Late start this morning after a night that was still below zero, but not quite as cold the night before. Was lovely to be able to eat breakfast in the sunshine and enjoy the view 😊
Then, with 20 sets of fingers and toes crossed, we headed back up the road to see if we could make it to Tajikistan. James gave a couple of hoots of victory as we passed beyond our obstacle from yesterday, and the road did seem clearer, thanks to the passing of a few vehicles over the previous hours.
It was pretty precarious going at times, and we all actually got off the truck a couple of times so that James could just fang it through the mud, but we finally reached the Kyrgyz border successfully.
After completing the paperwork, it was out into no-man’s land, where the slight concern was that if we got stuck, who would help rescue us given we weren’t officially in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan…
But it turns out it wasn’t us who got stuck! Instead, we came came up behind a truck that had cut the corner too close and was blocking the road.
Armed with shovels and crowbars, we helped dig them out of that predicament and tried to get them to back up into the wide corner so we could overtake them (they had an overladen 2WD vehicle with no snow chains on this road!).
They weren’t having a bar of it and took off ahead of us. About 20 minutes later, we come up behind them again – “stuck” because they couldn’t get up a part of the road due to wheel ruts and ice. Gayle and James went to talk to them to, once again, try and get them to pull off to the left and let us past.
Which they did, kind of, after about ½ hour. Unfortunately, they didn’t pull off far enough and they were on quite a lean, so when we went to go around them, the back of their truck took out the rear 2 windows of our truck!
The 3rd rear window broke as we extricated our truck from theirs and then the real frustration started. We pulled out our crowbars and shovels and set about trying to help them re-make the road to their satisfaction – but all they did was a lot of standing around and looking at the predicament – not actually doing anything. And they refused to back up more to let us around. It was a complete stalemate.
During this time, most of our group actually walked over the top of the hill to the Tajik border post (we were literally 500m short of the border!) and an hour later, when Gayle and Lauren and I decided there really was nothing we could do to get these idiots to move, we headed there as well.
Over the top of the pass, we ran into 3 of our guys coming the other way … with 2 Tajik guys in camo! We do love our guys in camo 😊 We kept going to the border to see how everyone was holding up – not great it turns out – even though the Tajik border guards had turned on the hospitality and everyone was sitting in a nice warm room with tea.
Given we were waiting anyway, we decided to at least get all the passports processed, but a few people had left their stuff on the truck. So, Gayle and Jose and I walked back to the truck to collect the paperwork, and see how the truck was getting on as well.
The good news, was that the truck had moved! Apparently, our friends in camo basically told the other driver to stop being a dick and move out of the way so we could get around them. Unfortunately, we were now having trouble getting up a short icy patch, even with snow chains on ☹
Gayle and I collected the paperwork and started walking back to the Tajik border post. We got over the pass and were ½ way down the hill when we heard a couple of victory hoots from James and the yellow beast came over the rise 😊 Soooooooooo glad to see the truck!
They picked us up (that would be right, after we’d walked the hard bit over the 5000m pass again) and we rolled into the border post with less fanfare than I was expecting. I guess everyone was too nice and warm and busy sipping tea…
Then the next saga – 2 of the passengers didn’t have a paper copy, nor a downloaded electronic copy of their Tajik visa. They thought they would have internet access so they could show the border guards … um, no. This is a very remote border with very, very little traffic.
Another hour or so passed while they tried to figure out with the border guards how they could get into the country. Finally, after concocting an elaborate plan in which one of the 2 passengers with the visa issue would stay at the border, while one of the border guards come with us to the nearest town so that the other passenger with the visa issue could log onto the internet and save a copy of the visas, then return with a taxi to drop off the border guard and pick up the first guy, and then return to us again … In the end, it was all sorted in 2 minutes with a “quiet chat” behind closed doors and the exchange of US$300.
We drove about 100m to then be confronted with the customs checkpoint for Tajikistan! Everybody’s passports and visas collected again to be transcribed into yet another book by hand… By this time, the sun had set behind the mountains and it was getting very cold, despite having taped a tarp over the smashed windows (we were at ~5,000m after all).
About 45 minutes later, we were on our way finally – down a dodgy road in the dark after a very trying day. We were aiming for the town of Karakul and a guesthouse, which we eventually arrived at a very cold 1.5 hours later. Kudos to James for delivering us safely – I’m sure the last thing in the world he wanted to do was drive down an unknown, crappy mountain road in the dark.
The guesthouse was awesome – with rugs on the walls and tons of rugs for the floor and doonas to cover us. I also had my sleeping bag with me – it was sooooo nice to have a warm night!
Got up early the next morning to discover we were right beside Lake Karakol, one of the biggest lakes in Tajikistan. Stunning morning and absolutely glorious setting!
The guesthouse provided bread and eggs, and after a wonderful breakfast of fried eggs, and after doing our best to do a proper tape-up job where the windows were, we were off again – this time down the Tajik side of the Pamir highway.
Driving this road was actually of the key reasons I decided to do this trip with Madventure. Most other overland trips don’t drive the Pamir highway, but it is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first heard about it.
One of the immediately obvious things was this very impressive fence that we followed for a very, very long time. I’m assuming it marked the start of no-man’s-land with China, given how close to the border we were.
Lots of beautiful frozen scenery, and having blue skies was an absolute bonus!
The Tajik border guards had told us that the Tajik side of the Pamir highway was much better than the Kyrgyz side of it, but I think they may have been talking things up a bit… Yes, it was paved … kind of. But for much of the day we averaged between 20km/hr – 30km/hr because of the potholes and the fact it would descend into a seriously corrugated dirt road on occasion!
We eventually made it to Murghab where we stopped for lunch and to get more diesel. I decided to try the Samsa for lunch – basically a meat and onion and fat “pie” or “empanada” – which was very tasty, but I did pick the globs of fat out before eating!
Then it was back on the highway and desperately trying to make it to Khorog as quickly as possible. We had to go over two more high passes, and unfortunately, due to the super-bad roads, this took much longer than hoped. That being said – I really appreciated the extended amount of time we had to enjoy the scenery 🙂
In the end, we watched a gorgeous sunset, and drove in the dark for quite a long way, praying that James could see where he was going! There was some concern at one point when James chucked at 13-point-turn having ended up on a bad road that didn’t seem correct. Then chucked another 7-point-turn when he turned around again to deliberate on which way to go. We ended up going the same way as we were originally headed given that we had seen 2 trucks come from that direction, and fortunately it turned out to be correct – just a very, very poorly signposted detour!
Fortunately, it was getting warmer as we descended, so I didn’t mind sitting back and watching the snowy mountains slide by under the light of the half-moon. It was absolutely beautiful, and my thoughts were half a world away!