#SubaruOfftrax Week Seven Highlights
Tajikistan: The beauty, injured and Pamirs
Not like waking up in in big city with a big driving day ahead of us and no gas to be found whatsoever! We finally gave up and headed towards our destination, the Tajikistan border, in hopes we’d find some roadside.The key to finding it, for those that don’t know, is a single water bottle with gas in it. What’s unknown, is the price quality or quantity one may or may not get. Luckily, we found a house with tons of gas, so much as both cars got filled up.
A combo of GPS and construction ridden road detours led us to a dead end where many people were gathered. We were approached by some rowdy men, one who even tried to open the car door – time to get out of here! Exiting Uzbekistan was another ordeal with their officials demanding that our bags be put through the X-ray machines along with more questions about drugs, bombs and guns. Finally into “no-man’s” land and Tajik border control was temporarily closed as they were eating dinner. While waiting Jess tripped over a tow rope between two cars and really wiped out- flat on her face, actually elbow. She nearly fainted cause of the pain (and likely exhaustion), however she looked okay minus a few scraps, though complained about her left elbow and not being able to straighten it….. Getting across the border into Tajikistan was a breeze, after they had their dinner of course! On the other side we were met with an ultramodern gas station that actually had gas, and good gas and beers! A celebration was had by all, at the gas station. in the capital city of Dushanbe we went straight to the Hyatt for ice (cocktails & Jess’s arm) & wifi, and soon enough a room, hell we deserve it, plus it was pushing midnight. Jess and Corinne left to go find a cheaper place, but soon returned as all the other places were either overpriced dumps or wanted the same amount as the Hyatt.
The next morning Jess was in massive pain and started popping the Tylenol 3’s. (Good thing Uzbekistan didn’t get a hold of them!) She knew she had to go to the hospital, so Elly & Corinne took her. With minimal signage, a maze of low rise buildings and some improv on Elly’s behalf, the traumatology dept was soon found and without any papers filled in she managed to get a doctor to prescribe an X-ray. The X-ray room was ancient with crumbling walls and the equipment looked like it was from the USSR days. There were some new pieces of equipment still wrapped in plastic on the floor, however. As feared, the X-ray came back with a fractured ulna bone and would have to be put in a cast for 3 weeks! The doctor who was looking after Jess was an orthopaedic surgeon and also a teacher of orthopaedics. We went into her classroom where she invited a few of her students to observe the casting procedure, kinda like a Tajik version of Grey’s Anatomy. Walking along the clogged corridors towards the casting room we came across a young man who looked like he had 2 bullet wounds in his chest… Jess came really close to passing out while getting the cast put on. She had the interns holding her arm in place, raising her legs while the nurse threw a handful of water at Jess’ face which worked to bring her back! Overall the cost for the whole procedure including calcium which Jess will have to take for three weeks was $65.00 CDN.
Back on the road, we headed towards the Pamir Highway stopping in the city of Kulob. The first hotel we looked at was right out of a Soviet horror movie, but the rooms were massive… A local led us to another hotel which was a tad better, but once i started barfing and Andy with the shits, sharing a bathroom with no water or power was the worst! Speaking of water, upon arrival there was no water at the hotel as Jess found out trying the complicated shower. Unbeknownst to her she had left the taps open…. Later that evening it became well known that their room in the hotel had flooded and water was coming down through the ceiling into the restaurant below! Opps! Guess thats what happens when complicated showers, with way too many knobs get installed in hotel rooms!
The next morning with Elly & Andy still shaky, we faced the much feared, yet exciting, Pamir Highway. To drive in this area of Tajikistan we had to each get an extra permit, which was checked throughout the day by police, all examining it very carefully. To actually drive this “highway on top of the world” was unbelievable! It was everything I read and MORE. Looking down off the cliffs you could see the river that divided Afghanistan & Tajikistan. You could basically throw a rock into Afghanistan! what a feeling to be so close to such a war torn, yet beautiful country. Driving on carved out, sometimes paved, but mostly rocky roads with car-swallowing potholes, while hanging onto the side of a cliff was both exhilarating and terrifying. Throughout, we were always making room for oncoming big transport trucks, where at times we were within inches to falling off the side of the road….
Later in the afternoon, while trying to push to our destination of Khorog, Corinne & Jess blew a tire while the Outback was well ahead. Luckily an NGO, AKDN.org stopped and changed the tire for them all the while discovering that their spare tire was a “temporary” spare, meaning it wouldn’t last long!
The better part of the next day was spent looking for a new tire for the XV, again with the assistance of Mirzo from AKDN. After much discussion and weighing out options it was agreed upon that the damaged tire would get patched and an inner tube was put into it for extra prevention. We’d have to wait till we got to Kyrgyzstan and hope to hell the roads improved.
With only a few of hours daylight driving left, we made it to the small village of Jolandi, up in the mountains. With no stores, let alone hotels (as expected) we found a “home stay” with a couple and their 10yr old daughter. They had a few cows and she baked bread for the village – their home smelled divine. Jess & Corinne set up their tent in the yard, while Michael, Andy and Elly stayed in one of their rooms which the lady set up beautifully on the floor with poofy cushions and beautiful linens. Dinner consisted of a rice pudding & fresh bread. At 3700 meters some of us were feeling the effects of the altitude & getting “breathy”. Even digestion was very slow so going to bed on a full belly was not good. The temperature dropped to 5c but we all slept really well.
Breakfast was homemade kefir yogurt – with a bit of sugar & hot, fresh bread! As is the custom, we left $5 each under the tablecloth for our bed and food and were on our way. Such a unique, worthy experience. Up the way, was a local hot spring, that we decided to take advantage of. There was no one else there. Male and females were separated, so we went skinny dipping in the HOT semi-sulphurous water. Luxury! Back on the Pamir the landscape was spotted with gers/yurts. Numerous red, furry, bushy tailed, groundhog-looking animals were all over the grasslands, ducking in and out of holes.
Arriving in the largest town in the mountains, Murgab, we looked for tires again with no luck. Not knowing how much further it would take for us to cross the next few mountain passes, we decided to get a room at the only hotel and chill a bit. For dinner we ate a kebob which we were told was duck…like there are ducks at over 3800m?!?! We believe it must have been one of those red, furry animals we had been spotting all day.
Waking to a chilly -2c, we knew it was time to change from flip-flops to shoes. We hit a 4600m pass en route to the beautifully blue, Lake Kara-Kol – the highest saltwater lake in the world. At 380 sq km with a maximum depth of 238m the only kind of fish living in the lake is Noemachilus-locusnigri which has zero product value. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to witness the Roof of the World regatta.…but there were certainly no signs of it happening, or any boat activity. For many kilometres we drove alongside the Chinese border, even stopping to cross the barbwire fence for photo opps.
Exiting Tajikistan and into “no mans land” seemed to last forever till we reached the Kyrgyzstan border. Which again was quick and painless. Could be all the the Canadian cigarettes and Cdn flag pins we gave them!
Herds and herds and more herds of sheep, goats, horses and cows slowed us down (“lamb-jams”, as we would call them) but gave us opportunity for some great pics and good laughs! We arrived in the large city of Osh with time to spare. Altitude went down to a 1000m and temperature up to 26c.
Tajikistan was definitely a trip highlight. The people and sheer beauty of the varying landscapes wowed us. Driving the Pamir Highway also helped, as it was all on our ‘lists’.