Dudo & His Mean Machine: Part I - Khorog to Kalaikhumb
Kalaikhum Travel Blog› entry 25 of 83 › view all entries
Adolat's son showed me to the bazaar where Dushanbe-bound transportation gathered and assured I'd find a sturdy, affordable ride. I couldn't have been luckier if I had commissioned a NASCAR driver. Within 20 minutes, I was sitting in the front seat next to Dudo, our driver, and in the back was a German girl named Paula, who was originally from Dushanbe and fluent in Russian, German and English. We didn't wait for any other passengers and were soon bumping along the road towards Dushanbe. It was 8:30 am local time.
The guidebook suggested the trip was going to be 21 hours, but everyone I talked to said at least 24 and in some cases more if there was snow on the mountain pass or other problems.
Again we followed the Pyanj River north along the Afghan border, following a rocky, curvy road. The scenery was similar to what I'd been used to along the Pyanj--beautiful, but the rocks seemed taller, hemming in the valley a little tighter. We only stopped once, somewhere near Rushan, to pick up a couple women whose vehicle had broken down near a bridge, but we only dropped them off at the next town before charging on up the mountains. Herds of goats, cows and the occasional donkey crossed our path, but quickly moved out of the way when they saw our Toyota Land Cruiser racing toward them.
We arrived at the main junction town of Kalaikhumb around 1:30 and Dudo and I went into a dingy oshxona to have some soup and tea. When I asked how much I owed, he shrugged and just traced the price we'd agreed on the chalky stucco wall, 150 somoni for the entire trip. He seemed completely uninterested in making money off of us, but I later learned from Paula that he was eager to get to Dushanbe so he could turn around the next day and pile the vehicle full of people wanting to see the Aga Khan in Khorog, and could charge from 400-500 somoni a pop.
It had begun to rain about an hour earlier, which was a foreboding for snow in the mountains. Sure enough, when we approached the junction we were turned back by the highway patrol and forced to take the Kulyab route, which is longer but not as high in elevation and therefore passable in winter. At least in theory. Not far from Kalaikhumb, we hit a stretch of perfectly paved road that may have been wide enough for three lanes if they bothered to paint lanes, but in Tajikistan, drivers take any part of the road they choose, so lanes are irrelevant. But the condition of this stretch of road was immaculate. Not only was the road smooth, neatly arranged drainage ditches paralleled the highway, all intersections merited a stop sign (even some dirt roads that went nowhere had stop signs), and the massive rock walls at the side of the road were coated with some sort of cement that was supposed to help prevent rockslides. And there were also guardrails along the side next to the river. But at Zigar, the pavement abruptly ended and we promptly returned to bone-jarring bumps, whiplash-inducing curves and jostled between inches from the rock face on one side to the depths of the Pyanj on the other. But this was nothing compared to what was to come...