Dudo & His Mean Machine: Part II - Kalaikhumb to Dushanbe (via Kulyab)

Kulyab Travel Blog

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Peaceful Pyanj River

The Kulyab route was similar to the previous leg of the trip, with the exception of the numerous warning signs in Tajik on the side of the road cautioning people of the danger of land mines. Due to the proximity of the Afghan border, this area had been heavily mined during the Soviet Union times and still contained enough mines to warrant the yellow, black and red signs featuring someone's leg being severed from stepping on a mine. I was glad I had refrained from drinking water and didn't need to stop!

After careening along the river road for about an hour and a half, we came to a wide part of the valley where we had just started to drift away from the Pyanj. In the rocky clearing we could see several parked cars with their passengers standing around waiting.

The Land Cruiser drives through a rushing river to avoid waiting for bridge construction
A construction crew and trucks were building a bridge over a tributary, which was clearly unpassable. But Dudo didn't have the patience to wait for the bridge to be opened to traffic, and he drove around the cars, below the bridge, backed up and before I could fully process what he was about to do, he gunned the engine directly toward the river. The rushing water hit the grill and splashed over onto the hood. The water level was nearly flush with the hood at that point, which was halfway through the river. I quickly grabbed my daypack that was resting at my feet, as I noticed water was coming in through the cracks around the door. But as soon as it had begun, we were already across the river. Smoke seeped from under the hood as Dudo got out to check it, but within a minute it was gone and we were back on the rocky road rearing to go again.
Washout in the "road" but not a problem for Dudo
At that point, the adrenaline levels in the car must have helped to fuel it. 

Not much further along, the road completely disappeared into an even wider valley of rocks and torrents of angry mountain water rushing through. Having confidence that we could probably cross these rivulets, I still wasn't sure if we'd make it through the rocks or find the road. But how foolish, of course Dudo and the Beast could do it. Paula told me that every spring and fall this happens when water from the mountains comes rushing down and washes out the roads in the area. We crossed at least three of these relatively small currents and over another small hill to a scene that shook my confidence once again.

Even more vehicles were parked on either side of a particularly wide washout in the road.

Poor semi got stuck, but not us!
Although it may not have been as deep, the water was dirtier, swifter and was next to a steep incline up to a visible road. But the true horror was seeing a Russian semi truck stuck smack dab in the middle of it, its tires completely stuck in the slushy boulders with water reaching just beneath the door of the cab. Dudo clearly approached this situation as James Bond or MacGyver would. We parked for a little while and he contemplated the scene, discussed a few things with fellow taxi drivers and within about 15 minutes he was ready. We got behind a large Kamaz truck that would not move, despite Dudo's cursing and incessant honking. Frustrated, he drove over the rougher portion of the rocks to pass the truck, shaking his fingers at him as we passed, then reassumed his position with just the right trajectory and followed in caravan-style two other 4WD vehicles through the raging river, past the stalled truck and onto the banks on the other side amidst several awkwardly parked vehicles and a crowd assembled on the slope above, staring in disbelief at what they'd just witnessed.
After crossing the washout

After some rough backing up and turning the vehicle around to get to the main road on the slope, we quickly parked amidst the traffic jam above. Dudo got out, accepted the kudos from fellow drivers for making it through, and went to help a jeep that wasn't so lucky. About 15 guys pushed the jeep out of the muddy rocks onto the banks and soon we were back on the road, honking impatiently at cars moving too slow now that we'd lost some precious time. We continued along the road, preparing to ascend the Shurobod Pass as dusk set in. We zigzagged up the mountain and near the top were driving through clouds. The views below would have been stunning, but by that point it was just past twilight and there wasn't much to see but a few flickering lights below before we were lost in the clouds.

The Beast

At a hairpin curve in the road, several cars were pulled over again but this time it appeared that they were looking over the cliff into the ravine below. I couldn't see for sure, but it appeared as if a car had swerved off the road. I tried not to think about it as we reached the pass and proceeded to run into a thick fog. If Dudo was relentless on the rocky road, he was as gentle as a surgeon when it came to driving in the fog. We inched along at 10 kilometers per hour, with the visibility extending to not much further than the grill on the Land Cruiser. The sides of the road were marked with white stones and I watched through the opaque windshield as we glided slowly down the road like a game of Operation.

We eased out of the fog suspiciously at the very location of another checkpoint where I showed my passport for the ninth time. We shortly pulled into a cafe where we all sat down in the plastic chairs ready for dinner. We had reached Kulyab, which I learned was only about 4 hours from Dushanbe. Quickly calculating the distance and time, I realized we would be in Dushanbe well before the estimated time. After dinner, it was probably 8pm and we drove through downtown Kulyab, a city that I had wanted to visit but didn't think I had enough time, so this was as close as I'd get. Kulyab, or really Kulob as it's pronounced, is the birthplace of Tajikistan's president, Emomali Rahmon. As such, it had a clean veneer and the requisite government buildings, placards featuring Tajikistan's achievements and numerous likenesses of the leader. Still, it was a historical city and close to several ancient ruins that I'd seen at Dushanbe's museum.

Another smaller mountain pass, more fog and about four hours later we arrived in the suburbs of Dushanbe, where we finally filled up the tank with gas. Dudo dropped me off near the familiar Hotel Poytaxt just after 12:15 am. I thanked him, shook his hand and gladly handed him the cash with a little tip for such a good job. Toyota should commission him for their Land Cruiser commercials. I certainly am proud to own a Toyota, although my little Corolla would be nothing but metal shards after Tajikistan roads. 

Despite their rooms being sold out, I was able to strike a deal with the night watchman at the Poytaxt to let me have a room for $20 as long as I left by 7am, which was fine because I was eager to not waste time in Dushanbe again. So, he happily pocketed the money and I happily drifted to sleep thinking of the wild adventure I'd had and wondering what tomorrow's trip would bring.

adastra23 says:
Yes! This is the kind of adventure that makes a trip like this worth taking!
Posted on: Nov 07, 2008
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Peaceful Pyanj River
Peaceful Pyanj River
The Land Cruiser drives through a …
The Land Cruiser drives through a…
Washout in the road but not a pr…
Washout in the "road" but not a p…
Poor semi got stuck, but not us!
Poor semi got stuck, but not us!
After crossing the washout
After crossing the washout
The Beast
The Beast
Kulyab
photo by: Biedjee