23 Aug, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
Unlike many of the cities we had visited, Dushanbe was relatively new with little real history to speak of. Because of this there really wasn’t much to see or do there. Our plan was to stay one night to recouperate and then head off to the Pamir range the next day. The only problem was that we had found out that we needed a special GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast–a.k.a. Pamir Region) permit to travel there. As I had had little internet access as of late it had been difficult for me to secure this pass–our only hope was to grab one in Dushanbe, or be faced with traveling back along to route we had just came.
After getting cleaned up and washing the massive amounts of dust and grime off of ourselves we checked out local restaurant that served micro-brew beer and chinese food. Interesting combination, but it worked out well. The next morning we went to an internet cafe to see about getting our permit. The company I had written to two days earlier while in Samarkand hadn’t responded. I called them up–the line had been disconnected. Tried another company listed in the Lonely Planet guide–that number didn’t work either. I finaly got through to META, a tourism company based in Kyrgyzstan with an office in Dushanbe. They directed me to the local office, and we paid a visit there by taxi late afternoon.
The guy who ran the office and the neighboring Adventurer’s Inn spoke perfect English and had studied in Ireland and Boston. He arranged to get everything worked out for us–the oly probalem was that the next day was a ‘training day’ for government employees and so we wouldn’t be getting our permits until late afternoon Thursday. Looks like we were going to have to extend our stay in Dushanbe!
While getting our permits worked out we met a group of Irish along with one New Zealander on holiday in Central Asia. They had just come down from the Pamir range and had quite a few stories to tell about the plane rides they had to forcibly get themselves on to that flew just feet from the mountainsides and the beauty and danger of the Pamir roads (they said they saw a car that fell about thirty feet down a cliff with the passengers lucky enough to have gotten out and standing on the mountain looking down at the wreckage). Having nothing else to do but wait for a couple days we decided to tag along with them for lunch and drinks at the same place we had hit up the night before, Keller’s. Along the way we were joined by the Irish guy’s missing friend and we all had lunch together while discussing our travels and whatnot. After a food and a few beers we migrated over to the city center where we were joined by an Italian acquaintance of one of the Irish who had worked in Moscow and knew Russian.
We continued drinking at an outdoor cafe while having the occassional shish kebab. We spent quite a few hours there, me talking to two drunk guys (a boxer and his brother down from Saint Petersburg, Russia) at the table next to us that had tried to pick a fight (we ended up talking for a couple hours and becoming good friends despite me not knowing Russian and them not knowing any English, as always). Collin talked to the table on the other side of us, two guys that we determined the next day to be Russian spies (they were pretty much interrogating Collin and later myself, looking at the pictures in my camera, asking about the US’s position on Russia, etc. Right before I left two Russians in military uniform joined their table). I had to leave around 10:30 as my stomach wasn’t very happy with me, and walked back to the hotel by myself, passing a car that had crashed into a pole on the way. Collin stayed out with the others until early in the morning, going to a club where he met some interesting U.S. military guys, one of whom was pretty drunk and probably talking more then he should have. He gave an interesting account of his experience when he finally got back to the hotel around 3:00AM or so.
There had been some confusion as to which route to take, as a Tajik general had been killed by terrorists on the M41 (Pamir Highway) route from Dushanbe to Khorog in July. We had gotten word from the rally organizers that that stretch of road would be closed for all of August and to find an alternate route to Khorog (the official start of the Pamir Highway and the last real outpost of civilization for some time), although they didn’t recommend any team doing that stretch at all. We had already paid for our visas and GBAO permits and weren’t going to turn back now though! I had been in contact with an English team that was ahead of us and already doing the Pamirs. They said that the road was indeed open all the way to Khorog and that we shouldn’t have any problem. We should plan about twelve hours of driving from Dushanbe to Khorog. Sounded good, as we wouldn’t have to take the even more difficult and less-traveled route to the south to Dangara and then east to Khalaikum and then Khorog.
The next day we basically just chilled out, grabbing some Turkish food at a nearby cafe and taking the chance to use the internet. We’d probably be roughing it for the next week or so, so we had to conserve our energy! Our friend that we had met earlier along with the group of Irish guys, Cass, was looking for a ride to the Pamirs so we decided to take him along as a passenger until we reached Khorog. That night we ended up dining at Central Asia’s only Ecuadorian restaurant–kind of a strange find out here. Collin, Cass, and I walked in and saw another foreign-looking person dining there. It ended up that this man was the part-time ambassador to Tajikistan (formerly Nigeria and Russia)–we invited him over and ended up having a great conversation about the state of Tajikistan and his travels and work around the world.
On Thursday I called up the META guy and grabbed our Pamir permits around 4:00PM before heading out of the city, eastwards towards Khorog. As we were convoying with two other cars from England we weren’t able to head out as early as we wanted, as we ad to wait for everyone to be ready. This included a trip to the local car parts bazaar (which was closed), and a fiasco trying to get gas at a local station off of the freeway. It took almost an hour for the three of us to fill up our car and gas containers as the attendant had trouble understanding what it was we wanted to do (fill up each container and then fill up each car). Luckily a well-dressed Tajikistani man helped us translate our requests to the attendant, which helped considerably. The whole while the gas station is filling up with cars waiting in line to get their fill, some honking for us to hurry up, some coming over to chat with us about what we were doing. We finally got on the road a couple hours before nightfall, and navigated our way through the multiple police checkpoints leading out of the city–one of the police groups was kind enough to let us take a picture with them. We drove for a few hours and ended up stopping along the edge of the road for the night as there were no good places to camp in the area. It was a restless night of sleep, with trucks regularly passing by, kicking up sand and dirt over our car and tent.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.