Silk Route Magic Carpet Ride Section Summary
Of all of our rest days in capital cities, our rest day in Ashgabat was one of the strangest. Not because anything peculiar happened, but because very little happened, or was even allowed to happen. As all the riders now knew, Turkmenistan is a very secretive country; short of occasionally seeing children playing in the street, we never witnessed the happenings of normal people living their lives. The carpet museum in Ashgabat is no longer famous for hosting the world’s largest rug (the record is now held by Dubai); instead it is famous for its insane photography policy. When you enter the museum, you must tell the ticket attendant how many photos you intend to take of the carpets, and you must then pay $2 per photo!
As the authorities had forbidden us from riding the last 30km out of Ashgabat to the Iranian border, the coach ride gave us all the opportunity to snap up some shots of Ashgabat’s infamous, pristine high-rise marble buildings, many of which are rumoured to be empty. In the centre of the capital there is a “military city”, a block of building approximate 4 square kilometres in size dedicated to the nation’s army. The gold décor of the surrounding walls of the complex was like something out of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator”.
At the border the female cyclists in our group donned their new headscarves and trousers picked up in a bazaar in Tehran in order to comply with the laws of the Islamic Republic which we were now in. Our reception in Iran can only be described as warm and genuine. Every day one of the group would rock up at lunch or camp with a bag of food that a local had given him/her on their journey that day. Hospitality is the name of the game in Iran, and there are few countries who could challenge them for the title for most hospitable country in the world.
More cups of chai (tea) were drank and more invitations had to be declined than anywhere else on the Silk Route, as the riders were simply flooded with kindness from excited and eager locals.
The Silk Route took the riders through Golistan National Park which, although it isn’t quite the “tropical jungle” that the locals describe it as, is a very beautiful woodland and a tremendously welcome change in scenery from the deserts of past sections.
After completing our route through the national park, on one day, the riders were left with over 1,500m to descend in one afternoon, all of which was completed on perfect asphalt and gave most of the riders what will be their top speed for the entire tour. Far from the quiet hill roads in the East, Tehran is a bursting metropolis so hectic that the riders had to take a coach in and out of the city, which holds the unfortunate record of most highways within a city (26).
It’s fair to say that Tehran lived up to everybody’s expectations, with all of the riders packing out their two rest days with more culture, sightseeing and exploring than any other stop on the Silk Route so far; only the Goliath that is Istanbul, which is drawing ever closer, could possibly challenge it in that sense.