I stay in Bishkek for three weeks. There is a lot to arrange. Visas for Tajikistan, Iran and Turkmenistan require a lot of time. Tajikistan is reasonably smoothly. Within a few days I have my e-visa. Iran needs almost three weeks to email a code with which I can get a visa directly at the embassy. Turkmenistan takes little time in Bishkek, but after 3 weeks I receive the invitation for a visa by email while I am already on my way on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. I can pick up the 5-day transit visa in Dushanbe.
The three weeks in Bishkek are absolutely not annoying. After long journeys, it is occasionally useful, but it is also necessary to take a seat once in a while. Being able to enjoy the benefits of a city. Good Internet, a nice shower, good restaurants and a washing machine. Even a wonderfully cooling swimming pool behind Piggy. Tunduk Hostel (www.tunduk-hostel.kg) offers all this. There is pleasant company. Together with my neighbor Steph (Youtube: GrizzlyNbear Overland) I visit Karin-Marijke and Coen (https://landcruisingadventure.com/ig/) A niece of Karin is visiting and brought my “Carnet de Passage” for South Asia which was sent to the Netherlands. Applying for this at the DAC (The German ANWB) took a total of around three weeks. Sending to the Netherlands is faster and less time-consuming than with the expensive DHL to Kyrgyzstan. When everything is settled, I leave Bishkek with pain in my heart on my way to the next adventure: The Pamir Highway and the Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan. (Read also Wakhan Corridor)
Kyrgyzstan is known for its beautiful landscapes. It attracts many tourists. Tourism has risen to record levels in recent years. I regularly meet people from Europe in particular who travel independently in this country for two or three weeks. The flights are cheap and they travel around the country with a rental car. That’s another way to do it. I arrive in Osh via winding roads, dark tunnels and a beautiful vast reservoir. 10 years ago there was great bloody unrest in this region due to ethnic violence. A few hundred deaths were the result. There still seems to be mutual tension between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks (who are in the majority here). As an outsider I don’t notice this, but it is good to stay alert. The tensions can mainly be traced back to the whimsical border between the two countries, where the fertile Fergana valley, belonging to Uzbekistan, is penetrating Kyrgyzstan as a benign lump. The strange border was formed after the Soviet Union fell apart. As my visa for Tajikistan only starts on August 20, I stay in Osh for a few days, enjoying the aforementioned city benefits.
The M41, colloquially called the Pamir Highway, already starts in Osh. The road to the Tajik border is asphalted and in reasonable condition. Far before the border, the snowy peaks of the Pamir loom. Lenin Peak, Russia Peak, Karl Marx Peak, English Peak and more. All around 7000 m and all of them mountains for which many alpinist blood will flow faster. The communist names are gradually being replaced by local ones, but the romanticism of the old names has disappeared. Five hundred meters before the border I park Piggy behind a hill to spend the night. Tomorrow I want to cross the border early in the morning to avoid the crowds. In the meantime I am at over 4000 meters. The night is cold and the next morning I wake up in a white world. Piggy is also covered by a thin layer of snow. What a beautiful sight. Piggy is hard to get to grips with in this cold at this altitude. Eventually he wakes up burping and a thick black soot cloud breaks out.
I pick up 2 lifters on the 20 km stretch of no man’s land between the Kyrgyz and Tajik border posts. An Italian backpacker who could not get a further lift and an Israeli who was not allowed to cross the border overland to Kyrgyzstan. A story apart. Together with two friends, he is a participant in the crazy Mongol Rally. A trip from Europe via Mongolia to the end point Ulan Ude on Lake Baikal in Siberia. The vehicles may not be heavier than 1200 cc. So small cars, bought second-hand for little money and driven by enthusiastic young people in their twenties. I will encounter many on the Pamir Highway. Last year I even saw a participant on an old Vespa scooter near the Mongolian-Russian border. This Israeli had irreparable damage to his Fiat Panda, after which he and his friends decided to leave the car behind and hitchhike to Bishkek to buy another old barrel and continue the rally. The friends had a double passport so that they could enter Kyrgyzstan unhindered. But he had to travel back to Dushanbe to take the plane to Bishkek, For him the only way to enter the country is by plane. The Tajik border formalities also run smoothly here. I am even welcomed in Tadjikistan. My visa is valid for 45 days. However, with your own transport, your means of transport, car, truck or motorcycle is only allowed for 15 days. Later I could extend this period, the extrovert and English speaking officer assures. He even gives me his phone number, because if there are problems with this extension then “you should call me!” My first stop is on the edge of Lake Karakul. I have to drive a long way through the dust before I reach the water. But not too close because the ground there is so soft that I notice that I am leaving deep marks through the soft soil. There is a strong wind. I park Piggy in such a way that I can enjoy the setting sun with a glass of wine in the shelter on my landing. The azure blue water and the snowy mountains all around form a beautiful backdrop for many photos.
Because it gets cold quickly I go to bed early. At 10 pm. There is a loud knocking on my door. I thought I was the only person at this place, but this seems not to be true. Two young boys, British, judging by their accent, ask me if I can help to pull them out of the mud. With their Mongol Rally car they have driven too far to the waterfront and are hopelessly stuck. How lucky for them that I am so near . At the moment I am not in the mood to perform a rescue in the middle of an icy storm in the darkness. I promise to help them next morning. This cold night, the three of them will have to spend the night in the small Honda Civic.
The next morning my winch turns out to be a useful accessory again. In order not to get stuck myself, I don’t get too close to the water. The winch cable of 40 meters appears to be too short. Extended with 2 towing cables I just reach the stranded car. Furthermore, it is a piece of cake. Always nice to see happy faces.
The ride on one of the highest roads in the world is an unforgettable experience. The highest pass here is almost 4700 m high. The route takes you past azure blue lakes and rugged mountains. No tree or bush to be seen, just some withered grass. The mountains display many shades of the color palette, red, yellow, green, white and everything in between. I pass the town of Murghab, where it can freeze 60 degrees in the winter. And yet people live there. The condition of the road surface is downright bad. Some parts are asphalted, but on closer inspection the real off-road routes are better than the asphalted ones. During this period I am certainly not the only one who uses this path. Tourism is also booming in Tajikistan. I regularly come across other overlanders. Most are world cyclists. Hats off. Followed by motorcyclists, then the Toyota Landcruisers and the like and only 3 camper trucks. As in Mongolia, there is no problem finding a camping spot. Around 3 o’clock I hit a dirt road somewhere that leads to a remote settlement and find a suitable place between the mountains and the mountain marmots as my neighbors. Sometimes a shepherd passes by with his herd of sheep. Always friendly people.
You need a permit for the Pamir and that is checked at some places along the road. After personal and car data are written in a notebook you can continue your way.
After three days I reach the border river between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the Panj. The road becomes narrower and sometimes runs directly along the impetuously flowing river. Large trailers also use this road. You can often see oncoming traffic ahead on time so that you can pick out a wider area in time to make it possible to pass. The large trailers do not appear to have any problems with passing. Sometimes a few centimeters away from the abyss. This is a daily job for them.
I usually spend the night on the edge of the river where the valley is somewhat wider. Sometimes some soldiers come by to say that I should not be too close to the river or Afghanistan. But they are never unfriendly. You regularly come across small patrols of 4 to 5 men who walk along the road with a distance of 20 meters. Not much is left of the few old forts along the border. They often have a beautiful view over the valley, so they are usually worth a visit.
For a long time I keep following the route along the Afghan border. Finally the road bends north. 2 more days and then I will arrive in the capital Dushanbe. Another big city with western conveniences. I meet Andy and Bianca (www.womoeglich.at) whom I met a few months ago in Krasnoyarsk (Russia). They also ride a Steyr. Within a short time, a third Steyr from a German couple arrives. I have never seen three Steyrs in one place before. The group will be complete when Klaas and Anneke (www.klaas2sa.waarbenjijnu) arrive with their Toyota Landcruiser
At the Turkmen embassy I pick up my five-day transit visa. Entry and exit dates are set at 5 October and 9 October.
Enough time to visit Uzbekistan first.
The plan to visit Iran is within reach. If political developments permit, I will then cross the Strait of Hormuz to stay in Oman for a while during the winter. Then we will see further.
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW OF GHT OVERLAND PODCAST:
TAKE A LOOK AT PHOTO’S AND VIDEO’S OF RUSSIA, KAZACHSTAN, KYRGYSTAN, TADZJIKISTAN
MY PORTFOLIO OF MY TRAVELS FROM 1987 CAN BE SEEN AND/OR BOUGHT HERE AT STOCK PHOTO AGENCY