Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek 23-24 May 2019

Bishkek – capital of Kyrgystan, another ancient city modernised. Chuy avenue is the main street, at one end of it is the Osh Bazaar which is huge. I did find the best beer in the Stan’s so far at the Craft Bar in Ala-Too square. There is also a street named after Gandhi.

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Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek 22 May 2019

Osh to Bishkek – I decided to continue travelling by road even though I had been told that this was a harrowing drive hahaha, not so, it took 12:30 hours through the mountains and some rugged terrain but the road was paved all the way, sort of and it was fun. The owner of my hotel Asman Guest House was kind enough to take me to the Shared taxi stand at 0600 in the morning, there was only one taxi there that early and negotiate with the driver. It was a mini van that had seen better days, with seven seats and I had to buy all seven seats for 5000 Som or US$70, not bad for a 600km drive. We left at 0620 and arrived in Bishkek at 1850, first a stop for breakfast, next a stop to buy windscreen wipers when it started to rain hahaha, next stop for lunch at a restaurant alongside a mountain stream that served freshly caught grilled trout, a specialty of the area and a few photo and toilet breaks. The driver stopped on the outskirts of Bishkek and I transferred to a local taxi, did not have to pay any extra, the minivan drivers are not familiar with the city streets. The driver did not speak a word of English but we got by with Google Translate.

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Kyrgyzstan – Osh, 20-21 May 2019

Osh a 3000 year old city but there is nothing left of the past. Probably the most amazing place is the Bazaar which is huge and meanders everywhere stretching about 500m along the Ak-Buura river. Yandex taxi works here so its quite easy and cheap to get around. The food is much the same as everywhere else in this area. You can change your Somoni (Tajik) to Som (Kyrgyz) at the money changer but you will not get a good rate.Women are dressed more conservatively and they still have a big statue of Lenin in the main square.

 

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Kyrgyzstan – Osh, 19 May 2019

Murghab to Osh in Kyrgystan

Considering the altitude and my body does not like altitude and the narrow uncomfortable bed, I actually managed to get some sleep, probably tired. So far for the last 3 days I have had just the one car and driver but I was told that I would get a different car and driver from Murghab to Osh in Kyrgyzstan because we were going to enter another country. Instead of just the driver and myself another guy got in the back seat uninvited. He said he was the manager and between him and the driver they carried on a loud conversation the whole drive in a language I could not understand. I was annoyed because I was paying a premium (US$225 per day) to have the car to myself, otherwise I could have used a Shared taxi.

When Khudoguy sent me a message asking me about the trip, I told him about this passenger and he was shocked because he knew nothing about it and he immediately said he would give me a refund of US$200. By this time I was in Bishkek and he had someone bring the cash to my hotel. All I can say is if you are going to do a tour in Tajikistan talk to Khudoguy, you can be sure he will do the right thing by you.

We left at 0815 with the two guys jabbering loudly and incessantly, initially roads not bad but after the high 4,665m pass it got worse with sections of corrugations. We arrived at the Tajikistan border customs checkpoint at 1130, only the driver had to get out of the car and show them his documents finished at 1145. The whole area is a rundown mess, the road rutted and muddy, no one outside because it was freezing at 4,168m, this is definitely the highest border I have ever crossed. Drove 100m to Immigration, another shack, here we all got out and went in and waited while the officer recorded all the infomation from our passports and visa’s manually in a register and he kept the eVisa form, stamped my passport and we were off at 1155. Lots of the little brown creatures today, one lying on the road looked like road kill, very bad muddy road crawled along and arrived at the Kyrgyzstan border control a few kilometers down the road at 1235. Had to get out and get my passport stamped, no visa required here, then Customs, they looked in the boot, altitude 3430m, finally on our way at 1300, Short drive to our lunch stop at Sarytash arrived at 1335. Small cafe where all the tourist traffic stops, altitude 3,108m, had Plov and a Snickers, paid in Somoni and got change in Kyrgyz Som, the girl spoke quite good English. Left at 1420, straight into the mountains and a 3500m pass, good road. Started to rain at 1530 got heavier, dark clouds, continuously mountainous winding roads, first heavy rain on this trip, rain stopped as we approached Osh, arrived at 1700 or 1800 local time. First thing I did was get a Beeline SIM card with the help of the Hotel owner from a shop across the road, no ID required. Paid 100 Som or US$1.50 for calls, sms and 4GB data for one week, very cheap.

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Tajikistan – Murghab, 18 May 2019

Khorog to Murghab

Left the hotel at 0830 filled up with petrol and off at 0850, good road and a few villages then ascended to over 3500m and bad roads, slow going, arrived in Alichur at 1305 completely different landscape, cold, barren and treeless at 3900m.  Small canteen, only had Shorba and oily re-fried chips and dry bread, meat was fat and gristle, left at 1350. Flat country after that, high plains surrounded by mountains, no reception on Tcell, poor reception on Megafon, one Police check point just before Murghab, arrived at 1550 altitude 3600m, the scenery today was extraordinary. Dirt roads and houses built at random anywhere. Homestay had a separate bathroom and toilet outside, there is no running water here, it gets delivered in a water tanker, with a basin inside to brush your teeth. I was worried about the altitude but besides a headache and breathlessness I was fine. The oxygen level at this altitude is 13% vs 21% at sea level. Only a 2G Edge connection here but Email and WhatsApp still work. Dinner was Shorba soup with rubber like lunch, put it aside, heard the call to prayer from the tiny mosque in front of the house by an actual human not a loudspeaker.

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Tajikistan – Khorog, 17 May 2019

Qalai Khumb to Khorog

It rained all night and that noise combined with the roaring of the river meant little sleep.  Breakfast and left at 0830, rough roads, drizzle, big puddles and muddy road, a few streams running across the road as well hahaha. One check point for passport and visa which is where the copies come in handy, you just give them the copies and carry on instead of waiting while they write everything down. Followed the river Panj all the way to Khorog, trucks from China coming and going chewing up the road and Afghanistan is still across the river. Arrived at Qalot at 1230 for lunch, restaurant and nothing else here, Shorba and bread, black tea and a kebab 30 Somoni, depart at 1310. Sunshine now and colder, altitude 1800m, light drizzle again, arrived in Khorog  at 1630, altitude 2,100m, this is a fairly large town. First thing we did was stop at a Recharge machine to deposit some money into my SIM card so I could buy more Data. We had a look at the Homestay, there was one bathroom and toilet on the Ground floor and my room was up a steep flight of steps on the 2nd floor, decided to give that a miss. Checked Booking.com and found Zarya Hotel, good reviews for $30 and we went there and checked in, clean, very good supply of hot water, private bathroom, good bed, owners spoke English, recommended.

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Tajikistan – Qalai Khumb, 16 May 2019

One of my goals for this trip was to travel the Pamir Highway, the route the traders of old (ie. Marco and his pals) used to get from Europe to China. You can take a shared taxi, they are all beat up old Toyota Landcruisers heavily loaded with passengers and luggage but I decide to pay the extra and get a Private taxi which gave me control of the journey.

Invaluable sources of information for this area are Caravanistan and Indy Guide, various tour agents and independent operators advertise on these sites and you can see reviews of them and ask questions, very good.

The Tour Operator I chose was Roof of the World . Khudoguy is reliable and honest and you can depend on him to deliver on his commitments.

I received cheaper quotes from drivers on Indy Guide but there is no guarantee with these guys and if they disappear or give you trouble, you will be left high and dry in the middle of nowhere.

Khudoguy Shonazarov
Mob/Cell/WhatsApp: +992 93 563 7141
Tel: +992 900 500 499
Skype: khudoguy
e-mail: info@roofoftheworldtravel.com or khudoguy4@gmail.com

The route I opted for was (for more information see Caravanistan and Indy Guide).

Day 1. Dushanbe – Qalai Khumb or Kalai Khum (370 km via Kulob)

Day 2. Kalai Khum – Khorog (240 km)

Day 3. Khorog – Murghab (325 km)

Day 4. Murghab – Osh (420 km)

Cost of this tour which included the Car (Toyota 4Runner 4wd) and driver was US$900. Food and accommodation is extra. I was offered a homestay for $20/night which includes breakfast and dinner. The Homestays are really Guesthouses of varying quality and you should check to see if there is running hot water with good pressure, a Western style toilet, a comfortable bed and the number of guests staying the night. There is only one toilet and bathroom so the number of guests is important and sometimes these are outdoors. If you are not satisfied you should ask to see alternative Guest houses. You can also look on Booking.com which is what I did in Khorog and I stayed at Zarya Hotel and I would stay there again, cost $30. Orz was my driver, he is friendly, an excellent driver, speaks some English and did his best to please, ask for Orz he is a good guy. Before you leave make 6 copies of your Passport photo page and your eVisa which should have the GBAO stamp on it.

Courtesy of Advantour Pamir Highway Map

Dushanbe to Qalai Khumb

We left the hotel at 0845, stopped at a supermarket to buy 10 x 1.5lt bottles of water, I only used half of them on the trip, finally departed at 0910. Two accidents on the way, one pass about 1300m otherwise the altitude was around 600m. Mainly cotton and fruit farms, lots of Police checks a bit like Turkmenistan and apparently a 2-3 Somoni tip was normal. Arrived at Kulob for lunch at 1230, Plov cost 22 S, all the shared taxi’s stop here so there was quite a crowd. Left at 1310, hot in the car now, two Police check points where I had to give them copies of my passport and visa, a few spots of rain along the way, big trucks with 2 trailers coming and going from China, crawling along the rough bits of road. Followed the Afghan border which is the river for quite a while, no fences, a few soldiers patrolling the road on foot, one place the road was completely washed away, another pass at 1975m arrived in Qalai Khumb at 1645, altitude here is 1245m. Went for a walk to the end of the town to see the WWII memorial. The Guest house was not good, trickle of hot water in the bathroom and the toilet was not very clean, shared by 5 people at least, the noise from the torrent running alongside was deafening and made sleep difficult but the food was good.

 

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