This was the start of a trip we had actually planned. We had picked up a Chinese companion,Mario, and set off towards Tashkurgen with some trepidation: stories of police stopping people camping and driving them back to Kashgar (this idea had Mario in fits of laughter) and the hassle of police checkpoints.
As always we had to ride out of city, again, a part of the journey only pleasurable in context of the rest. After a blasting start, plain clothes armed police, a free lunch because we were the first western faces to eat there, a ride down a dirt road that was like a child attempted a 6km mosaic using large boulders and mud we finally made it out of the city.
Once out of the city bounds the road opened up to mountains and the ride became the spectacle I’d imagined. With a good a road surface working its way up the river we were treated to dramatic views and tired legs.
I had not eaten properly in about a week and lost all my pre trip weight (my mother called me fat before I left). With ribs pretruding, the first two days of ascent were particularly tough. by the end of the second day I nearly bonked with only my low gear ratio saving me. After sick coming out of me at a similar cadence of my legs, I thought best to stop.
Fortunately, this coincide with a good place to camp. The road is not treated with good camp spots with little green space but the rough terrain is forgiven by the spectacular views of mountains you can enjoy as you (secretly) camp.
On the beginning of the third day, I was beginning to feel myself again and with road leveling off as we approached the two lakes I was enjoying both the riding and the location.
After camping by the lake and under the view of the father of snow topped mountains (Mario’s translation of Mount Mustang) there is just one gradual climb until a 6km switch back over the pass at 4,100m. The illness was long forgotten, I felt superb and whizzed up with no effort. In all honestly I felt like Chris Froome, so much so in the my extascy of powering up the hill I told myself I should write to him to thank him for the inspiration and convinced myself that he would really appreciate hearing from me and definitely reply. It’s still on my to do list. At the top of the pass you enter the autonomous Tajik region (another thing on my to do list is to read why this isn’t part of Tajikistan).
From there we had a downhill of around 70km to Tashkurgen. This section winds through a plateau with ghost towns along the route. There are police(stewards) on every side road of the only highway to Tashkurgen to ensure you don’t get lost.
Tashkurgen is the major market town for the region, a stopping point for bus loads of Chinese tourists entering the region further south to experience Tajik culture (as non-chinese tourists we can not travel further south with ease) and the end of the cycle journey as it is the border crossing point from China to Pakistan which you have to do by bus. With the border closed at the weekend we spent three nights there, three nights more than you would wish to. The only real benefit was getting to hang out with Mario for a few more days, and purchasing a massive carrot.
This ride is a good start to the KKH with good road conditions and a consistent ascent up to the pass at 4,100m then a long, fun ride down to Tashkurgen. With no towns or villages it is all about the natural scenery, and for us, the making of a new friend. Only the camping situation, and no other accomodation options, could perceived as downside but for us this only added to the sense of adventure.