7 Oct 2011

Terrified for 18 minutes and 40 seconds

Day 155 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, still warm but very murky, not sure whether from dust or smog, but has covered the last 100 miles or so below 200 meters.


After leaving Fergana we spent another night in Uzbekistan (Kojand) as it was getting late and crossed to Tajikistan the next daay. A very relaxed affair with only a few other people crossing on foot, a young femail Uzbek customs officer filled our forms. We probably spent half the time showing them all our route on the world map. rms out for us and made another cursory search and on the Tajik side it was so relaxed the police at the exit gate had to send me back to fill out another form (whilst Chris sat drinking tea with 2 police men nursing Kalahnikovs).


That night we camped on the 'beach' of a reservoir, visited by a number of goat and cow herders and the world map had to coem out again. The following night we were in a mountainous area, getting dark, with no possibility of getting off the road and ended asking if we could camp at a fuel station. They were delighted, invited us in for tea and insisted on finding an English channel on their black and white TV (connected to a satelite dish).


Following day we drove down a valley towards the fan mountains, through thick smog . First driving up to Artush at 2450m, (where we met a group of 6 French walkers, supported by 6 Tajik men and 6 donkeys, on a 6 day walking holiday that sounded fantastic - note for the future). We then dropped back down to the valley and up to Half kul, the Seven Lakes and this was absolutely the highlight of the trip so far, about 30 miles up to the 7th Lake of the most challenging and scenic road we have undertaken so far. The Lonely Planet says you can 0nly drive up to lake 6, but we lost count and made it right up to Lake 7, where we found a helicopter landing pad. Apparantly the President visited a few weeks ago and they slightly improved the track for the visit (but was still a question of once started you had to continue as there was no-where to turn round.

After 2 nights at the 7 lakes we moved round to Iskander Kul (Lake), where we stayed in a former Soviet holiday camp (along with a dutch couple with their Tajik driver), somewhat basic, but the beds were the most comfortable we have slept in on the whole trip!


Once back on the main road we thought it would be an easy couple of hours to do the 65 miles to Dushanbe - wrong! The map says the road goes over 3,300m pass, but after 2 short (400 to 500m) tunnels we launched into a 3rd (at 2,700m) that went on forever. Pitch black and much of the road under water with HUGE craters in the road that you could drive in and out of. We first came across a truck with no rear lights, following 2 cars going at less than walking pace (and with Chris telling me we shouldn't overtake in a tunnel) we lumbered past, and the same with the next 3 cars we came across.


Then we came across 2 cars side by side, with a huge digger diagonally across the tunnel, with other vehicles flashing and honking on the other side. I positioned the cruser in the middle of the road (so no other twit could try to come past) a few car lengths back, as it was clear that both cars in front would have to reverse in order for the digger to move out of the way. After a couple of minutes (that felt like hours, considering all the exhaust fumes) the digger moved and the second of the 2 cars in front managed to edge out the first, but moved to the centre of the road (possibly to avoid a crater) with the second right up its exhaust pipe and got stuck! We just trundled round them and continued banging, clanking and splashing through the tunnel, at times 100+ metres totally under water and it was quite some time before we saw any headlights behind us.


When we eventually emerged there was a line of trucks and cars changing tyres or looking underneath to see what they had damaged - how any car made it through is quite amazing.


For the next 40 miles the road was perfect and after trying an ex soviet budget Hotel we plumped for the Asia Grand, our most expensive yet at $150 per night, but we managed a 10% discount for one night, which we increased to 20% when we negotiated a second night.


We applied for our last (Kazahk) visa this morning, which we had hoped we would get today, but it won't be ready till Monday, so we have arranged a Homestay (room in a private home) for $30 a night (for Saturday and Sunday) all I need to do now is find somewhere to watch the Grand Prix on Sunday.


Assuming we do get the visa on Monday we will spend one more night in the roof tent before entering Uzbekistan where we will spend the next 12 nights or so in Hotels (due to registration requirements) visiting famous places such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, after the most southerly point of the trip at Tremiz, across a river from Afganistan.

Overnight at a fuel station in the mountains.





























Commuting - Tajik style


































At 2,450m at Aktush



























Camping by Lake 3 (one of the 7 lakes)































Driving past one of the lakes.




























Main means of transport in the mountains

























View from the path round Lake 7
























Reminiscent of a rock I once saw in The Himalayas many years ago. I had hitched a lift with a logging truck, stood on sections of tree trunk in the back of the truck, trying to keep my feet and rucksak from getting jammed as everything bounced up and down. The truck accelerated as a rock like this slid gradually down the slope and sliced straight through the road and carried on down about 10 seconds behind us.



























Isikander Kol, unfortunately, due to smog/dust and position of the sun this photo does not really do it justice.



















A rather rickety platform above a waterfall.


































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