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Update: Tues 19:20

Currently at lat/long: n37 29.219 e71 33.748

Pamir Lodge, Khorog, Tajikistan

Mobile signals have been a bit wayward recently. Out by the gate in Sary-Tash, breathing dropped the signal, so it seemed, and mid-way through the update being sent the iPhone reported "No Service" and yet the SMS went through. In Murgab, last night I had a perfect mobile signal and could receive texts but absolutely not send them. Very odd.

The President

Anyway, I rolled into the town of Vin, I think -- it wasn't on the GPS and I've been running the GPS on a 500m resolution so unless I see a town name it's impossible to match to the paper map, and was brought to a halt by the police. After establishing that spoken word was pointless he indicated that I could go ahead so long as I went slowly, 20kph.

I set off and round the bend the street was packed with people dressed in their traditional finest, mostly schoolchildren but a lot of adults too, most with some little Tajik flags to wave. So I waved at them and they waved back. Everyone seemed to enjoy the spectacle of the biker being pomp and circumstanced by the town.

Until about halfway through when another policeman (there had been loads) waved me to a halt and told me to park at the side. I made some sort of protestation but it was clear I wasn't going any further. I did establish, after a wild guess, that the president was coming.

So I parked up and fiddled a bit and faffed and took my thermal layer off as down here in the lowlands (2000+m) it was a bit hot. The presidential helicopter then thundered up the valley and I whipped out the camera to grab a shot only to be berated by the policeman and told not to take any pictures. Oh, OK.

I then stood at the side of the road with the express intent of diligently waving at the president as he went past but instead had my head down sending the update when the cavalcade swept past. I assume he was in there somewhere as there wasn't any large limo but rather a long series of small cars that I wasn't paying attention to. I'm not sure any of the kids knew much better either but just waved diligently when they were told to.

I was then told to go. I asked if I could take a picture of the crowd and the policeman relented and said I could take one. One! I was then urged to go ("Get Out!") and got on my bike and went...

As far as the next policeman who told me to stop. After some shouting with the other policeman I was then told to go, again. Running up through the crowd, there were more adults togged up and a mere 300m further up the presidential chopper and another large military one were parked up on the sports pitch (I hesitate to say footy as I didn't actually see any posts and in the previous town there'd been a volloyball court set up in the dirt at the side of the road) and the reception people were gradually disbanding.

Further on, where the president clearly wasn't headed, there were still lots of kids loitering so we all went back into waving mode.

Since Osh, the people have been very friendly. In southern Kyrgyzstan, people were waving at me more than I was waving at them. It's very tiring!

The Pamirs

As briefly reported the Pamirs are very good as rumbling through mountain ranges go. The river valleys are wide and you can see a long way although disappointingly these brown "foothills" obscure the snow-capped peaks you really want to see. You can see a long way, that is, as long as it's not in the direction of the snow/hail storm that was menacing me from the north today.

For the most part the Pamir Highway itself has been in pretty good nick with only a 40km stretch of gravel roads today. The rest is good tarmac with the odd gravelly repair or patches of subsidence to keep your eyes open for. Generally you can rattle along at 70-90 kph without much of a worry (until you're kicked out of the saddle by an unseen dip, etc.).

What you don't get is much in the way of facilities. I'm beginning to reek (even by overland biker standards) and the beard is getting itchy. All the talk is of bowel movements so you're usually glad not to talk to anyone. The facilities are usually outdoor squats over pit latrines. At least there's a roof over your head.

There are a LOT of cyclists. I thought cyclists were nuts in New Zealand but out here people are cycling in deserts in 40+C and then up over 4600+m passes in essentially wilderness. I'm lucky that I can travel 300km from "town" to "town" in a day. They'll take three or more days and there's barely anything, so far as I can see, in between. Maybe at their pace they're more attentive to whether an isolated property is selling food.

I'm going to head back into the hills up the Wakhan corridor (the road that heads south out of Khorog and round the border with Afghanistan and rejoin the Pamir Highway to be back here the night after tomorrow.

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