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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 20.07.2017

The country which was not originally on our route!

Tajikistan, June 2017

We left Uzbekistan in Sariosiyo and drove towards the departure place. The border looked left alone, like died out and there were only two Italian motor cyclist waiting to pass. Maybe the officials were fighting against boredom as they couldn't resist to climb into Akela and rummage through some of the drawers.
However, they didn't find anything which was of interest to them as camera, mobile phone and medicine was normal on board of a camping vehicle, which made us move on to their Tajik colleagues after just about an hour. As usual the officials were very friendly and it could have turned out to be the fastest crossing of borders if it hadn't been for the “road fee” - the amount of money you have to pay to be allowed to use the local roads.
They charged us $25 (fee for cars) in the first place, but when Leander drove up in the truck they increased this amount to $100 (fee for trucks). Leander insisted on the note in the automobile registration which said that Akela was a car, not a truck, yet due to its size, he did so in vain. Our good old vehicle weighs 10 tons – and doesn't really look a bit like a normal sized car. Since trying to convince the officials that Akela IS a car and not a truck was not successful, we banged the $100 on their table, got into Akela and drove off.

When still in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, we had heard of a mechanic in Dushanbe, who had worked for Mercedes in Germany and who we wanted to take Akela to before starting the Pamir Highway.We wanted Anar, the mechanic, to closely inspect Akela as his good reputation made us trust him to do this job well.
We had a completely new driving experience when using the street to Dushanbe as the road was in an amazing condition, something we hadn't had for a long time in Uzbekistan. Consequently, time passed very quickly when driving the 70 kilometers from the border to the capital city. It still had turned rather late when we arrived in the city.
On our navigation system – maps.me – it looked as if there should be enough space around the workshed to stop there but as it had happened before, it looked different in reality when we arrived there. Oh how did we adore looking for a suitable pitch within a city for our 10-ton vehicle! Since we weren't able to find anything, I opened my window and asked a young man for help in finding one.
He didn't know either where to put our huge truck, but it was still very amusing as Abdul was able to speak German since he had been working in Cologne for some years. After we had stopped Akela near a garbage dump, Abdul invited us to have dinner with him. We greatfully followed him and enjoyed the lovely food his sister had cooked for us. The next day he assisted us to get money in an exchange house and to achieve a Tajik SIM card.
As Abdul strictly obeyed to the rules and laws of Ramadan, he put down our offer to at least have a glass of water in one of the cafés with us as it had to be 8 o'clock in the evening before he was allowed to drink or eat again. We had been walking around a lot in high temperatures and this had resulted in us being really exhausted in the evening and made us go to bed.

As we had been able to arrange a time to meet with Anar in the garage, we knew that we had to be there at 9 o'clock in the morning. We instantly liked Anar, native Azerbaijani and married with a tajik woman. The next few days were rather unspectacular. Anar's employees weren't able to find any major defects in Akela, the generator which had been mounted rather badly in Uzbekistan was regarded as safe, the mileage counter, which had up to then been broken twice already, was fixed and some other small bits and pieces checked. Leander stocked up on “Liqui Moly” products, which Anar sold in his garage. After his appointment in Anar's workshop, Akela should be suitable for the Pamir Highway.

However, before going there we had planned to take a short side trip to the Fann Mountains, north of Dushanbe. These mountains make up a mountain range in Pamir and are bordered by two rivers. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan share borders with this stunning hiking area and lake district, whose highest peaks partly reach a height of 5,000 meters.

Before we were leaving, Anar and his family invited us to come with them into a beer garden and I do have to admit that its similarity to an Austrian pavement café felt really good. We were sitting outside on wooden furniture, above us there were huge mulberry trees not chestnut trees in comparison to Austria, where we usually have chestnut trees, and we were drinking homemade wheat beer accompanied by barbecued meat and salad. 
The only missing objects were dirndl dresses and leather trousers worn by the staff, but apart from that it was really authentic. At last we could go back into nature, a place we had all been long yearning for. Since we had been driving through sand, dust, desert, heat and cities for weeks and months we were really keen on going hiking and swimming again.

The roads into the Fann mountains were really good and we went as far as Alaudin Lake. Though we had arrived at the village of Sarvoda, which was located at the crossroads leading to Alaudin Lake in no time, trouble started soon afterwards. 
The roads became more and more narrow, muddy and very difficult to drive on. It took us a really long time to get to the village of Pasrud, from which the road led further to the lake. In this village we asked many local people if the road to the lake was suitable for our truck as it didn't look that way at all. “Oh, karascho-karascho”, they kept saying, which more or less means no problem. 
We were not really convinced yet started driving on the road anyway. Unluckily we didn't get very far and had serious problems already after just few meters. The road was steep, huge rocks lay on the road and all this in combination with very big potholes. Furthermore, it was only about as wide as our Akela and included many serpentines. 
I got out of Akela fairly often to walk ahead and check out the road first. I guess my facial expression didn't help to trigger motivation when we had to pass really tricky sections on that road. We were driving extremely carefully and slowly until we reached a spot which appeared too dangerous for us to get through. 
On one side of the road there was a mountain around which the road was meandering along, and on the other side there was a steep abyss leading down numerous meters to a powerful stream in a gorge. The road seemed just about wide enough for a Lada which was approaching us in a mighty cloud of dust. Its driver got out of the car, smiled at us and also commented the road with “karascho”. Now, however, we only listened to our 'gut feeling'. This was the very first time on our journey that we decided against driving on a road. Luckily we had stopped at a place where Leander, though having mighty problems, managed to turn around. Our hearts were beating really fast and we had nearly wet our pants when we had returned safely back in the village of Sarvoda. 

The local people seemed relieved as well and each and every one of them were up and took a look at us. Sonya, a talkative and energetic Tajik woman grabbed our arms and dragged us to her house where she offered bread and chai. We accepted the invitation for dinner from another family and had to enjoy dinner in the dark as the bad weather had caused a power cut. We were sitting on blankets on the floor and had not the slightest clue what we were eating, but it tasted gorgeous! The lady of the house insisted on us staying at their house, but once again we managed to get away and to stay in Akela. 
Since it was not possible to get to the lake with Akela we planned to go there with our Honda the next day. However, even the Enduro had mighty problems at some sections of the gravel road. This had two reasons: 1. there were 2,5 passengers and their luggage on it and 2. it didn't run smoothly. Lennox and I were able to hitchhike with a jeep whose driver was also on his way to the lake. When we had reached the top we had to walk some more meters up, which wouldn't have been a problem if it hadn't been for our little mountain goat Lennox who went on strike. He was not willing to take a single step without grumbling or having a whinge. At one time his shoes were uncomfortable, then he was thirsty or hungry even though breakfast lay just behind us, then again there was a little pebble in his shoe, then he was out of breath, then he had a stich or it was simply too exhausting for him – in short – it was a big drama! 
For each of us, I have to say. We didn't have a clue what was the matter with him. At home he climbed up the local mountain without moaning, at times faster than some adults, but here he wouldn't take a step without whinging and whining. 
To manage just one meter involved a lot of motivation and care by us, which would have been justified if it had been a demanding mountain, but in fact it was only a path to a lake. I guess even my eighty year old mother would have managed without getting a heart attack. He simply had become lazy. The countless kilometers we had been driving without spending time doing anything else had left its marks. He had lost fun and ambition for walking and calling something 'boring' had become an attitude.

Our initial anger quickly turned into despair as we had hoped that Lennox, who so very much loved walking in the mountains at home would also feel more like at home here. Unluckily, this wasn't true at all and he just didn't want to walk a bit at all. His bad mood was contagious and soon Leander and I felt really bad as well and this resulted in us getting a first impression of Lake Alaudin sitting at different shores of the lake. 
After about an hour we all felt less emotional again. How dumb of us to have a disagreement at one of the most beautiful and most idyllic locations of our whole journey! It resembled an alpine pasture. A lake shining in emerald green colours lay embedded in the snowcovered mountain area. There were lush green meadows on which cows were grazing leading down to the lake and some big trees provided shadow. We had to travel quite a few kilometers to feel a bit like being at home again. And it felt so good! 
This is what made us drive to the village with our Honda and organize a taxi for the next morning to get back to this place early in the morning, but this time with our tent and gear we needed to spend a night there.

Nearly on time at eight the taxi drove up. We quickly put all our stuff into the boot and set off. The trip to the lake took a rather tiring hour and the last few meters we had to walk. Lennox was a bit more motivated to walk than the day before, which made us put up the tent and collect firewood in a very good mood.
The lake was wonderful to get a quick refreshment, but far too cold to take a longer swim – we mustn't forget that we were at a height of 3.000 meters. In the afternoon we hiked towards the glacier, but please save me from telling you what our youngster tried to do to boycott this hike! At some stages Leander and I simply started to ignore him and kept walking our speed which Lennox didn't like either, but since he didn't want to be left behind alone, he had to try to keep up. Consequently, he was running out of breath to moan and walk to keep up with us. When we came back to the tent everything was sorted again. While I was preparing dinner on the gas cooker, Leander and Lennox lit the fire as it had already become rather chilly. We enjoyed music when sitting at the fireplace and soon afterwards quite exhausted from this day fell asleep in our sleeping bags.
We had a lovely surprise in the morning when we came across Stefan and Remo and the funny guy Alex. Even though we were familiar with their plans of undertaking a mountain tour to get to Lake Alaudin we were still happily surprised that we accidentally met up here as we hadn't thought it would work out. We were picked up again by our taxi at 12:00 o'clock and the three guys were very happy to be able to get a lift with us in this taxi back to the village.

Even though we were convinced that Lake Alaudin couldn't be surpassed in beauty we went to Lake Iskanderkul, just 60 kilometers away.
The name derives from Alexander the Great, whose horse, as legend has it, drowned in it. The internet gave us lots of positive information about it and also the pictures showed some very inviting landscape. The guys took place in the driving cabin and we started off. As we had got used to driving on really bad tracks and roads we were no longer taken by surprise that it took us ages to drive just few kilometers. Unluckily, the place we drove to didn't meet our expectations and we were rather disappointed by it.
The weather had changed, there was drizzling rain, and even though nobody can be blamed for the bad weather it changed our mood completely. The lake was huge and surrounded by steep rock faces. There were some holiday houses located at the beaches, built at Soviet times, which you could tell as they looked run down and in need of refurbishment. In one bay there was the holiday home of the Tajik president, yet even this house looked seriously run down and as if falling apart.
Seeing the state of the villa brought us to the conclusion that apparently the president himself wasn't very keen on spending time at this lake either but that he preferred being somewhere else in his holidays. We were desperately looking for a pitch to put Akela and the lads' tent, which turned out to be rather tricky and as the ground was very wet and at times even flooded we decided to stop for the night right next to the road. It kept raining for the entire night and wouldn't stop in the morning either and this was something we weren't used to anymore since we had left Austria. We had got used to being woken by sunshine.
Our decision to skip driving to the allegedly very beautiful waterfall located near our current position was made very quickly as the bad weather and a look into the surrounding landscape helped deciding easily. We planned to drive back to Dushanbe, the beginning of the Pamir Highway. We had a long day of driving ahead of us yet - as being spent in nice company - time passed more quickly and way less strenuous.
Lennox was happy when Stefan allowed him to play Star Wars on his mobile phone and Leander and Remo were tied up in conversations about photography, which Leander had missed a great deal as I wasn't interested in this topic a bit. I was happy that everybody had found something satisfactory to do to spend his time as then I could relax a bit as well.

We arrived at the capital city towards the evening. As we had no idea where to go we followed the Swiss guys to their already booked hostel. Its owner was an incredibly nice person who charged us nothing for parking on the car park, using the internet and having breakfast – he only wanted a fee for doing our washing, which we obviously understood very well. We called Anar again to arrange an appointment in his workshop for our Honda as we had found out on the way to and from the Alaudin Lake that it was malfunctioning.
Anar told us to go to a motorcycle mechanic just around three corners of the place where we were and after some time this mechanic found out that its battery was on its last legs. He ordered a new one yet since this battery had a delivery time of one day we went to a Tajik outdoor pool. Here as well the swimming guards paid great respect when they saw Lennox' ability to swim. Still it took us some persuasion to make them allow Lennox to use the water slides, which had an age limit of 12 years or older.

After enjoying carefree hours at the pool we went back to the guesthouse where Remo told us in excitement that a Romanian couple and their 6 year old son would be coming to the guesthouse as well. The family was traveling in a sidecar motorcycle but unluckily there was no room available at the guesthouse when they arrived and so they had to look for another place to stay. However, clever Remo had given them our contact data to get in touch with us as he knew how much Lennox missed the company of other children.
This family were also on their way to the Pamir Highway and it didn't take long until we had received a message from them. We arranged to meet the next day and the location was Anar's workshop as we had to pick up our Honda anyway, hopefully with its new battery. It wouldn't have been possible to miss them when they drove into the yard of the workshed.

Chemistry between us was positive right from the beginning. Mihai was press photographer, a fact which Leander didn't mind the least as obviously the two of them had enough to speak about without any problems. It would have been the same for me and Oana, if only she had been able to speak English a bit better. Regarding the two children getting in contact with each other we weren't worried at all. Even though Vladimir didn't speak English at all after meeting each other it took only a few minutes and the two of them got on like a house on fire and had a lot of fun together. Consequently it didn't require a lot of talking and planning before we decided to do the project 'Pamir Highway' together as a team. Thank you so much, Remo, for initiating this friendship between them and us.
Time had come to finally say good bye to the Swiss guys and Alex, the Russian. After a joined dinner in the beer garden of Dushanbe and probably the funniest ride in a taxi of my lifetime that time had come. The three of them set off towards Pamir early in the morning with a private driver. We assisted the Romanian family to get a local SIM-card and recovered when eating some ice cream before leaving Dushanbe. We were looking forward to our experience on this second highest highway in the world and were secretly glad that we wouldn't have to do it on our own.

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