our 4×4 being loaded with everyones stuff. This one eventually took 9 adults one small child and a cage of budgies x4! Oh and I got the front seat.
Not really a great place! We got there by first getting a taxi to getting the old bus station in Khojand [Khojand-travel-guide-1358665] and then getting a shared minibus to Istaravshan [Istaravshan-travel-guide-1193313]. The shared minibus cost us 23TJKS each, so much cheaper than private taxi. We then paid another 4TJKS to get from outside the town into the centre (quite common in this area). We got dropped off just outside the Bazaar where we picked up a taxi to try and find somewhere to stay. Yes this time we had not booked anything in advance and decided to “go by wire”. Epic fail! We visited two establishments in the LP which were nothing short of dire! Our taxi driver managed ot find us the only decent place in town, near the 5D complex, you can’t miss it it looks like a fairly new build complex with children’s rides and peddelo pools etc.
We paid $50 a night for two people, it was very clean, and fairly modern. It was easy to pick up shared taxis to the bazaar from outside the road (anywhere along it you like) for just a couple of TJKS (flat rate). We were able to walk to the sogdian fort where Alexander beat them, as this was so close to the Hotel. We then picked up a taxi to the other two small sites, That was it for Istaravshan, nothing remarkable at all. I think I am glad we did visit it, but on the other hand I would say if you do not have the time, then don’t bother! You won’t miss much.
We decided that the next morning we would get up early to get a shared 4×4 to Penjikent [Penjikent-travel-guide-1325512], so back to the bazaar and this time it was very easy to find a car to get onto, negotiations on price done 150 TJKS each got us the 4×4 and decent driver you see in the pics.
We did however have to wait until around11.00a.m.before departure, as what these drivers seem to do is come in from Istaravshan with locals who then go to the bazaar (which is much bigger) do their shopping then get a shared 4×4 back over the mountain. Sweet! So we waited while our driver loaded up the roof rack with our luggage and various other goods (inc. watermelons) and squeezed 9 adults and 1 small child into the car, along with a cage of budgies(pic as proof!).
The climate here was noticeably cooler than we had been experiencing in Khojand and especially cooler thanUzbekistan. As we left the “one horse town” limits we noticed a rather noisy and cold rain storm making its way towards us, or maybe we were making our way towards it! I haven’t actually felt rain on any part of my body for 8 weeks, oh my! So lovely, I nearly asked the driver to stop and let me get out, but I was mindful that we had a minimum 6 hr journey ahead, so enjoyed a brief fling in the rain whilst the driver checked the taup on top of the rack on the luggage again.
You didn’t believe me about the budgies did you?Please be aware that no one else in the car spoke English, and neither of us speak Russian or Tajik, although my understanding of Russian is getting better, I guess I am just not confident enough to start the words, as I don’t like getting it to wrong and a. insulting their language and b. getting the wrong response. But jestures and smiles and mime go a long way with a few well placed English words they do understand. The will at least try. So do we, spectacularly badly!
I was a bit interested to see how and if I responded with any altitude sickness as we would be climbing upto the pass on the Mazar-i-sharif, approx. 3600km. The road up was a decent width for mountains and we passed lots of 4×4 and Lorries going both ways and strangely keeping to the rules of the road.
I was also a bit concerned as our driver kept opening and checking the driver’s side of the vehicle as we drove along, the reasons for this will become apparent later.
We were of course treated to spectacular views of the mountain and surround slightly smaller mountains and hills, looking down I could see the road below us winding its way like a ribbon on the side of the mountain, with a couple of toy looking cars as we ascended. The air did seem to become clearer and cleaner as we progressed and I did watch myself for signs of altitude sickness as this was my first ever climb at anything over a few hundred feet. All seemed ok, and other people in the car seemed to take the opportunity to start their lunch, I decided that the bumpy gravel track was not worth it, and I could eat later.
I did however keep up with sips of water. I must say our driver was top gun, he negotiated hairpin bends and snow and mud-sludge roads, carefully and at correct speeds. I guess as I do now, you know when your driver is a good ‘un. We did feel fairly safe with him. There was an elderly tajik couple with us, who were so chuffed that we were travelling with them all to see their beautiful country. He was really impressed to see me taking so many pics of our journey, and delighted in seeing them on my DSLR screen afterwards. I actually felt quite sorry for him; he had the budgie cage stuck between his legs the whole journey and they were not even his! When we did arrive at Penjikent I joked with the recipient of the budgies that they owed the old guy a few hundred TJKS for having gone thro torture with the birds, they did all think that was very funny inc.
the old guy.
As we neared the top of the pass the clouds did get a bit close, and it did get darker, and colder, surprise surprise! Bearing in mind I have never been this high! Hah, so once over the top, it’s all the way down, much steeper at first and a few crashed and mangled vehicles as a sober reminder of what goes on when the weather is bad or too dark or they don’t drive safely. None of them too recent it seemed. But still I noticed everyone in the car went quiet when we passed them.
As we got nearer the bottom of the valley I noticed and photographed works, and various heavy plant. This is apparently where the Chinese are “helping” the Tajiks build a tunnel through the mountain instead of having to maintain the pass at the top. Don’t worry it didn’t look like it was going to fast, but who knows we maybe some of the last few hundred or so people to go over the top, as I suspect it will get more expensive as not so much traffic will be passing that way in the future, which means it will be down to the expensive tour companies to make a killing.
After the plant works we drove about another forty minutes before stopping at the Chaikana stops, of which there were at least four plus much needed squat toilets. Drinks had and refreshed, driver having finally eaten, and rested we were off again. We continued along the Zeravshan river valley we came across some stunningly carved gorges and towns perched on the edge of them with that Mediterranean look of tall cypress trees and houses close together, huddling for warmth. As we climbed gently back above the river valley our driver did one of his “open door” checks, for me the sound was unmistakable, loud hissing of rather a lot of air from the d/s rear tyre could be heard. We had a flat. He pulled over, and everyone out! He was quick and the old guy got some chock shaped rocks and we both stuck them under all four tyres.
As our driver was getting bottle jack out and spare tyre out from underneath the car another 4×4 which we had seen (friends of the driver) at Istaravshan pulled up, and 7 men jumped out! Hah so they thought we needed help and tyre was actually changed in about half an hour. We had lost time, and our driver then drove along at a quicker pace than before trying to keep up with his leader car, I put my seat belt on, having been told I was sitting in the front seat for the whole journey, I did so, but right now at around 70kmh I didn’t fancy it if he lost control, as soon as I did that he did slow down a bit, I think he realised that he was going just a tad fast for us chickens!
We arrived in Penjikent around 5.30p.m.the rule seems to be be that these shared 4×4’s drop you off to your location so we asked to be dropped at Elina GH as per LP, and some blogs seem to suggest might be a good idea.