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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August 24, 2010

The Pamir Highway - my cycling heaven!

Back in Ishkashim, I now have to cycle one more time along the Panj river for two days before starting the "big" climb to finally reach the Pamir Highway (the famous M41). The first 50 km are paved so it was a real treat after the rough riding in Afghanistan. Interesting enough, it is the only place so far where kids ask for money or sweets. A young guy offered me all sorts of stuff at a local store: beer, jewellery, etc...like I will carry beers on my bike!!!

The Wakhan is a somewhat "popular" destination for "jeep" tourists, so I think this is the result of foreigners giving sweets, pens and the like to kids in the village. It makes me very angry when I see such behaviour. All it does is teach the kids to beg, it doesn't help them at all.

Guest House Langar

Typical Wakhan house
In Ishkashim our friend Ricky decided to return to Khorog and get a permit to cycle to a remote lake. We are all sad to see him go. Ricky is a great cycling partner. We are all looking forward to hearing about his journey to Zor Kul and the Bartang valley. I would love to do the Bartang one day because it is a very challenging route.

Good companyfor dinner in Ptup Tajikistan  
Langar is at the end of the Wakhan, and to reach the M41 is challenging on a loaded bike. I have never really had to push my bike while travelling, but this climb forced me off the bike 3 or 4 times. The road conditions weren't' the best and the climb had a very rough section close to the top, which would make me lose my balance.  Pierre and I were competing to stay on our bikes til the top of the hills!! It takes a lot of concentration to keep a loaded bike up straight while climbing up through loose rocks at 4km/hr!!! It is a fun game. The next day I was hungry all day and had very low energy. At the end of the day we couldn't find a good camping spot, the sky was stormy, and the winds strong.  We kept going down and finally found an abandoned building where we spent the night, but we were a little short on food so after a hard day of cycling I went to bed hungry.
Pierre working hard uphill
After the climb the great views
Riding in Tajikistan with Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush in the background
Traffic Jam close to Kargush Pass
Shelter after a great day cycling

The next day was great, with nice views and a feeling of finally being in the mountains. This is what I came to Tajikistan for... "riding through big scenery"! There was one little river crossing, but this was a piece of cake compard to Afghanistan. We hardly saw any vehicles on the road, it was a nice feeling to be alone on the road. The last day, in theory, after the Kargush pass, it was downhill, but the road was so rough (washboard from Hell and sand traps!!) that it took us almost all day to get to the M41. At the junction with the M41 Anne and Pierre are going west to Yashil Kul and I am going east to Alichur. My visa expires August 21st so I must keep going. For the next 9 days I will be on my own. I will wait for them in Sary-Tash Kyrkyzstan and we will resume our journey together into China. I cycled the next 23 km to Alichur with a nice tail wind and on a smooth paved road. What a delight!
Endless riding above treeline
Kargush Pass

Coming to the village I stopped to take advantage of some great evening light. While I was taking picture a young boy came to visit and practice his English. His mom owned the only restaurant in town so I ended up spending the might there. The night was short as they were up until midnight and dogs were barking all night. I was on my bike at 6:30 the next day hoping to make it to Murghab which turned out to be an easy task. In Alichur half of the people are Tajiks and half are Kyrkyzs. Then from Alichur to the Kyrkyz/Tajik border people are Kyrkyzs living in Tajikistan.
Typical blue lake on the Pamir Highway
Great evening light on Alichur
Evening light Alichur, Tajikistan

The road between Alichur and Murghab was great. A slow climb for the first 50km then downhill for 50km on a paved road and a fantastic scenery. What can I ask more than that! YAHOO!!! At around 7AM I stopped to have a chat with couple guys on the side of the road. One had good English and at some point he told me I was very lucky to be able to travel and to come to Tajikistan. I guess we take the opportunity to travel for granted. It is very true that I was lucky enough to be born in Canada and have to opportunity to travel the world. I had a very good day. My first day of riding solo! For the first time during the trip I put on my Ipod and listened to some great music. Thanks to my friend Rob for his fantastic compilations.....In the entire day I saw about 6 cars and 2 Kyrgyz on their horses! I had the road for myself, enjoying the landscape and singing my lung out some Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Chris Smitters and to climb the hills there is DJ Champion!!! I had also treated myself to some Bose earphone. The best purchase ever!
No car!
Pamir plateau - the road to myself
Cycling heaven!
Morning views

My few days cycling the Pamirs were amongst the finest days of cycling. Way up there with the days riding in Eastern Tibet. Riding by myself in the "mountain desert" also gave me some time to absorb fully the last few weeks spent in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and also realize one more time that the mountains are where I belong. Whether it is in Canada in Tajikistan or elsewhere if I am in the mountains I am happy  I have dreamt of cycling the Pamir Highway for a few years now and now that dream came true. I am now slowing starting to dream of other remote mountainous roads to cycle. What I would like to do next time I come to this country is a combination of cycling and trekking in the more remote areas. Here in Tajikistan it is all possible and the best part is that there is hardly any tourist compare to Ladakh or Nepal.... In Murghab I thought I would be lucky enough to get internet access but of course it was broken! Murghab wasn't that great of a town but I could buy lots of food at the Bazar....well lots of food means noodle soup, rice cereals, raisins, snickers, rice and candies!
Kyrgyz kids - Akbaital Pass
Now time to go down!
Just for me!
Descente towards Karakul
Oops - one more river crossing!

This is the last leg of my journey in Tajikistan. I had a 45 days visa and will exit the country on the 45th day!! In order to make it on time to the border I took a jeep for the first 50 km outside of Murghab. This will allow me to cross the Akbaital Pass and get to Kara Kul in one day. Few km from the pass (4655m) I was waved in to a house by few children. A herder Kyrgyz family live there. I had one of the best breakfast ever. Warm milk, yogurt, creamy cheese and of course bread and Chai. The kids were super nice and I wish I could have spent the night there. The scenery was so great that I stopped too many times for photos and had a long lunch in the sun with the end result that I was still cycling at 9PM in the dark trying to make it to Karakul. The last 20km I had a bad headwind so I ended up camping on the side of the road without having dinner! The next morning I realized that I was at about 1.5 km from Karakul but in the dark (no electricity) I could not see it. I was right on the edge of the lake so I packed and went for a great morning of photography and cooked breakfast by the lake (wearing my down parka!!! At 4000m it was about 10C). Just the way I like it!
Evening riding
Evening riding Karakkul
Sunset in the Pamirs
Sunrise Karakul lake
Sunrise Karakul lake
Karakul kids carrying water back home
Arpasan's mother making bread
Fresh bread and both kids sleeping!

On my way across town I stopped by a home stay and decided to take a day off in Karakul because they were very nice. It's Arpasan's family. Arpasan is a cute little 2 years old Kyrgyz boy. He lives with his parents, his baby brother, his grand-mother and his 80 year old great grand-mother. I spent time with the women in the kitchen, went for a nice walk along the lake and of course worked on sorting out photos for the blog. Every time I have a chance I do a bit of work to make sure my blog is ready when I get to the next internet access! I really liked Kara Kul. I am not sure why but it had a very strong attraction for me. Maybe the beautiful surrounding and the remoteness of it. Only one small shop in the village and one small school. Small village at 4000m of altitude away from everything.....Would be a great place to spend few months. Travelling by bike is great because it slows me down and give me a lot of freedom but mostly we only spend one day in a place. I often wonder what it would be like to stop in a village and spend few months....maybe it is something I should consider when I travel.....
My guest house in Karakul
Leaving Karakul
Lunch spot on my last day in Tajikistan

I wanted to leave Kara Kul early to make sure I reached the Tajik border not too late the same day but Arpasan's family were so nice to me that I ended up having a late start as well as frequent stops for photography. I thought of camping before the border but there were no place to hide and the wind was howling like crazy so I pushed and got to the Tajik border at 5:30. I was a little worried about crossing the border late in the day, alone but everything went just fine. The Tajik border is just before a 4344m pass and the Kyrgyz border is 20 km further. It is a little strange but this is the way it is. Right after the pass there is a Kyrgyz family living in a tiny house so I spent the night with them. They had an absolutely ADD 6 years old son Mohamed but other than that it was a great evening spent trying to understand each other and looking at their family photo album. Of course the next morning the father took a spin on my bike as well as the older cousin visiting the family. My arrival in Kyrgyzstan was without any problem other than I almost passed through custom without stopping (there was no one and no sign to go to the small building) which got the custom officer a little excited! I thought he was going to search my bags inside out but I could see in his face that he didn't feel like going through smelly dirty cyclist clothes!!! Got to Sary-Tash early enough to have time to climb a little hill in town for sunset view over the Alai Range (a wall of snow-capped mountains) with Peak Lenin the highest at 7134m.
Ladybug at the Tajik border - Bye Bye Tajikistan

This complete the first leg of the Himalayan Journey. The next step is to go through Kyrgyzstan for about one week then enter China and make a decision on our attempt to cross Tibet or go down the Karakorum Highway in Pakistan. We need to evaluate the situation for independent cyclists in Tibet this year and the situation in Pakistan before we make a decision. Hopefully when we get to Kashgar we will have some fresh reports on that. I hope you will enjoy this posting and please send me any comments or feedback directly on my blog or at my

email address celine@nucleus.com

Kathmandu is still far away but I am confident now that I can reach my goal of cycling to Kathmandu from Dushanbe and I also hope to reach my fundraising goal for the Ladakh Project via the Mary A. Tidlund foundation. Should you have any question about the Ladakh Project please let me know.



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


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