Tajikistan and The Pamir “Highway” Tashkent to Tavildara :
Today it was already 35 at 9 am and we set out of Tashkent, uzbekistan on the way to Khujand, Tajikistan in 170 km. It was a bit of a round about as the road we were routed on was closed and there was quite a bit of traffic.
We headed the 100 km to the border and stopped once for some cold drinks and made some friends. There was another car a white sedan that was following us for about 20 km, but left as we neared the border. Again strange.
The border is not really marked and you have to make a u turn to get to the gates. As soon as you do there are money changes who want to buy your Uzbek money and sell you Tajik money. The women all had these incredible gold grills.
You pull up to the closed gate and the officers come out to check your passports and then let us thru. You go about 100 m and stop. Here there is a camera and you have to go farther, make a U turn, and then park so the camera can take your plate. There was a bit of an issue as they could not seem to get a reading on my BC plate or it may have been that it is in shadow. They came out with several letter size papers with CANADA written on it can you believe it. This took about 20 minutes for my bike and we stood off to the side in the shade. It is 40 degrees. The guys bikes took only about 5 min each.
On line it says that the Uzbek officials here are unfriendly and it can be a hassle. They were more than nice to us and very smiley and friendly. There is a large sign posted that there are no fees here and that guards will not accept bribes. We sailed thru besides the camera issue, and they were more embarrassed than anything that they had problems.
Next you ride 200 m and park in the shade at customs. Here you go in and fill in an exit declaration card. It is in English and they provide sample ones with the correct data entered. From here you go back out to the booth on the opposite side of the lane. Here they check your passport and want your TVIP and registration. Next you walk 20 m to the passport control for the exit stamp. When you return to customs they asked to look in the luggage, but they really hardly looked at OURS.
Now on to Tajikistan. We were a tad worried as again on line the horror stories of the hassles you get at Tajik borders and the bribes demanded abound. We again sailed thru with no issues what so ever and they did not even ask to look in the luggage.
You ride 400 m to the gate and they asked to see the passports and then let us thru the gate. You ride about 200 m to the document check point. Here the very nice official asked for the passport and Tajik visa. He fingerprinted Trevor and Dan, but not Orvar or me? He did take our shots and even showed me mine as I had a funny face and he laughed and said it was ok.
You drive thru the tire decontamination pool and then ride 400 m to the customs building. Here we were parked in the shade and an officer directed us to the customs office. They copy your passport and registration, enter a bunch of data into the computer while you wait in the small office full of smoke. The customs fee is 10$ us and receipts were given. It was super easy.
My only issue was my tire plug was not holding air and needed to be redone. We are wondering if the last one did not set as it was siting in the 42 degree heat?? Now we have only 70 km to Khujand. It was an easy ride and the first thing we saw was open gas stations!!!.
The country is clean and orderly and the drivers are mostly courteous.
It was thus very easy to get into the city and find our hotel. It was as usual 42 when we arrived. They have a Georgian chef here and international quality food for a change. We had our usual nap and cool off in the air con.
It was still about 38 at 8 when we went out for a bit o a stroll.
Today we will ride 305 km south to the capital Dushanbe, which is the staging place for the Pamir “highway”. We will rest here for 2 nights, Orvar will swap out his tire, and we will stock up on some provisions. We were happy to finally find some 95! Also nice that we did not have to pay at the tolls.
Leaving the city it is still desert for the first 70 km and then we finally went up into the mountains where it was 26!!.
Just before one of the tunnels we ran into Tom and Angela from Germany on their bike with a sidecar. This tunnel was only paved a month ago and is known as the tunnel of death. It was previously pitch black and pot holed. They started this trip in Dubai. The tunnels here are not for the faint of heart. There are 2 over 5 km long on the way and they are pitch back, with 2 way traffic, cars passing, and they are filled with exhaust and dust so it is very difficult to see. All of us were actually a bit scared SCARED.
The road on the other side is in bad shape for about 20 km and we heard later was actually closed the day before from 8 am to 6 pm. Wow were we lucky.
We stopped to buy some fruit from these kids on the side of the road.
We stopped about 30 km from town as we were all overheated and Daniel especially was dehydrated and actually hyperthermic. Luckily the hostel is cool and quiet and we have good air con and a shop next door. Dan was straight to a cold shower 2 litres of cold water and slept until the Morning.
All of us were a bit baked from the heat and all had a bit of GI upset and so we decided to book a third night. You actually can not be outside between 11 am and 7 pm it is searing. There are a few bikers here Ken from Germany and Michael from Ireland who just finished the Pamir. Also Jen and Pete are here and headed east in their land cruiser. Darius from Poland bought a bike in Oz and is headed home.
Orvar was taking his wheel to swap the tire at the local bike shop and Dan was taking mine since the second plug did not hold. I’m not sure you could expect much since they were 45 degree and mushy when we put them in and then had to ride right away from Tashkent and from the Tajik border. The tire shop had un-melted plugs that we hope will work. If not tire off and patch.
There are 2 Norwegians here too that are buying scooters to do the Pamir. Now that is adventure. On their recommendation we all took taxi’s down to the city centre to the Taj restaurant for very good Indian food. So far and surprisingly Tajikistan has been the culinary highlight of the trip.
We woke up Sunday morning to find Kyle from Wales and Dave from Scotland who had come off the Pamir and arrived at the hostel at 8 am. Kyle had come on the top road M41 thru Tavidara (“very rough”) and Dave on the lower thru Kulob with his bike on a truck due to a blown piston. They have agreed to store our bikes in Siem Reap Cambodia while we go to Vietnam for a holiday from the adventure. (we don’t want to deal with the guide issue again here)
Our plan was to leave in the morning by the lower road and ride 249 km to the Afghan border and camp at place called can you believe it “Camping with a view of Afghanistan”.
We had a bit of a late start and finally after air in tires, gas, minor adjustments…photo session.
July 10 to landslide and then Kulob
We left town at 10 am. It was 38 degrees already. The ride south and east is slow going in the heat.
We have heard from several riders that the police here will hassle you and try to extract bribes. We were pulled over by 2 cops going 50 in a 50. They never had a radar gun out until after they stopped us and then they said we were going 74 (showing us the likely non functional radar gun)! We all laughed and said no way. None spoke any English. They wanted to see our driver’s license and Dan did not hand his over, but only showed it in the wallet. We got off took off our helmets and jackets and prepared to wait them out. Mean while a car sped by going over 80 and they did nothing. Orvar and Trevor were behind us with the second cop who had their licenses and kept saying Euro Euro. We just ignored them and actually they gave up fairly easily after 6-7 minutes.
The road goes thru a few bigger towns and when it hit 43 we stopped of cold drinks, gas, and shade. You turn off to the E008 just after Vahdat at 22 km and head up into the hills where it was a cooler 34.
We had a break at the view point over the lake and then unfortunately the road drops back down onto the plain and the heat was up to 39.
After the town of Kulob you again head up hill and the temperature was a more tolerable 34. We stopped by a spring road side to cool off and the man there told us the road was blocked 4 km up. We decided to go check it out at least as it is 4 plus hours back track to get to the M41. They road deteriorates to used to be paved and then to a good gravel road. After 226 km we pulled up to the military check point that Dave said we would see and the Captain who spoke English came out to talk to us. There was a “catastrophe” at the river yesterday afternoon and 3 separate land slides removed 700 m of the road. They expect a fix in 3-4 weeks!
Hmmm now we need to decide what to do. There are no other passable roads to the M41. There is one route, but the local guys we met there in a land rover said they would not do it. On the way back we ran into UK Jen and Pete and we were all retreating 30 km back to Kulob.
We are very hot and tired and very thirsty. The first hotel we picked they showed up too. It was a bit sketchy and we moved onto a second that was actually very clean, comfortable, and chic. (200/room=22USD). So Orvar went over to tell the UK team and they moved here too. To eat there was a buffet/ al la carte spot across the street, which was as far as we could go in 43 degrees. Next we all cowered in the air con and were all asleep by 9.
July 11 back to Vahdat and then to Tavildara 356 km
The ride back was much more pleasant at 28-32 than the 43 of yesterday. We also made much better time with only one stop midway.
In Vahdat we gassed up with 95 and this makes a difference. The 41 out of the city is busy with traffic.
Just after leaving town we had our first of three police wave overs. We were going 52 in a 50, but the cop said we were all (he did not even have the gun out when we rode up) going 74! We said no way and after about 5 minutes he let us go. Dan meanwhile made friends with a local.
Not more than 2 km later we were pulled over because we did not break at the stop sign on the side of the road. We did not break, because the cop was flagging us over even before we got TO the stop sign. We argued with him in English and he with us in Russian. We pointed out all the cars going by that did not stop and again after 5 minutes he let us go.
The road surface goes from paved to it was paved, to prepared to pave, to looks like a wash out.
At times it is very narrow and with 2 way traffic it can be a bit hairy on tight corners and hills. There are a few minor water crossings and several washed out area. A lot of the surface is very rough.
Then suddenly it will be paved for a stretch!
The surface is mostly hard packed, but bumpy at times.
One section the entire road had fallen into the river and the road was diverted into a farmers field.
There was a passport control where the M 41 turns off the main road and goes south at Chumdon after 128 km from Vahdat. We had to show our passport and Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) permit. Our data was entered into a large ledger. It was interesting to see that 75 % of the local that came in and shook the Policeman’s hand do so with a wad of cash. They did not have their info in the ledger then it seems. It was incredible how much cash was changing hands in the 15 minutes we were there.
Quite a sketchy bridge over a wash out. Its tilted and the metal plates are buckled.
The road from here starts to really deteriorate thru Childara to Tavildara.
Kids at the gas station
The wind really picked up with a thermal just as we we’re arriving to Tivaldara at 430 and it was whipping the dust. It was difficult to hold the bike up when we parked at the second military check point. Here again you register your passport, but we did not see any payoffs here.
We crossed over the bridge to the town. It is clearly a government local (district capital) as most of the buildings have official plaques and signage.
We followed the GPS to the supposed guest house listed, but no luck. There is “can you believe it in this tiny town” a traffic signal on the single paved road. Here a boy came up and mimicked sleep and said he would take us to the guest house. This was in a communist era building and they family was very nice. Getting the bikes into the yard was all ADV. It was over the ditch on a wobbly cement slab, up the stairs, over the metal pipe, and thru the gate.
It is simple rooms with 2 single beds and sketch bedclothes so we opted for our sleeping bags. The shower and toilet were cleanish, but old school. There was cold water only and bare wires to avoid. That said they made us a very nice dinner and we were all asleep before 10.