May 10, 2013
I am not a fan of waking up before the sun rises, and today was no exception. The upside, of course, was that I was leaving Dushanbe for the exotic mountains and valleys of Tajikistan. I arrived at the rendezvous point early and waited for my Toyota Land Cruiser to arrive. It was a bit late, but the owner of the vehicle, who I had negotiated the terms over the hawker’s cell phone, was in the back seat and confirmed the agreement, which was a truly impressive bit of customer service here or anywhere.
I had to pay up front for the ride, which is unusual, but I was the only passenger in the car at the time and our passenger pickup would be 4 hours into the trip. With the tank at a quarter full, I didn’t mind obliging. In the town of Vose, our passengers were a family of 5 and a student. The father of the family helps run an English and Russian language school in Khorog, our destination, and thus, he was a pleasant person to talk with when he wasn’t tending to his 3 young ones.
From Vose, it is a long climb to the pass before dropping down to the Pyanj river. However, before that could happen, our driver, whether out of laziness or mindlessness, left the car in 2nd gear and we needed 15 minutes to cool the engine before carrying on. Once down to the Pyanj River, I was wide eyed with excitement and curiosity because that river creates the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. We would follow that river for the next 12 hours or so.
Often the border is two cliff faces or steep mountains staring at each other. Other times it opens up enough so that a village of mud brick huts can exist between the river banks and the mountains behind, but people aren’t commonly seen. Believe me, I was looking. In a few places, the houses were nice enough to have a few modern convenience, a satellite dish being the most obvious of these. I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t tempted to pick up a stone and hit Afghanistan with it. It was that close in places. I just stared, amazed that a river with guard towers on each side (many more on the Tajikistan side) is the difference between a country that has yet to enter the 21st century due to near constant war and another that put it’s own civil war (1991) aside to do so. For that reason, the trip, along with the dramatic landscapes, with well worth the price of the trip.
We were more or less on schedule until the college student needed the car to pull over several times to deal with his car sickness. Thus, it was pitch dark when we arrived in Khorog and I was very thankful that they dropped me at my guesthouse.
I dropped my bags and discovered that the town was more or less closed for the night, despite being 9PM. So, I ate what food I had on me and went to brush my teeth. While walking back to my room, I saw a familiar face. Max. Max and Sjoerd had arrived about 30 minutes after myself and they were a welcome site. Max and Sjoerd were going to the Wakhan Valley, which would make the trip through Tajikistan longer, more interesting, and cheaper for all of us. Tomorrow would be a trip to the market in Ishkashim, but first, some rest.