Cycling Perfection – odometer delights

IMG_3333 An odometer seems an odd name for a cycling computer and most people would surely guess that it measures smelliness or some other such nonsense, but each day we watch as the numbers change, the distance rolls by and the speed rises and falls marking our progress across the world.
We have different ways of using it, I have to put mine on maximum speed so it gives me no information about my (lack of) progress unless I choose to press the buttons. I can meditate along and forget the huge distance I need to ride to find food or shelter. With my mathematical brain I find myself calculating times of arrival at this speed or working out how fast I need to ride if I am to get somewhere before dark. I would rather not know.

Isabelle on the other hand has her odometer on the distance for the day, something which I find intensely annoying (although I do like to look every hour or so)
As we get further into our journey we find ourselves getting excited by daily distances of 100 km or more, or the major milestones of 1000 km, 2000 km, 3000 km etc.
This nerdy obsession has developed into an attempt to reach a kind of odometer paradise where all numbers on the screen are identical. I will explain……..
6 digit perfection
Method 1: Cycle at 6.6 km/hr when the distance for the day is on 66.66 km. This is relatively easy as the opportunity occurs most days although there is only a 10m window of opportunity. Attained TWICE!

Method 2: Travel at 9.9 km/hr when the total distance for our whole trip is 999.9 km. This was the first 6 digit odometer heaven that I reached.
6 digit perfection just left me and Isabelle hungry for even higher achievements……
7 digit perfection 
Method 1: 33.3 km/hr when the total distance is 333.3 km…..easy!

Method 2: 6.6 km/hr when the total distance is 6666.6 km…even easier!
8 digit perfection
Method 1: Cycle at 22.2 km/hr when the total distance is 2222.2 km. ACHIEVED!! I can hear your cheers. It wasn’t difficult!

1111 Method 2: The holy grail of 8 digit heaven is the following: 111.11 km in one day travelling at 11.1 km/hr. We have had many opportunities to reach this target but it is almost impossible. We’ve had near misses, 111.11 km at 11.2 km/hr was my closest, but 10m is such a short window of opportunity to achieve this giddy target. We’ve practised cycling at 11.1 km/hr just so that when the distance is right we are ready to achieve……but we’ve always failed……….until yesterday!!
I am very proud to announce that as I approached Samarkand on March 27th 2009 I reached true odometer nirvana and on a slight climb (which I feel helped) was able to cycle at 11.1 km/hr at the exact moment that the total distance for the day reached 111.11 km. Passing cars would have wondered why the crazy cyclist was punching the air and whooping with excitement, but they had no idea of the number of failed attempts that we have both had. 111.11 km is a long way with a fully loaded bike and it doesn’t take much to break your spirit when you fail to reach your 8 digit goal. It was worth all the disappointment though when I finally succeeded. I can sleep easily now, instead of tossing and turning dreaming of the previously unattainable.
As I am sure all you high achieving readers have also found in life, when you reach the pinnacle of success, it can feel as though the future can only get worse.
What is there left to cycle for? Should we give up and fly home?
9 digit perfection
There will never be a better daily target but there is a way of having more digits:

We will have to wait a while before we have a chance of reaching this target….11,111.1 km while cycling at 11.1 km/hr.
I’m excited and salivating at the thought of it. A whole 100m to achieve it does however make it a little less exciting. I might even have a chance of taking a photo of it…..digitally preserved for ever! (The picture above is digitally enhanced just to help you feel a little of the pleasure that I felt – I hope it helps)


Samarkand – a wonder of Central Asia

After three hard days of cycling, 135km, 75km into the wind and rain, and 125km, we finally arrived in Samarkand. It’s one of Central Asia’s oldest cities and was a key place on the silk road, being at the junction of routes to China, India and Persia. It is definitely worth coming to and is one of those places that that feels sort of mythical, yet real, like Timbuktu or Kashgar, other important places on trading routes in Mali and China respectively.

The city of Samarkand is about 2500 years old and has had a rich and varied life, being ruled by just about everyone from Alexander the Great to Jenghiz Khan (who destroyed it) and finally to Timur, the great Central Asian warrior and patron of the arts who created the Samarkand that you can see in these photos. 

It’s been a little sovietised, with huge pointless empty pedestrianised areas around the buildings, and the life has been sterilised from the old parts of town, although with such important buildings to be preserved it's probably no surprise. In some of the photos from the turn of the last century it looks amazing with people and markets surrounding all the monuments.

Most of the beautiful buildings you can see are the oldest Medressas still standing anywhere in the world, important places of learning where scholars studied higher mathematics while Europe was still in the dark ages.
It does however feel like it might be a tourist hell hole during high season, with small shops occupying the rooms inside the Medressas, beggars hanging around outside and the inevitable policemen offering to take you to closed off areas ‘for a small donation’.

Despite all this it's well worth visiting and undoubtedly beautiful in design and proportions. The blue/green tile work is amazing, especially as some of it is unchanged since the 14th century. Some of the buildings have been over enthusiastically rebuilt but the Soviet’s have done a good job of preserving the monuments and the inside of some of them are incredibly ornate and lavish in their use of gold leaf.

Here’s a small slide show of some of the sites:


Cycling in Uzbekistan from Tashkent to Samarkand

The route across Uzbekistan from the present capital Tashkent to the old capital Samarkand is 333km long and relatively flat. It gives a good idea of how real people live, mostly relying on farming and maybe having a member or two of the family in another country or working in Tashkent. The people in the villages are super friendly, happy to have you camping behind their house and keen to talk to you at any opportunity.

IMG_3188 Communication:             The biggest problem facing people who try to talk to us is their inability to understand that a British guy can be married to a Canadian and that we don’t live in Canada or the UK. They want to give us their brother’s phone number in Montreal….’We don’t have a phone or live in Canada’,  my sister works in HK….’We don’t any more’. We started just lying and saying we were both from Canada but then they want to ask me all about ice hockey (of which I know nothing and they know everything)

We have also discovered that unless we check the price before we buy anything it is normally at least 200% more than normal, even for buying a 50 cent ice-cream the price normally starts at about $2 until they negotiate the price down as we walk out of their shop and off down the street.

Most of the people in the countryside were absolutely lovely, refusing payment for tea and Samsa (bread or pastry stuffed with meat and vegetables) until we insisted. Strange how people with nothing are so generous, yet people with businesses just want to rip us off at every opportunity. Or maybe it’s not so strange.

At night we just camped by the road, not really making much effort to hide and sometimes people would come and see us just to say ‘Salaam’ and then walk off with their animals to leave us in peace, interested and friendly but not hassly, a welcome respite from the absolutely no peace of India.

IMG_3191Uzbekistan in late March is NOT WARM or DRY as we discovered on the second day, all our warm clothes having been sent home from Delhi meant that we just had to put our tent up and get into our sleeping bags to keep dry and warm, even though it was only 3.30pm…never mind, it can only get warmer as we head West.

There is a cycling guide for this part of the route in the Road Guides-Uzbekistan section with full route information including camping spots.



Tashkent – What a nice place!

We didn’t really know what to expect from Tashkent and have been pleasantly surprised. It’s open, airy, spacious and there seem to be very few people around. I asked someone if they ever had traffic jams and they said ‘once or twice a year’. The streets are wide, everything sprawls over vast distances and most people move around underground on the Metro.


There are policemen at least every 100m on every main street, looking bored, stopping cars, extracting bribes, getting together in groups and having a cigarette. What they are there for I have no idea, on the Metro there are several wandering around each station, in different uniforms, making sure the population obey the rules. This is one of the few indications that Uzbekistan is a police state, along with the necessary foreigner registration in every hotel.

 We had heard reports that travellers get hassled by these policemen, but no-one ever stopped us in our time in Tashkent, and on the road we have been flagged down a few times but have just ignored them and carried on….
The city has lots of large buildings and loads of expensive hotels, the Intercontinental, Radissons etc with gold encrusted Russians and fat business men milling around their foyers.


Money is a real hassle, the largest note is worth 60 US cents so if you change money you are left with a wad of notes several cm thick. ATM’s (Bankomats) consequently never have any money in them as all it takes is a few customers to exhaust their supplies and no-one has thought to issue bigger notes or fill them up more quickly. Most people just use dollars so Uzbekistan is one of the weird countries where the dollar goes up in value all the time, as no-one wants their own currency ‘Som’.

One thing to note is that if you have a Mastercard/Maestro then you can withdraw dollars for 0% commission from the Bankomats, those of us with only Visa/Plus etc have no option but to get advances on their cards from Banks. The rate for Soms is 30% less than the black market and you also pay charges for the cash advance!!! so taking dollars from the cash advance is the best method, and then change them on the street for Soms, being careful not to do it near any policemen.
For all it’s oddness, and the obvious huge disparity of wealth between the few rich people and the majority of the population, the people of Tashkent are incredibly friendly and helpful and surprisingly many speak good English. We never had any problems finding anything and also discovered a row of useful bike shops where we were able to pick up some spare spokes and replace a cycle computer.IMG_3166

One of the more interesting places was the market in Chorsu, full of gorgeous food and friendly people.

We were able to sort out our onward visas quite quickly so after 3 days we headed off down the road towards Samarkand, excited to be finally able to start covering some distance again.


For more info about visas for Turkmenistan and Iran go to the visa section of this site.


No route West from the subcontinent – we reach a dead end

China refuses entry to tourists through Tibet
India MapThanks to China’s refusal to let anyone into Tibet from Nepal this year, we had to find an alternative way to continue our journey West. Until May when the Khunjerab pass re-opens, the only land alternative to the Tibet route is a three week police escort through Southern Pakistan staying in police stations every night, which would have missed out on a country that we have always wanted to visit: Uzbekistan, with it’s wonders of Samarkand and Bukhara, so we made the decision to take the 2 hour flight over China / Pakistan from Delhi to Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

The delights of Delhi – learning to tune out
After 17 annoying days hanging around in Delhi, organising our Iranian visas, getting ourselves Uzbekistan visas, watching TV, eating western food…….. we eventually attained a higher state of  obliviousness, where the all pervasive odour of piss and cow shit vanished into the ether, the dust washed over and around us, the regurgitative sounds of spitting just blended into the constant honking of horns and the cries of ‘wan a rickshaw, sir?’.  

Towards the end we were able to completely ignore everyone and everything around us, never catching anyone’s eye, not reacting to even the idiots rushing up to us saying ‘Long time no see! How are you? did you enjoy the Taj?’, or ‘I like your slim body’, or ‘Do you like McDonalds'?’. We could walk the streets of Delhi as though it was a silent path in the mountains or a cycle ride across the Mongolian plains………. for us our little area of Delhi had become an oasis of calm……..nearly!!!!

Flying from Delhi – packing our bikes


Leaving was a joyous moment but packing the bikes is never fun. We decided on an original method, we boxed in the handlebars, gears and saddle and took the bike to the wrapping machines at the airport. The guys said it was impossible, we bluffed them that we’d done it before…..and 5 minutes later it was done.



Air Uzbekistan complained a bit and then couldn’t be bothered, and with our special patented method of reducing the check in weight (lifiting the bike with our feet when it’s on the scales) we were able to reduce the check in weight of both bikes from 34kg to 20kg.

Arriving in Tashkent was wonderful, clear, dust free air, 20 degrees with low humidity, wide empty open streets, and everyone was suddenly helpful and friendly.

We’re in a nice hotel, we’ve spent today cycling around the city discovering the embassies (all closed for ‘Nowruz’ – the New Year), bookshops and cafes. The city is lovely, full of parks, trees and space.


What a contrast!


More Information about Uzbek visas in Delhi + Routes west from India



Holy Cow (for Ari)

A short piece about cows in Delhi written for a 7 year old boy in New Zealand who sometimes reads this blog


Photos of Simon and Isa - just in case you've forgotten what we look like

It's been a long time since we've seen our family and friends so we've put this short little slideshow on so that you can remember us. Don't be too shocked by the change:


Heading West from India towards Europe overland

India Map If you need to travel west from India you are faced with a few choices although you are restricted by security issues, visa availability and time of year:

Southern Pakistan to Iran – if you are cycling, this isn’t a lot of fun as you will have to be in a police escort for about 15 days as it is considered too dangerous. Each day the police drive along with you and stay outside your hotel or you have to cycle from police station to police station. You can get a Pakistani visa in India and you can pick up an Iranian visa organised through a travel agency (Iranianvisa.com) in Pakistan or in India.

Northern Pakistan and into China via the Khunjerab Pass – This is a great choice as long as the Khunjerab Pass is open. (May to November). You can get a Chinese visa in Pakistan and the Pakistani, Indian, Kyrgyz and Kazakh visas in Delhi. If you are already in China, you can enter Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan with a visa that you can pick up in Urumqi although for Kyrgyzstan this involves a 2000km detour round the edge of the Taklamakan Desert.

Don’t cross from China to Kyrgyzstan via the Torugart Pass, use the Irkeshtan, less cost and hassle and also it’s easier to get from the Irkeshtan to Osh and then Uzbekistan unless you need to go to Bishkek. The only reason to go via the Torugart pass is if you have to go to Bishkek and you want to see Lake Issyk Kul or spend time in the Tien Shan mountains near Karakol. East Kyrgyzstan is beautiful but the Torugart is a pain because the Chinese don’t let you cross the border independently, only in organised transport that costs lots

You can get all the rest of the onward visas for the Stans in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan if you haven’t already got them.

In Pakistan it’s wise to get transport from Islamabad to Chilas as the Hindu Kush is a bit dodgy for cyclists, too many stone throwers. Once in Chilas the place is superbly friendly and easy to cycle around although it does head up hill a lot.

Nepal into Tibet/China then West – this is impossible at the moment but for the last few years has been OK. It’s unlikely to be allowed for a while as both Tibet and Xinjiang are a bit sensitive. we were quoted $3500 to be escorted from Nepal to Ali by a Chinese guide taking three weeks. You can’t get across any check point without all the people on your Group Visa (the only visa available in Nepal) If you enter Nepal with a Chinese visa it can’t be used to enter China from Nepal. And in any event newspapers are reporting that no tourists are being allowed into Tibet this spring and I suspect that these restrictions will continue all of 2009 (20th anniversary of Tianemen Square, 60 years of China, 50 years since the Dalai Lama escaped)

There’s oil in the desert of Xinjiang province so the Chinese are a bit tense at the moment. We could only travel through much of it because we had a HK ID card so don’t expect to be able to cut across the Tien Shan mountains, you may be forced to cycle all the way around. You can also enter Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan from China and pick up your Kazakh or Kyrgyz visa in Urumqi. These don’t need a letter of invitation if you are from one of 28 countries listed on the Kazakh website. You can also do this in India.

Flying Over Pakistan / Tibet to Uzbekistan – you can fly from Delhi direct to Tashkent in Uzbekistan with Air India/Uzbekistan Airlines (Code Share) for about $400 one way or $500 return. You may need to have a return ticket to Uzbekistan to actually be allowed into the country even if you have a visa. If you get a return ticket you can cancel it when you arrive, but you can only get your full refund in India although you do have 2 years to do so.

Several countries don’t need an LOI (UK and most European Countries but NOT Canadians) If you need an LOI then contact the Uzbek embassy who can advise you – they were really helpful when we went there. It’s next door to the Bangladesh Embassy which is in the Lonely Planet. Stan Tours can sort you out any letters of invitation that you might need for the Stans and are very efficient and quick to respond to emails. You can pick up your Iranian visa in Tashkent quite easily although it must be pre-arranged with a company like Iranianvisa.com

Flying Over Pakistan / Tibet to Kyrgyzstan - If you want to go to the fantastic Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan Air, Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot fly via Tashkent to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. tickets range from $700 to $1200 dollars. Most nationalities can get a visa on arrival for Kyrgyzstan. at the airport The Iranian embassy in Bishkek is rubbish so don’t arrange to pick up your visa there.

Payment to travel agents in Central Asia / Iran normally involves getting a MoneyBookers account because they can’t accept Visa or PayPal because of various restrictions. You can do bank transfer but this takes a lot longer. If you organise your Moneybookers account at home it will be much easier as you have to wait a few days, check your credit card statement for a payment amount and then enter this amount on their website before you can use the Moneybookers account. Once you’ve done this you can pay by entering an email address in the Moneybookers website and it’s all done. Check Iranianvisa.com or Stantours for their payment email addresses.

Useful addresses and information:

Stan Tours: www.stantours.com    email: stantours@gmx.net

Iranian Visa: http://iranianvisa.com  email: info@iranianvisa.com or iranianvisa@gmail.com

MoneyBookers: www.moneybookers.com


We’ve chosen to fly to Uzbekistan..we’ll let you know what happens in the comments.

Excess baggage is about $2 / Kg


Cycing from Pokhara to Mahendranagar

The scenery between Pokhara and the Mahendranagar in the far west of Nepal is absolutely beautiful and is on of the most unspoilt areas of Nepal. As you get further West the people become much more friendly. Here's some photos in a slideshow to give you an idea: