Gone Bikin' 7: The Pamirs

4th September 2017

Disaster has struck, all great trips have their setbacks, some larger than others, but we’re hoping it is not all too bad. We are now sitting in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan and the last hope of finding a solution for my bike, which has continued to dominate proceedings since the last post.

After leaving Khiva, we headed further east to Bukhara, still in search of a mechanic. However, after the usual (and by this point tiresome) process of finding a bank that would let us withdraw dollars, then find someone to exchange it to Uzbek Sum, then find some more fuel (again on the black market) and finally find a venue that offered food and wifi (almost impossible) so we could locate a mechanic and get directions to a hostel, we quickly realised the story would be the same in Bukhara, there were no motorbike mechanics. After gesturing to some car mechanics about my increasingly desperate situation, I was told to head for Tashkent, the capital and a further 600km.

As we both became increasingly frustrated with Uzbekistan's knack for making every task a complicated process, Dushanbe (Tajikistan) seemed the best option as it was roughly the same distance and with our visas coming to an end, any lengthy delays would not cause panic. As we set off, the recently installed chain on my bike snapped, luckily still within Bukhara, so I decided not to risk any more problems and get my bike shipped by truck.

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24hrs and various phone calls later, Maqeb and his disappointingly small truck arrived to take ourselves and our bikes, to the border. Given our luck of late, the border crossing closest to us and Dushanbe was closed as Uzbekistan's Independence Day was approaching (still 2 days away but that was enough reason for the guards to take a day off). This left us with no choice but to head to the border 600km north, a journey that took 16hrs, in a lorry cab that was not designed to cater for 2 passengers both over 6ft 4.

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After quickly running out of conversation due to no common languages been spoken between us and Maqeb, the journey proved to be an experience, but nothing that I'll remember with the highest regards. 10hrs and a midnight feast later, we stopped for a snooze on the hard shoulder of the motorway. We were temporarily able to escape the limited confinements of the cabin and set up camp in the back of the lorry to get the chance for some proper sleep.

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After arriving at the border and surviving the thorough checks from the Uzbekistan customs we proceeded (me pushing my bike) to the Tajikistan border. After hearing its one of the most corrupt countries in the world, we were pleasantly surprised to see there were no customs checks and no bribes were demanded, a change in our luck! However once we cleared the border only a handful of taxis were around, certainly nothing big enough to carry my bike to the nearest town or all the way Dushanbe. Deciding I'd have to make it further myself I risked firing up my bike again so I retrieved my old chain from the depths of my bag to re-install it. A wave of confidence arose and with an increasing jealousy over Fred's planned route for himself while I'd sit in a truck, I took the bold step of joining him and we headed for Dushanbe together. With both of us much happier knowing we wouldn't be split up, we were quickly rewarded with a sudden change of scenery, finally saying goodbye to the flat, arid deserts and climbing high into the steep rocky mountains. A lake an hour off the main road proved to justify our decision as after riding over a small pass we descended upon Iskanderkul, a majestic turquoise/blue body of water located at 2195m. After some exploration we found an idyllic spot on the shore, so went for a swim in the freezing water and set up camp for the evening.

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The locals of Tajikistan have increased the standards of compassion and kindness. Every town we drive through children of all ages run fearlessly onto the road to try high five you, while the older generations are intrigued to hear where you're from (they've actually heard of Scotland unlike their Uzbek and Kazakh counterparts - thanks Braveheart).

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Since taking my bike to the mechanic, things have been less positive. The first step involved draining the oil, to which the mechanic says 'not good' and after closer inspection of the metal fragments floating around the oil he bluntly stated 'your trip is over.' I tried to remain as optimistic as possible, despite clear evidence that some part (probably my camshaft bearing) has been crushed in my engine and infected all other areas. Since then we continued to slowly strip the engine to locate the culprit. Our mechanic is now lacking a crucial tool to further dismantle my engine and reveal the camshaft and balancer (the suspected problem causer). However the Eid Festival is currently being celebrated bringing most businesses to a standstill. We have been told all service would resume by Monday and we can finally figure out what new parts need ordered. For now we wait in anticipation.


11th September 2017

We've been sitting in Dushanbe for a week now, with Dave's poor wee bike pulled apart and left in the nude so we could find the damage.

We hit numerous problems along the way, firstly we needed a special tool to access inside of the engine, after trying numerous methods the mechanic eventually just made a botch part from scratch.

Once we were inside we quickly discovered what the problem was - a loose balancing chain. We then encountered a few setbacks around parts and delivery as the Tajikistan government had shut down DHL and UPS, in order to create a state monopoly over international delivery services so quickest postage was 3 weeks.

Our situation was incredibly frustrating at times. As we are about to tackle the most remote and epic part our trip. In 3 weeks time winter weather starts to set into the pamir mountains and roads may become impassable so we've been keen to get on the road ASAP.

However, we've managed to fix the problem, and tighten the balancer chain so the bike is up and running so we are ready to set off again!

It's been a relatively uninteresting 7 days in Dushanbe, we've had to be in the mechanic everyday so haven't been able to explore the city much (although there isn't a lot to explore)

Dushanbe has the largest flag pole in the world which is surprisingly underwhelming, but it's a nice city with lovely people. We've tried eating the local dish of curried cow brain and hooves which was quite an experience, probably won't be ordering it again though!

We've been to the local market and stocked up on veg and new spices and are ready to crack on with some more riding after this unwelcome break.

Big thanks to Aziz, very patient and resourceful mechanic who got our Suzi back on the road!