Tajikistan #1 – A warm welcome

by | Mar 14, 2017 | Blogs, Central Asia, Overland, Silk road, Tajikistan, Uncategorized

We are in Tajikistan! The country that was probably the highest on our list the moment we started this trip. Why? We don’t really know. We are not the kind of people that read a lot about a place before we get there. But what we knew is that there are mountains: The Pamir range contains some of the highest and roughest mountains of the world and more than 50% of the country is above 3.000 meter. And then there is the famous Pamir highway: the second highest highway in the world. Well… highway? More about that later. But what about the culture? And the people? We are curious too! In this first (out of 3) blogs about our adventures in Tajikistan, we share our great first encounter with this remote and wild country in Central Asia.

A place for the night

When we enter Tajikistan it is not like the pictures we had in our mind: the landscape is green and flat. Of course the mountains don’t start the moment we cross the border. But in the far distance we see the first snow capped peaks. The first hours in a new country we always feel a bit lost and curious: How are the people? What are their habits? What places are safe? What are the most important words we need to learn? The good thing is: in Tajikistan we can use our Farsi (Language of Iran) again: Tajiks are related to the Persians and so is their language. The next important thing is to find a safe spot to sleep for the night. The first village we come across, we see a green patch next to the river, this will do for the night. There are children hanging around, but they seem a bit shy and not coming our way. It is quiet! And we are happy to have some time to settle in our new country.

But when we are preparing dinner, more and more people are coming. They are very curious and keep on inviting us to their homes. We are tired, but “shouldn’t we always say yes to these kind of things?” we say to each other, we know that this always results in the best memories.  We decide to accept the invitation of Farhod, a young guy of 17 years old. A few moments later we drive our bus into the small alleys of Tursunzoda and they offer us to park our bus on their land. The gate is just big enough to drive slowly through. We drink tea together with Farhod, his mother and his brother, and they insist in making us a second dinner. When it is time to go to go to bed, we are invited to sleep in their airconditioned room. What a beautiful big house! Most of the family members are working in Russia, like a lot of other Tajik people. The house they build themselves and it is way too big for the three of them. But when they all return from Russia they are planning to live here together. The house is huge and you can see that is is newly build, but their priorities are different then we would expect: the house has the luxury of airconditioning and at the same time there seems to be no running water and no inside toilet. In the garden we can wash our hands at the old-fashioned pump and the toilet is still a hole in the ground in the back of the garden. 

The next day Farhod takes us on a sightseeing tour in Tursunzoda. He is proud of his town, that is pretty clear. The highlight of his tour is the bustling bazaar: what a great atmosphere! The women selling shiny fresh breads and sweets, the man cutting the meats and selling all kinds of tools. All of them want to offer us something or have a photo taken with them. We feel very welcome!

When we come back to the house of Farhod a lot of women and children have gathered to meet us. One of the neighbours wants to model my messy “travel” eyebrows. She appears to be a professional and when she is done threading them, she thinks they also need some colour. To make their own eyebrows darker, they use juice from of some kind of green leaves. Other women also start to do their eyebrows. Some make a nice monobrow of it. That is not really my style. But, just some colour: why not? But as she is putting more and more of the green stuff on my eyebrows I suddenly realize… this won’t work on my very blond hairs! And yes, after she is finished my eyebrows are… green! Quite hilarious of course. But she has a solution: with some chemical colour and then – for the first time in my life – I have eyebrows. And it actually looks quite good! The women start to dress me all up in Tajik clothes and then it is picture time. Then we have to say goodbye already: we are off to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Only 24 hours in Tajikistan and – thanks to this great family – we feel very welcome!

Getting ready for the mountains

Where shall we go for the night? With temperatures close to 40 degrees in the daytime, cities are not the best place to be. I would love a campsite with a lake, but that’s not possible here, I think by myself. Then we see an artificial lake on the map, just 10 kilometer north of Dushanbe. When we arrive at the place we are surprised: it really looks like a relaxed place to spend the night. Unfortunately we are not allowed to stay after sunset, but the young owners make an exception for us and we are allowed to stay there for the night! In the evening we have the place to ourselves and because we are out of the city, the temperature in our bus drops just below a do-able 30 degrees in the night. We are happy!

The next days we are on a mission in Dushanbe: posting some spare parts to Mercedes enthousiasts in the Netherlands, finding a replacement for the charger of our laptop which we forgot in Uzbekistan and getting the bus ready for the most difficult stretch of our journey up till now: the Pamir. Dushanbe is a real hub for overlanders: we meet our cyclist friends again and people on motorbikes and landcruisers coming from the other side and who just did the Pamir. “Things will break”, they ensure us. “The roads are terrible and the altitude makes it even more difficult.” Even for their relatively new 4x4? Hmm.. we get a bit nervous. How will Abi handle this? We go to a workshop to check the brakes, repair the exhaust and check the suspension. Roderick keeps talking in Tajik with the mechanics and it is a great way to make friends! For lunch we invited byt he mechanics to the canteen of the workshops and we eat a dish we never eat before: khorotop. A dish made out of layers of crunchy dough, creamy yoghurt, tomatoes and lots of coriander: it’s delicious!

On the way we are surprised by the development of Dushanbe. We even have a break at a cafe where they serve Segafredo coffee! And the cars that drive around here… we didn’t see so many range rovers, landcruisers, etcetera in a long time! Is it the opium trade in this area? Or are this just some rich Tajik that make a lot of money in for example Moscow? But although it is a quiet developed city, even here we are not able to find the charger of our laptop… We checked nine shops, but none of them seem to have the charger we are looking for. What to do? No charger, means no laptop… But that evening we get lucky: we ask around in our network of cyclists and other crazy people driving this regions and tomorrow a few people who are doing the Mongol Rally will arrive in Dushanbe! With our charger, we are very happy!

Test drive in the Fann Mountains

We leave Dushanbe and drive north towards Iskander Kul: a beautiful lake in the Fann mountains. A great test drive before the Pamir. First we give Abi some extra love and care: we do an oil and filter change at an abandoned – but completely new! – garage just north of the city. Somewhat further on our way we have to pass the Tunnel of Death (Anzob Tunnel): a 5 km long pitch black tunnel through the mountains. We heard many horror stories about it: no ventilation, CO2 poisoning when there are traffic jams in the tunnel, a very bad road and sometimes a river makes its way through it. We are counting the kilometer till we are there and are quite nervous. But when we get there we drive with a steady speed of 50 km through the tunnel; unbelievable!

The last part to the lake we drive over a dirt road and then we hear a loud noise and the exhaust is down again.. What to do in the middle of nowhere? But Roderick is very inventive and fixes it with a piece of iron in half an hour. Just before it is getting dark we arrive at Iskander Kul: a bright blue lake, surrounded by steep mountains. We are so happy to be back in the mountains after months! We park our bus on the steep shores. The temperature is nice and cool and it makes us feel fresh and relaxed directly. And what do you do on a cool and cozy evening? We get out our fold-able oven and then it is time to make a peach crumble!

Next day we drive further towards a village in the mountains called Sarytag. The dirt road gets worse and worse and we are in doubt if we can make it with our bus. Then we meet John and Lorraine in their Landcruiser. People seem to attract people so all of a sudden a Tajik man appears out of nowhere and gets out of his car. He turns up the music and starts showing off: while his golden teeth are shimmering in the sunlight, he moves his hips and his hands to the music. After a while his wife is joining too. Great show in the middle of the mountains! 

We decide to take our chances and drive up the small and steep dirt road. When we cross the pass the landscape gets more and more green and a beautiful mountain valley unfolds in front of us, surrounded by steep cliffs. Yaahooow, we made it! Just after the village we find a spot at a small stream, where a French and a Spanish guy who are hitchhiking around the world made their camp. We join them and the next days we enjoy our time in the mountains a lot. We explore the surrounding tracks. When we walk up, we get an even better view of the impressive beauty of this area. In the distance we see a high valley with a stream running through it, and we have a panoramic view of peaks of 4.000 meter and higher around us. We end up at a small summer village where only women are living. An older woman walks by and gets fresh milk which she carries in a bucket on her head. In front of on the clay houses a couple is making butter of the milk of their cows, which are walking freely around in the meadows.  In a long wooden bucket they beat the milk into butter. Of course we would like to try this too, but to find the right rhythm and not be covered in milk is actually quite difficult! They invite us for a cup of tea and we eat there delicious creamy yoghurt which has a little smokey taste to it because of the wood fire it was prepared on. It is so tasty! After this great break we hike back down to our van before it gets dark.

On the small dirt road, passing our bus, every now and then a group of donkeys with heaps of wood on their back walk by, a few shepherds take shelter at our bus during heavy rain and we give them a cup of tea. It is cold and rainy and we enjoy being in our bus and trying to make some food of the leftover we have. And every time when we think: now all the good things are finished, we manage to make a great meal! We collect water from the river and our water filter makes it ready to drink. We feel the energy flowing back in our mind and body. It is so good to have some fresh and cool air again! We use our time to catch up with writing and photos and checking the bus. And after the rain we have a walk along the river. The  beams of sunlight heat up the mountains and the clouds are slowly rising up. What an amazing place!

On our last day on this beautiful spot we are getting ready for the next step: crossing the Pamir! We tighten all the screws inside our car, fix the exhaust properly and make the solar panel on the roof more stable. After 4 days in this amazing north western part of Tajikistan it is time to leave again. We would have loved to explore this area more, but our visa only allows us to stay 30 days in Tajikistan. More mountains are waiting for us towards the remote east of Tajikistan: let’s get ready for the Pamir! We stock up on vegetables, pasta and canned food: for the next couple of weeks there might not be a lot! Full with diesel, water and food we start our first km’s south on the A385 towards the border with Afghanistan. We are ready to explore the uninhabited east of Tajikistan. We are excited and really hope we and Abi will make it over this rough roads and high altitudes. Read more about our adventures in Tajikistan soon!

Below the first part of our Tajik adventures in photo and video, enjoy!

And if you like to leave a comment, scroll all the way to the end. Always happy to hear your feedback or questions!