Into Tajikistan

Since we dragged out our time in Bishkek to 12 days, we had only 4 days left on our Kyrgyz visa. We had to get to Osh in Southern Kyrgyzstan and cross the border into Tajikistan. The main route used by travellers into Tajikistan, is via a remote highway in Eastern Tajikistan, through the Pamir mountain range. Since there isn't alot of local traffic (because not alot of people live there), the tour companies have really exploited this area, and the only local transport seems to be well hidden from non-Russian speaking tourists. With more time in Osh, we might have teamed up with other travellers and shared transport costs, instead we made plans to take an alternate route.

The information in our guidebook is about 5 years old, and there are exactly 34 pages about Tajikistan. We had very little information to go on, other than the name of the border town that we had to get to. To make matters even more complicated, the main highway to the border town runs through Uzbekistan on two separate occasions. Two small Uzbek 'Islands' sit completely surrounded by Kyrgyz territory. Since Kyrgyz locals don't need a visa to travel through Uzbekistan, we had to pay for a private taxi to take the longer 'detour' road, a large portion of it a dirt track around the Uzbek territory. We got to the town of Batken five hours later, with only the address and name of a woman who runs a guesthouse in town, luckily our driver knew where she lived (he didn't recognize the street name, but he knew where to go when we mentioned the family name). The guest house was spotless and extremely well-equipped (and consequently expensive), which seemed strange, considering the town isn't listed in any guestbook and probably only receives a handful of travellers a month (we guessed that it was probably set up to house NGO workers in the past). We watched about five hours straight of Russian music videos (on Yann's insistence), played cards and ate the last of our meager supplies, the guest house had cost us the last of our Kyrgyz money, save our taxi fare for the next day. Crossing the border into Tajikistan wasn't any trouble the next morning, other than the grumpy old man occupying a space in our shared taxi. He was really angry with Yann and I for holding up the taxi, as if it had anything to do with us. Kyrgyz and Tajiks move freely across the border but Yann and I had our passports scrutinized by both border guards and our bags checked on the Tajik side. I had some trouble convincing the Tajik border guard to stamp us in, because our visas didn't have the mandatory embassy stamp on them (we assume this was an accident). I managed to convince him that the stamp on the next page of our passports, accompanying our permit for travel to restricted Tajik zones, was the official stamp. A crisis averted by Emilie's unbelievable charm.

We stopped briefly in the town of Isfara, the time to notice the distinct change from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan, including Pepsi and Coca-Cola replaced by RC Cola. We then took another taxi to prosperous Khojand (formerly Leninabad), Tajikistan's second largest city (140,000 people). We got dropped off at the beastly Hotel Leninabad (later that day a tour operator we met, joked that the Hotel Leninabad was a zero-star hotel, we couldn't agree more). The thought that we paid more than 10$ for our room is traumatizing. The sheets were filthy and had holes in them, a absolutly ghastly bathroom, which, once used, filled the room with the smell of a 30 year old outhouse (there probably hasn't been running water there for that long). We were covered in flies, mosquitoes and what we think were bed bugs all night, probably all attracted by the smell. Other than the sheer disgustingness of the room, the hotel was fine, the staff extremely friendly and it had a central location, with a view of the giant Lenin statue across the river. Being in Khojand was like stepping back in time, from the buildings and the statues, to the bank where we made our official registration payment to the Tajik government, scarily resembling an unfinished basement. We visited the city's two museums, one brand new (inaugurated by President Emomali Rahmonov less than a year ago with special guest Amadhjinehad from Iran) and one not so new. Tajikistan's president's face scarily/hilariously adorns huge billboards and posters all over town (he's is from Khojand, but something told us that we wouldn't only be seeing his face here). We had our first taste of delicious palov (rice pilaf) served from a huge vat at an outdoor cafe and even risked the local ice cream, also delicious. We loved the tree-lined streets and the outdoor restaurants, we might have stayed longer in Khojand had it not been for our hotel room.


Lindsay said...

Good to hear the journey is still going well.

Nearly 2,000km into China now, just reached the end of the Great Wall! Loving the smooth roads, and great food. In Jiayuguan now, going via Lanzhou to Xian, can't decide on route after that.

Emilie, hope your stomach settled down with the change of country - I tracked down my problem to my water filter and the bag I filter water into. Would have been better drinking the local water...


mom said...

I left a comment about the washroom picture in the last blog by accident. it looks like the one Dad and I had in our first apartment.