Well. Now I guess it gets hard...
To keep the maths simple, let's assume I'm relatively lucky and
get get a 7-day transit visa for Turkmenistan, this "sister
state of North Korea". A couple days spent in the capital,
Ashgabat, experiencing first hand the personality cult of it's
president and then head off towards Mary, skirting the Karakum
desert, seeing just exactly how many gallons of water I can
balance on my bike. After visiting the Unesco World Heritage
site of the ancient city of Merv, I'll just have enough time
left on my visa to catch a bus or train to Turkmenabat, and
cycle across the border into Uzbekistan.
At least a couple days in Bukhara, Central Asia's holiest city,
wandering mosques and generally recovering from the rush across
Turkmenistan. Then back on the bike towards Samarkland for more
Silk Road splendour. And no matter how I read the map, looks
like I'll be spending another night or two in the desert.
By the end of week 3, hope to have arrived in the capital of
Uzbekistan, Tashkent. Maybe I'll have been lucky enough to get a
visa for Tajikstan and be allowed to take the fantastically
scenic road to Khojand, crossing two passes over 3370m in the
space of a couple days. Or maybe I'll have been even luckier,
refused the visa, and have to take that flat route directly
through Uzbekistan instead....
After resting up and sorting visas, head south east, crossing
another bloody high-pass for the Fergana valley. It'll be
sweltering hot by now, added to which I'll be dressing
appropriately in long trousers, long-sleeved shirts, (smoking
jacket, cravat, monocle..) so as not to offend the local
Leave the Fergana valley and enter Kyrgyzstan, finally learning
how to pronounce the name of this country. Head up the long
mountain road that will take me to the capital, Bishkek. Oh dear
oh dear oh dear, just noticed the map shows two passes in a row,
at 3184m and 3586m before I even get to Bishkek. Ahhh, whatever
happened to those halcyon days of the Danube valley ?
After struggling, weeping like a new-born baby into Bishkek,
I'll be treating myself to best hotel the city has to offer (errr..
3 star I think) hopefully having avoided any run-ins with the
crooked plainclothes policemen that apparently roam these
streets. Then set off via Lake Issyk-Kul to Karakol. Take the
south shore, offering "more opportunities to get off the beaten
track", according to the Lonely Planet. Might have had enough of
the beaten track by now, in which case I may choose the "decent
roads and sanatoria" of the north shore. In any case, rest
up in Karakol before continuing on to Kazakhstan, the last
country on my Central Asia leg.
Head north east from Karakol, crossing into Kazakhstan via the
Karkara valley and Charyn Canyon, along a route marked as "rough
road" on my map. Just what the bejesus that means I can't wait
to find out. After what I assume may be several uncomfortable
nights on the roadside, I arrive in Almaty. Yes, again, probably
weeping like a new-born baby.
Almaty, "European and cosmopolitan" will no doubt hold me in awe
for a few days, but I must press on. Move the Russian phrasebook
to the bottom of the pannier and dig out the Chinese one.
Head towards the Chinese border, cycling hard for a few days,