Heading to the Hindu Kush

 
We had been told our passports with the visa extensions would be ready at 9.30am (having fruitlessly turned up for them at 4pm the previous evening as advised).
However it was to be a long day of waiting, first at the visa office and then outside the Ministry building sat in Soltan (the visa fixer's) car. It was a nice Mercedes- I got out to take a look at what the model name/number on the back but that was blank (I knew some of you car heads would want to know). To while away the time I played around with the controls and gadgets while Soltan was inside the ministry hassling the country's chief of tourism, at least that was what he led me to believe. Meanwhile I fiddled with the five controls for seat and headrest postition, providing the passersby with some entertainment as it threw me into a horizontal position, then I found the seat air con button - wow, what a reveleation, cold jets of air blowing out of the seat itself - no more sweaty backside for me.
A video screen instead of a vanity mirror, various little hidden compartments, I found a couple of passports stashed away in one, maybe I shouldn't have been looking there. After 45 mins the sun had shifted and it was getting very warm in the car, I took a look around, shifted into the dirver's seat and drove forwards 10 yards- not too confidently as it is an automatic car and ever since the embarrassing episode of trying to drive one when I thought the P on the gearstick meant proceed, I have avoided automatic cars.  Merc now safely postioned I darted back onto my side. The men here seem very sexist and I don't think Soltan would have been amused by my driving his precious car.
 
Eventually at 3.30pm I was handed our passports and we were off, we quickly loaded the panniers onto Thelma, ensuring the thermal balaclavas are handy as I think we have mountains ahead of us. We rode out of the city, having decided we wanted to take the southern route this was harder to achieve than we thought- there were no signs and after some miles we found ourselves amongst rocky canyons heading east (a quick Never Eat Shredded Wheat had ascertained our direction - who needs GPS?).
I advised Ann to keep her eyes peeled for bearded men hiding behind rocks - we would then knwo for sure we were on sniper alley. A few goats, none of which seemedto be armed reassured us a bit but it wasn't until 40 minutes into our journey that we saw a sign to confirm we were on the right route.
 
The sun started to set as we crossed plains and hills with huge clouds of dust visible from miles away as the goats, sheep and cattle headed home for the night.
I spotted a dirt track leading off into the hills and we followed it until it flattened out enough for us to put up our tent. A couple with a donkey came past, they looked at us very curiously but merely said "salaam aleikum" and continued on their way with the bloke nearly falling over himself looking back to watch these two strange European women with a motorbike and tent in the middle of nowhere. Annie's first night of rough camping and it passed without problems apart from her toes in my mouth at one point.
The next day the road worsened south of Kulyab - sandy, gravel with steep sections as it wound along a gorge. A few trucks going in the opposite direction that did not move over at all meant we almost came off- from then on I stopped with plenty of space and let the trucks approach and pass. A JCB digging awayto make the route passable afetr a landslide held us up for over an hour (I did ask if we could sneak through, but he was not amused).
Then we arrived at the Panj River - the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, we were to follow this river for several hundred miles - the Afghani villages only a stone's throw away on the opposite river bank. They were framed by the Hindu Kush rising up behind them and forming an impenetrable wall.
 
We both developed an avid fascination for watching the village life on the opposite bank - I was to be seen peering through my monocular muttering about the Taliban movements.