Tajikistan is a must-visit for the intrepid cycle tourist
While you may not have heard of Tajikistan, even less be able to place it on a map, there is plenty to recommend this once Soviet state to the adventurous at heart and strong of leg. Bordering Afghanistan via the Panj River, this vertiginous Central Asian country is a firm favourite among adventure cyclists and hardy bikepackers.
It is hard to describe the extent to which the kindness of strangers exists in this fantastically self-sufficient country. When I crossed the Pamir Highway in 2016, I was hosted on numerous occasions and invited to take tea with dozens of families at the side of the road.
Many folks hear stories about the dangers of independent travel in remote places such as this. However, despite the proximity to Afghanistan and the accompanying fear of cycling nearby a war-torn country, Tajikistan remains a wonderfully friendly, warm and hospitable place.
My experiences in cycle touring in Tajikistan were nothing but positive. I spent many weeks navigating the Wakhan Valley, cycling along the Panj river and found this to be a generous and kind part of the world.
High mountain plateau
Home to more than 40% of the Central Asian water supply, the high mountain plateau of Tajikistan displays an abundance of fresh, clean water in its snow-capped peaks and powerful rivers.
Often called the ‘roof of the world’ for its dizzying altitude, this is an iconic route through Central Asia for the intrepid cycle tourist. I relished the intensity of the climbs and fell in love with the expansive vistas of the Pamir range.
There’s a serene peace to be enjoyed at 4,000m above sea level that is seldom experienced elsewhere on planet earth. As my friend Jonas said at the time: ‘look with your eyes, you may never see this again’.
Tell your friends that you’re planning to cross the highest road in the world by bicycle and one of two things will happen: they’ll think you’ve lost your mind or they’ll pack their bags and come do it with you. That’s how it was for me and Adrian, my best mate.
I wrote Adrian from Vietnam with the stated intention to traverse the M41 by bike and he immediately made plans to come to join me. He arrived in Osh with his kit and upgraded Dawes Galaxy (wide flat bars and stubby bar ends) and we set off together to tackle this iconic ride.
The challenge of the Pamir Highway is manifold: the climbs are savage and steep, the surface, particularly in the Wakhan Valley are gravel and dust, and the duration to cross the high altitude plateau is long which makes this an intense long-distance bike challenge for riders of even great ability and experience.
The Pamir Highway is for the brave of heart and the strong of leg.
Awash with stunning views of the Hindu Kush, the Wakhan Valley was a real highlight for me when I cycled through Tajikistan. I will always remember the day we began the descent into the valley. As we left the M41 we crossed paths with a Swiss couple driving a Toyota Land Cruiser.
The baby blue 4×4 pulled up and both driver and passenger flopped out onto the dusty roadside. Emilie and Lillian were no ordinary overland travellers. They were Guinness Book Record holders for most countries visited. Each of the 196 countries was listed on the side of the vehicle.
I was spellbound by their story. It was truly an overland odyssey of epic proportions. This meeting spurred me on to continue my own journey when things got tough.
Once in the Wakhan, we enjoyed many days of sublime cycling and generous meals with locals. It was a major highlight of this trip.
Tajikistan has some of the hottest hot springs in the world. As we crossed the Wakhan Corridor we enjoyed the best of them. BiBi Fatima was our first destination when we arrived in the Wakhan.
The hot springs of the Wakhan are famous for their health benefits, the sulphuric waters are encouraged by doctors for all kinds of ailments. The view at BiBi Fatima is hard to beat, a sweeping expanse of the Hindu Kush reveals itself as you bathe in the bubbling hot waters. Highly recommended.
Ranked in the Top 5 Best Bicycle Touring Destinations in the World, Tajikistan offers big climbs, vast open spaces and hearty local cuisine. For those with an appetite for adventure, this is a must-visit destination that delivers an action-packed bang for the buck.