Kashmir and India – the last leg.

 

After two frustrating weeks waiting for his Indian Visa to be approved, Simon finally crossed the border from Pakistan into India, the day before his already extended Pakistani Visa expired. As time was running out, he took an overnight local bus to Manali in Kashmir and started cycling towards Leh in Ladakh.

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It took six days to cycle between Manali and Leh, crossing five high passes along the way.  The highest pass, Taglang La was 5328m, which the road sign proclaimed to be “the second highest pass of  the world”.  Simon reports “this was a great ride, with the altitude, high passes and bad road conditions making for tough riding. But the views and hospitality were superb”.

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Two Swiss cyclists on a 5 week vacation ride between Srinagar and Manali

The people in this region are Buddhists with their picturesque monasteries, prayer flags and stupas, making it look very similar to Tibet.

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Thiskey Monastery, near Leh

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Some interesting road signs along the way!

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“Around Leh the weather was mostly sunny and cool with only a slight breeze. There were lovely block houses with white walls, varnished wooden window frames, decorative doors and prayer flags streaming from the rooves . The houses were surrounded by flower gardens inside walled compounds”.

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The town of Leh

“The ride from Leh to Srinagar was on a better road with only three smaller passes, although it was still a challenge. The people of Srinagar are Muslims and it is a tourist mecca with over 1000 house boats on Lake Dal. The area around Srinagar was very green with the locals busy harvesting crops of rice and wheat”.

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Jhelum River, Srinagar

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Fishing amongst the water lillies, Dal Lake, Srinagar

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Weed removed from Dal Lake

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House boats on Dal Lake

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Rice cut and left to dry, ready for threshing

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Harvesting rice

 

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Srinagar marked the end of the cycling and from here Simon took a 24 hour bus ride to Delhi for his flight home to New Zealand.

Just a few days left for some sight seeing, a quick bus tour to the Taj Mahal in Agra and a visit to the Amer Palace in Jaipur.

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The Taj Mahal

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Jaipur

Amer is surrounded by an 11km stone wall, rather like the Wall of China.

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And just enough time to get tidied up for the home coming, gotta look good!

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Before

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After!!

This is the last blog for Simon’s amazing journey through Central Asia from Istanbul, in Turkey to Delhi in India. Six months, ten and a half thousand hard won kilometres, a lot of sweat and an awful lot of hills, extreme heat and extreme cold. Everywhere he has travelled he has been shown such kindness and generosity and made so many friends along the way.  It is humbling to realise that people all around the world have the same needs and wants as our own, regardless of where they live and regardless of their faith and living conditions. Cycle touring is an excellent way of connecting with local people going about their daily lives.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

PS. Don’t forget to check out the route map which details every overnight stop he made along the way. It is an impressive array of  points across the map! You will find it by clicking  on the heading “Where are we?” on the top menu just under the photo of Lake Te Anau, on the front page of this site.

 

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Simon rides through China and Pakistan

Simon entered China from Kyrgyzstan on 21st July and border staff insisted that he take a taxi 130kms east to the Chinese immigration centre at Ulugqat (official reason: “to avoid cycling the dangerous road”). From here he had a pleasant days cycle ride to the interesting city of Kashgar (a mix of ethnic groups, great markets and great food; better Turkish pasties than in Turkey!).

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Rural China

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Yummy kebabs

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Armed guards in the market

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A park in Kashgar

From Kashgar it was a scenic 2 days ride over a 4000m pass with great views of snow fields and glaciers coming off the 7500m Muztagata.

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Muztagata Peak 7500m

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Karakol Lake

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Roadside shops

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Wild camel

After only a few days in China Simon had to take a compulsory bus over the Kunjarab pass from Tashkurgan, China to Sost in Pakistan. This road is called the Karakorum Highway and has magnificent mountain views. Simon spent some time exploring some remote side valleys in this region with some pretty dodgy roads!

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Good thing that a bike doesn’t need much road!

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No helicopters here!

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Chapatis being cooked in a road workers hut.

Simon had some spectacular views on a half day walk up towards the base camp on Rakaposhi.

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Mt Rakaposhi on the right, Darin on the left

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Rakaposhi glacier

 

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Not a lot of health and safety rules around here!

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A Euphrasia?

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Alpine flowers

Another side trip off the Karakorum Highway took him to Skardu (on the way to K2 and some other big peaks) along more rough roads with spectacular views including those in the Deosai national Park.

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A family wagon

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A typical Pakistani paint job

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A good spot for a camp

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From “hotel” balcony, wonder where the sewage goes?

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Armed with shanghai (not necklace!) Simon smiled and biked away fast!

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A curious marmot

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Is that a henna beard on the left?

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Pods pop open to show brilliant red interior.

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A local lizard

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On the way up to Lake Rama

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Armed escort

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Wildflowers in Deosai National park

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“Compulsory but unpaid armed escort” on trek to Nanga Parbat basecamp

 

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Sunrise on Nanga Parbat

 

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A load of poultry

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Tarshing village

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The mighty raging Indus river

 

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From Battagram the route was over a pass out of the Indus valley and a hilly detour to Abottabad on the way to Islamabad and down to hot and humid weather.

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Rhesus monkeys

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Anyone want a brollie?

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Overloaded?

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Pakistani habit of squatting and just watching every move…

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Kids love the bike!

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More friendly Pakistanis with our “trimmed down” Simon.

An armed police escort followed him all the way down the KKH highway and finally departed once he reached Islamabad.  Here, it was a frustrating few days trying to arrange the entry visa into India. With the Pakistani visa running out, problems accessing the Indian immigration website, the heat and high humidity and diarrhoea – travel is not always fun! But finally with the Indian visa application lodged Simon headed south towards the border town of Lahore, where he is now waiting, ready to enter India at Amritsar as soon as the entry visa arrives.

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Hedge trimmer in Lahore

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No need for a bike lock here!

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Street traffic in Lahore

This next stage will be the final leg of his 6 month adventure. He plans to bus north from Amritsar to the city of Srinagar in the Kashmir highlands, from where he will cycle back to Manali.  This should take about 2 to 3 weeks. He will then make his way south to Delhi on about 21 September (by bus probably). This will give him a few days to see some local city highlights and time to pack up his bike ready to fly home to Christchurch on 25 September. The cycle adventure is nearly over and it will be time to come back to the “real world” again (and we will all breathe a sigh of relief when he is safely back on NZ soil!).

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Simon cycles the Stans – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

The 500km ride across Turkmenistan is known by cyclists as the “desert dash”, as it must be completed within the 5 day transit Visa. It is an endurance ride in the arid and extremely hot climate with long straight roads, little vegetation and few towns and villages. Simon reports that a few dirty irrigation ditches gave occasional wet relief!

Naturally, Simon rose to the challenge and crossed the border into Uzbekistan within the 5 days, on 25 June. Here the climate was cooler and the countryside greener:

“the ride was more interesting with friendly people selling food and drink on the roadsides and lots of horticulture with various fruit trees all around, some for plundering!!”

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A short rest in the city of Bukhara, in Uzbekistan and then on to the city of Samarkand, a resting place for travellers and traders on the Old Silk road for centuries. It had refreshing green parks, beautiful mosques and good street food!.

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Oven for cooking meat pasties

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Pasties are stuck on oven wall by hand and removed with mesh scoop on short stick, delicious!

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It only took about a week to cross Uzbekistan before crossing the border into Tajikistan and the city of Dushanbe. “It was a good ride from Samarkand, plenty of ice-cream shops!” 

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Some BIG buildings in Dushanbe

 

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From Dushanbe Simon started on the 1300km journey through the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan and the Wakhan corridor bordering Afghanistan. His destination was Kyrgyzstan and the border crossing into China.

“Once on the Pamir river the road steepened, heading over a number of high passes, up to 4655m, but although the roads were in terrible condition, the gradient was usually rideable  and the scenery spectacular with snowy mountains, deep gorges and arid red rocky hillsides; all in techni-colour from the incredibly clear air that you get at these altitudes.”

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Tajikistan petrol station

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Lush green meadows and herb fields at about 3500m altitude.

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Some stunning mountains!

On this section of the ride he started to meet a few other cyclists.

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Mark from Perth, heading for Europe and been on the road for 2 years!

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Nice to meet some friendly fellow cyclists who speak fluent English!

 

 

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“After heading north through the mountains of Tajikistan the road finally descended in dramatic fashion into Kyrgyzstan, out of the rock valleys and into a wide lush valley dotted with smoking yurts and their surrounding horses, cattle, sheep, goats and children.”

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Simon passed through Sary Tashkent in Kyrgyzstan on 21st July and crossed the border into China the following day.

The next blog will have photos of the journey from here – through the incredible Karakorum Highway and into Pakistan.

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Iran – the friendliest people in the world.

From the  freezing temperatures and high altitude of Armenia it was a relief to experience warmer temperatures down at the Caspian Sea in Iran. Then came some big hills to cycle over before reaching Iran’s capital city Tehran.

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A water reservoir in the mountains

 

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On the road to Tehran

After just over a month in Iran Simon can confirm his first opinion of Iranians being the friendliest people in the world!  “It is the most amazing country to cycle culturally, every stop has a story of kindness”. He was offered free drinks, food, ice creams (his favourite!), accommodation, free mechanical repairs to his bike and countless other kindnesses.

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This friendly family provided tea and biscuits on the roadside and then later welcomed him into their home in Tehran for a sleep over.

 

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Another welcome!

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These men in a park produced cold drinks.

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A typical meal – often provided free!

 

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More hospitality in an ornately furnished Iranian home.

Najaf, a steel worker, was a particularly generous man who befriended Simon in Tehran. He provided meals, helped Simon arrange his visas for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and even paid for a (much needed) hair cut! While Simon was waiting for his visas to be processed, he spent a few days exploring some historic cities in southern Iran – Esfahan, Shiraz and Yadz.  Najaf arranged and paid for a VIP bus trip (and taxi to get to the bus) to take Simon down to Esfahan and stored his bike while he was away for a few days. Before he departed on the bus Najaf presented him with a million Iranian rials (about $30US) – incredible generosity! and he has invited us both back to stay in one of his 3 houses in Tehran – could be good!

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A picnic with Najaf and girlfriend Ida

 

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A new man!

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The beautiful Shahcheragh mosque in Shiraz.

 

 

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Fantastic tile work.

 

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Wow!!

 

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A lovely traditional hostel in Shiraz, much nicer and cheaper than hostels in Tehran and almost empty of guests.

 

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A truck loaded with melons – no wonder it had a puncture!

Back in Tehran, another friendly man spent quite a few hours escorting Simon around the markets and explaining some of the crafts and customs.

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In the markets in Tehran –  hand made mats that have been crafted by this family run business for the past 250 years

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Baking bread in Tehran is a real art.

 

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A motor cycle cemetery – apparently they are confiscated by the police in lieu of fines!

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Najaf and friends say farewell to Simon as he leaves Tehran and heads east towards the border with Turkmenistan – about 1000kms away.

 

So it was back on the road again in the heat, with the Uzbekistan Visa safely in the pannier bag and Turkmenistan Visa to be collected at the town of Mashhad 130kms from the border.

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Barren hills

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Crazy man!

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A local reptile

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Colourful roadkill

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Eh?!

 

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Mosques are quite good places to camp. They usually have water and toilets

The climate is very hot here and the land a desert.  Cycling is only bearable from 6am until midday and then another couple of hours after 5pm. Simon describes it as the “hardest riding I have done because of the heat and having to wear long pants” (for cultural reasons). Needless to say his derriere suffered!

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Dry and barren but with its own beauty.

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Simon eventually reached the city of Mashhad – where each year millions of pilgrims visit the vast Holy Shrine and tomb of Imam Reza. He visited the beautiful Goharshad mosque during the day and again when it was lit up at night.

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The carpets cover a huge marble courtyard and are hot on your bare feet.

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The faithful at prayer facing mecca.

 

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The mosque comes alive at night with lights and people.

 

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Glittering chandeliers and mirror mosaics.

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The busy night time streets in Mashhad

After collecting the Turkmenistan visa in Mashhad (with the help of a hostel employee who transported Simon to the consulate twice on his motorbike and another time by bicycle) – he departed for the border 130kms away. The timing had to be perfect as the Turkmenistan visa only allows a transit of 5 days – and there are 500kms of hot arid desert to cycle to reach the border of Uzbekistan on the other side.  So he was waiting at the Turkmenistan border for entry on 20 June and has to be at the other side by the 24th – known by cyclists as the “desert dash”.

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After jumping though hoops and wires – the Turkmenistan Visa at last!

The next country is Uzbekistan where the visa is for a longer period – a month I think?

If you have reached the end of this rather long post I take full responsibility for any inaccuracies in this account. But just enjoy the photos – great aren’t they?!

Sue

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Iran, via Georgia and Armenia

If you check out the “Where are we?” page on the top menu above you will see that Simon has been pretty busy since the last blog in late April. He decided to do a bit of a detour north to check out the countries of Georgia and Armenia, on his way to Iran. These are both poor countries with a Russian influence and he discovered some hard riding at high altitudes and some very cold conditions.

Simon described the Goderdzi Pass as a “90km climb from sea level (the Black sea) to 2025m on a road that was a pot-holed rocky mess with water running down it, snow thawing and cold”.  Yes – it looks seriously COLD!

He described Georgia as being like Turkey but without the sun. Most of the people only speak the Georgian language which is not spoken by any other country – hence they can’t communicate with the rest of the world. But the people were friendly (although more reserved than in Turkey) and curious about his trip. He had some nice homestays.

It has a poor rural population and lots of hills.

After a few days in Georgia Simon crossed the border into Armenia on about 8 May. He described Armenia as “tough riding, grinding hills and cold miserable weather with snow in patches…”   Hmmm.. maybe the NZ winter and heat pump isn’t so bad after all!

Some impressive mountains including Big and little Mt Ararat that he had seen when he flew over head en route to Istanbul a month earlier.

The cars are predominantly “rusty old Ladas or Mercedes and vehicles have smokey diesel engines often looking as tho they on fire”. The Lada in the picture is a “good one”. Some interesting farm vehicles and village roads …

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A friendly lady who served me fried potato fritters. She was interested in my trip.

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A group of Russian cyclists on a 3 week tour of Armenia.

Yerevan is the capital city of Armenia. It had an impressive Republic Square with some interesting sculptures.

Back on the road again – more hills and interesting sights.

The last pass before crossing the border into Iran – more tough cycling.

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Pass at 2535m. 13 May 2017

Simon is now in Tehran – the capital of Iran and reports that it must be the friendliest country in the world. More about his adventures in Iran in the next blog.

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Simon in Turkey

Simon has been making good progress across Turkey, aided by a strong tail wind last week. However, both the bike and the body required a little TLC!

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Modifications to bike seat to ease the “mightily sore bum”!

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Some pleasant camp sites

 

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Roadside water troughs are common.

He now reports that “the weather is perfect with hardly a cloud, little wind and nice mild temperatures. Nice countryside with snow peaks behind, big roads but not busy. People still very friendly, get offered tea a couple of times a day”.

He has just visited the impressive rock formations and cave dwellings at Cappadocia.

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Cave houses in Cappadocia

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Snowy mountains nearby.

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Nice quiet roads

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Cappadocian cave houses

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Iconic Cappadocia rock formations

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Springtime in Cappadocia

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Not the best spot for a little loving!

Cappadocia (or Goreme) is located near the centre of Turkey. From here Simon is now cycling northeast towards the Black Sea. Turkey is a huge country and the Iranian border is still a couple of weeks away.

Follow his route on the map under the “Where are we?” page above.

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Simon’s Central Asia adventure begins!

Simon is on his way – flying into Istanbul on 5 April. His plan of assembling the bike at the airport and cycling to his hostel in the city centre was thwarted when the bike missed the onward flight from Abudhabi!

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Lake Van in southern Turkey, Mt Ararat in distance.

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Mt Ararat & little Mt Ararat

He visited the famous sites in Istanbul – great photos of the Blue Mosque:

He reports that people are very welcoming (tho don’t speak a lot of English); and there are lots of friendly dogs and cats. Food and accommodation is very cheap – so life is good!

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Dogs often have plastic ear tags.

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Yummy food!

He took a ferry south across the Marmara sea on his way to visit the Dardanelles and Gallipoli.

 

 

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Leaving Istanbul by ferry across the Marmara Sea

 

He visited the ruins at Troy and found some pleasant seaside camp sites.

Simon is currently cycling south towards the Acropolis and will soon start on the journey eastwards across Turkey, visiting the famous rock formations at Cappadocia on the way.

He expects to spend about a month cycling across Turkey before entering Iran. From here the plan is to cross the “Stans” (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan) and cycle into China.  Then cross the Himalayas via the Karakorum highway into Pakistan and finally into northern India (Kashmir). His flight home is from Delhi on 25 September – a 6 month adventure!

To follow his journey on the map – check out the “where are we?” page above.

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