I am sitting beside Grettle, perched at a height of 2195 meters, on the edge of a steep and rocky drop, descending into an opal blue lake, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, and blue sky. The fiery oranges, cadmium yellows, and deep reds, of the approaching sun set, play in the startlingly turquoise waters, and dance in the light of the early moon.
Iskanda Kul is the name of this mind-blowingly fabulous lake, and apart from the three Tajik men that took an entrance fee from me (cheeky bastards), there’s not a single soul in sight (tourist anyway). I’ve seen a couple of small shacks here and there, but other than that, it’s me, G, and travel frog, with this oasis to ourselves.
Having had a bit of a low period over the last few days, craving company, longing for cool air, and wishing I spoke Russian, I could not explain the rush of Tajikistan; the mountains; the lakes; the people; the air; the vast, wild, and crashing rivers, that snake their way beside the rugged mountain passes, spraying cool water over you, as you ride and swerve their serpent-like roads.
Having said this, it was a job to get in to, to say the least; I managed on my third border crossing attempt, somewhere near Tashkent in Uzbekistan, having tried and failed dismally, to pass two others, closer to Samarqand.
Not only that, but since I have been here, I have had nothing but problems with poor old G; I have seen her inside out, upside down, and well and truly, dissected part by part. The little mishap in my last post, marked the beginning of a long line of illnesses…
Having finally made it into Tajikistan, tiredness beginning to take its toll, and the idea of finding, and comprehending directions to a hostel, too daunting to face, I decided to find a spot to camp.
There were mountains in the distance, but in general the landscape was very flat, and one could see for miles, which made finding a decent, and secret spot to camp, a little tricky.
I was a little more apprehensive than usual about my first night camping in this unknown land, perhaps it was partially due to tiredness, but the memory of three Uzbek men, certainly played a part in this feeling of unease. Three separate occasions lingered in the foreground of my mind, and on each occasion, I had been asked where I was from, and where I was going. 'Tajikistan' I would exclaim happily, after which grave expressions would sweep away their broad smiles, and a machine gun noise and mime, would follow with no further explanation.
I tried to block this from mind, and as the sun was beginning to set, followed a small track off the road, and drove as far as I could, before reaching a cluster of mud huts, and a herd of cattle. There was no real differentiation between the
track, and the cactus sprinkled ground around it, and so I unpacked my tent, and sat on top of it for a while, deciding what to do.
I set up the tent after this moment of deliberation, deciding to sleep and hope for the best. No sooner than I had done, what sounded like a pack of either very over excitable dogs, or wolves, echoed up and around the mud huts, and hills behind me. A little too close for comfort, and failing to bury, both the fear of a hungry mob of wogs eating me alive, and an angry Tajik cattle header, shooting me down with a machine gun, I packed up the tent and found a different, less scenic, but beast-free spot.
The following morning, G, it seemed, was not as enthusiastic as myself, in regards to an early start, and with the switch of ignition, remained most definitely dormant. Once again, not even a rumble from her little stomach was audible. I was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and had scooted a long way from the road, on a small dirt track, in my attempts to be as out of sight as possible.
At ease in the realization that at some point the situation would change, I tucked into a crab stick, and waited.
Eventually, a chap rumbled along in a truck, jam packed with trees and other debris. Having flagged him down, I followed through the usual charades act, and we came up with a plan. This nice man would go to dump his trees somewhere, and would be back at some point, to pick G and I up, and get us to a mechanics. Sure enough, half an hour later, I saw the truck, and it’s trail of dust, as it sidled off the main road, and rumbled back down the dirt towards us. He had brought one other man with him, and so the three of us heaved G into the open trailer. I sat beside her and remnants of debris, to make sure she wasn’t harmed during the journey, and we set off for the mechanic.
By the time we had hoisted poor Grettle out of the truck, the usual crowd had gathered; the entire community, it seemed, had come to see what all the commotion was about, and so the mechanic set to work with an excited audience.
Having thought she was good to go once again, I set off for Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and the gate way to the infamous Pamir highway. Alas, no longer than 10 minutes passed, before Grettle spluttered to a halt once again. Having finally flagged down an onion truck, and persuading the driver to squeeze her into the open boot, on top of a colossal heap of onions, I hitched my way back to the same mechanics, in the hope they could get to the roots of G’s depression.
Having been passed over to ‘the scooter expert’, who, from what I would see, was simply a chap who owned a scooter, and a small back yard, G’s dissection began. The old man, part by part, tweaked, and fiddled, with every one of her stomach organs, each time, defiantly and proudly, sending me off on test spins, which inevitably ended up, with us crawling and spluttering hopelessly back into his little yard, time after time. At long last, he came to the conclusion, that it was the Corsa, that was the problem, and this, whatever it was, was broken. He told me to drive to Khujand, the next biggest city, and about 50 km east, where there should be a mechanic who could replace her Corsa. I was instructed to drive slowly, and stop every 20 minutes or so, before continuing, allowing Grettle to rest during the journey.
Despite a niggling feeling it may be best to keep the engine going until I arrived at destination, I did as I was told, and twenty minutes into the drive, I stopped for a rest. Having munched on some melon, and taken a snap shot, I hopped aboard to go once again
. Nothing. ‘Bugger’, I thought.
Frustration brewing, I began to flag down the third vehicle of the day. A bright orange watermelon truck ground to halt beside us, and a long debate followed between the two chaps, and myself (I say debate, but again, the language barrier left us only with visual aids), about whether or not we could heave Grettle onto the roof of the van, or whether it would be safer to tow her behind it. Unfortunately, the inside of it was jam packed with watermelons, and so the options were rather limited. Despite the driver’s concerns, in regards to the safety of towing Grettle, which I have to admit, I have never done, or seen before, it was clear, the roof option was unrealistic, and without any ropes to secure her, would no doubt end in the death of poor old G.
And so the towing began…. We looped a piece of rope from Grettle’s head light, to the tow bar of the van, and off we sped. What a glorious way to travel I thought, as I rolled silently behind the watermelons, taking photographs of the mountainous scenery, and listening to the pumping tunes, playing from the stereo, until we successfully arrived in Khujand, at an avenue of small little sheds, with several mechanics all in one place.
Another scooter 'expert;' who it later transpired was in fact a car mechanic, and owned an electric bicycle, turned up and got to work. I showed him the slip of paper, with Corsa scribbled down on it, determined this must surely be the problem, and so he, and his many fellow chums, began to dismantle G piece by piece, until there was nothing left, but the small lump of an engine. Her head light, wheels, ears, and shell, lay scattered around the area; as sad a sight as this was, it was fascinating to see how each part fit together, and worked, or in this case, how they did not; I had never seen any mechanical work so up close before. Having come to the conclusion the Corsa was absolutely fine, that it was not the battery, as was next suspected and tested; it was in fact something in the tangle of wires inside her chest.
Anyway, the young man appeared to know what he was doing, and eventually, as the day was drawing to a close, he successfully, by torch light, aroused G from her sleepy slumber, and brought her back to life. The man worked wonders, fixed up G's speedometer, rear brake, and miles reading, which had not been in working order since Istanbul, and on top of it all, announced proudly, that his work was a gift, and he would not accept a dime for any of it.
It had got so late, by the time the work was done, that he invited me to stay for the night in his mother’s house. He led the way on his electric bicycle, playing music from a set of built-in speakers (a genius idea in my mind, and one that lay the seed for future thoughts and improvements to Grettle) and I followed on behind him, until we reached the flat. I had a hot shower, while he cooked up some delicious soup, before finally hitting the pillows, and slipping into the world of nod. It felt fantastic to be in a bed, after such a hectic couple of days, and I was very grateful to the nice young man, for his hospitality.
So here I am, at this glorious lake, post tree, melon, and onion hitch saga, taking in Tajikistan for the first time. The scenery on the way here, was truly stunning, with near-vertical rock faces, on which a magnificent colouration, added a wonderfully wizard magic to the mountain back drop. Tomorrow, I have a choice between attempting what is known as the infamous ‘Anzob Tunnel’, described in the lonely planet as ‘a mind-boggling 5km succession of pot-holes, unlit mid-road hazards, and lethally pinging rebar steel spikes’, or to avoid this, by taking Grettle over the Anzob Pass, which reaches a height not yet attempted by either of us, of 3373 meters. It is renound for being an extremely difficult, dirt, rubble, and dusty ribbon of a road, which eventually re-joins the M34, that dramatically traverses the Hissar, Zefefshan/Fan, and Turkestan mountain ranges, on route to Dushanbe.
With this is mind, anyone who does not hear from me within the week, please di
al 999, nd send a helicopter without delay!Until then, Adios….