23 August – 8 September, 2015 – As the Pamir Highway has been an important milestone of our journey you’ll find below our diary entries with the highlights of every day presented in four parts.
Day 16 and 17: Ishkashim – Dushanbe: 700km
With Johan still being weak and us having to be in Dushanbe for our Turkmenistan visa application we take a taxi already from Ishkashim and not from Khorog as originally planned. The guesthouse manager is able to negotiate a good deal with a taxi driver and we head off with our bikes on top of the car and the trunk stuffed with our many panniers. 10 minutes later we pick up an Afghan police officer who also has to go Dushanbe – there it goes our private taxi. Annoyed and a few phone calls later we negotiate another discount as our private taxi has become a shared taxi. Unfortunately our macho driver thinks he owns the road and we think he might have obtained his driver’s licence in India as most of the time he is driving on the left handside. Much to our annoyance, as the left is the cliff with the river a few hundred meters below. The bone-crunching road that has in the meantime rejoined the Pamir Highway continues twisting through canyons and gorges with barren mountains raising to the left and right. At the other side of the river still lies Afghanistan and a small donkey track winds along the river. The vistas are spectacular and we both are saddened that we aren’t able to cycle this part of the Pamir Highway. We also regret that we’ve relied on our travel guide’s advice to make a detour through the Wakhan Valley as we are now on the most spectacular part of the highway. Every once in a while Johan advises the driver to slow down, to drive on the right handside of the road and not to pass trucks on a one-way-track while we cannot see anything due to the dust raised by the vehicle in front of us. At nightfall we even get more scared as the road is worsening, the visibility is low and the driver seems to be more interested in the many phone calls that keep coming in until as late as 2am than paying attention to the road. Poor Johan stays awake all night, once avoiding a collision with a pile of sand and constantly arguing with the driver to make sure we’ll arrive safely. The next morning – on a finally paved highway – the driver once more needs to demonstrate his skills: at a horrendous speed of 140 km/h and a car that’s almost falling apart I tell him off and stubborn as he is he continues at 60 km/h asking every few seconds if he is still going too fast. The atmosphere in the car climaxes when we arrive in Dushanbe and Johan tries to guide our driver to our chosen guesthouse, but he just doesn’t want to follow Johan’s instructions – while not even knowing where to go. Listening to the driver’s behavior in silence for a while and us standing at a crossing and the driver not wanting to turn left as needed I burst out and yell at him to do what Johan is telling him, adding some abusive language in German and we finally arrive after 24 sleepless hours. During this far too exciting journey we pass about 20 military and police check points, each time showing our passports and each time having long discussions because of the Afghan in a car with European tourists. Later we learn that there had been a clash with several fatalities a few days ago in Dushanbe.
Johan negotiates a fantastic deal at Marian’s Guesthouse where we will relax until we have our visas for Turkmenistan. Today also happens to be the day the Australian football team plays against Tajikistan to qualify for the 2018 World Championship. Lucky as we are we chose to stay at an Australian-run guesthouse with a few Australian fans. Not only do we have a great deal with Marian for our stay in Dushanbe, she also offers us tickets for the game. We have a fantastic evening (and a few more later on) supporting the Australian team with our new Aussie friends and even I enjoy the atmosphere in the stadium while not being a football enthusiast at all.
Life treats us well again!