21 Aug, 2009
Tajikistan: Day One
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
Besides taking a couple wrong turns we had little problem getting to the Tajikistan border. The greatest thing was actually the border itself–everyone was so friendly! After our not-so-great experiences of the past we never knew what to expect when crossing into another country, but we were pleasantly surprised by this border. Everyone was interested in what we were doing and chatted with us as they expeditiously handled our paperwork. We were into the country within an hour or so.
Entering Tajikistan we could immediately see differences between it and its neighbor, Uzbekistan. Tajikistan is a much more mountainous, poor country, and this was evident within the first few miles of driving. We passed through the city of Panjikent, looking for a place to exchange money for the local currency. Finding nothing, Collin was able to buy some water at a local market in dollars and get change back in Tajikistani som. This at least gave us a few dollars in case we needed to buy anything else before we got to the capital, Dushanbe.
Once we got out of the border city the roads changed dramatically. We started climbing mountains on gravel roads filled with potholes and other hazards–we were entering the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. These roads were the worst we had encountered yet, and the going was very slow. I was at the wheel when we happened to go over a large bump in the road that shook the car with a resounding ‘thump’. We pulled over and saw that our new catalytic converter (installed right before we shipped the car to the UK) had a huge dent in it and was apparently broken. This made the car a bit noisier, and sent some exhaust fumes into the cabin at times, ut we were lucky it was still drivable. From that point on we drove even more cautiously we we progressed up into villages perched on the sides of the mountains.
One of the main reasons the roads were so bad was the massive amount of truck traffic on them. There was a large contingent of traffic to and from the cities of Dushanbe and Khojand, which made driving a bit frightful when you are on a narrow mountain pass. The road branched off at a few spots and we asked locals for directions to Dushanbe multiple times. At one village a group of kids came up to our car with a bucket of apples and dried nectarines. We gave them ten som ($2.50), and they emptied the entire bucket into a bag that we had. They were very curious and kept reaching into the car and grabbing our stuff, insisting that we take photos of each of them wearing my hat, or my sunglasses, etc. It was getting to be a bit much, and we were a bit cautious about them stealing our things, so we motioned that we had to be on our way and proceeded onwards. It was getting dark and we wanted to find a spot to set up camp so that we wouldn’t have to drive such perilous roads in the dark. The problem is that unlike former locales there were no places to set up camp away from the road–you either had just road, or small plots of land being farmed. We gave up hope of setting up camp and just parked behind a pile of dirt just outside a small town on a wide stretch of road. We prepared to sleep in the car there, but it seems as if that particular spot wasn’t such a good choice as every car and truck passing us threw clouds of dirt up and onto our car. We decided to press on and look for a more promising site.
It was pitch black out, and the road kept going up and up. We finally hit a section of paved road that wound up and down one mountain, which was a nice change of pace. The next mountain was more of the same old crappy roads that we were used to. Dodging massive trucks and pot holes and clearing blind curves the entire way, we finally made it to the summit of the mountain (3,350M/10,050FT) where some other vehicles were stopped on the side of the road. It was about 11:00PM, so we decided to call it a night and just sleep in the car. We got out of the car to stretch when two guys driving a Lexus SUV that was parked in front of us said hello. One asked if we were on our way to Khojand–north Tajikistan, close to Kyrgyzstan. We replied that no, we’re heading towards Dushanbe. The guy informed us that we were heading the wrong way. Crap.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.