Sand Trials

The sun proves capricious and cruel: hiding behind clouds, yet fiercely toning down colors and burning our skin. Every single centimeter that remains exposed, hurts like hell. Our swagger is less dashing. Ana’s riding off-road reveals my brand new girlfriend: disciplined, focused above her usual morning haze. I feel that this is more than an act of bravery, it is part of her desire to  recover abilities that were slipping away.

The road is always changing: after the gravel sections that Ana enjoys so much, we hit some patches of soft, deep sand, mixed with glitter-stone.

Beyond the angry Panj river, the Afghan trails are no longer wilder than our tadjik road.

Luckily the sandy bits are quite short and there are not so many of them anyway. The cyclists must suffer more than we do, having to push their super charged two wheelers across.

Back on the gravel, we kick it until we feel a water and pee  break is in order. Who is not convinced that these two are the most awesome feelings of relief, has not suffered of real thirst, nor have they sat in a saddle for long enough.

Some kids stop to check us out. Their mum soon joins them. Hello ma’am, do you know where we could drink some tea? Tea?? she is visibly surprised; Well, there is no restaurant or tea house around here, she says. But her face lights up. Come, I make tea for you. Rosa is home alone, her husband is working in Russia. Most men do; this is not place for employment opportunities. While their father is living a double life many thousands of kilometers away, the kids keep company to their mother: Dilangez, the eldest daughter (19), Eradj (15), Sheroz (12) and Surajd (10).

Their house is a huneuni chid. A traditional Pamiri house, built by the grandfather of Roza’s husband. The large room where we are invited is illuminated through a skylight (tsorkhona). The most notable detail here are the four concentric squares that represent the four elements: water, fire, earth and air.

The roof is supported by five pillars. This is also symbolic, suggesting the five pillars of Islam, the 5 prophets and 5 Zoroastrian deities. The number of roof beams is about the number of imams and prophets in Ishmael-ism, a shot-off of Islam that is prevalent in the Pamir valley. These people really care for Aga Khan, whose portrait is adorning one of the pillars. So our gift – a photo of the Aga – is received with much joy, Rosa even kisses the piece of paper and sticks it next to the other one.  In the meantime the older daughter has prepared a proper feast: black tea, shir choy (milk with a bit of tea and some melted butter) and a large plate of boiled buckwheat. Rosa takes the homemade bread and tears it into pieces, then places them in front of each of us, a symbolic invitation to enjoy their humbling and moving hospitality.

We try to think of a nice gesture to thank for this, but no matter what we do, Rosa is one step ahead. We pull out a box of dates, she pulls out a charcoal pencil and starts beautifying Ana. She draws deep shadows under her blue eyes and darkens her eyebrows. Now you look like a Tajik woman, she says. It is fun and pleasant inside, we find it difficult to leave. Outside the riding conditions are brilliant: dry gravel, crazy sun, winding road.

In the first petrol station – a hole in the wall with the dubious liquid in plastic cans of course – we meet a cute potential play-pal for our adorable Adele;  he older sister who is dealing the fuel tells us that the cutie pie is called. This photo shoot allows me to showcased a newly beautified Ana; wearing tajik make-up that is.

Once her tank is filled, Ana takes off. Her growing confidence is ever more obvious.

We pass the last village on the map until Kargush Pass..

The road takes a swift turn uphill; which costs us a DRZ clutch

A few tight hairpins later we are treated to an awesome panorama;

We climb a few more hundreds of meter. The air is so sharp and cold that it makes our lungs hurt. We decide it would not be a wise idea to push any further, as the weather must be even more harsh as we would draw closer to the pass. We will set camp and see about that tomorrow.

While we do our business around the camp, we hear the sound of motorcycle engine. Two bikers on 650 BMWs show up on the trail. The first guy lifts up his arm for hello, but shortly they both disappear behind a curve. Where are they from, why are they in such a hurry? No idea.

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