the river…’
This bridge was really very narrow…

Anyway… we headed up the track following the route of the donkeys and were soon greeted by a stream of tiny children running towards us. Rapidly shooed out the way by the elder, Pietrov, we were taken into his home for endless cups of tea, milk in various stages of production or ferment, fresh bread and a couple of hours of mime and meeting the family. It seems the elders and the youngest children move up into the hills for the 3 months of summer to graze the cows and yaks.

They were fascinated by our journey and delighted by the pictures of our home in Scotland and canoeing in Canada that we’d brought with us. On discovering we were doctors various ailments suddenly materialised (together with more people) and we were soon promising to come back the next day with whatever medicines we had that we thought might be useful. These were well received and we wished we could have helped everyone else who turned up but we did eventually have to excuse ourselves to carry on towards Uzbekistan. Our plans for another ride in the mountains were kyboshed by the arrival of a spectacular thunderstorm which echoed around us so we made for the border and more number plate antics…

Lake Alaudin

One thought on “Fanntastic!

  • Wonderful commentary as usual. And you both look well and happy. Pity you can’t linger longer.
    Keep posting. Dad xxx

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