These were efforts to avoid (at all costs) this rampant war zone stuffed to the gunwhales with bearded, olive skinned gentlemen. We imagined hooded Islamic, Anglophobe extremists just waiting to IED our ride to Kingdom come, whilst simultaneously videoing me denouncing our imperialist governments aggressive foreign policy, before giving me the closest haircut EVER with a single blow from a big curvy sword.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we were receiving credible information from all sources that the border regions with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were relatively safe, utterly beautiful and very friendly, provided you follow reasonable and sensible safety precautions. In fact, we met several travellers who had completed, or were planning, short forays over the Afghan border, if only to have a badge of courage stamped in their passports…
(Not that I’m jealous and want one too – but I would get SUCH a telling off from Mother when I got back home).
So our Uzbek exit now involved a one night stop over in Termis, a bustling Uzbek border town that saw the entry, and exit, of Soviet forces into Afghanistan. This meant our route followed faster main roads and avoided crossing a rough alternative track through the mountains. It also meant a decent choice of hotels, rather than the mountain based alternatives – that every guidebook we possessed advised us to avoid if possible.
Why not bush camp? Well, we could have, but Uzbekistan (in theory) requires evidence of every nights accommodation whilst in the country, and we were sporting a full deck of registration slips that we had no wish to jeopardise for the sake of a $30 room, risking a much larger “fine”.
N (coordinates to follow)
From Termis it was a relatively short ride North to the Tajik border at Sariosiyo.
We stopped en route to spend all our remaining cash on lollies for kids…
(rather big kids as it turns out – they were yummy) and other assorted groceries.
An elderly shopper called Rose turned out to be an English teacher (of sorts) and helped us with our choices whilst trying out her English skills on us.
We drew quite a crowd, who loved the fact that their staring and pointing had all been caught on our vehicle security cameras.
Arriving at the queue less border Cheryl and I were, as usual, separated as driver (temporarily importing a vehicle) and mere passenger.
My route involved crossing a concrete chasm between two buildings where some work had started, at some point, but showed no recent evidence of progression. The void was spanned with a metal staircase lying horizontally – so I carefully negotiated the tips of the treads, and wished they had also rigged up a handrail of sorts.
Arriving at the customs office I was met with the sound of soft snoring and a bit of a dilemma. Should one rudely awake the unconscious customs official, thereby risking his embarrassment and potential wrath, or wait, getting more and more frustrated with his unprofessionalism?
I opted for the middle ground and noisily re-entered the building, banging doors and coughing, but out of his line of sight. It didn’t work and my repeated efforts were getting a bit ridiculous – was he taking the piss?
Fortunately one of his colleagues arrived, roused him and shooed him out the building. I was efficiently processed, but got very distracted by the table covering. It was a large sheet of plastic, like one sees in cafes and restaurants, depicting close ups of various citrus fruits cut in half. I found its incongruity in that setting most diverting, and could not concentrate on his questions, preferring to stare at fresh limes and oranges.
Our efforts at collecting and coveting two weeks worth of registration slips, like all our efforts to comply with the declaration rules on entry, were completely ignored.
However, I would always rather comply with rules and have our efforts ignored, than ignore the rules and have our non-compliance punished. Ignore their requirements at your own peril…you are, after all, a guest in their country.
Passport control was in another building 100 yards up the road and off to the right, as shown to us by another group of gesticulating lorry drivers.
The Tajik side was very professional, if a little confusing.
En-route to the compound a Turkish lorry driver indicated we should stop at a building signed as a Veterinary station, where we received some certificate or other in exchange for cash – albeit only a couple of quid.
Cheryl was a bit quiet when she came back out, but now mercifully free of mange and fleas, with clipped coat and a lovely new collar…
We could easily have bypassed this building and saved a few quid – but I’d rather have these pieces of paper than not.
(As it later turns out on exit this paper was ignored – and another fictitious piece that we did not have resulted in a “fine” that has had me contacting the Tajik embassy in London to complain at their outrageously corrupt officials at the Sary Tash border with Kyrgyzstan)
I parked where the signs indicated (on the right) but subsequently had to move for two reasons, the officials wanted me in a bay to the left, and the workmen were objecting to their interrupted water supply as I had parked on their hosepipe. Sorry!
Meanwhile Cheryl had to pay a legitimate $25 road tax – all properly receipted. Unfortunately – although our visas lasted 30 days – the car paperwork could only be dated for a maximum of 15 days. It could be extended later, at vaguely inferred locations, but we have read a couple of blogs and spoken with people who spent DAYS chasing this update stamp – sometimes for free, sometimes at cost, and sometimes necessitating a trip across the border to re-enter and get more time.
Seriously?! I’d rather pay double and have a 30-day road tax please?
I’d welcome the chance to contribute to the improvement of the road system that my BFG All Terrain’s are about to wear down a bit more, if only the bureaucracy could be cut down? As it was we left the country after only half our visa had expired – losing the opportunity to see more, and (get this Tajik Tourism) spend more
Customs dude sat us at a table (with a large jar of pickled eggs between us?) and helped us to complete the forms correctly, before ushering me into an office where various people lounged around watching an awesome inter-dimensional time travel / kung fu movie on the telly.
Passports were stamped and we were away – and a good point to do so – our hero had teleported (via a big swirly cloud) back to modern day New York, and after an initial ass-whooping from the leather clad bad guys, he refound his kung fu mojo and gave them a right good pasting…
There is no compulsory requirement for insurance – which has me a little nervous – and no opportunity to buy any at the border. Apparently it can be purchased later in Dushanbe, but we did not know that at the time.
Much confusion at the subsequent cross-roads as all the locals were heading left, chaperoned by a local lad on a push bike. We followed the locals through village alleys and down steep river banks to drive for a while in the dry stream bed, before returning to the road. Although only a couple of km’s or so we would have struggled on our own, we got some cash ready for the lad, but he left before we could offer him any. He had helped all of us out without expecting payment…
He had a pathetically short length of wire set up for towing, which we discounted and showed off our shiny new towing strap and bow shackles.
I made the mistake of assuming this guy knew how to be towed, and watched – dismayed – in the rear view mirror as he failed to keep the rope taught and got it caught around his axle, shredding it to pieces.A harsh lesson to learn – it’s NOT always best to stop and assist.
The road was busy and another car came to assist as we unhitched him – so he was in no imminent danger.
To be rightly selfish the recovery gear is there to get US out of trouble, not tow people stupid enough to run out of gas to the nearest garage.
There is also the security aspect – we met people who were stopped to assist a breakdown, which quickly degenerated into demands for cash as well.
I sensed this guy was genuine – but can I trust my spidey sense every time?
The books warned that it is quite hard to find – indeed it is – but OSM on the Garmin and my by now tingling spidey sense guided us straight there.
We reluctantly stayed, determined by the fact that we had not researched an alternative, and that the parking they provided was a large garage, with padlocked doors and – glory be – an inspection pit.
We were overdue a few maintenance tasks so the inspection pit sealed it.
The staff and other guests were friendly enough, but the accommodation is poorly designed – forget anything in the way of privacy.
Rooms (decorated in a lovely OAP home cum car boot cast off style, and carefully sprinkled with dust and previous occupants bodily hair) open directly onto communal TV areas. On two occasions the staff knocked and then walked straight into our room with no time for a “Yes”, “No” or “Just let me put my pants back on”.
Some bathrooms were acceptable, some not, but the communal kitchen was a fly blown, decrepit, disgusting disgrace.
Even sitting outside at the tables was unpleasant, you stuck to the chairs, the tables, and looked at the camping guests lying ill on the grass outside.
It’s one of those places where you just know that, given time, you will be very, very ill there.
We did our maintenance, t’interwebbed, got cash (som AND dollars!) from nearby cash machines, stocked up on groceries and got the hell out of there.
Budding Tajik entrepreneurs – your capital is crying out for a decent backpackers accommodation within the city (something akin to the Oasis in Ulaan Baatar, or Anticas in Samarkhand).
In the meantime there is the Adventurers Inn – a complete shithole – and best avoided, but I am afraid we cannot suggest an alternative?