We leave at 7:30 - whole car 120 sum each, small vehicle. We climb out of the valley from Istaravshan, past a huge mud brick mfg 'yard'...piles & piles of mud bricks. Up top we see valley 360 degrees, haze all around, mtns some directions not even visible. Blue sky, smooth new asphalt 2+lane wide road. When we left Hotel Chashnobar the owner wished us well & safe journey, he seemed quite sincere. Found out last nite he is our age - born Oct 1944! Back down into valley we drive along past many apple orchards, potato fields, a long(1+ km) section of road has 100s of V shaped cement forms lying on the ground waiting to be installed for/as water drainage along the roadsides. We drive onto a long gravel stretch(2+ km) where Chinese work crews are preparing to put down new asphalt (like section we waited 5 hrs for 2 days before).
Outside of irrigated areas(orchards?) the valley is dry, dry - brown/tan - being late in summer the river we see has barely a trickle of water meandering back & forth across a wide river bed. In addition to orchards & potato fields the only other green are the Lombardy-type poplar(tall, skinny) everywhere - ong lines surrounding fields, lining the roads, etc.
Now down the middle of the narrowed valley approaching mtns we encounter unstrung(no wires) high, shiny steel high tension power towers - obviously prep to bring more electricity to the area. (8:30) We begin climb to the Pass - now a narrow canyon w/ rushing creek and another series of power towers as well. Where we now stop for a great bfast(3 eggs, sausage,naan,& tea) the road turns to rough, potholed, rugged...all the way over pass & down to where we were stopped 2 days ago. When we arrive at the same place we were stopped before the chinese had the road blocked again! (10 am) - If we hadn't stopped for bfast we might have made it thru, we are 3rd in line! After much yelling, pleading and waving of arms in frustration, no one moved - they believed that the road was blocked and there was no way thru. I decided to walk so I began downhill and after 3 km + encountered no road block, no waiting line - only a track backhoe loading gravel into trucks. This took all of 15 min/load and then the road was clear for at least 10 min. until the next dump truck arrived. They had 3 moving from loading spot to asphalt machine. Unfortunately, our driver was a real wimp, refusing to move even when Chinese stopped work for lunch(1 hr) so we now wait again (1pm)
Before we got stopped the most interesting thing to me was shortly after the pass seeing 100s of goats heading up along the mtn side on their miriad pathways munching their way along heading upward. Goats seem to me to be the 4 legged equivalent to humans - they seek the highest places, always seeming to want to get ahead of their fellow goats. They strip off the green from every plant available(they'll consume just about anything, even grass down to & including the roots. What usually remains is remnants of plant life which usually is not enuf to survive & erosion & desert follows.
This most frustrating day we waited until 5:30(7 1/2 hours) before being allowed to go on. Once again 100s of vehicles going both directions (we found out later that K & T were stuck in the same jam up, ha!) - at least most of our road down was paved. Near the bottom, due to the wimpy driving of our chauffeur, we ended up instead of 3rd in line 20-30th so once off the paved part we entered a dust storm - so many vehicles ahead at times it was a dust white out!! Arriving at the Ayny junction where we turn towards Penjakent our driver claimed his car was not working(I suspect he only wanted to go this far anyway all along) so he transferred us to another less comfortable vehicle and an old man driver. He claimed to have paid the old guy and we owed nothing but when we reached Penj. the driver tried(unsuccessfully) to get more $$ from us. Luckily, the ownere of our homestay Nematov Niyozkul spoke English and explained to him what we paid for the entire journey and he should talk to Sasha(other driver) if he was unhappy w/ the arrangement.
Instead of taking 2 hours from Ayny to Penj the old guy & old car only went 15-20 km/hr so we made the distance in 3 1/2 hrs. Luckily, there was still room for us at 10 pm in the homestay. We were just happy that his day was over!!
Nice apricot jam & warm naan & egg & tea bfast...chatted w/ a French couple and got a good suggest for Sommerkand accomodation(they were traveling in the reverse direction to us). Then heading out via minibustaxi #5 to old town Penj we ran into K & T while walking the last 4 km (they had hired a taxi and were returning to go to Samerkand). We hit the museum and walked the ruins of the old town - very interessting since nothing has been restored (see pics).