A whole month (over a month) has passed since we returned from Tajikistan. In my case the time has flown by since I have been enaged with a total of about 900 miles driving to ferry my personal belongings and laboratory equipment from Hull to Manchester, phoning, visiting and emailing gas, electricity, water and car insurance companies, British Telecom, DVLA, local councils, estate agents and University administrators. As if that wasn’t enough, also an important conference presentation and proposal deadline at work.
Anyway, the last detailed post (https://britishmuzkol2013.wordpress.com/type/aside/) had us in Dushanbe and about to depart to Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan province and major town en-route to the Pamirs so I will pick up where we left off. Second time lucky, we did finally depart for Khorog. The road to Khorog is, in many sections, simply a dirt track so the only public transport available on the road consists of shared 4×4 vehicles. There is a departure rank for the vehicles in Dushanbe where you simply turn up, negotiate a price with the driver and set off as soon as the driver has succeeded in attracting enough passengers to fill the vehicle.
Fortunately we found a vehicle which had a roof-rack, so it was no trouble to accommodate our copious amounts of baggage. Just after I took this photo of our baggage being loaded onto the roofrack Jonny realised that his passport (essential to pass through the many military checkpoints en-route to Khorog) was in a bag secured under the tarpaulin on the roof. The driver’s head sunk into his hands and a period of repacking ensued but eventually we were on our way.
Packing the vehicle for the drive from Dushanbe to Khorog.
Our driver got off to a slightly dubious start when he drove onto the dual carriageway via the exit sliproad but after that things went smoothly as we sped off towards the Pamirs. The dual carriageway ended after Vahdat and the road circled around hairpin bends up to the first of a number of mountain passes we would traverse over the next few days. After the pass the road winds down from the mountains to pass the Nurek reservoir, formed by the second highest dam in the world (according to Wikipedia). Constructed during the Soviet era, it was the highest dam in the world at the time but has since been knocked from the top spot by the Jinping-I dam in China.
After a stop for lunch at a roadside café, another mountain pass and the first military checkpoint the road winds its way down to the follow the Panj river (forming the Afghan border) for the remaining 6-8 hours of the journey to Khorog. Scenically, it is absolutely stupendous – Tajikistan is on one side, Afghanistan on the other side, and in the middle is the thundering Panj river hemmed in by enormous cliffs and carrying half the snowmelt from the Pamir mountains towards the Amu Darya river and eventually the remnants of the Aral sea.
A modern-day Eric Newby and Hugh Carless having lunch in roadside café, Shurabad.
First views of Afghanistan across the Panj river
Gorge of the Panj river. Afghanistan on left, Tajikistan on right (photo was taken on our return to Dushanbe).
But the scenery on this journey is only one aspect to it. Occasionally one is reminded about the fact that drug smuggling from Afghanistan across this border makes up a large proportion of Tajikistan’s GDP by the large BMWs, Mercs and SUVs driving around with no numberplates and by the unguarded bridges across to Afghanistan.
The road to Khorog is currently undergoing significant improvements – guidebooks just 5 years old quote an 18-hour journey time, but our journey in the end took “just” 13 hours. Sections of dirt track along which we traveled at walking or bicycle speed were interspersed with sections of smooth tarmac. Last year myself and Ed Lemon were turned back by the Militsia at the second checkpoint, alongside the Panj river near Zigar, but this year it was all very relaxed at the military checkpoints. Often they did not even bother to confirm a likeness to our passport photos.
We drove on through the afternoon, becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the back of the taxi with our fellow passengers. Sleep was impossible. If the windows were opened dust flew in, if they were closed it became unbearably hot. Afternoon turned into evening as we passed the next checkpoint at Vanj, and night fell as we continued to Khorog. Our driver kindly dropped us and other passengers off at our homes or accommodation and we had arrived.
After the trials and tribulations of last year (https://britishmuzkol2013.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/how-it-all-began/) it felt as if we had arrived in the promised land!
Jonny may write some posts while I’m away in Wasdale over the weekend, if not you’ll get a new post from me on Tuesday evening!