Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mountains and visas

Dushanbe, 15'050 km.

The next day is yucky, pretty cold and light rain. It's also my birthday so Anders wakes up and gets me a snickers bar and some nice chocolate cookies.. Pretty nice of him, though I'm still depressed by the weather conditions.The idea was to get across a first high pass and sleep over in a nice mountain lake resort, before crossing the last pass to Dushanbe. We decide to move anyway and see how it looks, because we'd like to be in Dushanbe soon to apply for our visas. So it's a pretty miserable ride through Khojand and Istaravshan. We stop at the bottom of the pass when we enter the clouds as we can't see 10m in front of us. It's not very safe to continue on this very bad road, in addition we would miss the fantastic scenary.

Back to Istaravshan, called Cyropol by Alexander the Great, where we feel the change from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: the bazaar is very oriental, some women (a minority) wear a chador, the muezzin is chanting and some people greet us with a "Salaam" instead of the usual "Zdraztvouytye". We're on the silk road! Also the Tajik language sounds very different from the Kazakh/Kyrgyz, as it is in fact a Persian language, not Turkic. On the other hand, the signs are all in cyrillic, wheras in Kyrgyzstan most were also in roman alphabet.

The next morning is just as grey and cloudy (and depressing) as the day before, but we decide to check out the road anyway as there is not much else to do. Hurray, half an hour away the clouds break and the sun starts to shine! Quite a difference it makes, we can now enjoy the fantastic mountains and gorges and by the end of the afternoon we reach Dushanbe. We check in the cheapest hotel in that not-so-cheap but very nice city (yes, you guessed it, another run-down, soviet-style hotel).

In Tajikistan even more than Kyrgyzstan all the kids on the side of the road wave and shout at us, the truck drivers honk as we overtake them and the cars give us a thumb-up as they drive by us in the cities, that keeps us pretty busy waving back at them. As for the cops, they keep pulling us over, not to check our passport or ask for money, they're just curious and want to chat and ask where we come from, etc.. Some cop even insisted that we stop to drink a cup of tea, but it was getting late and we didn't want to ride at night. They're all very friendly and it's nice for a while, but when it's every 10km or so (police is everywhere is Tajikistan) we just look straight and ignore them. Fortunately, the Tajiks don't play with radar guns like Kygryzs.

In Dushambe we start with the Chinese embassy: closed on Thursday, we'll come back on Friday. On Friday we fill up the form but they say that can't do it for Monday, so we might as well come back on Moday and get our visa for Wednesday. Next we check out the Pakistan embassy, but it's not anymore at the address found in the Lonely Planet, so we ask a taxi driver to find out where it is and drive us there. While he waits outside we wait half an hour in the lounge, until some guy comes and explains us that they deliver visas only to Tajik nationals..! we should have gotten ours in Switzerland. We insist and explain him why we hadn't done so, and that the embassy in Almaty does issue visas to any foreigner. He would just say he would call Islamabad for instructions. We call back later and he confirms he wouldn't issue us a visa.
That's a big problem for us, as it is the last capital we cross before the Pakistan border. We try the whole afternoon to call the Pakistan embassy in Bern to see if they can help (wrong number), the embassy in Bishkek, where we could go back and get it (wrong number as well). Finally we ask Chris in Switzerland to make a few phone calls for us as it takes 1/2 hour in the TakijTelecom center to get a phone call, and most of the time it doesn't work.

Next idea is to ask for help from the Swiss embassy, maybe they can make them change their mind. Too late for today, we'll do that after the week-end. Instead of staying in Dushanbe, which is nice but a bit dull, we take the bikes and leave for Iskander Kul lake, back over the pass, and sleep over there. The weather is splendid and we enjoy the ride until a few kilometers from the lake Anders stops with a flat rear tyre. He repairs under the close scrutiny of the village kid, but it doesn't hold and 10 minutes later he stops again and take the inner tube out again. New patch in place we ride the last 10km or so to the lake, barely making it with a half-flat tyre..

Near the lake is a very nice resort with a dozen or so (quite beaten-up) huts. We search a while for the manager to check in, it turns out he had a bit too much vodka and was sleeping in his hut. 10$ for both of us is OK, but there is no hot water, not even light in the shower room. It's almost empty, only a dozen people around: a group of Russians who offer us some Vodka, a group of Italians from an NGO and a couple of Germans who drove there on their landmark old Landcruiser. We chat and share a campfire on the beach, cooking our own food as the power went out in the camp. The next morning Anders uses the river to find the second puncture in his inner tube, so now he can do a proper repair.

I check my tyres as well and pump the rear one a little as it seems a bit low.. without thinking about it, we leave. Just 10 km away, I have to believe it: I do have a puncture in that tyre! Pretty funny, actually after examining the inner tube it seems the nail had been there for a while and had eaten into it until it finally broken in. I just put a new inner tube and fix it back the hotel in Dushanbe. Pretty nice week-end.

On Monday the weather is still nice, 28 degrees or so (but chilly at night). We leave our passport at the Chinese embassy, to be picked up on Wednesday. Then we go to the Swiss consulate and manage to talk to the consul. He told us he would write a letter to the number 2 at the Pakistan embassy who he knows, and that may let us through to him and to our visa. Meanwhile we spend the night with the Italian and German guys and show our pictures at their house.


Post a Comment

<< Home