I had strong suspicions that my entry back into Tajikistan wasn’t going to be straight forward. I was wrong. It was too easy. The guards who I had met at length only a week before, had forgotten me. It wasn’t like I was the only tourist entering Afghanistan with his own car at this time of year. Oh wait, that’s right I was. The problem was that, they were not able to give me any of the paperwork that I need to enter officially. So with Farhad’s help I made them ring Khorog and confirm I was entering legally. I also made them stamp and sign my previous entry paperwork from my original entry into Tajikistan. I wasn’t prepared to take any chances, as I’d heard many stories about overlanders being turned back at the border for incorrect paperwork.
By 10.15am I’d exited Afghanistan and re-entered Tajikistan. The border hassles I’d expected hadn’t taken long, and I was on top of the world, having successfully achieved a long standing ambition to visit Afghanistan again. What a great day! The sun was shining, I was cruising back along the Tajikistan side of the Wahkan corridor with the music on full blast, and a smile a mile wide. Could life possibly get any better?
Boris, broken down on the Tajikistan side of the Wakhan (Tajikistan – Wakhan Corridor)
Not today it couldn’t. I stopped in the middle of nowhere to chat with a French couple and when I tried to start Boris again he wouldn’t start. The engine wouldn’t even turn over. All I got was a ticking noise and the dashboard lighting up like Xmas. After a week on the worst roads of the trip without a problem, Boris had died on me 30 minutes after getting back onto semi-decent roads. And it was my worst nightmare. An electrical problem.
Now I had a big problem as I had nobody to translate for me. The French couple offered to send a mechanic but I ended up beating them to the village (as they got a flat tyre – bad luck had affect us both). The locals helped me to find a mechanic and we set off to get Boris, who was parked in the middle of nowhere with all my worldly possessions. It wasn’t long before concerns over my mechanics capabilities began to arise. First I had to pay for fuel for his car, then we had to get his car out of the garage and crash start it with help from the local kids. His car then kept conking out and it couldn’t even make the 5 kms out of town to Boris. After an hour of his son and I attempting to push start his car and him cursing the quality of diesel we were no closer to even reaching Boris, let along fixing him. I nearly cried in despair as I wondered how was he going to fix my car, if he could fix his own. Eventually I threw my toys out of the pram and walked off to Boris telling him to come with me. It was at this point my so called mechanic turned out not to be a mechanic after all. He was just looking to make a fast buck by being my tow truck. ARRGHH!!!!!!!!!!!! I had wasted an hour helping him start his car and wasted 40 som filling his rubbish car with fuel. Idiot!!
The local idiot who couldn’t fix his own car (Tajikistan – Wakhan)
I was fuming when another taxi turned up, claimed he knew a great mechanic and would happily take me to him. With little time to think, I ended up jumping in the second local taxi of the day, this time heading in the opposite direction. I found myself squeezed into the taxi with 10 other people, next to a poor lass with a massive cake in the front seat. And I’d got a guy pissed off at me about having get in the back, when he was sitting next to the pretty lass in front. I was in such a foul mood that I even turned down a shot of vodka from a kind gent when we stopped. It would have been comical had I stopped to think about the situation. However I was just wondering where I was going, and what was I doing leaving Boris behind.
Then I get asked for 150 som for fuel for the taxi. You’er taking the piss aren’t you mate, I say. No he’s not. I lose the plot (which involves many expletives, lots of kicking the dirt and toys flying out of the pram) before recovering my cool and accepting the situation. I had to trust the guy as I had no other choice. I didn’t even know where or how far we are going. Eventually though things start to become clearer. We dropped off the other passengers, found his mechanic mate, and we headed back towards Boris, some 30km away. By the time we got back the sun was going down.
Mich the Taxi Driver / Mechanic
(Tajikistan – Wakhan)
The two of them set to work and replaced the starter motor. But that wasn’t the problem. It turned out to be the connection in the relay box (and subsequently identified as the link between the leisure battery and the split charging system which is very strange).
(Tajikistan – Wakhan)
With Boris fixed we celebrate in the traditional manner. Shots of whiskey from the back of the truck. The lads took a shine to the bottle so I couldn’t really say no. With the spare starter motor installed and me 600 som ($100 USD) lighter we’re away. I was relieved to be mobile again. It was pitch black by the time we got on the road again, so Mich invited me to say at his place in Vram. I had dinner with him and his family. I then shared my journey plans with them in my dodgy Russian before finally crashing around 22.30pm. Phew, what a day!!
I was up at 5.30am the next morning. I had to prep Boris with the help of Mich’s dad. We had breakfast, I said farewell, and was on my way by 7.30am. Fantastic hospitality from the locals once again.
Mich’s Helpful Dad
(Tajikistan – Vram)
I love the early morning drives and this was no exception. Heading up the Wahkan corridor provided stunning scenery and very little in terms of civilisation. As I headed north towards the Pamir highway I only saw one truck going my way. Otherwise nothing. I wouldn’t have wanted to break down out here as there was nothing but nature.
Meeting point of the Pamir and Wakhan rivers
(Tajikistan – Wakhan)
View of the Big Pamir mountain range from Tajikistan
(Tajikistan – Wakhan)
The drive was fantastic. It was mostly dirt roads following along the Pamir river while passing the odd farmer. I was flagged down by a local and ended up giving him a ride to the next village. After I left the river the terrain began to dry out as the altitude increased. I stopped to see the ice that was still on the lakes. The altitude caused Boris to overheat so I stopped for lunch while he cooled down.
After lunch I ran into 3 French cyclists and stopped for a chat. As we parted ways I said a silent chant of my mantra ‘She’ll be right’ before turning the key to start Boris again. Boris burst into life and we raced onto thePamir Highway. It was an absolute joy to be back on a decent sealed road again. My spirits were high again and I was on the world famous Pamir Highway. The only person I saw going my way was a Spaniard on a bike called Jose. I wished him luck and continued onwards.
It wasn’t long before I came across a local waving his arms on the side of the road. It was a local Kirghiz old timer who needed a ride. He was literally begging so I couldn’t really say no given the help I had received along the way. I had a bit of fun with him since we couldn’t understand each other, by switching on the camera and recording the two of us chatting away merrily to each other. Neither having the foggiest what the other was saying (watch out for the short film coming soon). We arrived in Murgab at 3.30pm. I dropped off my new Kirghiz mate. I’m sure he blessed me and all of my sheep before happily wandering off to catch up with his friends and family.
Sary Tash Lodge in Murgab
I searched around for a guest house, eventually finding Sary Kol Lodge. It looked good so decided to stay. Chilling out was high on the cards after an eventful last week. That evening I met an Aussie cyclist called Andrew at the lodge. We had dinner and chatted. Both of us were exhausted and we crashed at 9pm.
The following day was my first proper rest day since Dushanbe a couple of weeks earlier. Just sleeping in until 8.30am was a luxury. A fabulous breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee was served. I hung out with Jose (Spanish cyclist) and Andrew (Aussie cyclist). After a quick visit to the markets there was even time for a nap before dinner. It seemed like paradise. I was feeling pretty tired and rest was required. The change in altitude, and excitement from Afghanistan was probably not helping. Dinner and bed by 9pm was the order of the day. I was even able to finish my book by Peter Hopkirk called Setting the East Ablaze. It provided a fascinating insight to the early Soviet days in Central Asia, and it’s effects can still be seen in the region today.
I was up at 6am again the next day as my sleeping pattern is now set with the light. After breakfast I got on the road to Karakol lake around 9.30am. I found Jose on his bike not far up the highway. He had taken the same wrong road as me. It was a gentle cruise up to the top of Ak Baital pass at 4655m. This was the highest point on the Pamir highway and Boris didn’t really like the change in altitude. The coolant in the radiator was bubbling away again so I stopped at the top to let it settle down. Instantly I could feel the cool air and I was even slightly short of breath.
Karakol Lake on the Pamir Highway
Continuing on I arrived at my destination of Karakol lake around 1pm. It was a pretty quiet small village. I parked up down on the shore front. The lake is salty and chilly so I didn’t bother going for a swim. Instead I set up the side awning on Boris for the first time, enjoyed a leisurely lunch and then a nap in the sun beside the lake. It was a lovely spot and I was the only person on the shore front.
My campsite beside Karakol Lake
I wasn’t long before word got around and the visitors started to show up. Around 3.30 the local kids turned up. We did a bit of dancing and I showed them the results on the laptop which they thought was hilarious. Eventually they left me alone so I could work on my blogs.
The local lads at work in my office
(Tajikistan – Karakol)
A couple of likely lads returned so I taught them some Kiwi phases like ‘Sweet As Bro’. They walked away slightly bemused but happy.
The ‘Sweet As Bro’s’
(Tajikistan – Karakol)
As the day passed to evening a steady stream of locals came to visit and chat. I prepared noodles, bread and a beer for dinner as they watched.
(Tajikistan – Karakol)
I even had a visit from the (supposedly) only english speaking girl in the village, who didn’t want to miss the opportunity to practice. Finally I was left in peace to watch the sunset and retire to my tent by 8.30 for bed.
Watching the sunset with Kiwi Ted
(Tajikistan – Karakol)
Karakol Lake Sunset
I was on the road by 8ish the next morning as it was time to leave Tajikistan or at least attempt to with my dodgy paperwork. I arrived at the border and had to wake the customs and border police guys up. Customs was straightforward. Border Police was not. My official, who I’d dragged out of bed requested a piece of paper I’d not even heard of. A border police certificate that you can get in Khorog or Dushanbe, apparently. I don’t have it, I said. You must go back to Khorog, he said laughing. No way, I said and stood my ground as I pointed to the names and numbers on my paperwork, while blaming the border guards at Ishkashim. After 10 minutes of this he finally caved in and said ok. I got the impression this happens a lot as nobody is surprised when you mention the Afghan border. So after a little banter I thought I was through. Yet again I got sucked into thinking I’d negotiated a border, only to find another group waiting for me. This time they wanted my general border entry document. Oh crap, I’d forgotten about that. Once again I blamed Ishkashim, while mixing in a little banter.
This banter normally goes along the lines of Hello, I’m driving (Brrrrm Brrrrrm, while driving a steering wheel ) in my car from Loooonnnnnddddooonnn to China and back. Yes, I’m a little crazy (while doing a cuckoo sign at my head). I live in England (cue making a house over my head) but I grew up in New Zealand (cue when I was knee high to a grasshopper signals). This along with my big stupid grin and my general failure to master the local language, has proved remarkable successful in negotiating potentially tricky situations. The official smiled, took down my passport and vehicle details and wished me the best of luck.
Sweet, I’d successfully talked my way through another border crossing without the right paperwork. My time in Tajikistan was over.
A spectacularly beautiful and equally poor country. The people are both warm and friendly. They are struggling to find their feet in a tough new world. Not being blessed with oil and gas riches like their neighbours only leaves them with water. Hydro power is critically important but impacts Uzbekistan further downstream. Relations with their neighbours are not the best for this little country but tourism is providing a way forward. The border with Afghanistan is both an enticing sight and a thoughtful reminder of what has happened just across the river. Hopefully peace will remain in place and eventually a proper democratic government will be elected, instead of the tribal based sham that currently exists.