Part 2 Kyrgyz/Taj Nomans to finish

Tajikistan Travel Blog

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No mans land - Kyrgyz / Taj
Almaty to Tajikistan!! (via Kyrgyzstan)
Day 22 -  Left Almaty, Kazahstan typically late, around 10.30 pm and started heading to Kyrgyz border. Got horribly lost and just took the only road we could find to Kyrgyz. Pulled over about a 20km from border, into a field. Nothing special.
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Day 23. Ryan woke up feeling distinctly dodgy. Headed off to Kyrgyz border, lovely rolling hills already coming in. Border control not too bad, a bit of jostling. Foreign lady approached me and asked whether we know the Church of Vineyard, as she has read the Vineyard sponsor sticker. Slightly baffled.

We headed off first to Bishkek, stopped outside university and went to stock up on foody things. Then got directions and headed off to Issey Kol, with high expectations of a paradise camping site and finally some cooking under the stars next to the lake.
Taj border guards - dropping them off at Karakol
When we got there it wasn’t really the case. We found a track down to the Lake, which is indeed surrounded by high mountains and rather scenic. We put up the tent, and whilst doing so where approached by some Polish motorcyclists, who asked to camp near us. They we also off to Taj to climb Peak Lenin...obviously.

Whilst Ryan set up the stove, I started to get rapidly ominous stomach rumbles, that culminated in a rather undignified situation. Oops. So Whilst I felt distinctly dodgy and crept around feeling appalled and sorry for myself, Ryan was on a mission to cook up something delicious. We had the deck chair set up and were really looking forward to it. Suddenly the sky darkened and we were inundated with a massive infestation of mosquitoes.
Pamir Highway
They went straight for us and the stove. Ryan tried to pick them out of the spaghetti as quickly as he could but they increasingly started piling up. Picking them out of the bolognaise was more tricky as they bended in. The only tactic that was bearable was to cook the food and then run into the tent and eat it, though first we had to pick out the mosquitoes by torch light. Out of the spaghetti alone we had about 20 (and they were huge). So that was another sad escapade of failed camping dreams.
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Day 24.  The next morning brought sunshine and cows munching at the entrance of the tent and kiddies running around. Kyrgyz families were coming to the lake for their picnics and day out. The lake was gorgeous azure color, though sadly not at the shore, and there was some unfortunate cow pat jumping to try and get past the sludge and to clean water.
Poor Betty
Can’t have it perfect all the time.

So I spotted a lone donkey tethered up and started creeping around taking picturesque donkey pictures ,when a Kyrgyz lady came up to me to explain she owned the donkey. We exchanged pleasantries. About 20 minutes later she came back with a bag of slightly manky apples and offered them to us for our lunch as a gift. Ryan and I had been debating the possibilities of getting a tea party going and we were slightly procrastinating. So when the lady offered us the apples it was logical to reply by asked her is she would like some tea. She said yes and went back to her family and Ryan and I got the stove going, the tea bowls out - as donated by the Embassy staff as a gift to us in Kaz, and some biscuits. We hoped that they understood what we had said as we headed over feeling slightly foolish, with our tea pot and cups and biscuits.
Crazy roads - thats Afghanistan over there
But they quickly made way for us on their cushions and mats and we exchanged our tea for theirs. Theirs wasn't as bad as I feared it would be, though Ryan heartily disagrees.

It was a lovely cultural exchange and we didn’t really understand anything they were saying. The original lady did appear to want a lift with us in the car, at some point in the future for a rather long way, and it was a slightly uncomfortable situation to try and get out of. Finally, as the tea party was wrapping up, one of the ladies kindly suggested that we swap tea bowls - two of theirs for two of ours. It was a nice idea and we did it, though I think we were slightly seen off, as ours are lovely and new and made a whole set and in exchange we have two, definitely slightly used, chipped and less attractive swaps.
Flat tyre in Krygyz
As we were leaving the group, the old man decided he would get the donkey and give me a lift back to our tent, so I didn’t have to walk through a cow pat swamp. I loved my donkey ride and Ryan got a lovely photo of me with the Kyrgyz man with his traditional hat on, etc.

We packed up and left Issey Kol, feeling rather proud of ourselves and headed back to Bishkek, hoping for a nice meal. We got there late (as usual) and found an Italian restaurant. Which we got caught out, as I ordered some wine and we got a whole bottle, which cost us an extortionate amount of money. We decided to actually stay the night as we found a dirt cheap hotel with secure parking. It was a slightly odd place though as it had no water, no pillows on the beds and only strong overhead lighting.
No mans - Kyrgyz/Taj
In the night, Ryan woke up parched, absolutely desperate for a drink and as there was only an empty minibar, went on a wander down to he front desk at 3am. This led to a rather confused encounter with the security guard, who explained through charades that all Ryan could drink was tap water. So Ryan went back upstairs and began the painstaking task of purifying the tap water with iodine. 30 minutes later he managed his drink of warm, iodine tainted Bishkek water.
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Day 25 Left Bishkek after we stocked up on more water and went to an American bar for lunch. Deja Vu, as the supermarket we recognize as the one we visited last year passing through. There were sadly some child beggars around, one of which was in an ingeniously home made wheelchair, made from bicycle tires and a plastic sun chair.
No mans - entry to Taj
We drove out towards Osh, we hit sunset almost at the top of the first pass. Roads are all good, scenery is stunning as usual for Kyrgyzstan. Horse herds running around and yurts dotted around the place. We came off the mountain and choose to camp on the flat plain next to it, elevation 2,200m, which we figured would be good acclimatization for the Pamirs.
The night was lovely as we drove off road and away from the traffic, with absolutely nothing but beautiful mountains around us and waving grass. There were a fair number of stars around.

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Day 26 I awoke and left the tent to take in the lovely scenery. As i hung around, whilst Ryan dozed I watched a couple of people pushing a car across the horizon. After about 2 hours they had managed to go about a fifth of the visible road in my perspective.
Taj check point
Seeing their complete lack of general progress and not figuring out how or where they expected to go, as they were heading into nothingness, Ryan and I decided we would ask if they needed a tow. So we packed up and hit the road. The family, as it was a family, with a little boy, were fairly happily eating their watermelon lunch on the side of the road. It turns out they did want a tow, but didn’t have a rope, and also wanted to go 95km, which included our second 3000m+ mountain pass. We unpacked the boot, searching for our completely inadequate tow rope (that had broken 3 times before) and hooked up the cars. Against all odds, we towed them at a steady 30mph to and up to the top of the mountains , where they helped themselves to our rope and rolled down.
No mans kyrgyz/Taj


Ryan and I took lots of photos at the top and made our leisurely way down, only to find them at the bottom waiting for us again. The family offered us money, which we declined, they then called me over, and bought out their little boy who was hiding behind a car door, he presented me with his purple singing elephant cuddly toy, which horrified more than anything. After rejecting that also, they then thrust a watermelon at me, which I accepted and they stuck in the boot. We then towed them on to their final destination where they thankfully decided to give us our rope back and many thank you‘s. Betty again proved her worth as she fairly easily managed the towing of another estate car up a mountain.

The drive from here, Ryan and I were glad to be free, as the scenery was phenomenal.
Taj - stuck in the river with help from the border guards
We swam in the reservoir, where some local lads were convinced we were Americans, and no matters what we said they just kept shouting ‘Amerericana’ at us and giggling. Sadly, the usual litter was clogging round the lake and horrifically sized giant wasp/hornets were zooming everywhere. We did however manage a lovely swim. Onwards, and the drive took us through a stunning gorge with a perfect, clear, impossibly blue river running through it. It took us back to our paradise camping spot of the year before, one of our happiest memories. So we clambered around, went swimming at dusk in the river again, and regretfully headed back to the car.

We drove past an Uzbek border post on the side of the road, and the landscape was generally becoming flat.
Lake Karakol - one of the most isolated places
We pulled over at a rural restaurant and had some really delicious shaslyk (bbq chicken kebab). We then shortly pulled over for our night sleep, sadly in the car as we couldn’t see anywhere else. The spot was a bad one, as during the night our little side road turned into the local gentleman’s hang out and drinking spot. General carousing was occurring and numerous interesting randoms were hanging round the back of the car. Even though boiling and knackered we pulled ourselves together to move on and find somewhere else at about 3am. We ended up a lane surrounded by fields and generally has a decent nights, uninterrupted sleep.

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Day 27 -  Ryan takes over narration. We awoke as always when the sun came up and the car got hot and we were surrounded by children.
On top of a round about 4,500m pass
Soph gave them some sweets before we left and presented a little boy down the lane with a packet of Haribo and got a smile and a thank you as a reward, though generally they were too timid to speak to us. I was suffering from sleep deprivation and Soph took over the driving through Fergana Valley area, still very pretty (so I am told), and we passed a wedding party on the road.  Before long we arrived into Osh, and blindly found our way to somewhere near the center where we stopped to stock up for the Pamrs ahead of us. We also grabbed some lunch at a nearby cafe where I had frankfurter, which I ate gladly despite the fact that Sophie thought it amusing to try and convince me that it was part of a horse.

We spoke to a couple sitting next to us in the cafe in order to get some directions to Sary Tash.
coming of the Pamir plateux
The man said that the road ahead was very bad, and that we should not take it. I thought that as we have recieved information of dubious accuracy in the past, and since Kyrgyz roads are generally good - that it would not be too bad and our speed would not drop to less than 30MPH. Sophie thought otherwise, and we made a bet which involved me taking her to the best restaurant in Dushanbe if I was wrong.

I was wrong. The road was crap. We stopped for a petrol break just before departing, and filled the tank and one jerry can with what turned out to be the last batch of good fuel (92 Octane) we would find. The road from Osh to Sary Tash is under construction, and whilst they are working on it, it is 95% bad and 5% good.
beginning of the construction site - picking where to drive
Bad involved corrugated gravel, large potholes, rocks and general mountain track madness. We carried on nevertheless, and the landscape became amazingly stunning. As we passed small, nomadic Kyrgyz villages backed with green pastures and snow capped peaks we came across an old Kyrgyz man with rheumy eyes and dragging a white sack. He had a long grey beard, traditional Kyrgyz hat and boots and an ill fitting suit. He jumped in the car and sat amongst the increasingly big pile of junk accumulating on the rear seats and we drove him down the valley to another village. We also gave him a drumstick lolly to pass the time. He ate it solemnly.

Not long afterwards as the sun was setting as we were approaching a large mountain pass we acquired a puncture.
stuck - Iranian construction workers helping
We stopped next to some Kyrgyz yurts and began to unpack the back of the car to get at the spare tire and jack. As I did this, loads of kids began to appear and mill around the car looking at all of the interesting items we had. Sophie took lots of pictures and gave them all sweets while I tried to undo the bolts on the wheel. Sadly, as I am not the heaviest person at the best of times, let alone after three weeks on the road, I did not have enough weight behind me to shift the bolts, even whilst jumping up and down on the wrench. An older lad on a horse appeared after a while, maybe 17 or 18 and although not really interested the children spoke to him and he came over and started jumping on the wrench, after he managed to undo the first bolt, he kept going and changed the tire on the car whilst holding his horse.
A couple of setbacks included the jack slipping as there was no obvious jacking point, but before long our spare tire was on the car and the punctured one stashed back under the boot.  During the slipping of the jack I was crouched next to the lad looking under the car. His horse came over and stood over me, drooling on my head. Around this time it decided to relieve itself. Whilst it is unfair to say that it pissed on my head, it is slightly unnerving sitting under a horse taking a pee.

We said our thanks and gave him some tea before heading up the pass just as the sun had gone down. We climbed over with no major problems, although the roads were still poor. Shortly after the pass we arrived in the town of Sary Tash, the last post in Kyrgyzstan before the Tajik border.
view at end of construction site- our road on the right, afghanistan on the left
It is at around 3200 meters, which is very high and we had started taking altitude sickness drugs to help us acclimatize. The downside of this is that we have to go to the bathroom many times a day, fizzy drinks taste of steel and we got pins and needles in our fingertips and toes. Oh, and combined with the anti-malaria drugs, vitamin tabs and other assorted pills we had some very funky dreams.

We pulled over in Sary Tash to ask where a place to stay may be at a cafe. They directed us to the back of the building and presented Sophie with a room full of English speaking Polish backpackers. They said we could join them as long as we partook in some Vodka drinking. We took them up on this offer and made some new friends, chatting to them before sleeping on some rugs in a room behind the cafe.
nice



Day 28?
The Polish backpackers left before us next morning to try and find a lift to the border (we did not have enough room in our car to take them all). Sophie went to get some rock-hard bread with the girl who’s house we had stayed in. She had a long chat about family, jobs, education etc. After this we tied to track down some petrol for the car. We asked a Kyrgyz man at the side of the road, and he took us through the town to another mans house, who apparently had some fuel. This turned out to be in a rusty barrel in a shed behind his house. The barrel was covered in some miscellaneous animal fur. Him and his son started to extract some fuel from the barrel by inserting a hose and sucking the fuel out into our two remaining empty jerry came The fuel was apparently 80 octane (so not good quality) and also had a strange color, so we planned to keep it in the cans for emergency use only.
Sworde Teppa - our end point
After this we hit the road to the boarder. After a slight false start, nearly taking the wrong path we rumbled down the still poor road to the Tajik border. More to follow....

***TAJIKISTAN coming up!****

 The scenery as we entered the valley that took us to the Krgyz border was the most beautiful we had seen anywhere. It boded well. I finally got the scenic view with a great eagle taking wing close to us. We rumbled up to the border post to find our Polish friends sitting there, they had no luck getting a lift into Tajikistan. As we pulled up we met a Mongolian Rally team exiting. They had a Volvo Estate, with jacked up suspension, sump guard, spots, racing seats, etc, etc. She was an impressive beast. The guys we spoke were nice, told us that they managed Tajikistan ok, though had got stuck in a river crossing not far from the border, had lost a spare wheel to Afghanistan and had struggled with some corrugated tracks.
Sworde kids on the donated car
If they had problems, we started looking dubiously at Betty, with her lowered suspension and 6 inches of ground clearance.

We waved them goodbye and started the process of passport control, customs and drug control. Passport control consisted of us being taken into a room upstairs in a building, a room next to the guards bedroom, and sitting opposite a friendly enough chap. He asked whether Ryan was my husband and whether I was Ryan’s wife. We both said no. He then took out his English phrasebook and after a pause said succinctly and solemnly ‘It is a great pity.’ We both nodded. We were led out and went to Drug control, this consisted of an uniformed man simply walking over and asking if we were carrying narcotics, guns or drugas?’ We said no and that was that.
Passerby helping take the stickers off
Customs was upstairs in another building and the chap just copied out our details in pen and paper into his giant ledger. We were pleasantly surprised that it was a stress free border, the Polish people said that watching people, it usually took about an hour and a half, though I suspect that is just for the trucks. We trundled out the border and into no-mans land.

This is a huge no mans land about 20km. The road after the border post was dire. As it is no mans land it appears that no country wants to pay to maintain it, Therefore we turned a corner of the valley and we were confronted by a diversion off the road and through a small orange river. I walked across the old road and discovered the middle of it had fallen out. The hole was about 2m wide and fell about 10feet, and it would probably have been quite invisible to a car driver.
Krygyzstan, approach to Sary Tash
So we forded the small murky river no problems and then ran into a Swiss cyclist, who was very friendly and rather in awe of Tajikistan and the scenery. He was the first of many cyclists we saw travelling the Pamir Highway and proving themselves to be supremely fit.

No mans land took its toll on us. We struggled with the road, it deteriorated further, until perhaps goat track is a most appropriate description. Whilst heaving ourselves over red boulders and struggling over small rocky cliff edge streams, we had to have someone walking in front of the car, clearing away the worst stones so we could still make progress. This unfortunately led to our first breakdown of the day. Betty, as strong and reliable as she is, could not stop herself from overheating as we crawled in first gear from almost the entire way.
Khorog - nice family who gave us tea
We stopped and popped the bonnet to see the antifreeze steaming away merrily. We stood around redundantly for a while, no cars went by, the road is completely empty. We started getting an ominous feeling of impending doom, realizing we had only come about 4km and not climber very much, but that the Tajik border post is located at the top of a mountain at over 4000m. We might not even make it into Tajikistan.

Luckily, in the car we had some antifreeze, picked up in Kazakhstan when we had our other breakdown. Ryan poured this in, and a couple of minutes later said we had a problem, as all the antifreeze had boiled off. There was still some fluid in the pipes but nothing in the reservoir. Betty was taking a long time to cool down, and we dug out the handbook and realized that we could at east replace the antifreeze for now with water.
Khorog - nice family
So, one of our precious 5litre water containers got more or less emptied into Betty. We continued, and over the course of perhaps 2 hours broke down another 2 times. The next time was at around the 3700m and Ryan sat in the car and miserably said that he was going to die in No mans land, and when his parents where asked where he died, they wouldn’t even be able to say anything. I think he was certainly more stressed than I was, but was also finding the air already thin and was starting to get a headache.

We emptied another bottle of water into the reservoir. We thought we may run out. We broke down again, we thought we could see the border post, we tried to keep Betty in 2nd till we got there, it turned out to be a family with 2 little boys who were rather shy but still tried to show off.
Look - its Afghanistan!
We lost another bottle of water, and faced a fairly clear zig sagging dirt track up to the top, we knew we had to try and do it all in one go. Ryan took on the challenge and against all odds we summated, with Betty almost redlining again, and us finally hitting 4,200m and giant Marco Polo statue.

We rolled down to the guard post, which consisted of two long white cylindrical tanks, in front of it was barbwire and their washing, mostly socks on the fence. We were treated nicely, and they even filled up our empty water bottles with water of some kind. The guard didn’t really seem to know or care what he was doing with the paperwork, as he couldn’t understand Ryan’s visa and went to stamp it anyway, until Ryan spotted that he was going to stamp the one from last year.
rush hour
It became apparent that the guards were hoping we would give two of them a lift to Karakol. Ryan looked at me when he figured that out and asked what I thought, I said fine, as if we broke down they could help us. Little did we realize that was exactly what was about to happen.

So we entered Tajikistan, with two border guards, quite young" about mid 20s, settled in our back seat, silently looking out the window. We bumped along over some pot holed roads without too many problems, until we hit the river. This was clearly the river that the Volvo had got stuck in. It was about 25m wide, and was braided, we couldn’t see how deep the braids were, but they were fast flowing. The guards got out and started throwing rocks, to demonstrate that it was indeed too deep at most points.
Afghanistan houses
We walked up and down the back and worked out a convoluted route, that involved driving down stream and then upstream to get out, as the bank on the other side was too high at most points.

Unfortunately, our very first maneuver into the stream went awry. Coming off the bank and needing to do a very sharp right hand turn, it needed to be lined up perfectly; even then it probably wasn’t possible, as the front wheels of the car would fall into the deep section of the river. Unfortunately, whilst trying to back up to do it again, the car got stuck. She wedged in into the muddy grit bank and started digging herself a hole. The guards asked us if we had a shovel and looked rather disgusted when I said we didn’t. They physically tried to lift her up over the ridge at the back at one point.
our road and Afghan on left
They then rolled up their trousers and started moving stones around the wheels and digging with their hands in the water. Further attempts to move Betty made the situation worse and we became entrenched and blocked, with the back wheels just dropped off the bank and firmly in the river. Shortly, a Russian jeep turned up, with some people working for a Tajik development agency. These kind folks agreed to tow us out firstly. It took a few attempts. Then one of the chaps in the 4x4 decided that he was better off driving Betty across as she was towed. I was ordered into the 4x4. As we started towing Betty across the river, the chap driving posed whilst I took photos. When we got to the other side, he wanted a photo of him and his wife. They said helping us was no problem at all and he barely accepted our thanks.
Border guards along the southern border keeping an eye on the Afghan smugglers. Lovely guys


(Ryan takes over narration). The Russian Jeep that had towed us through the river drove off, leaving us and the border guards to continue the task of easing the car along the shoddy roads. Technically, the Pamir highway is the second highest highway in the world. I would argue this based on the use of the word ‘highway’. Single lane dirt tracks, corrugated gravel which shakes the car to pieces, whole sections washed away by rivers…. The road was built in the 30’s for the Soviets to provide provisions to their troops, and I don’t think it has been renovated since. Where there is tarmac, it has warped badly in the heat and usually has huge car breaking potholes every few meters. Nevertheless, at a top speed rarely breaking 30mph we trundled on.
border patrol guards
T

he road was consistently at around 4000 meters, and although we were on altitude drugs, if we tried to do any form of exercise breathing became an issue, and we would quickly be panting for breath. The scenery was pretty spectacular, but very harsh. Traffic on the highway is also light, and we would only pass another vehicle every hour or so. Before too long we approached lake Kara Kol, and the village of the same name. A spooky 4000 meter high lake, very salty with no life. The village was probably the most remote place I have ever been, and must have been a good few hours drive from any other form of civilization. Here the border guards departed, and we took pictures of them posing by the car" one still carrying a hacksaw he had bought with him.
border patrol and afghanistan
We passed the desolate village quickly and arrived at the police checkpoint on the other side. The guards checked our papers and seemed happy to see some foreigners. The asked us what we were up to, and then we posed by the car with them. I swapped hats with the head honcho. After the checkpoint we carried on a little way before stopping to go and investigate the lake. We parked up and waked down through salt flats to the edge of the lake. It was nearly sunset at this point and the lake was quite pretty but unfortunately the air was very hazy.

After this we walked slowly back to the car and pondered the task ahead of us, for we were aiming for the town of Murgab which was still a long way away.
a waterfall onto the road and its time for a shower
In between ourselves and Murgab was the impressive Akbaital (White Horse) pass. At an imposing 4600+ meters, it is around equivalent to driving over Mont Blanc. Sadly we had to undertake this in the dark, and the roads were still poor. So we got back in the car and carried on slowly down the road. The road at this point altered between crappy tarmac, and the bone shaking corrugated stuff. Just before the light completely went, we saw a lone soldier with a Kalashnikov wondering by the roadside. We had heard of AWOL soldiers roaming the Pamirs, and this one looked distinctly dodgy. He shouted at us and ran onwards the car. Sophie was driving and decided to stop. The man ran over and asked for cigarettes, at which point Sophie proffered the packet and he decided to take three.
No mans - Kyrgyz / Taj
We were not going to argue with a lone soldier brandishing an AK-47, so quickly waved him goodbye and carried on.

The light faded completely, and after an hour or so we had not seen another car for a while. At this point we saw some headlights further on down the road, which we assumed to be another car. The lights then dissappeard from view. As we drove closer we saw some vehicles ahead of us. As traffic has been so light and people are mostly friendly and interested in us, I decided o wind down he window and give the group of people a waive. As we drove past them we saw that there was a single Lada and two white transit vans, which were parked up end to end. The doors of the transit van were open, and planks of wood laid between them, which people shuffling back and forth.
No mans - another breakdown
The lights of the vehicles were off, and the men were moving about by torchlight. I gave them a friendly wave, and they looked at me blankly. Only as we drove on past them, did Sophie point out that they were almost certainly opium traffickers, shipping there load down the Pamir highway from Afghanistan. Thankfully, they did not decide to pursue us, and we carried on down the road.

Although we did not expect to see opium smugglers in action, we were aware that (and I can’t remember the exact numbers) something like 95% of the worlds opium comes from Afghanistan, and the vast majority of this is trafficked through Tajikistan. We drove along in the dead of night, and before long the road started to climb. This, we surmised, was the Akbaital pass, and Sophie drove us over the top, the roads still fairly poor but good enough that we were not crawling so slow as to overheat the car.
Tajik border point
We passed the odd Chinese truck as we climbed. My leg was hurting, so I had given up driving, I think this was due to all on the mad braking, cltching and accelerating required during our various shenanigans earlier in the day. We reached the top of the pass, as confirmed by the altimeter on my watch and began to decent the other side. It is a shame that we had to do this in darkness, as I am sure that the view would have been quite amazing. We could at least vaguely see the snow covered peaks by the moonlight. We still had to reach Murgab however, as we wished to descend to as safer height before sleeping (Murgab is the lowest point in the Pamirs at around 3500 meters).

After the pass, the road improved slightly, and a couple of hours later we rolled into Murgab at around midnight.
Stuck after the border post
We patrolled up and down looking for somewhere to stay but everywhere was closed. I knocked on the door of META (Murgab Ecotourism Association), however nobody answered. Sadly, this meant we were relegated once again to a night in the car. We parked up outside the META building, reclined the seats in the car and went to sleep.

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Day 29 Murghab to Khorog, Tajikistan.
Cooking on the pamir highway - its not a busy road
We have a dilemma whether we will go to Ishkashim today.
A Mongol Rally Team Mongolmania, they are heading the way we have come, drove off the highway to say good morning to us outside the Meta homestay. They have told us that the Italians are ahead of us and that there are a few Mongol Rally Teams also coming up. It is good news though we were hoping to finish on time. We were also hoping to visit the Wakhan (via Ishkashim), and doing that will make us later. So this morning we had a debate about it, and I got annoyed because I thought Ryan was procrastinating. We didn't make a decision and instead have decided to see how long it takes to get to the Wakhan junction and speak to some locals there to find out a bit more info as to the road condition. We don't think Betty can handle much more abuse.

It's good that we finally have some mobile reception here. We also have another worry. The Mongol Team are running on 80 octane and have found nothing better since Dushambe, their 4x4 is starting to lurch around. Betty only has about 100miles left in her before we shall have to resort to our 80 octane. We need to register at the OVIR office. It is a legal requirement and needs to be done within 72 hours. There are two offices, one in Murghab and one in Khorog and we should do it here. However, it is Sunday and the office is closed. It may or may not cause us problems but there is nothing we can do about it until be get to Khorog. We hit the road again, quickly leaving Murghab behind, it is a rather small and desolate town.

The road was not so bad, though certainly not good. Shortly after spotting another small scenic high altitude lake, around 3pm we hit the turning to Ishkashim. It was luckily fairly obvious as there were a number of Chinese trucks there. We pulled over and a friendly Tajik young man came over and started chatting to us. We asked him about the road to Iskashim, he called over his mate, they both enjoyed looking at the map and they both emphatically told us not to go that way, making it clear it was a lot worse than the one we were on. Bummer. So at least our decision was made for us and we continued on our original course to Khorog.

When passing through the Pamirs, there can be seen a fair number of NGO small scale projects set up to help the local people. Some of them are clearly great ideas, and they do tend to be very small scale, such as goat breeding (nr Khorog), and some just seem off the wall. For instance, next to this small high altitude salty lake, there was a sign saying that it was the site of a NGO community fishing project. However, the high altitude should mean that the lake is lifeless. So how that works we really don't know. Shortly after the junction we rounded a corner and saw what looked like 3 Nissan Micras barrelling towards us. It turned out to be the first convoy of Mongol Ralliers we had seen, most of their cars were falling apart and they were getting rather depressed with how long Tajikistan was taking them.

We took our leave of them and shortly after we crossed another pass - though not too obvious one as we are driving on the flat at around 4000m anyway. We started doing a bit of wildlife spotting - there are giant hairly marmot/beaver things here with right orangy shiney coats. We also thought we might have seen a wolf and got a photo of it, but it is a bit unlikely. At the pass we could see a thunderstorm going on over some distant peaks and for the first time the weather decided it was going to give us a bit of a break from the terrible heat. As we came down the pass we ran into 2 more rally teams, Ben and Lewis in their mini with the phonebox and Heel on Wheels. The mini was looking distinctly worse for wear, but it brightened our day to see a red phonebox coming towards us across the mountain plains. We did however get some helpful advice, along the lines that the logical road and shorter one to Dushanbe is "the road from hell" and we should try and take the new, longer route that is under construction, because it could possibly be any worse.

Shortly after this encounter the scenery started changing completely, and the road also took a turn for the worse, The landscape changes as you come off the high plateaux and greenery, a view of the mountains from the bottom, and lots of clear swirling rivers coming off the mountains, the goat herders and some clusters of houses started appearing. To sum up, we went from the lunar scenery of the high altitude to simply jaw droppingly stunning valley scenery, the only sad thing was that we were both fairly wind blown and knackered, and other than pulling over and going paddling in a couple of streams and waterfalls we didn't rally get to appreciate it as much as it should have been. It would have been pretty special to have woken up around there and been greeted by such a sight, but perhaps that will just have to wait for another year.

The valleys generally got more inhabited the closer we got to Khorog, People in the villages here seemed quite disconcerted by us and there were a couple of places we couldn't decide whether we were actually welcome or not. On the approach to Khorog we started following the large River Gunt (?), this joins the Panj at Khorog, which is also when the road starts to run alongside Afghanistan, which is simply on the otherside of the river. This road is frankly diabolical, it is truelly appalling. The river is fierce, and the road is suspended on the cliff edge as it runs alongside. There is most of the time only room for one vehicle on the dirt track, even though it is used by trucks. On the otherside of Khorog the areas alongside the road are landmined. Poor Betty and the things we put her through. Frequently we were driving under cliff ledges, next to land slides, clambering over piles of rocks around cliff ledges.

To begin with the valley was stunning and we really appreciated it - that's when it was novel. After a couple of hours of dust and struggle we were not quite so impressed. We didn't know where we were, there were no signs. At one point we pulled over at a petrol station - or the nearest thing to, which was a man painting a building, next to with a rusty small tanker. We were now running on 80 and Betty had suprisingly been handling it well but we needed more fuel as the jerries were empty. This chap was lovely and friendly, we tried to find out what octane fuel he had,and expecting 76 or 80 I started drawing on the car, he looked apologetically as me and said he only had 92! We were completely thrown with suprise by that and filled up. He invited us to stay at his house as night was coming on but we felt we had to keep going. He said it was still 200km to Khorog which was dire for us as we were crawling in 1st or 2nd gear most of the way. We said thanks and pushed on.

Luckily, the nice man turned out to be wrong as we pulled up at a police checkpoint at dusk. These police were not happy with us, when they found out we hadn't registered at the OVIR, the young one eagerly jumped in with !Shtraf, Shtraf!" Seeing an opportunity to extort money out of us the two police men muleishly wouldn't accept anything we said. Ryan was taken into the guard house where the young one simply kept shouting Shtraf at him, and he just sat it out. I was in the company of the more superior older policeman outside and went onto a charm offensive. I found out from him that this was the checkpoint before Khorog and we were only 2km away, that the policeman was from Khorog, I got out the UK map to show him where I was from. I showed him the Sworde Stickers and tried to explain about the school, etc, and then finally offered to ring Paul to seeif he would talk to them. When I pulled out my contacts book, the police man took it and started rifling through it, seeing pages and pages of telephone numbers and assuming that they were all for the people we knew in Tajikistan, he read out "Tina" which was next to - newspaper, and then found the business card from the Red Cross in the back and promptly handed it back, said there was no problem, walked into the guardhouse and called off the overzealous younger one. I got to rub this slightly in Ryans face.

We rolled into Khorog in darkness and couldn't find figure out where we were on the map, so we couldn't find anywhere to stay, We pulled over and chatted to some Tajik Development Agency people, who kindly rang a guesthouse we were looking for and told us it was full. They were then going to lead us around to find somewhere else. In the meantime Ryan was engaging in a conversation with a family by the car and they invited us to stay in their house. The lady could speak perfect english, she lived with her mother and father and her children. They had a yard where they said we could park the car. We took them up on the offer, went in and as I settled down Ryan went to bring the car in. Unfortunately they were overly hasty in saying they had parking because they were having building works and a huge pile of sand was blocking the gates. We knew we couldn't leave the car on the street, so instead joined them for some Tajik tea with all the family and some bread and jam. They were lovely to us and we left them with our last packet of ginger snaps and some English tea when we left. They gave us directions to a local hotel, we found one before though that was adequate and thankfully stopped for the night on the outskirts of Khorog.
===============

Day 30. Tajikstan.
 We awoke in our hotel in Khorog early, and whilst I stayed in bed grabbing some more sleep Sophie went down for breakfast. She ran into some French diplomats. She had an oily omlete, some tea and, erroneously some water she was told by the French was fine. We packed up, paid up and prepared to leave. Contrary to what we had been told earlier on in Tajikistan, no high quality petrol existed on Khorog, and so we filled up the car with the two jerry cans of 80 octane we had picked up from the rusty barrel back in Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan. As we wondered what the car would make of it, after running on 92 up to that point, we chatted to a young Tajik, who said he was interested in doing our rally in reverse next year!

We set off and drove back into town in order to complete the required KGB/Police registration required in the GBAO region of Tajikistan. After much wondering this turned out to be done in the bank. As we sat through the process of filling in forms and changing money we were slowly baking in the heat, and I was panting quite a lot (despite the decent from the Pamirs the day before, we were still well over 2000 meters). Eventually this was done, and we crawled to a local shop to buy some mystical cola and fanta type stuff (you know your in the back of beyond when you can’t get coca-cola). Anyway the stuff was foul, but at least cool and we hit the road again, with Betty running apparently fine on the dodgy Kyrgyz fuel.

After leaving Khogog we began to run along the road adjoining the Afgan border. The border is a river, and in places you could literally throw a stone across to Afghanistan. We stopped to admire a village over the river, and waived to some locals on the other side who waived back. Sophie was not feeling too well today, and I had been driving. As the roads started to deteriorate she started to look increasingly unwell. Eventually, during a moment of confusion we cross a bridge by an unmanned guard post, appearing on another side of the river. As we knew that the other side of the river was Afghanistan, and illegally entering would be mildly insane we were wondering exactly what had happened. At this point I had to pull over, as Sophie got out the car and sat by the side. She was retching as though to be sick, but nothing appeared. After about 15 minutes lying on the road side trying to breath (and watching ants in front of her face apparently) she seemed to recover slightly and could talk again. Her stomach clearly wanted rid of something, possibly the dodgy water from the morning as we tend to eat the same food, and I was feeling fine. After a while she slowly recovered, drank more water and got back in the car. Although she was unwell for the rest of the day, that was the low point. As a result I took over driving for that day.

The roads began to get worse, as we followed a track carved into the side of a cliff, watching the raging torrent of a river all too close to our left and pondering how the Afgans manage to get so much opium across. The scenery was still quite pretty, and we watched the Afgan villages with people trekking back and forth on donkeys. Not long after night fell we reached the split in the road. This we had been warned about - the road straight to Dushanbe we had been reliably informed by Mongol Ralliers and the Lonely Planet was exceedingly crap, whereas the southern road via Kulob, sticking with the Afgan border was slowly being upgraded. After confirming with a local police man which was the road we wanted we headed south. Although we have not driven the Khorog-Dushanbe road I would have preferred to take it over the southern road. It was indeed being upgraded and what I thought would be a nice smooth stroll to the finish turned out to be anything but.

Anyway the road started out well enough, and we decided to try out the stereo system, which had been broken due to electrical gremlins for some time. We managed to get it half working with short 10-15 seconds of song playing, followed by the stereo power cutting and several seconds of silence following. We loaded up American Pie on the MP3 player, and headed on into the night singing along and filling in the gaps. As the song was in full flow, we were flagged down by two young soldiers patrolling the border, armed with AK-47’s. They asked for a lift, but as tempting as it was to have two armed Tajik soldiers in the car singing American Pie with us, there was no room to do so.

We continued to see the occasional pair of soldiers on patrol every now and then, although thinly spread out along the border. One gave me a scare at one point by crouching and running across the road, gun at the ready as if to ambush/shoot at us. They didn’t thankfully! We ran into parts of surreal motorway, complete with smooth tarmac. This lasted for 30 minutes or so before the road turned into a potholed gravel track again. That, it seemed, was the extent of the road renovations.

Also along the border, all day but with increasing frequency as we drove in the night were landmine signs. Quite obvious red writing with a picture of a leg being blown apart. These were on both sides of the road, so going for a waunder or even a pee was not an option as we were effectively driving through a minefield. As the time got late and the roads got worse - bigger rocks, smaller tracks, larger potholes and steep inclines all on a dubious mountain side ‘road’. We started debating the best way forward to we sleep next to the Afgan border in the minefield or plow on, tired through the night. Just as I started cracking open the energy drinks we came to a military checkpoint and registration. The guards took our details down and seemed friendly so we asked if we could stop there and cook up some food on our stove and sleep next to the guard post. They agreed and as it happened turned out to be absolute legends.

The guards were charged with protecting the Tajik-Afghan border, and said they shoot at opium smugglers who travel on the other side of the river on donkeys. Their task was not easy, with no electricity, only a lantern for light and a single pair of army fatigues between them. We cooked up some couscous and soup for sustenance on our stove.  The guards were impressed with our petrol stove, and showed us their cooking facilities - a rusty tin can with some ashes in. We were both shattered and after cooking resigned ourselves to sleeping in the car by the guard post for the night. The guards advised us not to try and sleep anywhere else due to the mines and soldiers. We wound the car seats back and passed out pretty quickly.

We awoke with the sun for our last day on the rally. The guards were still up and about and, in true Roof of the World Rally style we shared some tea with them. A good cup of Ringtons finest was had by all, accompanied with Tajik bread and golden syrup cake. Over breakfast, we pulled out our phrasebook and had a language session, learning some Tajik with the guards who tried out English. We took the obligatory photos posing with them by the Afghan border and prepared to head off. The guards said the road was bad for 18 kilometers, and then got better. Sophie started the driving and we said our goodbyes and headed on down the road.

As it turned out, the roads turned from bad to worse for 18 kilometers, before returning to merely bad. All started well enough though as we drove under a waterfall rolling down the cliff onto the road. As traffic was very light (a vehicle every half hour or so) I decided to stop and have a shower in the waterfall. Possibly shocking the Afghan village on the other side of the river, I stripped down to boxers and had a super-power shower overlooking Afghanistan. It was very refreshing, and I felt good getting back in the car. Sophie had also recovered from her illness the previous day. I got back in the car wearing a towel instead of trousers in order to dry off  and due to the shenanigans to come promptly lost them somewhere in the car, and remained wearing my towel to the finish.

The roads then turned bad. Very bad. The inclines got worse, forcing Soph to have to step on the pedal and take a run up on the incredibly narrow path with a cliff face to the right and a shear drop to the river to the left. Big rocks began appearing, some unavoidable and clouting the underside of the car which was pretty mangled. The exhaust at this point was still attached to the car, but proving no use as it was blowing at the manifold. Our ground clearance was down to some 4 inches or so, making driving tricky. Next up was a steep incline with a series of ponds at several stages. Backed by a waterfall on which several Tajik soldiers were positioned - which I only noticed after I stuck a camera at them. This was tackled by charging up and just accepting that the car would take a pounding. Next up was muddy track with several water features, at points crawling through overhanging undergrowth. We ran into a posh 4x4, which we saw struggle over a stream. Looking at each other dubiously we headed for it anyway, and made it unscathed. The 4x4 said we had only 4 kilometers or so left. Although this contained the piece de resistance. An Iranian construction site. The Iranians were upgrading the road, and the construction site was filled with clouds of dust and fine gravel tracks with large rocks resting on top. The car got stuck going up an incline, and dug in slightly to the soft gravel. A bunch of Iranian workers appeared, introducing themselves they helped us get through the site.

Easier said than done, it started with an Iranian driving the car and everyone else pushing. This got us a little way up the incline, but the road was still horrible. I was still waundering round the construction site in a towel, moving rocks out of the road, and in some places moving gravel to make a new road. It came to the point where the Iranians suggested taking the jerry cans and tires off the roof in order to raise the car off the ground. This we did, and they carried them whilst I drove the remaining way through the site. We made it although the underside of the car had taken a pounding and the car was smelling bad after some heavy clutch use. We loaded the tires and jerry cans in the back of the car, said thanks to the Iranians and carried on. The road became passable, but still bad. Not long after this we turned away from the Afghan border which we had been excited to see at first but were rapidly tiring of. The road got worse again, and we were struggling in the heat.

Highlights included a section of river bed and a point where the road ended abruptly in a shear drop (navigated by turning back and taking a side path). It was around this point that we noticed the front number plate had come off somewhere back. Turning back to find it was not an option, so we carried on. Villages came and went and we were sick of drinking hot water in the 30+ heat. Eventually, the road improved as we arrived into Kulob. We picked up some cold water, re-hydrated and felt much better.

The roads gradually improved into tarmac. Police checkpoints started appearing regularly, and we got stopped at every one as we would normally. This time however they kept asking why we had no number plate. We got slightly annoyed by the repeat stoppages (at one point two less than 100 meters apart). Each time I would get out of the car, still wearing my towl and try to explain in broken Russian that we would not be paying a fine as if they maintained there roads properly we might still have a number plate.

The sun was setting as we approached Kurgan-Tyube. The run in was quite pleasant, and Sophie took great pleasure in trouncing a childish Tajik in a Lada who decided he was going to have a race. He was slightly suppressed to see Sophie (being a girl) overtake him in a battered Ford with no number plate although still sporting its 2.9L V6. We arrived into K-T, and navigated to SWORDE-Teppa without too much trouble. We parked up outside and met Paul, relieved to be at the finish!

Relief is the word, last year we were quite elated but the Tajik roads had really taken it out of us. A word on the other teams for the curious the Italians made it a day before us, although had to fly straight out of Dushanbe and did not make it to K-T. The Citroen is in good heath, and has not been taken to S-T where Umed is the proud new owner. The Australians had to leave there car in Russia due to time constraints and catch a train. They did at least manage to give all of there tea away - a large portion of it to a Kazakh wedding! We are still in Kurgan Tyube, sorting the car import and planning our further travels. These include departing for Tashkent next Monday, and from there on to Kazakhstan and China. That is the vague plan at any rate. I hope this blog has kept you entertained, I am going to leave it there for now but there will be further information on our travels and general reflections to follow. I hope you are all well reading this!

oldschoolbill says:
What a GREAT Blog!!!
Posted on: Mar 05, 2009
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No mans land - Kyrgyz / Taj
No mans land - Kyrgyz / Taj
Taj border guards - dropping them …
Taj border guards - dropping them…
Pamir Highway
Pamir Highway
Poor Betty
Poor Betty
Crazy roads - thats Afghanistan ov…
Crazy roads - thats Afghanistan o…
Flat tyre in Krygyz
Flat tyre in Krygyz
No mans - Kyrgyz/Taj
No mans - Kyrgyz/Taj
No mans - entry to Taj
No mans - entry to Taj
Taj check point
Taj check point
No mans kyrgyz/Taj
No mans kyrgyz/Taj
Taj - stuck in the river with help…
Taj - stuck in the river with hel…
Lake Karakol - one of the most iso…
Lake Karakol - one of the most is…
On top of a round about 4,500m pass
On top of a round about 4,500m pass
coming of the Pamir plateux
coming of the Pamir plateux
beginning of the construction site…
beginning of the construction sit…
stuck - Iranian construction worke…
stuck - Iranian construction work…
view at end of construction site- …
view at end of construction site-…
nice
nice
Sworde Teppa - our end point
Sworde Teppa - our end point
Sworde kids on the donated car
Sworde kids on the donated car
Passerby helping take the stickers…
Passerby helping take the sticker…
Krygyzstan, approach to Sary Tash
Krygyzstan, approach to Sary Tash
Khorog - nice family who gave us t…
Khorog - nice family who gave us …
Khorog - nice family
Khorog - nice family
Look - its Afghanistan!
Look - its Afghanistan!
rush hour
rush hour
Afghanistan houses
Afghanistan houses
our road and Afghan on left
our road and Afghan on left
Border guards along the southern b…
Border guards along the southern …
border patrol guards
border patrol guards
border patrol and afghanistan
border patrol and afghanistan
a waterfall onto the road and its …
a waterfall onto the road and its…
No mans - Kyrgyz / Taj
No mans - Kyrgyz / Taj
No mans - another breakdown
No mans - another breakdown
Tajik border point
Tajik border point
Stuck after the border post
Stuck after the border post
Cooking on the pamir highway - its…
Cooking on the pamir highway - it…