We headed to the cement factory where car hires wait to grab customers going to Khujand. The wall along the entire length of the factory is covered w/ tiled murals of Tajik scenes & tile pictures of historic figures…it continues for almost 1 km(a huge factory), really impressive. Ended up w/ a Chevy 4x4, this time we wroteeverything down & clarified the amount we’d pay and that we’d wait until a 4th passenger showed up. We left by 7:45 driving out of town along the Varzob River, colored flags everywhere on every bridge and billboards w/ pics of CIS leaders, especially the Tajik president. This went on for 8-10 km plus villas, lots newly built, huge w/ swimming pools all along the river – drug money is the explanation and lots of it! Varzob Gorge as it’s called goes for 56 km to village of Varzob & ski resort at Takob(we did not see it). The excesses are flagrant and in-your-face w/ these villas!
Past them it’s a beautiful drive along the river – trees, little villages being upgraded as we drive by…the road is very new, smooth black top, 2 wide lanes, it appears the Chinese are very busy here. Blue & red helmeted work crews putting in tunnels, etc. An hour out we reach the end of new road, back to gravel/rock & dust…Obi Garm Valley. Up up into Fan Mtns & Anzob Pass(3372 m.).
Western consumerism and drug income are financing the Chinese & Tajik development! It is digging the grave of our own civilization I am afraid…the rot from within!
After watching a trackback shovel working on the highway(blocking the road 45 min) we continued into a 3+ km tunnel - the second half was a ‘river’ inside - which totally went under the pass thus avoiding the 3372 m. elevation gain. Now heading down on the relatively smooth gravel surface.
We are very lucky, we were first ones ahead of 3-4 trucks and 3-4 other vehicles(10:10). Just 5 min. later we get to the machine and traffic is lined up waiting to go on, we included but not long. Smooth gravel down switchbacks to valley ‘floor’ where asphalt pavement resumes(10:30) past an orchard(apple/apricot) – down, down, river, villages of rock houses built into the mtn side. The river continues but now loaded w/ silt – we pass several donkeys loaded down w/ ‘hay’ harvest from somewhere among the numerous side canyons feeding the river(11am). Back to rough road, grael & dust…then stopped for 1 hr(noon – lunch?), thru a village(Ayny) where road heads to Penjikant, we head towards Shakhristan Pass(3378 m.) road relatively smooth. Our driver has done a masterful job of getting in front of 15-20 other cars so we lead the way even arriving at the bridge and getting unofficial escort across by a police car.
After a brief break & into gravel/rock road to river xing now suddenly we’re back to asphalt paving!(12:45) Cruising along we suddenly hit a block – a line of cars, but our driver forges ahead past them all to the front, cuts in just as the traffic is about to go(we think)…a Chinese fellow directs our guy to head to the back but instead he backs into a small space 2 cars from the front.(there are at least 40 vehicles & trucks waiting). Held up by one Chinese ‘official’ who is keeping all the cars from moving, a crowd of at least 100 Tajiks are argueing, pushing the guy, yet still they wait…for what? 1:45. Turns out the Chinese are in the process of asphalting the road ahead – they already oiled it and there was no detour route around so we all are forced to wait. At 7:30 – 6 hours later – we are able to continue. It was dark and started to rain…our driver is not so safe as he is very skilled and knows his car. Even tho we ended up quite a distance from the head of the line(while we were parked cars kept driving up and parking in front of us), he quickly outmaneuvered them & on the way down(we reached the pass at 8:30) he passed almost all of them. The road was very bumpy, rocky and in many places, narrow. We could look over the edge back & forward and see in the switchbacks the lights of 100s of vehicles. I counted well over 100 we passed(some very big semitractor trailers) on the way up. We finally reached the bottom & the valley - a very nice, smooth newly asphalted road and stopped at a restaurant where Bon & I had tea...Mari slept in the vehicle...it was 9:30. We reached Khojand by 10:30 and went to Hotel Sharq - old, being repainted. The manager was very friendly, helping us w/ rooms and spoke some English. In fact, when we were ckg in he asked us a q in English which due to tiredness or ? we failed to understand his pronunciation and each time we said 'pardon, we don't understand' he'd say 'Do you speak English?' It was very funny, tho we were too tired and embarrassed to laugh.
I slept quite well even thos the bed was sagging...I put an extra pillow under me which didn't really prevent major back stiffness in the morning...plus the room was an oven...must have been very very tired to have slept so well!