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  • Jamie Shannon

Khorog. Table tennis, cheap vodka, Afghan hash and lazy days

Arriving in Khorog, I felt like a broken man. I had just been through, what I believe to have been ten of the toughest, most brutal days of my life. If I was now asked if I was glad I had done it, then the answer would be an unshakable yes, no doubt. Would I do it again? - Probably not.

I strolled (or rather limped) into the first supermarket I came to on the edge of town and walked around quite awestruck by the choice on offer. Okay it wasn’t exactly your local Tesco but after the shops I had been frequenting, it was almost like I had died and gone to heaven. I bought a large bottle of coke and sat down outside in the vain hope that this would somehow alleviate my ailing stomach.

I found my home for the night, The Pamir Lodge, after several lengthy tours of the town and wouldn’t you just know it, it stood high above, nestled very neatly against the mountains that surround the town. I literally had to push the bike up those last few steep streets. I don’t know how I managed it but manage it I did and I plonked myself down outside when I arrived, too tired even for the usual formalities that come when checking into somewhere.

The Lodge is usually a hive of activity I hear – with dozens of cyclists and hikers arriving each week during the Summer months but at this time of year there was but a scattering of people passing through. In the four night’s I was there, I didn’t meet a single cyclist which led me to believe that I really was one of the last people to be undertaking the Pamirs and it made my own impending journey seem that much more admirable/foolish/brave. We’ll see.

I met a South African, Grant, whilst at the lodge where we enjoyed many, many games of table tennis together. Myself, Grant and Sasha – a guy I had met previously in Dushanbe – spent the following days eating out, walking the bazar, playing table tennis and drinking far too much vodka.

Whilst walking around the bazar, we had our passports checked by a lady in uniform and this was an occasion in itself. I had with me, Grant – a white South African and Sasha a black Englishman which raised a few eyebrows when we were asked where we were from. Surely it should be the other way round!

Well as you can imagine, it was fantastic just to relax for a few days with some real home comforts but this also made it harder to leave. That and my guts were my reasons for overstaying here. I didn’t want to head off into the unknown when I wasn’t feeling 100%.

Grant and I both visited the hospital which involved many awkward body movements to indicate our respective problems. We got what we needed though and within 24 hours, were feeling well enough to begin some heavy drinking. Vodka is just too cheap here plus it’s been a while for me.

I wanted to get my drivetrain oiled but where to go? I tried the bazar of course but without much luck there, returned to the Lodge and was informed of a car mechanic down the road who might be able to help. I ventured down in the vain hope of just buying some oil so I could grease my brakes and drivetrain. This was not to be however and the man began to slowly take apart everything whilst inspecting all parts of the bike fastidiously. I couldn’t stop him though as I didn’t speak Tajik or Russian and so I just let him get on with it. All told, I was there perhaps three hours. Many people came and went and I was encouraged by some of them to try some hash. After I declined several times, I was handed the joint and joined them in their smoking. I declined saying that it gave me paranoia but they just kept on insisting – “Afghan hash – very good!” I must admit, it felt quite strange to be smoking actual dope from Afghanistan not one kilometre from Afghanistan. Lots of people, I believe, say they have afghan hash back in Europe but who can say they smoked actual afghan hash one kilometre from Afghanistan? Well me of course!

The mechanic fixed my bike up a treat. Turns out he was a real wizard. I felt only slightly lightheaded when I left and on a side note, returned to the Lodge and played the best game of table tennis of my life.

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