Day 91: The Afghan border
Vanj Travel Blog› entry 128 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Tim & Wim (Belgium)
The next morning we felt a lot better after a good night's sleep. At least, Wim and I did. Tim, who started to suffer from his stomach the latest yesterday, was also the slowest to recover.
After breakfast we set off again. Over the Shurabad pass and into the Pyanj valley. The Pyanj river marks the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. With travel in Afghanistan pretty much off limits these days this will be the closest I will ever get to the country. At times the gorge was less than 100 metres wide.
The scenery became much more rugged here. The views of the wild river below us and the surrounding mountains were breathtaking. It surprised us how many people we saw.
The contrast between the Tajik side and the Afghan side was striking. Tajikistan may be one of the poorest countries in the world, their former inclusion in the Soviet Union means that at least there was infrastructure. You can say what you want about the Russians, but at least they brought roads and electricity to all the villages here.
The road was mostly gravel road, with some patches of potholed tarmac in between. For about 40 kilometres there was a surreal smooth paved road, built by Turkish contractors, but other sections were so bad we could not go faster than a snail's pace. Sometimes we crossed rivers on rickety bridges, other times there were no bridges at all and we had to ford the river. (We only got stuck once).
With landslides and avalanches the order of the day in this region it must be nigh on impossible to maintain a road here. We saw several signs where NGOs had sponsored road maintenance.
Progress was really slow. In 11 hours we had only driven 270 kilometres. We weren't going to reach Khorog before darkness at this speed, so instead we decided to stop somewhere along the way.
We found a nice idyllic spot just past the village of Deh. There was a little restaurant here, where we had some lovely Borsht (hearty Russian style soup with cabbage, potato and mutton). The lovely owners allowed us to park and camp next to the restaurant and use their facilities (read: pit toilet) for free.
As darkness fell we sat on a lovely patio next to the river, drinking tea (we didn't dare touching any alcohol yet with our still-upset stomachs). While we sat there a patrol of soldiers walked past.
The soldiers saw our van and tried to look inside, but they didn't have any torches with them, so they couldn't see anything. Then they saw us. On the radio they asked their command centre what to do with us and the answer as simple and obvious: register. They still love this old remnant of Soviet times. Every 50 kilometres there's a police or army checkpoint on the road where you have to stop and get registered. It didn't matter that we had registered this afternoon at the checkpoint at Kalaikhum, less than 30 kilometres away.
Only... they didn't have a pen... or paper... or light to see what they were doing... So they borrowed pen and paper from us and wrote down our names and passport details while we provided some light with our torches.
They were not unfriendly or anything, but it was a bit of a nuisance. I mean, come on, we had been registered at least four times already since entering the country. How many records of tourist movement do you need?
The owner's wife seemed to think along the same lines and when she saw the soldiers harassing us she walked over and started shouting at them. We couldn't understand a word of what was being said, but the message was very clear. The words “Tourist” and “Terrorist” sounded a few times and from the tone in our voice it was clear that she meant to tell the guys we were one and not the other.
With the soldiers on their way again peace and quiet returned to our little spot and we decided it was time for bed. There were some daybeds underneath the trees next to the river and Tim and I decided they would be more comfortable than the van. So we dragged the mattresses out of the van and made our bed outside instead.
Hmm, sleeping outside, under the stars, right next to the Afghan border. I'm sure my mum mentioned something about this when she raised me...