22 V7 III BIKES THROUGH 6 COUNTRIES, 3 MOUNTAIN PASSES, 2 DESERTS, 1 DREAM
For 18 days, beginning on 14 June, the Riso Scotti company will be on the road with an expedition of motorcyclists, travelling from Iran through 6 countries to China.
Approximately 4,000 km taking two historic Italian brands along the legendary Silk (and rice!) Road, for an extraordinary cultural initiative: accompanying Riso Scotti will be a fleet of 22 Moto Guzzi V7 III Stone motorcycles, which will take on three mountain passes at altitudes of more than 4,500 metres, the Karakum desert and the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan, the incredible Pamir Plateau along the Afghan border. Along the way, the expedition will cross six national borders: Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, with final destination Kashgar.
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LEG 17 - KASHGAR – GUANGZHOU: Our journey won’t end in Guangzhou
See you again in Italy!
LEG 16 - SARY TASH – IRKESHTAM – KASHGAR: We are in China, after 4000 km on the Silk Road!
Kashgar is a thousand-year old city that was the gateway to the Silk Road and a commercial crossroads between Pakistan, India, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; silent electric scooters dart all around us, the roads are filled with the smell of spicy food, the illuminated signs with their Chinese ideograms and Arabic writing - owing to the proximity of the border - take the place of the setting sun. Tomorrow Guangzhou awaits us…
LEG 15 - KARAKUL LAKE – SARY TASH: We are proud travellers, not tourists
Having “argued” with the rationed electricity and the absence of wi-fi, but feeling fresh after resting up in warm and welcoming surroundings despite the suddenly drop in temperature, we finally feel that we are exactly where we wanted to be: in a far-off place, experiencing a different life to the one we’re accustomed to and able to truly travel, rather than simply being tourists.
LEG 14 - MURGHAB – KARAKUL LAKE: Along with the effort and the pure beauty of nature, we find serenity, friendship and happiness
There are more stars tonight than in any work of fiction…
LEG 13 - KHOROG – MURGHAB: Magisterial mother nature takes charge
What is not so fantastic, or rather what is an unusual experience is having dead computers and phones and not being able to charge them: no electricity tonight folks! Only sky, mountains and magisterial nature, none of which requires any technology!
LEG 12 - KALAI HUMB – KHOROG: Immersed in a dream, Pamir
Today was a wonderful day, packed, one of those days that could fill in for a hundred… or for a lifetime!
Leg 11 - DUSHAMBE – KALAI HUMB: Travelling along the border with Afghanistan
Borders are undeniably, and perversely, fascinating. You realise that being inside or outside, on this side or the other side, living this life rather than the other one, is a matter of fate, or more blandly, of chance. We should never forget the privileges we have nor those who don’t have access to such privileges, but to be here, right on the line that marks the destiny of this or that person, is truly a powerful sensation. Intimate even. We are (obviously!) significantly behind schedule, but the road continues to inspire, we would gladly stop every hundred metres for a photo but there’s simply no way, and we travel the final kilometres in the dark, riding carefully along the rocks and crossing two rivers. At the hotel, we barely have the strength to eat a bite and crash. We will be setting our alarms even earlier than usual tomorrow, it’s time to climb to the top of the world.
LEG 10 - KHUJAND – DUSHAMBE – Swallowed up by the unknown, heading towards a dream!
Being true Italians, we have a spaghetti and head off to sleep. Tomorrow we face the 5,000-metre ascent to Pamir!
LEG 9 - SAMARKAND – KHUJAND: There, in no man’s land, our songs ring out to pass the time
LEG 8 - YA NGIKAZGAN – SAMARCANDA: the magical city of Samarcanda and the unique experience of joyful children!
Uzbekistan is a land of incomparable charm and beauty. Its deserts have been crossed for centuries by nomadic tribes and bandits, merchants and armies: first along the Silk Road that linked the Roman Empire to that of the Chinese, and later across that uninhabited expanse between the Russian world and Persia, where there is a proud, thousand-year old metropolis that unleashes the legendary force of Atlantis: Samarcanda.
LEG 7 - BUKHARA – YANGIKAZGAN: And after so much road, a warm welcome at the Yurt camp on the prairie
LEG 6 - KHIVA – BUKHARA: JUST SAND AND HEAT THAT DISTORTS INTO INVISIBLE MISTS
300 km like this, uninterrupted, so very hot, with the wheels of the bike that seem to float along as if on an air cushion, surrounded by just red sand and low shrubs as far as the eye can see… it’s an alienating experience. And before you are able to perceive all this space, you feel every single instant of the journey inside, accompanied by a sun that illuminates but does not generate any shadows unless you look hard. No-one passes. For an indefinite period of time there’s nothing but “sand”. And while you ride, you think back to a time when this road didn’t yet exist, when convoys would pass this way, packed with goods to sell in Bukhara, or Khiva, which would then go on to the European markets.
When the shadows begin to lengthen, it’s like riding on Mars, red stone and sand everywhere, the concrete that radiates the heat of the day distorting the horizon in invisible mists, it’s spectacular.
LEG 5 – DARWAZA - KHIVA: FROM THE GAS CRATER TO UZBEKISTAN
LEG 4 – ASHGABAT – DERWAZA: A LAS VEGAS (ALL OF ITS OWN) ON THE EDGE OF THE DESERT
What we’re seeing today is a post-independence Ashgabat conceived by President Niyazov. The profits from gas and petroleum over the last twenty years (Turkmenistan is the world’s third producer of natural gas!) have helped finance a brand-new chapter in the city’s existence. They have an impressive patrimony, particularly considering the country has only 5 million inhabitants. Entire districts are taken up with imposing marble buildings. The whiteness of the public buildings and private residences contrasts with the green of the parks and gardens that, along with the four-lane roads, form the urban environment. The city’s monuments recall the country’s recent history, marked by regained independence and the eccentricity of its president. There are golden statues of him everywhere, overseeing the perfection of this rather surreal place in which squares, museums, parks, futuristic towers, mosques and memorials celebrate a rediscovered identity, somewhere between tradition and future.
The schedule they gave me, when they told me I would be the photographer and storyteller on this new Riso Scotti and Moto Guzzi adventure, opened with this quote from Peter Hopkirk. Well, you won’t believe it, but Hopkirk is one of my favourite authors, I started with “The Great Game” and then read all his books, imagining the feats of those adventurers, Khans, spies, explorers, and armies who lived between the 18th and early 20th century in one of the hottest places on the planet, ancient Industan. Knowing the history of these lands helps us to understand the everyday and the news that we hear each day, to understand why Afghanistan is a crucial joint in terms of global power and why, in Central Asia, there are two things they have done since the dawn of time: sell and fight.
I’m not here to carry out social or political analysis of course, but to tell you about a unique trip, the kind that, as you depart, your friends tell you is “a trip of a lifetime” with a (healthy) dose of envy. But these are truly roads you should travel at least once in a lifetime, because so much of the Italian history and commerce that saw Genoa and Venice become so great had its roots here. Central Asia was, in fact, the needle on the scale of global equilibriums, which saw one of the two plates move under the weight of Russia, tsarist Russia first, then socialist Russia. But enough chat, it’s time to leave!
The unexpected is what makes a journey so memorable. Based on this (sacrosanct) assumption, everything should go very well; my first unexpected thing, in fact, was not being able to leave for Iran with the rest of the group. Unfortunately, while the visas for Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are relatively easy to obtain (the Kyrgyzstan visa is simply obtained at the border), the process is more complicated for Turkmenistan. It would seem that photographers and journalists don’t have an easy time getting one. As I am both those things, I am denied entry to the country. The result? A solo flight to Tashkent, where I meet the very amenable Bex, my guide and guardian angel. Together we take another plane to Urgench (capital of the Khorezm province and a classic Soviet city with its grid layout, enormous roads and empty squares, fascinating in its austerity), before travelling to Khiva by car. And here we await the rest of the guzzisti group that has, in the meantime, left Iran and is crossing the Turkmen Karakum desert (without me, sigh!).
I’ve learned my first word in Uzbek, rakhmat. It means “thanks”.” (Leonardo Lucarelli)
LEG 3 – MASHAD – ASHGABAT: STUCK AT THE BORDER!
Stuck at the border, the adventure begins!
We leave Mashhad in a queue, and it’s no easy task with the chaos of the traffic and road systems; we travel in formation to simplify things, one car at the front, one in the middle and one bringing up the rear. We bikers in the middle, concentrating on the engine noise around us. It’s working, we’re in sync!
It’s one of the most difficult frontiers in the world, and we realise this, both in terms of the long and tiring bureaucratical processes and the extremely militarised atmosphere. It’s a real border, tough, with a defence system arranged into 5 areas of border control. So, having passed the first control, 4 others await us, through a system of barbed wire, armed towers, and military personnel with attack dogs. We are the only ones wanting to pass through today, and we must look strange, a line of motorcycle riders, but we remain in high spirits and don’t let the cold welcome get us down. They check everything, it appears they might even want to disassemble the bikes, but eventually we pass through, unscathed, with the exception of our film-maker Riccardo’s drone, that is taken somewhat rudely from us to ensure that we cannot use it in Turkmen territory for filming that would never be authorised. Never mind, we won’t be able, and you won’t be able to enjoy the wonderful views from above that we wanted to create in the desert tomorrow.
Five hours and a great deal of patience later, here we are in Turkmenistan. The capital, Ashgabat, is only 50 km away, and this too allows us to understand why they are so careful in handing out entry visas.
We arrive, hot and tired, and an unexpected city awaits us: it’s all white, with spectacular, exaggerated lighting. We cross it, with a sensation of being in Montecarlo at times, due to the neat elegance, or in Dubai, due to the size of the buildings, while the twinkling of a million coloured lights suggests Las Vegas! What an incredible city! Only a few photos today, tomorrow we’ll visit properly and get a better feel for it.
Right now, we’re melting in the 45-degree heat and need to rest a while. The climate is a little draining, though we’re very well equipped: our Dainese jackets and helmets are exceptional, with their ventilation systems that allow for a continual flow of air, so important in helping maintain a feeling of well-being, also when riding. Riding these Guzzi jewels is a pleasure! We all agree, after our first day as bikers, on the lightness, the handling, the balance through the turns, and the ease of riding such a well-designed bike. Casimiro is delighted with “his” V7 III Stone!
LEG 2 - Mashhad: after collecting the bikes, we’re ready to get this adventure on the road
Sleeping on the plane is always tough, and we’re too excited about arriving and starting the engines of our Guzzi V7 III Stone bikes. It’s almost 2am when we land in Mashhad, in Iran. We truly feel as if we are “entering into” something unusual: there is absolute silence, no tourists around, an enormous effigy of the Ayatollah Khomeini scrutinises us from the wall.
LEG 1 – FROM ITALY TO MASHHAD