We arrive at the Tadjik border and have to go in to hand over our passports and visa which is booked into a computer. We are the only ones and the television is on showing a concert of a band which is best described by putting all these elements in a blender; Eurovision Songfestival, De Toppers, 80s band like Europe or Bon Jovi, Russian language and fireworks. A bit strange and difficult to like or dislike because it was so strange. We got stamped through and now Boris had to be checked. The guards looked at us as we drove towards him and waved his hand that we could drive thought. That was the check! Now only insurance and road tax which Tom goes into an office to get. It takes him almost an hour!
We decide that we have driven enough for today and find a place to park Boris in the woods.
Alarm and we wake up next to a tree grove.
Tadjikistan is the land of Opel! About 85% of the cars we see are Opel and almost 70% of the Opels are an Opel Astra.
Our first encounter with corrupt police. They say that Tom overtook on a road where overtaking was illegal and had to pay $50 or would loose his license. Kind of a helpless situation and the truth is that we were overtaken by another car who did not have to pay and could just drive onwards. We ended up paying after trying to make a fuss but during our discussion a black Mercedes drove past and the police officer pulled his gun and aimed while shouting. The car drove on; Welcome to Tadjikistan, quite a strange start: you've got a lot to make up for.
Another police check. No fine but we have to leave a copy of our passport for some reason.. Strange, the Tadjiki police want something from us at every stop it seems. As we take the turn towards the Pimir side of Tadjikistan the roads have just gone from fairly good to moon landscape uphill with more potholes than road.
We are hearing a squicky noise just outside the drivers door so we take a break from the constant shaking and have a look. There are a number of things that we notice; the roof rack has moved a massive amount forward and seems to be pushing into the drivers door. That's probably why we were having trouble opening it! Apart from that there are only two of the four arms of the rack carrying the entire weight which is making a dent in the roof while the other two arms seems to be hovering. Perfect weight distribution in the land of the lava roads. After moving most of the heavy stuff to the boot of the car and Tom hammering the arms a bit more to the back of the roof we notice more things. One of the rear LED lights has shaken loose and is just dangling from its socket. A few tye wraps and it's back in position. Then we look at the motor and Boris is leaking cooling fluid bad but we conclude this is not a problem. The bullbar however has weighed down Boris' nose and where it is attached to the frame it's begun to tear the metal! We now have a very tough decision to make; hope for the best and keep Boris' bullbar or get rid of it. With a tear in our eyes we choose the latter and drive on.
Yet another check however this time they also ask to see our visa as we are about to enter GBAO region, the Pamirs, which you need an additional visa for. Sas had applied for our visas beforehand online and was aware of this additional visa so after they had written down our passport information we could enter. We are now in the Pamir region!
The longer we are driving on these bad roads the more we realize that we are quite heavy and have noticed the roof rack sliding forward to the front of the car. It was doing this already in Georgia but hadn't thought anything of it. Now however it's pushing past the door and becoming dangerous. We start thinking of worst case scenarios, plans B, C and D. We are both becoming exceedingly irritated.
Police check. Again. And all they do is write our information in a massive book. Not sure what, when and how they will use this information as it doesn't seem very easily accessible or useable. We did meet another group of youngsters from the Czeck Republic in an old Skoda who were not doing the official Mongol Rally but their own. Hmm, they just didn't pay the registration fee and thus also had no stickers or access to the Facebook group. We feel that that is the fun part; all the others teams doing the same wild adventure and we are all part of the same secret club with all different backgrounds and visa horror stories but with the same goal. The registration fee is very high but we would definitely done it again otherwise you would miss out on a lot of fun.
We can see Afghanistan on the other side of the river! How exciting and beautiful.
Another police check and they want us to write on one of our stickers for them to stick on their window! Also a good message for other passing rally teams so we hit something nice down.
We have left 3 jerrycans and the chairs that were on our roof behind and have completely rearranged our roof rack. One of the ideas that we talked about came from Saskia suggesting to put all our weight at the back of the roof rack so that it could slide back under the weight. At first Tom dismissed the idea completely but later on he though it was worth a shot so we have just put it into action and guess what; it seems to be working for now.
We just passed Lakshs and have decided to see if we can get to Khorog tonight. If all roads in Tadjikistan are like this, there is no way we will make it to the finish on time! Sas starts to worry a bit.
We are knackered! After 15 hours of driving we have done a total of 380km!! Tom has found a quiet spot to park Boris on a plateau just above the road we have been driving on. Most of the day we were driving on the same road with on our left side cliffs and on our right side a really strong flowing and wide river. On the other side of the river are beautiful multicolored mountains rising up into the sky and blocking out all the sunlight. And guess what, that's Afghanistan on the other side of the river! Only 100 meters away and looking glorious. Our map says the highest mountain we passed today was 3780m. Not sure what altitude we are at now but will go to bed now under a blanket of millions of bright stars on the edge of Central Asia bordering a war zone. Apparently.
We get up, pack up the bed, repack up the bed and realize that we can get more things from the roof rack into the car. Great! We've both had a good night sleep and set off in much better spirits than when we went to bed. A new days with a fresh start. One nice thing of driving these unbelievably terrible roads is that the people we pass are all and by far the most pleased to see us. Everyone waves and greets us with a grand smile or nod and whistles or shout for us to wave. Which we do more than gladly! The children scream and run a couple of meters next to Boris or try to give us high fives and all usually pointing when we are approaching them. Sometimes we hear a vague shout or shrill scream coming from the water of mountains far away - we have been spotted from afar and start waving to greet them. How wonderful and almost as if we were celebrities.
Tom is in pain and having trouble with his right under arm which makes it difficult to drive. He however still wants to drive as he is quite enjoying the challenge of the volcano roads and Saskia prefers to gaze at the wonderful views so as long as the pain does not get worse this seems the perfect set up for both.
We arrive in Khorog and the first thing we need to do is get money; either get the local currency Somoni from a cash machine or change some of our last dollars. We pass 5 banks, all closed and none off the cash machines has money or are working. We still have some dollars but nowhere can change them and actually hardly anything is open come to think of it. It's Sunday.?What a bummer ! The minimum we need is benzine to get us across the Pamir and something to eat. While driving out of town we find a small petrol station that sells benzine. The owner of the petrol station resembles a gnome and does not understand anything we say. We are told by a man standing next to a gangster car across the road who resembled a real hit man that dollars are not accepted at the petrol station but upstairs is a lady who can change into Somoni. Tom goes up and moments later returns with a sad look; "no". He gets in and wants to drive off but Sas says he should inform with the hit man where we can go. What happens next is quite strange, all is spoken in Tadjik and shouted loud across the street a conversation starts between the hit man and the gnome. It goes on for a while until the gnome walks back to his shop and the hit man pushes Tom into the same direction. "OK" was the answer and after some calculations we have full tank again - and we still have not used the two jerry cans on the roof. Next we buy some food and with a smile we set off.
Another passport control point where they have to note our personal information in a big book only the difference this time is that we both get a piece of watermelon!
We see a group of Dutch cyclists - only the Dutch can be crazy enough to cycle in the Pamir! But what beautiful surroundings! Multi colored, snow capped mountains everywhere towering over all the land and the river winding its way in between.
Boris is overheating for the first time, and we are cold for the first time! The outside temperature is around 12 degrees Celsius so we role up the windows en put on the heaters. The road has turned to big stones which we are having to climb up on every centermeter. Everything is jumping around the car. Nothing will stay where it's supposed to be, not even Boris will stay in gear. He keeps jumping out of gear. Absolutely bone rattling.
After a while Sas, who has been driving, can't take it anymore and cracks. She doesn't want to drive anymore and Tom takes over the steering wheel.
Sas realizes that we have already crossed our highest point; Koi-Tezek pass at a whopping 4272m. "After the pass is 40km of bumpy round and two salt lakes appear" Sas reads aloud and just as we jump around another corner the lakes appear in the distance. That put a smile on both our faces. The surroundings are now a vast moonlike landscape surrounded by huge mountains as piles of sands pushed aside by the giants who wanted to clear the valley for yaks and salt lakes. The pallet of colors is unbelievable; green bushes, white snow and clouds, shades of yellow, orange, brown and red on the mountains and the grey asfalted road crossing through the magnificent nature.
We have been smelling burning rubber on and off the last few days but never longer than two seconds and now it's time to check what the problem is. Jack the car up, take the wheel off and we have to conclude that the chassis is sinking more and has started cracking. NOT a good sight! Hammered it back some more but not sure how long this will hold. Tim from HART just texted us with some useful tips and we think that soon the time has come to get rid of the roof rack.
We are going a lot slower because the road has not improved and don't want to break down in the middle of the Pamir at 4100m altitude with almost no other traffic. We are hoping we will survive until Osj in Kirgistan, the largest city on route about 450km and a border crossing away from where we are now. The atmosphere is quite tense as you can imagine.
We've made it to Murghab. It's now time to make another difficult decision! We have to dump the roof rack or else Boris won't survive. Some locals help us to get it the box off the roof. One of them wants to have it to install on his Lada! Haha so little note to our sponsors, you will be known on the Pamir as your stickers will been seen by al for more time to come! So we now have some stuff from the roof that we need to fit in the car. The boot is already quite full which means it's either spare tires and extra benzine that can fit in or the mattress. A very very tough decision but we feel that is would be worse to be without fuel or a wheel than sleep so we have to get rid of the mattress as well! Yeah. Not kidding. The mattress is also scavenged by the locals as is all the other material we dispose of. Nice to feel that we are not throwing anything away but that it is getting a second life in Tadjikistan. So from now on we sleep in the upright position. We both are very curious how that is going to be... Interesting
After eating in a local restaurant we parked Boris on some dirt road just outside of Murghab and try our new sleeping accommodation. We both are completely wrecked so hopefully we can sleep some hours now!
Alarm but we snoozed for about 1,5 hour as we had both slept terrible in the seats in the cold at this altitude. Murghab is at 3500m. Now on our way to the border! 160km should be doable at high altitude with beautiful scenery and no other traffic on the road.
A hurdle of yaks just blocked the road. Nice! And we conclude that this area is beaver country ! We have seen numerous of the round, golden brown animals running around in the cold.
The roads have become worse. There is no Tarmac anymore just loose stones and rocks which are lying on ground that is not flat but actually resembles a washboard. Just imagine driving on a washboard for kilometers with everything shaking and rattling with a constant smell of benzine as the jerrycans are now in the car at 4600m altitude. Killing!
Thank god the roads have become a bit smoother. We were finding it hard to cope.
And they've gone bad again with loads of bumps and sudden holes. Tom just lost his temper and has destroyed the Cool Earth air freshener that was hanging instead of our inside rear mirror. Almost at the border now with just 10km to go. Let's hope the high altitude roads of Kirgistan are better.
The roads have just turned to washboard again and Tom is not happy. Maybe it's Tadjikistan's way of making us remember the country.. Unforgettable incessant shaking.
We have arrived at a check point and Tom has to go in as he is the driver. We notice that the right rear shock absorber has died and is leaking oil. Wonder how long this will hold.
We have just passed through the strangest border crossing with no road, just jumps, bumps and rocks. High altitude with glorious scenery and numerous soldiers. The first stop we had to hand in our passports and documents we got on entry. After a while they came back and all was good but Tom, as the driver, had to now come with them. 5 minutes later we could proceed with Boris. The next stop after a roller coaster ride of bumps was a drug control. Still not entirely sure what they wanted as they pointed to a shack and asked for passports. The soldier gave us a strange look and gave our passports back and waved us off. The next stop we reached after more jumping and bouncing from mound to mound we handed in the passports and there seemed to be a problem. They needed an immigration document and they weren't clear if this was for us or what it actually looked like and seeing as we had handed in all documentation at the previous check Tom walked back to check. When he returned he looked doubtful and asked Sas "do we really not have any other documents"? No. So he went back in. After a while he came out with a smile and told Sas she was apparently the problem but that we could go. And now we are driving in no mans land having been stamped out of Tadjikistan and it seems that the roads have just gotten worse so we are rattling and shaking more than ever. On to Kirgistan!