It felt like coming home after I settled back in Khorog. It seemed like the first world after the forgotten villages of the Wakhan Valley. I needed to make plans for onward travel to Dushanbe. There wasn’t any good news at all, one of the roads was closed due to snow(the much shorter northern route via Tavildara ). The other road along the Afghan border via Kulyab is open all year round, but there was a massive rockfall/mudslide that had blocked the road so no cars were going through for the next few days. I spent a great afternoon in PECTA office buying crafts and pamiri socks and chatting away to the friendly staff. I learned a lot about how things run in that small town and the ins and outs of the tiny tourist industry, drug trafficking, migrant laborers etc. I remember a little taxi picking me up on the road back to the guesthouse that evening. A rather good looking lad offered to take me up to the lodge for free. Well, as always I jumped in without thinking things through and without bearing in mind the man’s ulterior motives! He then said he’d wait for me outside the lodge at 6pm and take me out for dinner. I ran in the guesthouse and didn’t come out till the next morning.
I was going bonkers all alone in the guesthouse so I eventually got up at the crack of dawn the next morning to try my luck. I had had my fill of Khorog and was more than ready to leave. I heard there were MAGNUM ice creams in Dushanbe, that said it all. In my opinion the mark of a great city is whether one can find a Magnum ice cream. I needed to organize my Uzbek visa as well, which could take up to 10 days. Cars leaving for Dushanbe assemble at a parking lot just near the WW2 memorial near the central park. There was a motley crew lurking about in the rain and no one seemed to mind me or speak English. We all stared at each other and I broke the ice and asked about Dushanbe in poor Russian. A friend of a friend was coming through to pick this lot up and a phone call later there was space for me to join. Well we waited, it was around lunch time when I couldn’t stand it any longer. Time is a hazy concept for me, a mix of Africa time and too many star trek episodes have made me postulate whether time exits at all. There is certainly no urgency in this part of the world! A creepy but jovial guy took me under his wing and we set off for lunch (plov) at a restaurant where everyone was sneaking in bottles of vodka and drinking under the table. I should have known then and there that this dude wasn’t kosher. Anyways, after lunch with the boys we headed back to the park and sat on a bench talking drivel. This guy was beyond deluded and completely having me on about about the lift to Dushanbe. He had me on for a while though and had finally exhausted my gullibility. He tried to teach me Russian and I showed him my photos from my trip.
Weird people started coming up to us in the park, including a drunkard woman and a heroin addict. The drunkard wasn’t too overbearing but the addict was a sight for sorry eyes. He came up to us 4 times, trying to get money and drugs off us. He eventually got some money from begging around town and walked past us again to get his fix. I’ve never seen someone walk with such urgency and desperation. My friend then tried to ask me if I wanted some dope. Christ. Oh well, I was saved by the lovely Hillary and Lauren. These two guardian angels dropped out of the sky to save me. Hillary speaks fluent Russian and was immediately shocked as to why I was wasting my time with this guy. She pulled me away and we all ran back to their home stay. She mentioned the guy was a high as a kite and not good to be around at all.
We laughed from start to finish, and I had the most amazing stay with these two girls. I hadn’t stayed with other foreigners or spoken my native English for weeks and this was fabulous. I even remember waking myself up from laughing in my sleep one night. They mentioned their trip from Dushanbe to Khorog which took them over 24 hours and sounded like it was hell. Both were bright and bubbly full brighters who took me under their wings. We took a trip to Rostqala to visit a school and I chatted to the girls about their research. We made the most of our time in Khorog, ate out at the Delhi Darbar more often than not and met up with John. I caught a glimpse of John down in the Wakhan valley, turns out he and Kame met up and hiked around together for a bit. I met him in the Afghan bazaar and he passed on the message to me that Kame was well and had made it to Afghanistan. We all then hung out and plotted our course back to Dushanbe. We even thought about taking a flight out, but when we went to the airport ticket offices Hillary came out shrieking that the guys inside where up to absolutely no good i.e smoking opium instead of selling tickets. The airport didn’t fill me with any confidence at all. Often flights are cancelled and infrequent due to the weather conditions. I wouldn’t risk it personally, in fact if you can avoid flying in central Asia then do so.
So we tried the next morning crack of dawn to find a lift and we walked backpacks in tow to the stop. I remember the wolf dogs howling and following us about. We finally managed to find a few pajeros waiting about. It was “yes no yes no” until we’d arranged and re-arranged so often that I didn’t know what was going on anymore. We wanted just 4 of us in the car and paid for that luxury But that didn’t last long and before we knew it 8 of us were piled in the death trap. We picked up a Chinese guy who looked really unhappy and sad, he got the front seat and paid quite a bit for it. Us 4 decided to take turns, 3 in the middle and one in the back with two other Tajik men. What an adventure be were about to embark on.
We passed through some gorgeous sights into Afghanistan. I remember seeing women in pale blue burqas, donkey caravans, UN tents for makeshift schools and really abject poverty. Our side seemed affluent in comparison, what with our wide road and neatly kept village dwellings. The views were incredible, I remember just gawking at the devastating beauty surrounding us. There were children on the side of the road, playing, dancing and singing and Aziz (our gorgeous passenger) said that children don’t need music to dance to they make their own!
We had a fit of giggles and laughter as the men tried to teach us farsi and they won us over with their charm. We had a few checkpoints en route and I remember being summoned to a shack which posed as some sort of bureaucratic office. I wasn’t afraid as the Chinese man who was silent up till now reassured me. The officers were just interested in my South African heritage and double checked my visa. Our driver was excellent, he got a thumbs up from all of us. He was skilled, his car was immaculate and he didn’t drive like a bat out of hell. We made great time and got to Dushanbe in a record time of around 10ish hours.
We arrived in the dark and if it wasn’t for the girls and John, I’d have wondered those streets alone till god knows when. We got a shared taxi straight to Lauren and Hillary’s abode. Couch-surfing Tajik style with them lot was nothing short of brilliant.
I spent a week or so laughing and living in Dushanbe with an interesting expat community. I met diplomats, Koreans, (yes there’s fabulous Korean restaurant in Dushanbe) Afghan refugees and NGO and UN workers. We hit the town one night for a razzdazz and I even met a Senegalese guy. I’d have stayed longer if it wasn’t for my upcoming Uzbek adventure. Speaking of Uzbeks, one snowy morning I went with John to the Uzbek embassy and inquired about a visa. John’s took almost two weeks to issue, mine took 1 minute. A big smile, battering eyelids and a respectful tone won them over and because of my letter of invitation I was awarded the most difficult visa to possibly obtain on this planet in a minute. Needless to say, John was livid.
I loved the expat scene of Dushanbe, there are loads of coffee shops and little restaurants and museums to lose oneself in. The snow seemed warm and just lifted an otherwise dull city. And yes I bought a magnum and ate ice cream in the snow with a big chocolaty grin on me face.