After Pamir the long way to Dushanbe and the North of Tajikistan to be finally back to Osh. A drive thru more gorges along the Afghan border towards the capital Dushanbe, a visit to the Fann and Zarafshan mountains and the long way back thru the Tajik and Kyrgyz Fergana Valley to reach Osh.
Here Prado is sent to its car shelter at MuzToo’s. And as it’s July we have to take our annual leave as everybody – from the journey.
22nd June; Dushanbe
After our wash’n’rinse-day in Khorog we make another side trip to the Shok Dara Valley. A road not too often travelled, just connecting a few villages in the interior of Pamir. The road not too bad; the bridges with a rather considerable potential for improvement. Nevertheless, Prado could still pass.
Many villages are only connected by steep foot paths high up over the mountains.
Then a sightseeing tour thru the town of Khorog – pretty limited to the monument in honour of the 1st car having crossed the Pamir in the mid 1920s and, as far as we could observe, the soon opening of the very 1st McDonald’s in Tajikistan – Monika already dreams of eating a big fat BigMac in this fabulous eatery.
After 2 days in Khorog we move on to Dushanbe. About 600km. Considering the road conditions it’s a drive of at least 2 days; even if the local drivers do it in 14 to 16h without any consideration of the poor passengers squeezed into their cars. Probably even worse for the numerous huge trucks ensuring the supply of goods from China.
For some 300km the road follows the Panj– the same river we have followed in the Wakhan Valley – which becomes later Amur Darja. Most of the time we simply drive in a spectacular gorge: In front of us the road – even the Government of Benin could learn about its deterioration. On the right side just high rising rocks, interrupted by regular remains of landslides. On the left the river and the Afghan side of the valley. Some villages with mud houses, mostly no electricity …
It takes us 8h for the 260km to Khalai-Kum.
The next day another 370km to Tajikistan’s proud capital Dushanbe. Therefore another day’s drive. Some more 70km along Panj River. Parts of it completely degraded, …
… other parts newly constructed – what a relief …
… finally some stretches under construction – what a pain in the a… In the middle of a construction site suddenly the cars get stopped. We wait, no idea what’s going on. Then a detonation – just in front of us; some 100m away. They’re blasting some rocks to enlarge the road. Nobody sends us away. Some stones drop on the car – fortunately no serious damage. Our neighbour’s windscreen was less lucky. He definitely needs to replace it. Some big discussions, of course nobody cares.
Then we’re back on the old road. Not as bad as yesterday, but still pretty slow. As we turn away from the Afghan border the landscape changes dramatically. Now rolling hills, fields with wheat growing, very dry. A look at the Nurek Reservoir …
Nevertheless, there are some impressive government buildings, parks, monuments, the golden domed President’s palace …
… and the most import must-have-seen-sight: the flag pole. The tallest in the world. 165m high at a cost of more than 3 mio. $. The flag so big – probably they engage an aircraft engine to have it waving in the wind. Whatever. Few sights, quickly seen.
But we have some time to finalise our China trip, planned for next September. It has been a long period of consideration:
- long exchanges with agencies providing the necessary paper stuff needed to transit China;
- endless contacts to all kind of travellers interested to do the same trip or a different 1 or anything else but wanting to pool with us thru China still trying to find the necessary common consent or commitment to such a journey;
- and a border to Nepal supposed to be open, but still being closed;
we simply decide to travel without pooling – so no necessity to develop this package-tour feeling and with driving to Laos we’ll avoid the Nepali border for the moment. Finally we choose tibetmoto due to its transparency, the good communication we’ve developed and the reasonable value for money.
So in Dushanbe we’re simply busy providing all kind of information, photos and scans of whatever might be of interest during our trip to China. Definitely we will not be astonished if the Chinese policeman stopping us for ruthless speeding on their highways sends to the grandfather of my mother’s 2nd boyfriend his regards.
In the evening, to celebrate our heroic decision, we go to a famous watering hole in Dushanbe: the Public, the pub to have a couple of beers.
24th June; Penjikent
We follow the Varzob Valley. Then towards the Anzob Pass. We plan to take the old route over the pass. Unfortunately after a few km the road simply ends.
So we do have to take the famous Anzob tunnel. We continue our ascent, approaching what is known as the most dangerous tunnel in the world.
More than 10 years ago constructed by some Iranian guys, never completed – a 5km long tunnel. No ventilation, but a lot of trucks filling the tube with their black exhaust fumes. No drainage system, so a surface mostly under water. And no lights – very convenient with all the obstacles appearing out of the dark without warning. In the past years the tunnel has been left to complete deterioration. It had to undergo a somehow marginal renovation in the last year. Well, not a lot has changed but the surface has been redone. Other improvements are still not too invisible. Fortunately it’s only 10’ to drive thru.
Then a 1st glimpse at the lake. What a disappointment. No turquois blue colour. Just a brownish grey. Thanx to the ongoing snowmelt.
At the lakeshore a Soviet style holyday complex at its best. Neglected, overgrown, real public bathrooms – even doors are not needed. And worst of all – half of the terrain flooded by the lake’s muddy water.
We simply decide to drive on to Penjikent in the Tajikistan’s north-eastern corner. Another 3h to reach the town in the evening. Fortunately the road to Penjikent has been recently rebuilt – so for the next few months in perfect condition.
In town to the Elina GH. Recommended by everybody; unfortunately a harsh disappointment. In the evening, when Martin searches an appropriate watering hole he discovers a much nicer place to stay – in addition to the ultimate place to have a beer and some shashlik.
The next morning changing the guesthouses and then on to the 7 lakes in the mountains some 50km away from Penjikent. As far as we know 7 beautiful deep blue, turquois to reddish coloured lakes in a row surrounded by high mountains. The gravel road along – and partly in – a torrential mountain river; but quite ok. On the way some very traditional villages. Difficult to stop – to many offers to have a tea in every single house.
In exchange they tell us that the road is blocked some way up. Optimistic we are convinced that this would only occur at lake nr. 7.
We arrive at the 2nd lake. Even nicer. Turquois coloured. Some guys at the roadside start making some strange signs: crossed arms. Having been a few days in Tajikistan we know it means closed road. A few meters further we see a couple of cars and no place to turn ours.
Another few meters further we discover the disaster. Several small landslides, but with big rocks. And a road which has simply broken away into the beautiful 2nd lake for a few m. So no chance even if some guys are doing a hard job to repair the damage immediately – of course advised by some elderly guys giving good or bad advice to increase considerably overall confusion.
Well, currently we don’t seem to be too lucky with roads in Tajikistan. Back to Penjikent. In the afternoon the chance to see the must-have-seen-sight of the town: Old Penjikent.
A 1 room museum, but with a personal guide who charges at the same time the entrance fee. Some very enthusiastic explanations. All in Russian. Then to the leftovers of this town which was very important for the trade along the Silk Road in the 8th century. Truly, not much left. But with a lot of imagination we can still picture out some basements of eventual houses.
We move on to the next cultural sight. Sarazm – the 1st UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tajikistan. Somehow some more bunches of mud. But more comprehensible. They’re some 5500 years old. We’re still wondering how these Soviet archaeologists could identify the walls of these old mud houses.
25th June; Khujand
Khujand the 2nd largest town in Tajikistan. Not too far from Osh. So it’s time to organise the annual leave from our journey. As everybody in Europe does we also go on leave in July – August. The guarantee that the beaches in Mallorca and Costa del Sol are heavily booked, prices are high and quality low. But also an opportunity for a break until we’ll continue our journey to Tibet in September. So we book the flights for end of June.
Especially to admire the mosque and the adjacent market – famous for its Soviet architecture …
… and its multitude of products. Admiring all kind of eatable products …
… and of course all those you better avoid by all means if you’re not born with them.
29th June; Osh
400km left to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. A pretty good road, but quite a number of villages and policemen on the way. And of course a border. So it takes the whole day. The road on the Tajik side rather in a certain need for maintenance. On Kyrgyz side brand new for half of the distance, then stop’n’go thru a lot of villages.
At the border some confusion because Prado overstayed its Temporary Import Permit validity. Unfortunately there are some slight contradictions on this issue between the information we have received when entering and the data set in the Tajik computer. So a TIP seems definitely not to be for more than 14 days independently, of the duration of the visa. After some nice Russian-English exchange the customs officer found a pragmatic solution: he simply issued a new TIP for Prado and gave us back the old one. A service free of cost. No idea how they get it sorted out in their computer system.
In Kyrgystan some more socialising in Russian to get a TIP valid for 12 months with all necessary stamps’n’signatures. But finally we have it, even with the all-important registration number linking the TIP with the Congolese registration book of the customs officer. Anyhow, even considering all these circumstances the border crossing took less than an hour with few open hands.
Then in Osh. To TES GH as usual. And having some fat sausages at Tsarskii Dvor.
Also time to empty our car’s fridge. We find something slightly unusual: a bottle of best German sparkling wine we bought several months ago for Monika’s birthday. At that time we could not drink it because we already had too many other rotten grapes consumed. So we planned to make it up somewhere on the road. We didn’t forget that important ceremony. Simply there were too many bottles of beer everywhere. But now our last chance. Of course we’re convinced some 15 000km on rough roads wouldn’t do any harm.
Finally we just had half a glass each for a late celebration.
… climb up to Suleiman Too …
Finally to the market in search for more interesting stuff.
The next morning, the 29th we learn about the jiddhie sissies who had no better idea than to suicide in the middle of Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport instead of terrorising their citizens in their glorious Islamic State. Of course we’re convinced that we have to postpone our annual leave because Turkish Airline would be busy with other issues than transporting us. Nevertheless, in the afternoon they confirmed us that they would take care of us.
Time to pack; bring Prado to the car hostel at MuzToo’s and go sleeping.
1st July; Laufaburg
At 4am to the airport. Effectively, a proud plane of Turkish Airlines waits for us. Little later we’re ready for the culinary delights of Turkish Airline’s chicken class during our long flight to Swizzyland.
The opportunity to start planning our annual leave for the next few weeks. Finally after long discussions we dismiss the idea of a trip to some Central Asian countries called the Stans. Maybe the ultimate destination for another leave. So let’s see; still everything is open.
Anyway, more about the journey – not the leave – at the beginning of September when our trip to Tibet starts.
Cheeeers and have a good summer – or winter for those on the other side