View from the top of Old Man of Coniston hike in Lake District National Park, England.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Preston, Lancashire, England.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Wyke, West Yorkshire, England on May 29th!

Friday, November 3, 2023

Welcome to Tajikistan, country #63 - What an adventure!

Thursday was a travel day. We planned to leave the guest house at 9:00am, and make it through the Tajikistan border and into the town of Panjakent by 11:00am. Then find a shared taxi that would take us to Zeravshan-2 where we could somehow catch a ride up to Iskanderkul Lake and then the tiny mountain village of Sarytag.

But right from the beginning, it didn't go as planned!

The only thing that went right was that we left the guest house at 9:00am. We ordered a Yandex-Go taxi to take us to the border from the city of Samarkand, but we were only in it for five minutes when traffic in the city came to a stop.

Our young driver spoke no English, and wasn't really helpful with trying to communicate with us through Google Translate. He suggested we wait for an hour. We didn't agree with that idea, and paid the bill to that point so far... and we got out and walked!

Sure enough, we walked for about twenty minutes past the congestion, and ordered another Yandex-Go taxi for the rest of the 40 km (26 mile) ride to the border. Upon arrival, we paid the 110,000 SOM ($9 USD, $12.30 CAD) fee to the driver.

As we approached the border, a guy waved a wad of cash at us asking if we wanted to change some Uzbek SOM into Tajik Somoni. I figured that was a good idea in order to be able to pay the taxi driver on the other side. The rate wasn't that bad, and we lost about $2 on the exchange. There would be an ATM in Panjakent.

The Uzbekistan side of the border was easy and we were stamped out quickly. We walked through, with the various passport checks to the Tajikistan side where there was a lineup at border control. We waited in line probably 45 minutes, and then we were stamped in... no questions asked! A couple of more passport checks and a luggage x-ray, and we were into Tajikistan, country #63.

By this time, we were way behind schedule and it was after 12 noon.

As soon as they let you through the gate there are taxi drivers harassing you to go into the town of Panjakent. But there was a Tajikistan T-Cell SIM card shop right there as soon as you enter, so we went to get a Tajikistan SIM card first. This guy actually spoke some English, the first we had encountered that day. It's a little more expensive here, but still reasonable. We got 15GB of data, with 40GB of social media data for 120 TJS ($11 USD, $15 CAD). That will easily do us for the 6 days we are here.

A guy who spoke a little bit of English waved us over to a taxi. At first, I thought he was a driver, but he was just one of the paying passengers in a shared cab. With Ruth and I, the taxi was full and we were on our way to Panjakent. 

The guy who spoke some English was named Ali. Although his English wasn't very good, he was quite happy to chat using google translate. It turns out he, and the other paying passenger were both going on further than Panjakent, and when he found out that we wanted to go to Iskanderkul Lake, he made arrangements with the driver to take us further. I told him we needed an ATM, so he arranged for the driver to stop at one in Panjakent.

At Panjakent, I took out 1,000 TJS ($91 USD, $125 CAD) which was the maximum per transaction. 

Got back in the cab, but didn't go very far. I guess there was a change of plans and we needed to change taxis. Of course there is a lot of foreign conversation going on, but our Tajik and Russian are non existent. So as Ali said "follow me", we did as we were told!

Now, this is our kind of scenery!
We are headed into those mountains!

Into another shared taxi with driver Najib who only spoke Russian. Ali speaks Russian, Tajik, and Farsi and he is learning English. We had quite the conversation, mostly through google translate. He is originally from this area in Tajikistan, but had taken three years of law school in Moscow when the Ukraine war broke out. He returned here where he has a wife and three year old son. His goal is to complete law school and emigrate to California!

The roads were in generally good condition. Quite a lot better than the roads in Uzbekistan. But still slow going with lots of curves.

We told Ali we weren't sure where we were staying up at the lake. The season has ended, and it's starting to get cold up there and I had read that the places around the lake were closed. We might have to go 10 kms (6 miles) further to the village of Sarytag to find an open guest house and some meals.

Ali said "Don't worry, Tajik people are very friendly. Knock on any door, and they will give you a place to sleep and some food".

Then he asked when we were going to the capital city of Dushanbe. I told him we hoped to get there Saturday afternoon. He says "if you don't already have plans, you can stay with my sister and her husband for free. They live in Dushanbe."

I left that idea open, but we did exchange whatsapp numbers.

Tough to take decent photos from the car window.


The village of Urmetan.


Ali got off at the village of Urmetan. He invited us to come stay with him, and normally we could have taken him up on that! But the weather is perfect for going up into the mountains and we really wanted to do some hiking up there.

So we carried on with Najib and the other passenger who got off shortly after that. 

Najib the driver was also a good guy. He was going to drop us in the town of Ayni where Ali had said we could get a shared taxi to Iskanderkul, but we were quite a bit behind schedule according to our original plan, so we started asking how much to take us all the way to Iskanderkul.

I had read that it was quite expensive to get to Iskanderkul because it's an hour drive on a rough dirt road up into the mountains. But that it could be done for a reasonable price in a shared cab, or by hitchhiking at the base of the dirt road. But it was getting late for that idea.

Najib pulled into a gas station with a restaurant and parked the car and motioned that we were going to eat. Okay! It was well past the lunch hour and we were getting a bit hungry.

Cafeteria style. A good choice of food!

Using translate, we made a deal with Najib. He would take us up to Iskanderkul for 500 TJS ($46 USD, 63 CAD) including our portion of the drive we had already done. There was no way we would have the time to risk not getting a ride if we tried hitch hiking the dirt road. So this was the best option. At the time, I still thought it sounded a bit expensive, but he said he wasn't kidding that it was a difficult drive.

Loving the scenery!




Heading higher. Photo taken at 4:15pm.

Najib was right, it was a long, slow, bumpy road. It's only 25 kms (15 miles) but it took an hour. It gains 3,500' in elevation as well. We arrived at Iskanderkul at about 4:45pm. 

We stopped at two places and they were closed up for the season. A third place, we heard voices, and Najib and I went down to talk to them. We all had to shake hands and say "Assalamu Alaikum", the universal muslim greeting, despite the fact that these guys all speak Russian. 

Anyway, Najib and the guys had quite the conversation with all kinds of fingers pointing in different directions, and finally we headed back to the car. We went to another place where the gate was open, and Najib went and spoke to the caretaker. He waved us over to the caretakers building where he pointed at two beds and said "you can stay here" in Russian.

Uh. Not exactly what we had in mind, but the caretaker guy was nodding his head. We asked about food, and Najib went back to his car and got a takeout meal that he had got for himself for the ride back and handed it to us with a couple of persimmons. Well, we wouldn't die of starvation anyhow! At least not tonight! Worse case scenario, I knew for a fact that there was a guest house open in Sarytag, a beautiful ten km walk further. 

And how much did we need to pay. Najib said "whatever you like... maybe 80 TJS ($7.30 USD, $10 CAD).

So... this is where we stayed for the night. Totally shocked that we have a useable high speed cell signal, because I had read that there was only an old 2G voice signal available.!

Me, with Najib.

He really went above and beyond for us. I paid him, and gave him a 100 TJS tip. He also gave me his number and said that if we were stuck, he would come and get us.

Our accommodation in the mountains, 200 kms (120 miles) from the Afghanistan border.

There is a hole in the ground outhouse in the back. I apologized to Ruth, saying this wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but we both laughed. It's only for a night or two.

We walked down to the lake and found this stunning tree stump sculpture.

And, we have a four legged friend!

Notice it's a little chilly! We are at 2,300 meters (7,500') altitude, and there is a totally clear sky. Calling for a low of -2C (29F) tonight, with a high of 12C (54F) tomorrow. But, with clear blue sky so it should be perfect for a hike!

The sun is getting low in the sky.

Lake Iskanderkul.

We figured we had an hour before it got totally dark, so we set off on a 4 km (2.5 mile) roundtrip hike to a waterfall.

Made it to the viewing platform!

Ruth did not go any further out than this.

I went all the way out to get this photo.
But I have to admit that my legs felt a bit woozy!

Heading back.

We have spent too much time in cities the past while, and we are really looking forward to this!

We have a small electric heater, but it can't really keep up.

Good thing we have lots of layers and blankets!

Yesterday's drive.

Next up... beautiful Lake Iskanderkul!

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6 comments:

  1. Yikes! What a day! It looks like the hike will be well worth it. Cheers, Judi

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    1. It was definitely an interesting day and we met some wonderful and helpful people along the way and yes, getting to Lake Iskanderkul is going to be worth it for the hiking and views.

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  2. What a hoot & awesome terrain;only you folks would manage so well.Very friendly people + Google translate make this such a memorable experience.All the best & stay safe .

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    1. We love being able to just go with the flow and see what happens. Getting to Lake Iskanderkul was definitely worth it though. We love the mountains so this is just perfect for us, even if our "accommodation" isn't so perfect, it will suit us just fine for two nights. Most definitely a memorable experience. :-)

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  3. Never fails to amaze me. Dogs always find Ruth. This is quite the adventure you two are on. Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone,,,oh wait thats another storey.. Have fun you two.

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    1. They certainly seem to have a way, don't they! I think that Kevin and I are just dog magnets, lol!

      We definitely went into this trip knowing that it was going to be an adventure, some days more than others. We are lucky that we can find ways to getting around even without any definite plan, it really helps too when you find wonderful, helpful people along the way. :-)

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