Tajikistan broke with expectations. This was a country where 6 years ago, at an even more ignorant age, I had been planning to enter into the roof-of-the-world rally. After an overland adventure, second-hand ambulances and service vehicles were to be delivered as a much needed gift to the authorities in the capital of Dushanbe. Today, this recent reality of great need seemed medieval; we were gliding in on their Swiss smooth roads neatly punctuated by lampposts and being overtaken by a wide range of international cars. There were none of the tell-tales of poverty, nor of recent excess materialism, instead a sensible and beneficial middle way seemed to have been pursued.
The farms were abundant, with small scale but well performed agriculture, and for one reason or another, we saw almost no hungry or homeless here in Tajikistan. The roads were of Swiss quality, far superior to the surfaces of my native Somerset. Mobile internet was reliable, speedy, incredibly cheap. Here as in Georgia, development seemed to have happened smoothly and with the right emphases.
There was also an explosive vitality to the Tajik mountain people, well-fed and well-used but not weary nor not ravaged by the strains and erosion of modern life. As a whole they seemed bursting with light, and this energy spilled over into their greetings and welcomes that would echo across the mountainside. Kids in the fields or standing by huts '00m's of away from the road would come shrieking in towards us 'hello', 'how are you' 'english ah... Harry Kane!'. Chai offers were ubiquitous from the village elders, the wall of greeting made any attempt to listen to earphones impossible. In sum the country seemed half as friendly again as the next most welcoming places on our journey.
The approaching mountains again raised the senses and spirit, for the flat land and the dull heat of much of Uzbekistan had depressed these. The earliest crinkles of the tip of the northern Himalayas gave a jagged punctuation to the trip, a new phase begun of the trip had begun in a country that had for so long been a pipe dream for me.
Overshadowing this upturn in mood was the mountain pass on the way to Khujand, 1500m in vertical distance over 25km up to a ski resort altitude of 2800m. We had half-aimed to split the climb in two, but an enjoyable day cycling left us camped at the bottom, sleeping with a nervous energy we would need to propel us up the mountain the next day.
The meat of the climb was spent in 3 very long switchbacks, cycling across it's ridges and crags and clawing more height cinematicaly unveiled more and more of the valley's beauty. It was the first time since the alps in the early European spring that we had seen the heavenly white carpet on mountain peaks. The sight was a sufficient reward for the stifling and sultry desert crossing.
We stopped once on the climb at on of the hairpin bends, the whole perimeter of which was an uninterrupted stall of sun-dried apricots and peaches, jars of mountain honey, and the flat almond like nuts we had grown to love which had a pure marzipan aftertaste. As the first to arrive, I gulped back a bottle of water, bought some homemade 'Tajik Snickers' and began to organise a welcoming party for Rob. There were about two dozen thoroughly interested and enthusiastic boys all vending for their parents up here, and the standard introduction of self and football club took a while. After, this I set up a ring of the boys at the roadside and explained that Rob was coming up the hill and would like some encouragement. I hid from view, got the camera out, and counted on my fingers for them to release their vocal volley as one. As I gave the signal, a great roar thundered down the valley to it's intended audience in a slow-clap rhythm: 'GLOB... ... GLOB ... GLOB .. GLOB . GLOB, GLOB GLOB!'.
The splendid misnomer had originated in Kazakhstan through a bungled central Asian 'R' sound and it had stuck in all my introductions of my esteemed colleague thereafter. It seemed to have its desired effect, I could swear Rob was almost knocked over by the barrage of sound. But by the time he had wheeled into the market horseshoe, he was looking serene as ever. The rest of the climb was punched out to the beat of some high-grade italo-disco, saving more sentimentally infused songs for the very hardest parts. The startling natural beauty and extreme physical exertion were catalysed by the personally meaningful music and I was overwhelmed. A tear or two was shed in a cocktail of emotion and euphoria. A 5km tunnel, the longest so far, was hewn through thus saving us a couple of hours of strain. The damp and cool cave was a welcome contrast to the heat of the morning's toil. The space acted like a dark room for the preceding experience, the body and mind could process the exposure and a reflection on the nature and purpose of the trip could result.