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Published: August 24th 2017
Dusty Pamir Highway
Our caravan of vehicles
Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you either have an insatiable appetite for traveling in the more remote or lesser known places on this planet or you are a friend or family member. Either way, welcome to one of our more unique adventures. Introduction
Until recently, any country containing the syllable “stan” would not have been high on our list of places to visit, but then we discovered that Shane Dallas, a.k.a. the Travel Camel was organizing a 14-day excursion to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is most worthy of note that the Travel Camel goes on the road less traveled. He is the traveler’s traveler. You will not find him hobnobbing at the Cannes Film Festival or working on his tan in San Moritz. You’re more likely to find him in Iran, Afghanistan or Somaliland.
Now, we firmly believe things happen for a reason. Last year at about this exact time, plans were in the offing for an African Safari to help Merry Jo celebrate her birthday in 2017. In fact, we were literally days away from making a deposit. That week, we Skyped with our friends David and Denise Hooper (Dancing Dave) in Australia to
One bridge to Afghanistan
Tajikistan in the foreground
get caught up with their life. While on the phone we discussed how we both had recently read about this trip that Shane had planned and the conversation quickly turned to the proposition “we’ll go if you’ll go”. It was settled. The logic was simple. The question was not why, but why not? In short order, we’d gone from planning an African safari to making a deposit on a most unique and fantastic journey…….the road less traveled…..with the Travel Camel, Dancing Dave and the lovely Denise. Oh man!
We must say that we were absolutely giddy with excitement and in the following months and never had a single hesitation. As the trip grew closer our interest in this experience only grew. We were warned this would not be a luxury tour. We were going off the beaten path and we would have clean but basic accommodations. In some locations, there were no hotels and we would do homestays or perhaps spend the night in a yurt (more details to come). This is merely a by-product of when you go where few others tread. The only promises Shane made to us was the scenery was incredibly extraordinary, this would be
Playing the sato
Dave attempting to jam Tajik style
a road trip like none he’d taken before and that this would be an exhilarating adventure. We can tell you that we were in awe of what we have seen and experienced on this trip and hope that we can convey this to you.
In order to get to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, which was the jumping off point from our home in Florida required no fewer than four flights over two days. We overnighted in Istanbul, Turkey as our bodies aren’t quite as young as they used to be and riding in a tin can at 35,000 feet for seemingly hours on end through some nine time zones can take quite a bit out of you. It reminded us of the old saying from a state in the northeast part of the United States, “you can’t get there from here.” But we made it nonetheless, arriving at about 4:00 AM local time. Even though we were in a zombie-like state the next day, we did a bit of touring of the country’s capital, changed some money and prepared ourselves for the journey ahead. The Majestic Pamir Mountains
We awoke the following morning to the realization that the special
One of the endlessly breath-taking mountain scenes
day had finally arrived. All the planning and organization was done….it was game on….. Our group consist of the Travel Camel; our esteemed trip organizer, a local guide, three drivers and a wonderfully eclectic group of world travelers… which included three from Bulgaria, one from Austria, one from Germany, one from Ireland, two from Australia and the two intrepid Americans (that would be us). A veritable melting pot of world travelers. Three Toyota Land Cruisers had pulled up in front of the hotel……it was time for our journey……
One of the reasons to take this trip is to view some of the world’s most stunning and amazing mountains that you will ever see. We are quite serious when we say this. We’ve had the good fortune to travel to many naturally beautiful places and live in a country that has some terrific scenery, but this was simply magical. As we write this blog we are still searching for words to appropriately paint the picture. The miles we traveled provided a vast array of ever changing scenery and countless examples of awesome geology. The soil colors offer a divergent sample of colors; rich reds, browns, fading to tans, copper and
green. This road trip offered dramatic and ever changing mountain scenery, steep mountains that beckon the adventurous. These mountains are stunning, breath taking and enormous. They seem limitless in natural beauty, they are monumental in grandeur and voluminous in number. And then there was the River Panj….. The Raging Panj River
For a river that we’d never heard of, it certainly is long and winding as it flows over 570 miles (900 km) and basically serves as the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. Tajikistan receives a few rainy days in spring, but the snowpack in the mountains supplies massive amounts of runoff into the river. What we observed was a wickedly powerful river moving faster and more viciously than any we’ve ever seen. Thousands of boulders in the river and a back swell that prevent this river from ever being rafted. The shear power and force of this river is almost unimaginable. The constant churning left the water in the lower elevations a steely grey color. Higher up in the mountains it was much calmer with some shades of greens and blues that appeared Caribbean like. We had to look up the length of this river because it felt
Even in August, there is still a lot of runoff from the tall mountains
like we followed it for hundreds of winding miles. Perhaps if you’ve been to Iceland you may be disappointed by the waterfalls on this drive, but there were several of notice. There are not too many more amazing sights than fresh, clean waters rolling down the mountainside.
Our epic road trip took us close to the Afghanistan border, very close as a matter of fact. We were separated by a mere river. On one side of the Panj river is Tajikistan and the other side is Afghanistan. When the river narrows you are a few feet away from the border. We've included a photo to show how close we were. Where this photo was taken we could see four or five children playing outside. They were waving and we waved back.
We were excited to see the border point where Shane, our tour leader, made his crossing into Afghanistan four years ago. We got to experience the Wakhan Valley. When Shane went across the border he experienced the Wakhan Corridor.... maybe we will see that someday but we think it is unlikely. We certainly enjoyed hearing of Shane's adventure. The Rocky Roads
By trip’s end we
Photos struggle to capture the size and scope of the landscape
will have traveled over 1200 miles (2000 kilometers). The road conditions were extremely varied. The Chinese have a vested interest and are spending money to build roads and basic infrastructure within this country because they want to move goods through Tajikistan. As we left Dushanbe the roads were excellent for about half of the day and then they turned to unsealed gravel roads. Many of the gravel roads across the country were pretty decent and but a few hundred miles were narrow, twisty, winding, curvy little tracks that were barely wide enough for two vehicles. Often one car would stop on the edge as far as they could get while the other car passed. Yikes, heart pounding and nerve wrecking for one of the Binkleys (you can decide which one). You don’t want to pull too far off the side of the road and go tumbling down the mountain. (perception of one of the Binkleys) Now with that said there were only a few places where it was really scary so don’t let these roads keep you from this amazing adventure. Fortunately, our driver Zamanbek was an excellent. He earned our trust.
We drove through some of the remotest
areas in this part of Asia and even reached 15,360 feet (some 4655 meters) at one point….all while the scenery continued to take our breath away (along with the altitude). We highly recommend if you make this journey that you start in Dunshabe and finish in Osh. Many do it the other way and it does not give your body time to adjust to the high altitudes. We heard stories of people having altitude sickness. The Lakes of Tajikistan
Each day we experienced dramatic scenery seemingly more amazing than the last. Breathtaking views. An amazing drive. An adventurous road trip. We were shocked by the Lake District and the colors of the water. The blues and greens were very Caribbean-like and seemed surreal and out of place and yet just perfect in this mountainous location. Tuzkol is a salt lake, Bulung Kol is a small lake and Yashyl Kol is a large lake. The Dancing Car
As previously mentioned, we joined our friends David and Denise Hooper from Australia on this trip. David identifies himself on travel blog as Dancing Dave. We’ve also traveled with them on a blues cruise (you can check that
out on another blog). We all share a love of music; with blues music and world music being some of our favorites. Before the trip we were attempting to come up with a catchy title for our little traveling foursome and we self-proclaimed ourselves the Tajik Outlaws. We had requested to ride in the same vehicle when possible and our request was immediately granted by the Travel Camel. Our driver Zamanbek seemed quite happy to be with us because David brought lots of compact discs of music to listen to and Dave brought his iPod with in excess of 8,000 songs available. We had the appropriate beat for each section of the trip and when it looked like Zamanbek might be growing tired we rocked out and he perked up. Zamanbek is a musician and dancer so he fit into the Tajik Outlaws car exceptionally well. To the rest of our group we became known as the dancing car. Mid-trip David received a couple of request to borrow some of his compact discs. The Weddings
Our first day in Tajikistan we did a short city tour and also drove out to a partially restored palace about twenty miles
A stunning bride
out of town. It was a Saturday and we were fortunate enough to observe two weddings taking place at the palace. They were lovely affairs with lots of dancing and smiling faces for the most part. We asked if the marriages were arranged because the second wedding we observed, the bride looked completely miserable and unhappy. We were told that weddings are not arranged anymore.... however, in this case, we were not convinced.
There is so much more to describe about our journey. At this point, we have set the stage for this magical journey……and there is so much more in store……in the next blog. In the meantime….enjoy some of the incredible images we experienced……….
Restaurants we’d recommend:
In Dushanbe: Toku
In Khorog: Shugnan, Chor Bogh, Delhi Darbar
Link to Shane Dallas, The Travel Camel - check out his tours- Tajikistan, Iran, Egypt, Kenya TheTravelCamel
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