After a very peaceful sleep, I enjoyed opening my tent to a magical view over the mountains through which I’ve been riding. The strain I could feel in my legs on waking warned me that I was perhaps pushing my body too hard, but still I looked forward to another day exploring, even if it meant more climbing. My uphill efforts were soon rewarded with a magical downhill towards the main road that runs to the city of Khalkhal. Before I reached this city, however, I turned southwards onto the Khalkhal-Kolor Road, which gave me a thoroughly enjoyable ride through a beautifully picturesque valley. Kolor was eerily quiet when I passed through. I stopped to have tea with a couple of old guys building a shop, but didn’t stick around long. Just outside of town, I stopped for a lunch break, preparing my standard fare: tomato and cucumber sandwiches, with fresh fruit and dried fruit and nuts. A short ride then brought me to Shal, to which I felt an immediate affinity. Nestled among barren hills, the village is a lush oasis and I started thinking it would be a nice place to call home for the night. I let this feeling pass as I started leaving the village, but then fate stepped in and I was called to a stop by a youth on a motorbike. Within 30 seconds I had been invited to stay at his home.
I followed Javod up a steep dirt driveway that led to the told of hill that provides a most amazing view over Shal and the surrounding hills. Perched on this hill are three massive sheds and two small concrete structures. The sheds comprise a chicken farm, whereas the other buildings represented the home of Javod and his family. I was welcomed into one of the two buildings, which forms the home’s living room. Immediately I was treated to ice cream and watermelon. After a bit of a rest I got a tour of the property, during which I learned for the first time how walnuts grow. I instantly thought how peculiar it was that while I have enjoyed eating walnuts through my life, I have never actually wondered how they grow. On the tree, the fruit could be mistaken for a smooth-skinned lime. The fleshy outside is less than 1cm thick and underneath it is the hard shell of the nut. One well-aimed, but not too hard, strike with a rock opens up this shell and reveals the brainy nut kernel. I thought about how nuts are kind of expensive around the world, and it makes sense considering the effort that must be involved to harvest them and package them cleanly.
Around 7pm I was treated to a dinner consisting of plain rice and a bowl of green sauce. I was the only person that ate at this time and I was to learn that this was because the family normally eats dinner around 10pm. It around this time that Javod’s father placed skewers of marinated chicken meat on an open fire in the backyard. Yes, I was being treated to one of the family’s prized chickens, which had been killed earlier in the evening. Of course it was absolutely delicious. We ate it with bread, rice, and a fruit/chilli pickle. By this time Javod’s limited English had been exhausted, but this didn’t stop him from repeating the same phrases over and over, generally telling me how nice it was that I was visiting. I also faced repeated warnings about the road ahead. When I explained to Javod and his father where I intended to ride, I was told that I had to change my route. Apparently there are thieves in the area ahead and I might become the victim of a knife attack. I was shown a route that included roads with a ‘one red security level’, as opposed to ones with a ‘two red security level’. On the surface, I accepted their advice and said I would do as they say, but this was only to appease them and not create a conflict. In reality, I knew I wasn’t going to change my plans. I put down their warnings to an overcautious attitude resulting from a general suspicion that people seem to have about neighbouring ‘clans’ of people, and assumed that there might have been some isolated incidents over the years of locals robbing local tourists (the area attracts local tourists for the beautiful picnic spots it provides in the forest).
While talking about my route, I became alarmed when I saw that my intended path was not continuous on Maps.me. I remembered had noticed this a while ago, but hadn’t looked close enough at it in a while to be reminded of the fact. Now, my closer inspections revealed that there might not be a way across a valley that connects two roads I want to take. If I couldn’t find a way between the roads, I faced a long detour that would take me back out of the mountains I’d worked so hard to enter, and back towards the Caspian Sea. I was completely worn out by the time our night ended, which was after midnight. A bed was laid out for me on the floor and I shared the room with a man who worked on the chicken farm.
|Accommodation||Home of lovely family|
|Distance ridden today||63.03km|
|Average cycling speed||14.7kph|
|Total distance ridden||23,827km|