Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Uzbek Super Dog

Emir B&B in Samarkand ticked all the boxes for us with a great location that provided us easy access to the City’s treats. Meeting other travellers here was a real bonus for us as we generally only have each other to converse with.  The opportunity to chat to others about their travels has become an experience that we relish when it presents!

Uzbek Bread

Uzbek Bread

Shah-i-Zinda

Shah-i-Zinda

Registan

Registan

 

Emir B&B

Emir B&B

Emir B&B

Emir B&B

We crossed paths here with an American family on an Uzbekistan holiday and we couldn’t help but laugh when they recalled the reactions they had received from friends at home upon telling them their intended travel destination. – One comment was “why do you want to go to a country you can’t pronounce the name of and is at war?”….

Fellow travellers from the US

Fellow travellers from the US

We shared dinner with the Americans at a local outdoor restaurant and, due to being sold out of most other things, an Uzbek Super Dog was the favoured meal choice.  Whilst looking for all intents and purposes like a true American hot dog in the pictures, it actually consisted of a pita bread pocket filled with carrot, egg, and a frankfurt along with a litre of ketchup! More ketchup was brought to the table just in case we didn’t have enough and it was an interesting take on the classic.

Obtaining a tasty alcoholic beverage, however, proved challenging as Ramadan was still in progress, but Jen came into her own and obtained the required beverages on the sly from a restaurant! For a minute it looked like a dry night and we couldn’t have that, could we??!!

It was fantastic to meet such well-travelled people with the most amazing stories that pretty much covered the globe – Africa to China and everything in between!

On the road and we eventually reached Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital.  A bit of a nightmare navigating our way in as none of the major roads are marked with any sort of street names and incorrect information from the local police didn’t help, but eventually we found Hotel Safar and, with pop star parking, we settled in.  We had dinner across the road from the hotel at El Cascada, which was expensive by Uzbek standards but seemed an easy option! A late start the next day as we enjoyed chatting with the consistent stream of locals peering inside the camper as we prepared to leave! We were in a really nice part of the city and surrounded by some lovely homes. Uzbekistan to my eye appears to be quite affluent as compared to other “stans” – the usual mixture of mud brick homes in the country areas but the cities are very modern!

I can’t really describe the driving skills here – chaotic and idiotic might be a start but we are becoming more than used to the style now and that makes it a lot easier!

We departed for the border crossing at Chernyaevka and after an hour we arrived only to find we couldn’t cross at the location shown on all the maps and many websites as it was for foot traffic only! (or so we were told by locals)  A little confused we were directed by locals to a vehicle border crossing and with a friendly local leading the way we soon arrived at the border.

However, we couldn’t cross here either, as this one was only for locals and would have to travel back 60km south of Tashkent to make the crossing! Somewhat confused and frustrated at this point, and feeling like idiots as we pride ourselves on preparedness, we checked our information and according to our info the first crossing we were trying to use had been open for 3 years and was currently active! Anyway it’s hard to argue with border control so south we headed. It was all a little stressful as diesel is very difficult to obtain in Uzbekistan and, as such, I had planned our route taking this into account.  Due to this border fiasco, we ended up over running our expected driving distance by 200km!

Eventually the Yallama border crossing appeared and proved reasonably efficient – the usual non-existent instructions or signage but plenty of helpful people who assisted us through.  4 hours evaporated by the time we found ourselves back in Kazakhstan!

We took on diesel only 10km from the border along with all of the trucks departing Uzbekistan and to say I was relieved to fuel up would be a real understatement! North to a dodgy campsite on someone’s paddock and then on to Shymkent we headed.  A resupply and we settled in for a couple of thousand km driving that was really to be only a transit for us.

Story cd’s playing, we continued north but you have to register your visa within 5 days of crossing the border so the pressure was on for us to make it to Russia!

We briefly stopped in Turkistan for a look at the Yasaui Mausoleum, which despite being unfinished due to Timur’s untimely death back in 1405, was quite spectacular with a 2000kg cauldron for holy water as the centerpiece.

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

Yasaui Mausoleum

2000kg Cauldron

2000kg Cauldron

Clocking up the hours driving with the associated km’s meant that meeting 2 Italian overland vehicles on their way south provide a nice break from the road! On a whirlwind trip from Italy, they were heading to Uzbekistan and then home so with maps spread we swapped stories and contact details before once again hitting the road. We hope to enjoy the offer of delicious spaghetti with them once we make it to Italy!

Italians!

Italians!

Baikonur Cosmodrome came into view and we idled along the road for a while with binoculars and zoom lenses trying to see what we could see! You can only gain access to the site via a few select tour agencies, only if there is a launch and only after parting with a large quantity of cash and even then it seems somewhat difficult to organize! Apparently there is an amazing museum of space travel and Yuri Gagarin paraphernalia on site but access is prohibited.  Quite sad really! The Italians had sent letters 8 months in advance to the Russian Government to try to arrange access to the museum only, but to no avail!

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome

The Kennedy Space Centre in the US has tours and the like and really gets you involved and wanting to buy souvenirs and spend your money whilst here our only interaction with anything to do with the cosmos was the Police questioning us whilst we parked outside the main gate for a photo opportunity, very welcoming! They certainly do things differently here!

No point hanging around and so it was on to the next destination, Aralsk – the site of the once blue and fish stocked waters of the Aral sea before the rivers and source of it’s life blood were diverted to grow thirsty cotton in the incredibly arid Uzbek landscape. Clever move that one! Anyway, if your interested just Google it and have a read, what a disaster!  We eventually found the site where some fishing boats have been put on display giving a glimpse into a life that seems could never have existed when you look around this desolate and somewhat depressing place! Fortunately for us however we were able to locate an immigration police office and an hour or so of waiting patiently saw our visas registered and with that the pressure to make the border was removed! A good thing too as it was looking like an all night drive to make it and I really wasn’t looking forward to that even with our sensational lighting.

Aralsk harbour

Aralsk harbour

Aralsk Fishing Fleet

Aralsk Fishing Fleet

2 more days slid by as we traversed more and more modern large towns with obvious Russian influence. We did pass a convoy of around 12 motorhomes with European plates heading the other way and couldn’t get a wave out of any of them! I think they were too fixated on sticking with the group to look sideways!

Russia Kazakh Border

Russia Kazakh Border

We finally arrived at the border and said our goodbyes to Kazakhstan, we’d only been stopped twice more by the police and then only one suggested we were speeding, so all in all it had been a smooth transit. One and half hours and we were back on Russian soil and heading for a rendezvous with some local Russians who were friends of friends back in Perth! Little did we know that we were once again about to be soaked in Russian hospitality and would look back on the next few days with amazement and fantastic memories whilst adding another group of Russians to our list of best friends that we sincerely hope to see again!

Maxim, Olga, Sasha and Sasha (long story) along with their friend Sasha, his son Vladimir and father Peter along with a few more extended family members made us feel like royalty.

Our wonderful Russian Friends

Our wonderful Russian Friends

Justin and Peter

Justin and Peter

The American icon of McDonalds also made more than a few appearances as we reached the larger Russian towns although it looked a little different!!

McDonalds

McDonalds

Just outside of Tolyatti city, Maxim and family met us on the side of the road and guided us into the city and to their friend Peter’s fantastic house that was to be our home for the next couple of nights. Russians seem to do hospitality at a level that leaves most other nationalities well and truly in their wake! Chai (Tea) served on arrival and then a fantastic summer soup of fresh seasonal greens mixed with Kvass (a local drink) and sour cream, which might all sound unusual but was very refreshing.

Kvass Soup

Kvass Soup

Peter has a Russian Banya (like a sauna) in his back yard and an invite to a traditional Russian bath wasn’t going to be passed up!  We’d been in the car pretty solid the last few days and Maxim had played it perfectly in suggesting the experience! A serious amount of body cleansing was in order and it was provided!

Russian Banya

Russian Banya

An exercise in male bonding including being smacked with birch leaves was a truly relaxing experience and one I feel fortunate to have enjoyed. I was able to enjoy this Russian tradition in a private banya in a Russian home whilst being made so welcome that I’ll never forget it.

Jen had her banya experience after the male bonding session and together we emerged freshly birch leafed and refreshed!

Wandering into the backyard and Peter’s son Sasha was hard at work preparing shashlik and trout for dinner – this was just too good!

Justin, Sasha and Peter

Justin, Sasha and Peter

Later in the evening whilst the throng of people were trying to sort Jen’s Internet connection out, Peter grabbed me and suggested we head to the neighbour’s for a little drink! This particular day is a celebration here in Russia – I’ll call it Para-trooper day. You see flags being carried all over the place along with beret wearing locals sporting very red faces after having consumed more than a couple of drinks.  Arriving at the neighbour’s, I was greeted by a two Russian navy lads, one the size of a battleship on his own, who were refining their shooting skills by lining up apples and shooting them with an air rifle on the picket fence! Clad in blue and white striped shirts and berets, they certainly looked the part!

So here I am in backyard Russia eating shashlik and toasting with the locals whilst communicating in a language none of us understand and all the while having a truly fantastic experience!

Maxim and family took on the role of tour guides the following day and from mid morning until well after dark we were treated to a tour of there locality, from restaurants and museums to walking in the forest before meeting some of their friends and whiling away the evening in great company.

A wonderful day and the bar was again set higher. Maxim’s son Sasha who said he couldn’t speak English earlier in the day through shyness, was actually quite adept and treated us to some lessons in Russian over the course of the afternoon! I came away with my new favourite word – kruto, which means “cool” in English!

The morning arrived and with it Maxim and family.  We needed to arrange a new Russian third party insurance policy for the Patrol and looking back on the experience, without Maxim, I think it may have been almost impossible.

Goodbyes were said and with a truly heavy heart we departed Peter’s house, it had been a true respite from the rigors of travel and we could have easily stayed! A supermarket restock and lunch with Maxim, Olga and sons and we were on our way to Moscow!

Peter's House

Peter’s House

A couple of hours on the road and we found a great campsite on the Volga river.  It took a little snooping but it was definitely worth it. We could easily have spent a couple of nights here but the capital was calling and beyond it we hope to make Slovakia to meet a friend, which requires us to get a move on!  So on we travel whilst trying not to become a hood ornament for a road train. You can count the legs on the dead insects on the grills of the trucks that tailgate you!  How close must that make them?

View from Camp

View from Camp

Volga River Camp

Volga River Camp

Another nights camp on a relatively disused track some 4km off the highway and we are 460km from Moscow!  The next day was a long one and the traffic on the M5 got heavier and heavier.  We arrived at the newly located Sokolniki campground, which is just north east of central Moscow at around 7:30pm, and were greeted by a very confused security guard. After a phone call to the park manager he finally let us in.  It was great to be parked and out of the peak hour rush and we celebrated arriving in this great city with nibbles and drinks. As the only residents of the recently re-opened camp ground we enjoyed a quiet night of relaxation.

Sokolniki Camp

Sokolniki Camp

AK47’s On the Afghan Border!

Our first evening at Nomad’s Home was spent enjoying a few tasty beverages with some of the other travellers whom were in habitation. One character in particular had us looking wide-eyed as he told us some of his travel experiences! German George hadn’t been resident in his homeland for many years.  He is currently approaching the end of his fourth year solo travelling the world and his only real plan was to make it to 5 years and see what happens. Germany held no tether in any shape or form for George as he had escaped East Germany during the dark days after spending 4 years in a gulag from the age of 18 for his outspokenness regarding the East German regime.

German George!

German George!

Nomads Home

Nomads Home 

The morning of Jen’s birthday arrived and with George taking the lead we headed off to a local restaurant for the required celebration, 3 tasty plates of local treats arrived promptly and with cold Ice Tea we toasted Jen’s slide that little further into the abyss!  I decided to shout the table as it seemed to be the thing to do and $8.50 lighter, the bill was settled and we were on our way into Bishkek!

An interesting enough City with the usual smells and sights associated with Asia, monuments and plenty of Police mixed with absolutely chaotic traffic. It was quite hot and we wandered for many km’s around the city center ticking off sights and the like as we went. Before we knew it the day was ending and we once again found ourselves back at the rear of Nomads attempting to help with the collection of aluminum for recycling.

The following morning we headed off to the Uzbekistan Embassy and found ourselves on time and outside with a group of around 25 others. What a farce this process turned out to be! We knew what to expect as pretty well anyone that has enjoyed the experience of obtaining this visa in Bishkek is more than animated in either telling you first hand or plastering it on the web! Anyway this surly young woman eventually emerges from a door in the front of the embassy with a piece of paper and starts reading names from it at a volume that would require you to be within inches of her mouth on a windless day inside an eggshell lined room in order to stand any chance of hearing her. Now we are 15 feet away behind a steel fence with traffic behind us and water running along a storm drain! Anyway I won’t go on other than to say that a few hours passed accompanied by lots of the usual cue jumping but we did eventually obtain our visas.

The only enjoyable part of the process was chatting to another in the cue who turned out to be an ex Australian Surveyor General.  Our own clever Australian Government had decided that his passport alone wasn’t proof enough that he’d spent 2 years in Uzbekistan and wanted a letter from the Uzbek embassy to back it up before he returned to Australia permanently.

We had lunch with George once again at the establishment of the previous day and after goodbyes and a quick resupply of food and fuel, we left Bishkek in the rear view mirror.

Goodbye Bishkek

Goodbye Bishkek 

The drive was excellent and the black top was for the most part in really good condition for a change. I was expecting the high pass that we encountered but was taken a little aback by just how beautiful the scenery was.  The rough hewn traffic tunnels caught me a little off guard however with no lighting, full of exhaust fumes and with just enough room for you and the oncoming Semi – Trailers whom of course do all they can to make sure you have enough room! (sarcasm for those who missed it) The steeper sections of the highway were engineered with the now familiar switchbacks and second gear was often in use to make life a little easier on the Patrol as the weather was very hot and hence quite hard on the vehicle. It was good to see the locals sticking to the same ethos as always – get there as quick as possible without any real concern for the car! The circus continued as time and time again an old Mercedes or Audi would scream past us before slamming on the brakes at the next switch back and then on the gas up the mountain. I couldn’t understand why we ended up passing nearly every one of them as we approached the highest section of the pass! Apparently they all needed to stop and lift their bonnets for an engine inspection and some appeared to be running on steam as that was generally the cloud being emitted from under the bonnets!!!!

Tunnel

Tunnel 

We travelled a little later than expected as we had some trouble finding a suitable campsite.  There were yurt camps littered along the highway and in between them steep valleys that didn’t really provide us any suitable options. Eventually we found a steep disused track down to a lovely but very fast flowing and noisy alpine creek and although close to the road, we were completely out of sight to passing traffic.

Beautiful Campsite

Beautiful Campsite 

Right next to our chosen location was a little rickety footbridge that was obviously receiving some intermittent use and I was sure we weren’t far from a yurt camp but nothing could be seen.  A relaxing nights sleep was had, upon waking in the morning Jen exited the camper for the morning nature call and relayed back to me that the loo shovel was missing! We keep a small shovel handy for it’s convenience of size and it’s the only thing we ever leave out at night. Fortunately we had stuck to our ritual of locking all external compartments and the cab for it would seem that with the noisy creek providing cover, a local herders sticky fingers had found our toilet shovel too alluring to pass up.

It was all that had been touched but it did remind us of the need to be vigilant.

As we continued south the temperature went north, we were now descending from the mountains and into the Fergana valley. You could see the haze associated with the heat for many km’s before it struck and intermittent touching of the windscreen went from cold fingers to cooked fingers in a very short space of time.

The town of Arslanbob was to be our only real detour enroute to the border, believed to be the location walnuts were first discovered with natural forests of these trees remaining to this day and still being harvested.

We hoped to be able to camp somewhere near the town, which lies nestled amongst yet another vista of eye catching snow capped mountains.

Upon arrival I was immediately struck by the hustle and bustle in the central square market mixed with the aroma of spices and the like, the place was a buzz!

Wonderful Spices

Wonderful Spices 

It was late afternoon at this point so we headed a little out of town in the hope of gaining a campsite but weren’t having a great deal of luck, retreating to the town square with the intention of perusing the map again and coming up with a plan.

A local appeared at my window and introduced himself as Ibrahim – a CBT representative (Community Based Tourism) and would you believe we’d just read about him in our guidebook! After telling him we were looking for a camp for the night, he promptly gave us instructions to the local animal market, which is only used on Wednesdays so we were in luck. It was all of 200m from the center of the village and with walnut trees to camp beneath and a gated area for the Patrol it was exactly what we needed.

Animal Market Camp

Animal Market Camp

Animal Market Camp

Animal Market Camp

We spent the late afternoon wandering up to a small 25mtr waterfall at the back of the village and knew we were on the right path when it became lined with vendors.  Quite pretty and as luck would have it we departed at just the right time as we managed to grab a lift in a UAZ back to our camp   Luckily it was all down hill as the UAZ would only run for a couple of minutes at a time so down hill billy cart style was the order!

UAZ Transport

UAZ Transport

Waterfall

Waterfall

Vendors

Vendors

Into the bazaar the next morning for a wander and a little shopping before we hit the road southwards. The Fergana valley slid by and we soon found ourselves in the main street of Osh and after finding our way to Jayma Bazaar, we managed to change some $US into Tajik Somoni as we needed some cash before crossing the border.

A fairly modern city centre greeted us and we spent a little time looking around town before heading off in search of a home for the night. About 30km’s from the border we found a great little spot up a side valley off the highway and although receiving one lone visitor in a Daewoo we were able to enjoy some isolation.

Onward to the border and the Kyrgyz side was quite simple and painless. The Tajik Side, which involved quite a steep climb up to 4280m where the crossing is situated, was like something out of the 40’s!  Nothing here has been updated for a very long time other than some solar power!

GBAO Zone

GBAO Zone

Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Border pass 4280mtrs

Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Border pass 4280mtrs 

The formalities were easy enough but the price gouging was a little offensive – US$60 to have our tyres sprayed with some chemicals from 2 weed sprayers (that I might add has cost little more than a dollar at every other border!), followed by fee’s for this and that. US$105 later and we were free, well sort of! We were only given 15 days validity for the Patrol to remain in Tajikistan, don’t really know why and it didn’t really matter as we figured that would be enough.

It was really exciting to finally be on the Pamir Hwy!

Pamir Highway

Pamir Highway

We pushed on and descended to Lake Kara-Kul, which we found very uninspiring. We stopped and chatted with a lone cyclist from Germany for a while and topped up his water but with the mosquitoes in plague proportions we continued a little further and with some perseverance found a reasonable camp about 5km off the main road and out of sight at 4060m.

Camped on the moon!

Camped on the moon!

It was our highest camp and quite a jump in elevation – I’m really respectful of altitude sickness and as such had ensured that over the previous couple of weeks we’d been spending time at camps around the 3000m mark. We both experienced very mild headaches that night but that was about it.

Next morning saw us crest the highest pass on the Pamir Hwy and the trip at 4655m. It was spartan and in some ways quite an ugly pass and the scenery along the Pamir so far hasn’t been all that inspiring but given the altitude it wasn’t really a surprise.  I’d also heard that the Wakhan Valley and Western Pamir region is where the eye candy is so we were content for now!

4655 mtrs!

Selfie at 4655 mtrs! 

On to the town of Murgab and mud brick homes emerge from the ground and seemingly disintegrate back into it just as easily. I can’t think of a tougher place to live with dust and nothing green in any direction and yet there seems to be no shortage of residents.

Murgab

Murgab

Murgab

Murgab 

We managed to pick up 20litres of diesel from an old dilapidated service station and after decanting it into a jerry can and funneling it through an old rag into the tank we were on our way.

Diesel available here?

Diesel available here? 

Just west of the turn off to the Wakhan Valley, we made our way 20 or so km to the north of the Pamir Hwy to Yashil Kul Lake. The description we’d read of turquoise blue water with stunning ochre coloured cliffs surrounding the lake was, well, very exaggerated! I don’t want to talk it down however as it’s a beautiful location and served us very well as our home for the evening. A hidden campsite was difficult to find as there is no vegetation but luckily we were able to navigate our way down to the shoreline and find a spot completely out of sight.

Yashil Kul

Yashil Kul

We headed back to the Pamir and then onto the Wakhan Valley road and immediately back to the joy of very heavily corrugated track! About 20 minutes into the drive we passed 3 Hilux’s going in the opposite direction, each a dual cab ute with a large gun turret mounted to the rear tray and loaded with Tajik soldiers. Each soldier was attempting to cover his face to avoid inhaling the plumes of dust being emitted by their very fast transit! It seriously looked like something you would expect to see on CNN in Somalia or the like…

Anyway we looked at each other and figured they were there for our protection so we should feel safe in that knowledge….?

Some time later we descended down to Khargush and the Pamir River which forms the Tajikistan/Afghanistan border.  Here there is another passport check and we spent some time waiting to have our information laboriously hand written into a ledger before being able to proceed. The soldiers manning the station were quite friendly and allowed us to check the ledger and see if there were any other tourists ahead of us, it appeared there was one vehicle a couple of days prior which gave us some faith that we weren’t alone!

Khargush Border Post

Khargush Border Post

Khargush Border Post

Khargush Border Post

We were now driving along the Afghanistan border and spending most of our time looking into Afghanistan, the Tajik side is generally quite steep next to the track and therefore your eye is inevitably drawn across the river. After a few kms and numerous stops for photo’s we found a fast flowing creek of lovely snow melt water and stopped to fill our water tanks. Out of the car only minutes, we were greeted by a local herder who promptly invited us up to his house for the now familiar milk tea! Upon arrival we were met by his wife and with the usual Central Asian hospitality, out came a large assortment of food.

Tajik Family Visit

Tajik Family Visit 

Central Asian Hospitality

Central Asian Hospitality

First was milk tea and then bread with butter that they had churned themselves, yoghurt and a very strong flavored goat(?) cheese biscuit thing! 2 of their 3 daughters arrived home from herding the goats and joined us for our discussion of life in Tajikistan. It was a great visit and we found out that they sometimes host bicycle tourists in need of accommodation, which is a great boost to their income.

Getting out of sight for the night was again a challenge especially when we had seen an Afghan gentleman in a flak jacket running for no apparent reason on the opposite side of the river but we managed to hide behind some small hills on an old paddock, which served us well. Views across to Afghanistan and the 7000m+ mountains of Pakistan beyond were astounding and we spent some time just soaking up the vista and trying to come to terms with the fact that we were finally camped in this location after all of our planning!

Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan!

Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan! 

The next day the Wakhan valley began to come alive with fantastic driving mixed with awe inspiring scenery that took your breathe away!

Interesting Driving!

Interesting Driving! 

We were now driving along roads that have been cut into the faces of the mountains with, at times, hundreds of meters of very steep scree slope between us and the river. Much of the terrain the road is carved through is conglomerate and looking up at massive rocks that seem only to be held in place by a little mud smattered around them is very disconcerting! I know they come down regularly as you can see them strewn all over the place but I guess you’d have to be unlucky….??!!

Rocky Overhangs!

Rocky Overhangs! 

Slowly the valley thickens with inhabitants and townships, lots of home stay signs and the odd small shop. The people of the Wakhan are amazingly friendly; you actually end up with a sore arm from waving back at all the locals!

Friendly Locals

Friendly Locals

Our day consisted once again of many stops for photo’s and relaxation and included a fantastic detour up a very steep and quite narrow track encompassing many tight switchbacks to ancient Yamchun Fort – certainly the best to be seen in the valley with remnant watchtowers and an incredible cliff top location. A rapid gain in elevation provided stunning views of the valley and if not for the wind we’d probably have camped up there.

Yamchun Fort

Yamchun Fort

Yamchun Fort

Yamchun Fort

Campsites were again a little tricky and we settled on a low spot along the river amongst some shrubs, which left us just visible to the road. Just settled in for dinner and the Tajik army spotted us and informed us that it wasn’t safe as we were too close to Afghanistan and should move on and stay in one of the towns. They were looking out for our safety I guess but to put you in perspective there isn’t anything on the other side of the river except very steep mountains and hardly any settlements of any sort. We finished dinner and began packing up, Jen said did you hear that and my response was “Yep – that was a high-powered rifle!,” followed closely by 2 more rounds sailing off somewhere into the valley! 

We packed up with a little more purpose at this point and pulled back onto to the road and as we did the Tajik army were on there way back to make sure we’d moved on. Anyway it was probably just a farmer letting a few rounds go, I imagine if it had been cross border action there would have been more than 3 rounds but it still put the wind up us a little. It was now dark and after about 10km the next town appeared and we parked in someone’s yard behind a bus stop! No one bothered us and that was the end of the excitement.

Bus Stop Camp

Bus Stop Camp 

Majestic mountains are the backdrop of the Wakhan -Afghanistan and Pakistan look equally inviting as you travel along the river, it’s hard not to be inspired by the view.

Afghan Village

Afghan Village

The last stretch of the Wakhan and we were now heading toward Ishkashim and Khorog and to date we hadn’t seen another overlander! However after rounding a bend we came head to head with the Turtle Expedition.

Turtle V

Turtle V

Turtle Expedition

Turtle Expedition

If you have experienced overland travel or are thinking about it and have been spending some time perusing the net then you more than likely have come across these guys. Anyway if you haven’t then here is their website – take a look!

www.turtleexpedition.com

Being familiar with Gary and Monika’s travel history and their current journey meant meeting them was a real bonus for us as they are a wealth of information.

We ended up spending a couple of hours on the side of the road with them sharing stories, discussing our vehicle setup and swapping suggestions regarding our respective itineraries and hope to see them again. Maybe in the US at Overland Expo!

Gary and Monika had given us some great advice regarding Khorog such as where we could park, get internet and the like – we take this info when we can as it can be a challenge finding these things on your own! Back on the road toward Khorog and another passport check came into view but this one turned out to be a little ugly.  I exited the Patrol with passports in hand as I always do and was greeted with some locals sitting around the office obviously insulting me in the local dialect, no problem I just insulted them in my dialect and all was Ok! Whilst I was in the office with the first unfriendly Tajik I’d met, Jen was in the car and unbeknown to me a camouflage wearing individual and then a local in his usual goat herding attire were attempting to get her to open up the camper, she could see them making gestures to others behind the vehicle in the rear view camera and they were watching to see that I was still inside the office. Jen knew they didn’t have any right to look inside the vehicle and when they became quite aggressive she gave them a firm NO and proceeded to ignore them until they gave up! I didn’t know about this until I was back in the Patrol and by then they’d all scurried off.

Only a couple of hours earlier Gary and Monika had told us that Monika always does any type of paperwork check whilst Gary locks the doors and stays in the truck, the local men aren’t as comfortable dealing with women and are less likely to become difficult, so our strategy has now changed and we follow theirs!  So far the new strategy is working a charm!

It was late afternoon by the time we made it to Khorog so we decided to camp and head into town the next day for a look around.

We drove up the Pamir Hwy back to the east for about 40km as we wanted to have a taste of this section of the Pamir Hwy as well and figured we’d had enough of camping on the Afghanistan border….

It was looking a little tricky until I noticed a rough and ready soccer pitch as we passed through a small town, a track leading in was found and camp set. A few locals wandered by during the afternoon, they had an assortment of farm animals tethered around the ground for the day and were in the process of retrieving them as evening approached.

Khorog is the location where most of the violence seems to occur between different local clan’s and is the area that has the most direct bearing on whether the GBAO permit is suspended. Due to the publicity, which is always negative around this town, we were expecting a war zone. The plan had been to get in, get fuel and get out!

To say we were wrong would be a big understatement, Khorog turned out to be as friendly as the Wakhan, laid out with lovely parks and cafe’s, a public swimming area teaming with families cooling off in the mid day sun and generally a warm and welcoming vibe! There is however no doubt this town has suffered its share of bloodshed even as recently as mid June and probably will again.  The tranquility we encountered makes you realize just how fast things can change.

Khorog

Khorog

Khorog

Khorog 

Continuing toward Dushanbe we enjoyed the now spoilt feeling of having too much lovely scenery, an easy day resulting in camp being found up the Bartang Valley and about 10km from the Afghanistan border.

We were hoping to continue toward Dushanbe along the Pamir Hwy (the M41) but had been told that the road was closed and we’d need to travel a longer route to the south on the newer all year road. We were disappointed at this news, as I’d been led to believe some of the best scenery lies along the main Pamir Hwy. Disappointment was short-lived however as we found the road had been reopened and although in poor condition we would be allowed to traverse it!

The road didn’t let us down and did provide some of the most amazing scenery whilst affording us a respite from the rising temperatures as we were able to camp at around 3000m again and enjoy some cool night air!

Wildflowers everywhere!

Wildflowers everywhere!

Eventually the road improved and as we got closer to Dushanbe the traffic became fast and furious as it does in this part of the world! We had our first of 2 police stops along this road as, aside from the frequent passport checks, to date we hadn’t even drawn a Police officers eye in Tajikistan. The first stop ended as abruptly as it began – as soon as he realised we were tourists he just waved us on!

The second was a little different, Jen jumped out as per our new strategy and after a brief discussion he wouldn’t deal with her and made his way to my window, beginning with the usual handshake he then proceeded to point to the speedo suggesting I’d been speeding! I pointed to the in-car camera and said your on it and that was the end of that, he slithered back across the road to his patrol car and we departed!

I didn’t find the city overly inspiring and it was very hot which probably didn’t help so we pretty much made a transit and continued toward Uzbekistan. We fuelled up as close to the border as we could and made camp around 20km from the crossing. Jen gets credit here as she found a road up a valley and located us a great camp on a fast flowing creek between some villages and completely out of sight.

Overloaded maybe?

Overloaded maybe?

You can never have too many watermelons!

You can never have too many watermelons!

Local Road Sense

Local Road Sense

More local chaos

More local chaos

Hidden Camp

Hidden Camp 

Crossing into Uzbekistan was very efficient and consisted of a lot of paperwork. The Patrol received a full X-ray scan followed by sniffer dogs and a physical search! You have to list all foreign currency you are in possession of and should you try and leave the country with more than that declared it will be confiscated!

The rules go on and on and there was a moment when I wondered if it was worth the hassle?

Depends who is interpreting the rules but to stay on the safe side you are not allowed to camp and must hotel it every night and receive a registration stamp from the Hotel!

It’s a shame that these rules are in place as we passed many great campsites in the first 200km of the border crossing and I’ve no doubt we would have spent a lot more time and money here had we had a little more freedom! Driving toward Qarshi where we hoped to find some accommodation was like being in hell! Dead flat whitish landscape with mid 40 degree temperatures and the land sporadically peppered with large chimneys emitting the flame associated with gas production, it was very eerie!  As Uzbekistan has large reserves of gas most vehicles are or have been converted to gas powered and hence diesel and even petrol can be hard to find with many travellers having to resort to buying it from roadside vendors selling it in recycled plastic water bottles!

Our information for Qarshi was non existent so we drove around a little looking for somewhere to stay and eventually found a local hotel but unfortunately the establishment also has to be registered in order to accept foreigners so we were out of luck!  Jen met a restaurant owner whom in realizing our needs insisted on piling into the Patrol with us (yep 3 in the cab again!) and proceeded to direct us to some Hotels, quick goodbye’s and he was on his way!! How nice was that!

The heat and flat terrain persisted and then we were treated to strong wind squalls laden with dust.  Bukhara came into view and with it the terrain relaxed back into friendly surrounds with trees and greenery.

Desert Driving

Desert Driving 

I don’t know how we managed it but we ended up parking 100m from the accommodation we’d booked before deciding we were in the wrong place and moving a little further away, Jen asked a local shop owner for directions and yep you guessed it! She locked up her shop and there were 3 in the Patrol again, she directed us right back to where we’d previously been parked! We located the Salom Inn Hotel on foot and after parking the Patrol in a secure parking lot settled down to a cold beverage and a wander around this very old and interesting city. Dinner was had at Minzifa rooftop restaurant with the sun fading to a red hue as it dipped below the desert and the hassle of entering Uzbekistan seemed to be a distant memory!

Trading Domes

Trading Domes

Lyabi Hauz

Lyabi Hauz

Kalon Minaret

Kalon Minaret 

Beautiful architecture

Beautiful architecture

We had a great couple of nights in Bukhara and wandering around the old city was absolutely sensational, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the fact that it’s definitely been tricked up to encourage the tourist dollar but the atmosphere was absolutely warm and welcoming and the detour to this ancient city was well justified.

We are now in Samarkand staying at the Emir B&B and have spent the day looking around this more modern city. I’m a little Mosqued out to be honest and tonight will include some cold drinks and a relax. Tomorrow we head for Tashkent and then back into Kazakhstan and no doubt the next experience with the Police Academy cadets! Looking forward to that….

Shahi Zindra

Shahi Zindra