The Silk Road by Bicycle

I am traveling on a bicycle along the silk road, connecting the east and the west, 3,000 km, 7 weeks cycling journey on the silk road from İran to China, crossing turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan.

When I cross from Iran into Turkmenistan I have a tough road ahead of me: 500 km of asphalt into Turkmenistan’s Karakum desert. Temperatures are above 55 C. The headwind is terrible: it brings in it much sand and this week it has been stronger than usual. I make good progress in the early hours, but at midmorning the wind starts to be unbearable. I decide to ride at night.  I try to see it as the epitome of adventure traveling and I think of Alexandra David-Néel and my fascination with her journey to Lasha in 1927, traveling only by night in order not to be discovered and be able to progress across mystical Tibet, at the time forbidden to foreigners.

Near the Oxus the desert ends, and Uzbekistan, with its historical cities begins. Bukhara stuns me; it goes beyond my expectations developed on several years of daydreaming through exotic readings. The myriad mosques and madrassahs, the archways of the bazaars, the backstreets of the old city retain the charm of an epoch now gone. There are few cars, few noises, no shops with neon lights. There is harmony; even hearing the different languages from tourist groups is a reminder of how cosmopolitan this place was, full of Jews, Afghans, Armenians, Russians, Persians, Chinese and Hindus. I leave Bukhara with anticipation as I am setting off to meet what I have been idealizing for years: the city of Samarkand. My Ancient Rome ancestors used to say: “Nomen est omen”, it is all in the name. Samarkand is the ultimate destination for lovers of epic journeys; for anyone who spent nights awake reading Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, Emilio Salgari, and dreaming of exotic countries. It is because how it sounds. Just say it: Sa-mar-kand. It awakes the imagination and the lust for travels. Timbuctu, Maracaibo, Zanzibar have magic in their name too, putting a spell on travelers to attract them for life.  To make the journey to Samarkand is to graduate as a seasoned traveler.    

Leaving Samarkand marks the beginning of the mountains. After much desert, the road will start ascending, with much ups and downs. I will cross the Pamirs, the roof of the world, where the mighty mountain ranges of Asia generate: over 40,000m of positive elevations trough Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, before I reach Kashgar in China, roughly five times ascending Mt Everest.

The most memorable moments in this trip has been my night in local households . Every day, at around six in the afternoon, when men are heading back home after working in the fields or taking care of their small business ventures in the villages, I start my search for food and shelter. I call it generating benevolence: it entails finding a human being and having him willing to draw on the basic human values of hospitality and assistance by way of sympathy, necessity and interest. Abdullo, in a cotton-field village near the border between  Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, cut grapes from his vine as soon as I arrive, Dr Shadman, the pharmacist in the mountain village of Boysun, south of Samarkand, went to the bazaar to buy meat, Pisando, near the summit of the Kabukabot pass in Tajikistan, walked to the house of his neighbor to get a watermelon, Najiba, at the Pamiri village across the river from Afghanistan, opened the home made syrup of apricot and strawberry reserved for special occasions. Often my host calls his relatives or friends to parade me as a subject of exotic interest, proud of me staying in his home. Women would prepare a special meal, sometimes very simple and modest but still out of the ordinary for my host. At down breakfast is prepared with tea, bread and biscuits. I leave some money which is promptly refused at first but later accepted and the family sees me off after giving me something for the road such as few tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts or the dried fruits of the mulberry tree. Generating benevolence results in comfort, the warmth feeling of being given intimacy and the intellectual satisfaction of seeing something more than the surface.

Andrea Oschetti, is an Italian living in Hong Kong. In 2008 he crowned his management consulting career by finding the strength to leave the corporate world, follow his passions and re-invent himself as a private chef, a photographer and an explorer. His journeys can be followed at www.fioreblu.com