Welcome to Freewheeling across the Himalayas

Le voyage est un retour vers l'essentiel (proverbe tibetain)


My name is Celine Soulard and on July 2010 I will embark on a 7 month cycling journey from Tajikistan to Nepal. This adventure will take me to some of the most challenging and beautiful roads in the world. I am also undertaking this journey to raise funds for the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation in support of the Ladakh Project (Health inc). I encourage you to subscribe to my blog to follow me in this great adventure. I will share with you in this blog stories and photos on a regular basis and hope to inspire you to contribute to the Ladakh Project.

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July 25, 2010

Very welcoming Tajikistan - first 500km

My alarm went off at 4AM. After only few hours of sleep and on an empty stomach I loaded Ladybug (the bike) ready to commence my journey to Nepal! Somehow it seems so far away but as long as I keep pedalling I will get there eventually! I met Anne and Pierre my partners from France the day before. Ricky from New Zealand and Sage from the USA will also join our team for part of the trip in Tajikistan.

Life on the bike! (photo: Anne Dussert)

We are slowly heading out of town and by 8:30 it is already 30C! Soon after our departure we are invited to join some Tajiks men for breakfast. Watermelon, eggs, tomatoes, fresh bread and of course tea. My stomach is not up to eat much yet but this is a very nice “welcome to Tajikistan”. In every village along the road they have these “topchan” (Russian world for Persian bed) in the shade where people sit and have tea. They are the perfect place for cyclists to have rest in the middle of the day and escape the heat. By 11AM it is 40C. I keep telling my partners that I am from Canada and my body doesn’t cooperate at 40C!!! Anne is riding a trike which is a little slower uphill so I am very happy to have someone as slow as I am!

Breakfast outside of Dushanbe

Carrot cutting for next day's wedding

Lunch by the river - that is nice!

Our first goal is to go to Khorog. It is 550km from Dushanbe mostly on gravel road with a 3252m pass. We took 12 days to get here. Not too many km per day but the heat, some recurrent stomach problems, the load, the bad road conditions and the climb make each day hard work! But no matter how hard the cycling is I am very happy to be here. I have dreamt of cycling the Pamirs mountains for a long time so I am thrilled. I love the sense of unknown and freedom that travelling on the bike brings. New country, new culture, new language, everything is new and there is so much to discover. The adventurer in me is in heaven!!!!

Tajik salutation.

Anne getting help to get her trike across a construction zone

Kids coming back home after morning work

The road between Dushanbe and Khorog takes us from the rolling hills outside of Dushanbe to some spectacular canyons then to a first pass at 3253m then back down through another great canyon to reach the valley of the river Panj. We are riding on the Tajik side of the river all the way to Khorog and on the other side it is Afghanistan. Pretty cool. Kids on the Afghan side of the river are waving us good bye. On the Afghan side there is no road. Only a track where people use donkey to carry stuff to their village. It looks very basic.

kids having fun pushing Anne's trike!

Canyon - wonderful and scenic riding!

To enter the GBAO (Gorno Badkshan) we needed a special permit which I got in addition to my visa and we had to register through few checkpoints but no hassle there other than officer wanting their picture taken with us!

Young girls selling fruits

Young "business" women selling fruits

One of the many tricky passages!
One afternoon we sat in the shade on the side of the road for 4 hours to avoid the heat in the middle of the day and we had few Tajiks who came to chat with us. Since Sage can speak Russian it really enhances the conversation with the Tajiks who can understand/speak Russian. As usual they were asking if Anne and I were married and if we had children. Here all women are married and have many children by age of 35 so she seemed to find sad that we were still single. She then said “no husband, no life and no children, no life”.....it is interesting how from our point of view no husband and no children was the life we chose..... great food for thoughts for the rest of the day as I cycled under the heat!

Thank God I didn't have to cycle on that bridge!

It is great to cycle here. Everyone is super friendly and wave us. We get invited for Chai many times in a day and around lunch we stop in the Chaikhana ( tea house) and we eat and then rest for couple hours. It is also very easy to find place to sleep. If there is no guest house someone from the village will put us up without any problem at all.
Afternoon card game

Awesome road going down the canyon

Kids are absolutely hilarious, as they walk their sheep or cow in the mountains surrounding us they always tell us hello and run to the road with a big smile in their face. It reminds me of Laos. Often in the afternoon there are teenager girls selling fruits along the road. They also like to have their pictures taken and often ask to try our bikes.

On the other side of the river Panj - Afghanistan

Life in Tajikistan is not easy. People have little and they are doing subsistence farming. There is no work or no industry. But regardless of their living conditions they are very welcoming.

View from the Pass (3252m) 

The area we are cycling was active area in the war between the Soviet and the Afghan between 1979 and 1989. We saw sign of areas where there are still mines and also some mine removal. Yesterday we stopped for lunch and realized there were “tranchees” made of stones. One older man we stayed at one night talked to us about the time the country was at war. As he said war doesn’t accomplish anything and nobody around here wanted that war.

Afghan village

Not a good camping spot!

It has been a great two weeks in Tajikistan. The highlight so far has been the friendliness of people and also some great scenery. I am now looking forward to visit the Wakhan valley and then reach the high passes of the Pamirs. My body is slowly getting use to the hard work daily and so far it is a great experience. The girl from the USA has left us so now we ride either 3 or 4 of us depending on the days. In Khorog we met a lot of other cyclists, mostly Europeans who are coming from Kyrgyzstan or are heading in the same direction as we do. We hope to be able to do a 10 days trekking first and then resume cycling. It is also very safe. Most drivers are very nice and courteous and there isn’t too much traffic.

Entering the Pamirs - Great cycling

Family coming back from the field in the morning

When I looked at my emails in Khorog I had a nice surprise as someone contributed to the Ladakh Project so it was very encouraging and will motivate me to continue pedalling those high passes.

Pamirs Scenery

I am not sure when I will have access to internet between now and China. Chances are that I will be without any access for the next 6 weeks but once in China we will have few rest days in Kashgar and I will do another update on my blog. Please do not worry about me if you don't hear anything for the next 6 weeks.


PS: Tashi is also doing very well in Calgary.

Note: All pictures can be seen on my flickr stream (link below). Only few selected photos were included in the Blog. To view photos select "slide show".

Aller up! - Afghanistan on the other side of river Panj(photo Anne Dussert)

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