Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Tunnel of Death

Waking up in the morning I rode round to the campsite and met up with the French guys, Eva and a first meeting with a Swiss biker who would become my travel companion for the next few months. Herbie had previously met Ollie and Jenny in Tehran while applying for visas.
I spent the day hammering the handlebar bolt straight and doing some running repairs before ollie and Jenny turned up in the evening, once the road re-opened. We then spent 5 days camping and chilling out amoung the beautiful mountain scenery.

The lake

The girls making dinner

Align Left
Me and Ol doing some repairs

Morning Mist

During our time at the lake a Russian film crew turned up making a nature programme about the ex-soviet countries. After an interview, we were invited to an evening of traditional music and dancing. This prompted the inevitable of 4 foreigners being filmed for TV drunk on vodka dancing round a fire. The finale being a rendition from Ollie of an old traditional Cornish drinking song with myself and Jenny on backing vocals.

A Whirling Dervish or a cornish man fuelled with Vodka

The Girls getting Down

With slightly sore heads it was now time to head to Dushanbe and get the rest of the repairs done on the bike.

I’d heard about a tunnel North of Dushanbe infamous in the biking community for it’s difficulty to negoiate. Next stop a date with some crazy riding…….
The 5km long tunnel, built by the Iranians 3 years ago, had been an engineering disaster. The Chinese, known for their road building skills, had been drafted in to correct all the previous mistakes made by the Iranians.

Great Scenery

Chinese workers

Approaching the tunnel we first had to negotiate a couple of big lakes before the tunnel proper. The left tunnel was completely closed due to the fact it had turned into a fast running river. Both directions were now directed through one half of the tunnel.

The start of the tunnel system

The tunnel is a mixture of lakes, huge potholes filled with water, barely any lighting and choked with car fumes.
Diving into a metre deep water filled pothole for the second time I prayed that I wouldn’t go down in such a hostile environment. It was time to let the landrover lead and watch the back axel. It was impossible to tell whether the road was just covered in surface water or huge submerged potholes.
After a few k’s of hellish potholes, the tunnel suddenly turned into a lake with no way to dodge or see the potholes. Fingers crossed I plowed on….
I was finally through the worst and the light at the end of the tunnel was the most welcome sight I’d seen in a long time. I was through and back out into the fresh air!

It was then a mixture of dirt tracks and and perfect tarmac all the way to Dushanbe, time to rest and get the bike fully fixed.

Tajik Traffic Jam


The hostel owner hooked us up with a mechanic to get all the repairs done on the bike. This ended up costing a princely sum of £40 dollars!  Job done it was time to head South towards the Pamirs….

Originally we’d decided to head East from Dushanbe towards the Pamir highway but we’d heard that the road had been closed due to military action. They’d recently had a local election where the winning candidate had been murdered by the loser. The guy had gone to Afganistan and brought back some Mujahideen to shoot the new leader. The military then went in to squash the problems so the road was now completely closed.
We would have to head South to the Afgan boarder and take a minor road running along the boarder to get to the Pamir region.
This was the best thing that could have happened, we ended up having the best 3 days of the entire trip….
With perfect tarmac to the Afgan boarder we made swift progress. The first sighting of the beautiful valley and river separating Tajikistan and Afganistan is an awe-inspiring sight.

Dino heading to the Tajik , Afgan Boarder

The following 3 days to get to Khorog at the start of the Pamir Highway had some of the worst roads on the trip with rough track, river crossings, landslides and even riding under a waterfall. We wild camped everywhere, and I just couldn’t get over the friendliness of the people who were evidentedly not used to seeing tourists.
It had been amazing, and we hadn’t even hit the start of the Pamirs…….

River Crossing

Dynamiting a landslide

Road passes under a waterfall

Stunning green valley

Crazy Roads

After 3 days we trundled in to Khorog a little dirty and smelly, in need of a good bath but in high spirits.
Entering the Pamir we took a side road to the Wakim Corridor running down the Afgan boarder, famed for being the most beautiful place in the whole of the Pamir region. Simply stunning scenery and very welcoming people were everywhere….

We arrived in Ishkashim just in time for the Saturday Afgan market situate in no-man’s-land. Depositing our passports at the Tajik side we walked across the bridge into the outdoor market. The market didn’t have a lot to offer with the most interesting element being the differences in dress between the Afgan people and the more western dressed Tajiks.

Afgan Market


The Beautiful Wakim Corridor

During the next few days we followed the corridor soaking in the scenery, staying in traditional Pamir houses and visiting Bibi Fatima hot springs. Searingly hot water with a raging torrent of a plunge pool in a waterfall down an old rusty ladder.

The hot Springs

The Pamir homestays are the best way to experience the Pamir region and meet some of the locals in their own homes. Generally without furniture, the walls and floors are adorned with carpets with raised plinths for eating and sleeping. Most houses provided 3 meals a day serving great meals and fantastic, rich butter and yogurt made from Yaks milk. Roughly around $10 a night including all meals it’s also a pretty cheap way to travel through the region. The level of hospitality shown had parallels to my experiences in Turkey.

Pamir Homestay

It was then time to leave the corridor via a very sandy, corrugated road back up to Pamir Highway and on to the high altitude of the Pamir plateau and some good tarmac.

This region is different in aspect to the corridor. More desolate but equally as beautiful, it’s a series of dusty windswept isolated towns with stunning backdrops. With temperatures getting down to -60 degrees in winter it’s an extremely harsh place live. Some of the towns are dwindling in size with people moving to Khorog and Dushanbe for work and an easier life. Staying at a homestay of an English teacher I got chatting to her daughter about life in such a harsh place. She was currently on summer holiday during her break from University in Khorag with no plans to come back to the town once graduating. The activity of the city, friends and modern tajik life was too much of a draw.

Pamir Oven

The local Magazine (shop)

With Jenny becoming really sick, and returning from the Yurt doctor with an amusing bandage on her head with Garlic and angelica underneath, the Bridges decided to push on to Osh in Kygyrzstan for some real medicine and a few home comforts.

We said our goodbyes.....
It would be me, Herbie and Joe (a Canadian backpacker we kept bumping into everywhere who’d been hitching the Pamir) to see out the rest of Tajikistan……
Leaving Lake Karakul it was time to head to the boarder over a the highest pass i crossed to date, 4600 metres.
Unfortunately it'd rained the previous day which fell as snow on the pass. It made the trip across no-mans-land into Kyrgyzstan a very slow push through snow and bad mud.

Yak's Milk boiled down and dried to make an edible block for Winter

Crossing the pass at the boarder

The tyres had worked fine on the dirt roads but were really struggling with the sand and mud. I made a decision to get some real knobbly tyres to make the riding a bit safer. It would have to wait until Kazakhstan...

For me Tajikistan has been the best country so far, even surpassing Turkey. The scenery has been amazing and the people ultra friendly with a real interest in meeting foreigners passing through.

On the Kygrz side of the boarder we met the French who’d been stuck there for 3 days as they’d made a mistake on the visa dates. We said hello and then headed for the easiest, quickest boarder we’d experienced so far. No forms, 10 minutes to write our details down and stamp the passports.
We were now in Kyrgzstan! The land of the horse awaits….

1 comment:

Roj said...

Love the comment in the article you posted about you and Herbie becoming "intimate friends"....
Are you going to expand on this burgeoning relationship?

Happy New Year by the way!