Kyzylkum desert

Posted by Dan
Bukhara, Uzbekistan

As we watched the full moon rise high above the mud walls of Khiva, we wondered whether it would bring a change to the weather. We’d had tailwinds for the last few days, which had helped us cycle far and fast. Would they continue to blow in the same direction and push us the 450 kilometres onwards through the Kyzylkum Desert to Bukhara?

Sure enough, the weather had changed – the wind swirling between our legs slowed us, making every kilometre a fight.

Towards the end of our first day, we passed though the last villages of the fertile river basin and over the Amu Darya river, clipping the border of Turkmenistan before reaching the long desert road. Just as Krista spotted strange opaque yellow clouds on the horizon, the wind picked up to such force it felt like the sky was collapsing on top of us.

We took a break and waited in a shop to see what the wind would bring next : people scurrying home to avoid the dust, spinning by locals on bicycles just as fast as the rubbish that it was scattering.

After an ice cream and a Snickers, we went back out to fight against the wind. We were trying to find a teahouse where we could sleep for the night. But when we turned a corner, we saw another set of yellow clouds heading straight for us. The sky and desert had merged to form a moving mass of biting sand. Krista quickly warned me to cover my eyes, ears and mouth, knowing full well it was a sandstorm having faced them while cycling across Pakistan.

Though squinting eyes I saw a small building – a police check point about a kilometre up the road. I put my head down and raced towards it, pumping my legs hard and feeling the sand grating in my front teeth.

Reaching the building, I turned to see that Krista had been forced off her bike and was walking, pushing into the wind. It was the first time I had looked up and could see the ferocious strength of the sandstorm – the first time I had even seen one – its power is definitely to be admired. And as the sand whipped and danced across the road, I ran back to Krista to help her push her bike.

We were invited inside the checkpoint by the policeman and his assistant, who put us behind a curtained room to rest, poured us bowls of tea and offered fruits and biscuits. They and treated us so well, and it was heart-warming to be on the end of such kind and gentle treatment from a checkpoint policeman when all the other police so far in Uzbekistan had been so arrogant.

The wind calmed and the sand settled after half an hour. Although the policeman had said we could stay there for the night, we decided we’d go on further. We pedalled til we reached a teahouse at Miskin – the last small settlement before the desert road started out across the vast Kyzlkum Desert.

We slept, free of charge, in one of the teahouse cabins, just as we had done all across Kazakhstan. They are basic rooms set aside from the café where you can eat in peace or move the low table aside and roll out one of the colourful mattresses to sleep on.

At 4:30 the next morning, just as the light was beginning to fill the sky and wake the birds, we pumped water from the well outside the teahouse and filled our empty bottles. We’d been told the water was really good and from 30meters below the ground. A day or two later we’d come to regret the glowing recommendation of Miskin Su-water!

The desert hotted up quickly. By 9am, it had reached 45 degrees and the tarmac had begun to melt, squelching under our tyres as if we were riding through sticky glue.

When we needed a rest, we tied the tarp between our bikes to make a shade to hide from the sun.

Photo: shelter

Photo: shelter

Psychologically and physically the road got really tough in the afternoon. The wind was still against us, and the undulating road was full of potholes, corrugation and sand. Tour buses, trucks and long distance taxis belted by without stopping and the bland featureless horizon went on and on.

It was hard to focus and find a motivating force when we knew all too well that the road and landscape would continue like this until we reached Bukhara. Our approach was to try and cover as much distance as possible each day to get out of the searing heat of this oppressive desert.

After three days of slogging it out across the desert for12 hours a day, either the heat , bad food from the greasy teahouse kitchens, a dubious hard boiled egg, or, as we prefer to blame it on, Misken Su-well-water ,got the better of us! While my Dad and our whole family were joined together celebrating his 50th birthday, I was doubled over a bowl throwing up, pained and uncomfortable in a sweaty sleeping room of a teahouse.

The following morning, 50km down the road, Krista was overcome by a severe case of dysentery, and I was really scared that she was loosing too much salt and sugars as she was becoming very weak.

We reached a teahouse and decided it a safe place to rest, but as I watched Krista dragging herself to the pit toilet 100 metres away across the hot sand, I saw her pause, then sit down, and then fall spread-eagle in the desert. I ran across the sand and without my hat on it felt like the sun could set fire to my hair. Krista had fainted and was a shade somewhere between ghost white and pale green. Her eyes were rolling around her head and sweat was beading out of her pores like a squeezed sponge.

Dragging her to her feet we stumbled into the toilet – a stinky wooden box infested with flies. Krista was too weak to stand, and fell once again, her eyes rolling into the back of her head, her face opaque. I got her back to the teahouse where the staff were shocked at the state their two new customers were in. Luckily enough, a man who was in charge of a telecommunications tower on the other side of the road said he had an air-conditioned room where Krista could cool down. Her temperature was rocketing and she needed a dark quiet place.

Over the next 20 hours we stayed in that room with the antique air con noisily blasting and I kept an eye on Krista’s temperature and bullied her to drink salt and sugar solutions to re-hydrate and replace the fluids she was continually losing.

The following morning, Krista had some strength back and we decided we needed to hitch the last 100km out of the desert to Bukhara – a big town where we could have a few rest days and access to a doctor if needed.

Photo: hitching into Bukhara with bad belly - Kamaz truck

Photo: hitching into Bukhara with bad belly - Kamaz truck

Staggering into Bukhara, we were greeted by cyclist Mark from Ireland, who’d just crossed the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan! He told us of the other cyclists that were in town – Maxime and Beatrice from France. It was great hanging out and sharing stories with other cyclists.

Four days of rest, great company, more mosques and medressas, we were right as rain and back on the road.

Comments are now enabled! Send us a message xxx

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.