Friday, April 3, 2015

Roadtrip to Dushanbe. Heading Into the Mountains.


Tired. I'm so tired. So, so tired. I didn't sleep well last night. In fact, I haven't had a good night's sleep since I've been in Central Asia and it's beginning to take a toll on me. Last night, I kept waking up. I finally got to sleep at 2a but woke up at 6a. I tossed and turned until the alarm on my cell phone went off at 7a. Pat's alarm clock rang a couple minutes later. We both got up and got ready for the day.

While I finished up packing my suitcase, Pat went about her morning routine - checking her email on her iPad and updating her appointment book.  She's a busy woman!!


We met up with Kai shortly before 8a in the lobby. Zarif was already waiting in the van outside.  We took our luggage out and Zarif loaded it into the van.  Today was our day to drive from Khujand to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It's a distance of 290 kilometers and would take us about 5 hours or so to make the journey. We would then have the afternoon to do the sightseeing in Dushanbe per the itinerary.  Forget the sightseeing, I was really looking forward to seeing the mountains.  Kai told us that Tajikistan is a  mountainous country - more than 90% of the landscape is mountains and includes the tallest mountain ranges in Central Asia - the Tian Shan and the Pamirs.  Since it's just early spring, I was hoping we would see snow capped peaks.

Our hotel did not have a restaurant so we had to grabbed breakfast at nearby restaurant that serves traditional Tajik food.

I'd tell you the name of the restaurant but I can't read Tajik :-)

With Kai translating, we ordered our breakfasts.  I had two fried eggs with fried sausage aka a fried hotdog. Pat had blinis with sour cream. She finally got to enjoy a cup of *real* (i.e., brewed) coffee and she said it was good and I had shared a pot of tea with Kai and Zarif.


While we waited for our food to be delivered, we killed time walking about the restaurant.  I was curious about the birds and Kai and Pat talked about the bas relief wall mural of ancient Khujand.



After breakfast, we hit the road. We had a very long day's ride ahead of us!  We set out on the road to Dushanbe.  As with so many small cities in developing countries, Khujand is not exactly a pretty looking town - at least not the part we drove through but it was interesting to look at nonetheless.  There's no distinctive charm or character to the buildings - they were strictly built to be practical and functional.



Like our drive out of Tashkent, it was amazing just how suddenly the landscape went from urban to rural the moment we exited the city limits.


The terrain was flat.  Flat, flat, flat.  Boringly flat.

Same top pruned trees here as those I saw in Uzbekistan.

Grazing animals.  Photo by photographer trying to stay awake by keeping busy.

A full stomach, boring scenery and the gentle hum of the car engine.  Perfect for a snooze.  Just as I was about to nod off, I saw them.  Snow capped mountains!  Not just one mountain but an entire range of mountains!  Kai told us the name of the range but I can't remember. 



Entry arches welcoming you in to a town.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped to get gas for the van.  Pat and I took the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs.  The one thing that I've started to notice about Central Asia is just how clean the air is here.  I don't know.  Maybe it's because it's spring or maybe it's because there aren't all that many cars here.  Whatever the reason, my lungs are very happy!

Our nice Hyundai van.

Zarif, our friendly if not a bit shy, driver.

According to Kai, we were near the entrance to the town where Roxana (wife of Alexander the Great) was born but who knows if that is really true or not.  Roxana was a Bactrian princess; Bactria occupied lands that would today include parts of northern Afghanistan, eastern Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - that's a very large region.  In any event, from the gas station, we could see the roundabout and welcoming sign for Roxana's supposed birthplace.



Tank full.  Back on the road.  The scenery was pretty dull except for the magnificent snow capped mountains.  We were headed straight for them!


Mid morning snack. Apples and pears that Kai brought to our room last night.

We drove by many a nondescript village.


Our next stop was at a overlook where we could see down to a local reservoir. Pretty pool of water. I am hoping that we'll see much nicer bodies of waters as we get deeper into mountains. 


Teeny weeny blooms of Diapensia lapponica Common name: pincushion plant.

Back to the van, I traded seats with Kai so I could enjoy the view from the front passenger seat.  We continued our drive. 


Fruit orchard. The apricot trees were already in bloom.

The one thing I am already noticing is all the electric power lines crisscrossing the landscape here - they are ruining my photos of stunning mountainscapes!!  Argh!!


Soon, we left small villages and agricultural landscape behind.  We were finally in the mountains!  So beautiful.



There was still quite a bit of snow pack on the mountain tops but the sides were just dusted with snow.



The road passed through a tunnel.



When we emerged, it was like we had entered into a new world. 


Every which way we looked, it was snow capped peaks. This majestic landscape was exactly what I had hoped we would see on this drive.  According to Kai, it was still very early in the season and so there aren't all that many tourists traveling on this road.  Perfectly fine by me!


As we made our way around to the north face of a mountain, the land was dry and arid.


Inside the van, we were warm and cozy.  Looking at the snow all around us made us think it was cold outside but in fact, it was quite warm.  It was a lovely spring day for a drive through snow capped mountains in Tajikistan! :-)

I'm truly not good with words at the sight of this majestic scenery.  I just kept saying, "WOW".  I'm sure if I was a writer, a slew of descriptive words would have come to my lips. How many synonyms are there for *stunning*? :-)



We stopped for a quick photo op.  I snapped a shot of Kai.  He's very photogenic and I think this is a nice shot of him even if the lighting is not so good.


Back on the road which was narrow and at times bumpy and winding.


Our next stop was at a roadside stand where all the vendors were selling dried fruits and nuts.  I may be generalizing here but it seems to me that all the vendors who sell eiher bread or pickled veggies are women and those who sell dried fruits and nuts are men.  That's what I've observed in the markets so far.  Here, the sellers were indeed all men.


According to Kai, this guy was negotiating to buy in bulk.

With few exceptions, the vendors pretty much sell all the same stuff and I'm pretty certain they all ask the same price as well.  After all, as seller, you can't undercut the guy standing next to you....at least, not if you want to live another day!  As a buyer, I guess you pick a seller at random until you find the one that like the best.

You can sample!


You buy everything by weight. We decided to try some roasted chickpeas so Kai bought a small bag for us which we all munched on as we continued our drive.

The road took us down into the valley.  Here, the apricot trees were blooming.  It was so pretty to see fluffs of pink color against the stark mountain landscape.


Kai also pointed out one section of the mountain range where the rocks were unusually colored, I presume because of differences in mineral content.  There was a lot of more reddish colored rock - more iron, perhaps?


In this part of the world, cars are expensive and public transportation non existent.  People walk.


At some point the road ran alongside the Zarafshon River.  We would catch occasional glimpses of the running water.


Our next stop took us to a viewpoint where we had a much better view of the river.  What color!  You can't see from the photo but the water was crystal clear and the river was running on the high side thanks to snow melt from the nearby mountains.



Onward we went, continuing our drive through the valley, winding our way around mountains.

Considering the road conditions (narrow, winding, frequently unpaved), it was hard to believe that we were on the main north/south transportation route in Tajikistan but there were the occasional trucks making their way along. Zarif was especially careful when we had to round bends in the road in case there was a large oncoming vehicle.



We followed a pair of tanker trucks for quite a few kilometers, snaking our way through a corridor of rugged rock.  The rocky landscape was incredible and we rarely lost sight of snow capped peaks!


Our next stop was near the town of Zarafshon, named after the river that it's located alongside.



We took another break to use the facilities....


...and to take more photos of the river.  I can't believe the color.  It's like a slightly muddier version of "Coke bottle green" but the water is clear.  Looking at the river, you almost forget the beauty of the striated mountain rock. The folks who live in this small, remote village don't have much in the way of material comforts but what a marvelous sight they get to look up to each and every day!


More pretty views.  The photos don't show them well, but the apricot trees were lovely in bloom - the clusters of small flowers are a dainty shade of whitish pink.


Last stop for the morning was for lunch!  Zarif parked the van in a small that was filled mainly with trucks. Pat's conclusion was that we were eating in the Tajik equivalent of a truck stop. 


Kai went inside to survey the place and menu. He emerged with a thumb's up.  As we walked towards the front door, we noticed a small group of men eating outside, under the shade of the flowering apricot trees with a view of the river.  What a lovely spot for a picnic!  I would have loved to have done the same but unfortunately, it was a bit too chilly to eat al fresco.

Inside, we took seats at a table for four.  As expected, the restaurant serves traditional Tajik food.  Kai described the options for us- a few choices of soup. Shashlyk (aka grilled kabobs), kabobs (aka shashlyk that's baked in a dish versus grilled) and the ubiquitous plov. All four of us opted for the shashlyk. We all shared a pot of black tea.




My lunch plate.  The meat was a bit tough but the bits of fat were yummy!

After lunch and as we waited to get our bill, Zarif left the table.  Kai told us that Zarif is a devout Muslim and what he had done was to go off and pray.  Apparently, he also carried a container of water with him for ablution.  Thankfully, the bill was slow in coming so Zarif would have time to finish his prayers.

It was back to the van and a change in plans.  Dushanbe would have to wait!  I am feeling giddy with joy!