Wednesday, 15 September 2010

1. Dushanbe to Khorog

 When we arrived at Dushanbe airport, the scary plane ride to Khorog wasn't going, so made our way to the taxi station where you can hire 4WDs for the journey. The station was dusty, dirty and poor, with a store selling biscuits and tea, and the first of many very disgusting toilets. I felt happy as soon as I got there.

We cut a deal for 150 Somani (35 EUR) per person to go in the back of a Mitsubishi Pajero. The hierarchy of 4WDs is, in ascending order:
  1. UAZ (pronounced Wox) - basic green Soviet-era jeeps, but very fixable
  2. Pajero
  3. Toyota Landcruiser
Our driver Petrus turned out to be super reliable, driving safely but fast when he could -- not often -- and bribing cops smoothly at the ten or so checkpoints we hit during the ride.

Tajik roads are dreadful. At best they are like a very old English country lane. At worst, it is more comfortable to drive off-road: the bumps in the road are harder to anticipate. After a few days, we got used to constantly being shaken up and down, and it became oddly soothing.

We got to Khorog in 15 hours, which the guys at the guesthouse said was an incredibly good time. Every few hours we stopped to stretch our legs and buy fruit from village kids, or eat. It was Ramadan, but you don't need to fast if you are traveling: despite this, one of our fellow-passengers did. He was a Tajik returning from Moscow. Emigration to Russia for work is common in all the stans, and a lot of people bemoan the brain drain.

A lot of the road passes along the Afghan border, which is formed by the Amu-Darya (Oxus) river. The difference is striking: Tajikistan seems poor, but it has roads and electricity. Afghanistan looks unchanged since the middle ages.

We arrived at the very nice Pamir Lodge, around midnight, and got the last free room. In the morning, Khorog looked poor and messy. (But next time we arrived, on our way back from Murghab, it would seem large, rich and colourful.)