I knew my day was going to start uphill. I knew as well it was going to be hard (you could see it really). And I knew this could be the last climb of my trip. I just didn’t expect it to be so hard!!
So with breakfast still fresh in my stomach I started to climb this pass. The slopes were pretty hard sometimes on this early pass (they can get to 9%) and, even if the climbing is quite constant, they make this tiring. Still, 2 good news:
The hardest part is the initial one. Once you’re at 2300m it’s MUCH easier.
The pass is not at 3200m like some maps say but at 2700, where a tunnel begins (built by the Chinese, not the Iranians like the Death Tunnel, and therefore in perfect conditions). You can see the old road, not more than a trail these days, and it has almost no access, since the workers of the tunnels have broken it completely. Therefore, quite likely you’ll have to go through the tunnel (but you don’t need any strong light this time). By the way, it was downhill in my direction.
The last “good news” is that there’re lots of places to stip while going uphill, from people selling apricots to nice scenaries to the remainings of spectacular accidents.
And one last one! The road is in the shadows until 8am aprox!! So if you wake up early it won’t get too hot.
Pass the pass and the world changes. Green again, but not too green, with low trees that tell that the desert is near. Downhill, of course, but head winds. Not too strong, but head wind anyway. Still, these are some very nice kilometers.
Everything changes again when you are 100 km away from Khujand. The desert, that has been showing signs of getting closer, suddenly appears everywhere around you. Everything turns yellow, even the sky, and only the trees that grow next to the river you’ll follow for some kilometers will change that. It gets hot, of course. I found particularly surprising that, at the exit of the tunnel at 2700m, the sky was blue, but if you looked at the horizon you could already see it yellow, like a sandstorm.
There’re lots of towns and places to stop, but that doesn’t change the fact that the place is hot. The road shows a by-pass through the town of Istaravshan (which I followed, since I’m not a big friend of cities/big towns), and from there onwards the road becomes a sucession of neverending straight lines. The most curious event this afternoon were the tons of fruit and vegetable markets that popped up at every corner. There were more than towns almost!!
I stopped in Hov, a very nice town that hides its nicest part (including a lively market) from the main road, just like most of the towns here. Just a pity I didn’t arrive a little bit earlier…