Stories

 

Tajikistan


From the 19th of June to the 13th of July, 2017



As soon as we touched ground in Tajikistan, we felt relieved. They build their road with this material called asphalt! And they are even selling diesel at petrol stations!!! After our hard time in Uzbekistan, we learned not to take simple things as granted.

    

After reaching Dushanbe, we headed straight to the Fan mountains known for the many lakes. At Iskander Kul lake, the most visited of all, we discovered a powerful and beautiful waterfall dropping 30 meters down a narrow gorge. At the western end of the Fan Mountains, we drove deep in a valley leading to the very isolated Marguzor village. The road climbed along the river leading from one lake to the next until reaching the seventh and last one. The color of the water ranged from deep blue to green-turquoise. The few people living in those hamlets lead a very simple life in stone and mud houses. While hiking from the 6th to the magnificent 7th lake, we saw a couple of overloaded donkeys carrying supplies high in the mountain, way beyond any car track. Winter in such isolated places must be pretty harsh.

    

By coincidence, we met Charlotte & Frederick, a German couple traveling with their Land Rover. We had briefly met a week earlier in Samarkand. We stayed a couple of days together enjoying a beautiful beach at the turquoise 3rd lake. After so much driving, it felt really good to finally find a quiet and beautiful spot to chill! Excepted in Turkey where we had to wait for our Uzbek visa, it was the first time in this trip we stayed more than a night in the same spot.

    

Unfortunately with the good tarmac roads came more police and speed controls. Locals don't even argue, they simply give the officer a 'hand-shake' with a bill hidden in their hand. At first we just played dumb and they gave us our documents back. "How can those tourists be so stupid..." We started to be annoyed when one of them tried to convince us we were speeding although he didn't even point his speed gun at us. Rapha shouted at him, took our documents back and drove off. But then in Dushanbe we got really, REALLY fed up when we couldn't drive more than 200 meters without being stopped! At first we decided not to give them our documents anymore, but then we just didn't stop anymore. Surprisingly, that didn't seem to bother them. They turned around and stopped the following vehicle. Talking with local people, we later understood the reason.

"Look, there is Hyundi's brother! Oh, another one!" Actually the country is filled with Hyundai Starex, it is THE local shared transport. The good thing about it is that we could easily find spare parts and mechanics were used to work on this model. The down side is that policeman confused us with local transport who usually don't have all the paperwork in order (and therefore have to bribe).

In Dushanbe, a mechanic found the source of one of our 'clack' noise and a few hours later Hyundi was ready to hit the mountainous and remote Pamir Highway. But before to leave the capital city, some planning was essential. What is the current road condition? One bridge collapsed on the first stretch of the M41, meaning we would take the longer alternative road along the Afghan border. Where can we get diesel on our way? Is our diesel consumption going to be much higher because of the high altitude? How many kilometers until the next proper town? After stocking up on food, we left Dushanbe with our tank filled to the edge, plus an extra 60 liters of diesel stored in canisters strapped behind my seat... That should do until our next petrol station in the town of Khorog!

    

Together with 'The Germans' Charlotte & Frederick, as well as 'The Swissies', Agnes & Johan, our friend from Switzerland traveling with their Toyota Hiace van, we were ready for our 1600 kilometer journey.

Shortly before reaching the Pyandzh river separating Tajikistan from Afghanistan, we got stopped by a landslide on the perfectly asphalted road. It took the big caterpillars a few hours to free a path through the huge boulders. For the following 600 kilometers, we traveled along the Afghan border, just across the sometimes narrow river. We discovered some remote Afghan villages where people harvested their steep fields. The landscape over there was gorgeous. We were impressed by Afghan workers carving a 'road' in a vertical cliff with limited machinery. Because of the inhospitable terrain, they were climbing while transporting heavy loads up.

    

Our perfectly asphalted road was too good to be true. Shortly before the crossroad with the M41, it degraded quite a bit: gravel alternated with potholes and left over pieces of asphalt. "Pfuiiiiiittttt" One of our tires blew, surrendering to the sharp rocks and potholes. The crack was too wide to be repaired. Stuck in the mountains 650 kilometers away from the capital, we couldn't leave Khorog without a replacement. Is there any other traveler in Dushanbe who could bring a new tire from there? What about that driver we met a few days ago, maybe he knows someone? Do you still have the phone number from the Toyota workshop in Dushanbe? In Khorog we drove from one 'shop' to the next. Soft Chinese tire for over 100 USD? Another Chinese tire which is slightly too wide? Second hand tire with huge cracks for 65 USD? "What a bargain!" One mechanic offered us his very used and nearly fitting tires for free. Travelers leaving Dushanbe were ready to bring a tire but the Toyota workshop did not find a single one of our size in the capital city. "What about we take two free used tires just in case one blow on the way?" As we were about to go for that last option, we met someone who had a used tire of our size in similar condition as ours for 50 USD. Deal! Lets hit the Wakhan valley, really far out!

    

After leaving Khorog the Wakhan opened up to a wider and greener valley back dropped by snowy high peaks. This place is so remote. We are on the extreme south of Tajikistan, on a terrible road stuck between the Pamir mountains and the Afghanistan border. Apart from a couple of hamlets, there isn't much going on around here. At Langar, we left the river and started our ascent through fascinating lunar sceneries looking onto the Karakorum range of Pakistan in a distance. Slowly we gained height and crossed a couple of 4000 meters plus passes before to reach the Pamir plateau and the Yashil Kul lake. While continuing on the bypass road and enjoying more beautiful landscapes, we stopped by a wide swampy water crossing. "Oups, do you really think we can make it?" 'The Germans' hammered it with their Land Rover and got through surprisingly well. As 'The Swissies' couldn't make it anyway, we decided to turn around with them and met up again in the next town. In Murghab we said goodbye to our Swiss friends who needed a rest and continued our way with 'The Germans'. The road followed the snowy Chinese mountains and reached the Akbaytal pass at 4675 meters before to descent to the immense blue Karakul lake where we spent our last night before to reach the remote border.

    

Despite the bad road condition, unpredictable landslides and broken bridges, the Pamir highway is a beautiful journey in one of the remotest corners of the world. Over this 1600 kilometers trip, we had a taste of Afghanistan, a glimpse of the Pakistan high peaks and the snowy Chinese mountains. Hyundi digested the bad diesel producing terrible black smoke, but then climbed the mountain passes pretty painlessly. By the way, we also managed the height pretty well :-) and slept a few days around 4000 meters. Surprisingly the daily temperature of 35 degrees only dropped above 3500 meters. Then strong wind cooled the air even more. Although we had to be a bit more careful with our night spot choices along the Afghan border, Tajikistan was a wild camping paradise. Not only the camp sites were more beautiful than elsewhere, but local people didn't bother us and were not bothered by us camping on their turf. Apart from the few military check points where we had to register, this part of the country was free of police hassle. Of course, we couldn't speed on those roads anyhow...

Tajikistan is big, big landscapes, big horizons, big potholes. Lots of freedom, it's hard to grasp and sometime difficult to master, but isn't that what greatest experiences are all about?

Album "Tajikistan - June-July 2017"