Cycling East with Alex Gandy: At the foot of the Pamir Highway

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Today’s article comes from Alex Gandy, who just six months ago began cycling east (hence the title of his blog) from Istanbul. Half a year after taking the plunge, he’d like to share a few lessons from the open road, direct to you from a smoky internet cafe in downtown Dushanbe…


Compressing life down into what you can fit onto a bicycle has the remarkable ability to de-clutter.

Camping gear, clothes, food and water, some cash and maybe a few luxuries is as much as anyone would ever want to drag up a hill. With just the necessities, life becomes very simple. Just me, the outdoors, whatever road I choose to ride, and an eclectic mix of weird and wonderful roadside strangers for entertainment.

And then there’s the act of riding a bicycle itself, which always feels like much more than just an exploratory aide. Rolling slowly through a country, watching the scenery slip past to the rhythm of drawing breath and spinning pedals, focusses the mind on things that might have otherwise been a blur. Borders and cultures seem to blend, and the slower I go the more encounters decorate my days.

Each person I meet leaves a part of themselves impressed upon me, and I’ve grown to love learning from the spontaneous acts of kindness which crop up during my days on the road. I’ve been overwhelmed by peoples’ generosity. They’ve insisted on paying for meals, given me tours of their towns, offered their homes to sleep in, and repeatedly gone out of their way to ensure that my time in their country is as enjoyable and memorable as possible.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly six months since my wheels first rolled out of Istanbul and I began my bicycle journey across Asia. So much has happened since those first few pedal strokes that it’s impossible for me to sum events up in a brief update.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Life on the road has its ups and downs and the joys of travelling by bicycle are nearly always met by unfortunate coincidence and bad luck. I’ve been bitten by a dog, interrogated under blindfold in prison, witnessed death on the road, and endured knee pain, rib pain and stomach bugs.

When I’m having a tough time of it and the constant physical exertion gets too much, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and forget why I’m travelling by bicycle.

But it always seems that just as the thought of tossing in the towel enters my mind, the smallest act of kindness picks me up and puts a smile back on my face. A wave, thumbs up, or even just a smile can be all it takes, but more often than not the acts are far more elaborate. Each is a constant reminder of how hospitable, caring and friendly people can be.

So after nearly six months of travel, I find myself at the foot of the Pamir Highway in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. I’ve looked forward to riding this high mountain road for years. It’s difficult to believe that I’ve cycled nearly 6500km to get here and navigated the obstacles that have been put in my way.

But in doing so I’ve been through some of the most fun, testing, emotional and rewarding days of my life. In that sense I can only hope that the next six months are as successful as the last.

Check out Alex’s blog, Cycling East, to see how he fares on the Pamir Highway, a road I’ve dreamed of riding for many years myself. If you’re a fan of top quality travel photography in particular, do check out his utterly sumptuous, jealousy-inducing and ever-evolving slideshow.

And if you’re inspired by his adventures and would like to make a small donation towards the cause he’s aiming to support, please head over to his JustGiving page.