Friday, April 3, 2015

Roadtrip to Dushanbe. Iskander Kul, the Anzob Tunnel, & a Car Wash.

Iskander Kul
The photo was too gorgeous to display in any other format than its original panoramic width.  Use the scroll bar to pan to see the entire photo.

After lunch at a small roadside restaurant, where truckers outnumbered everyone else, the plan was to continue our drive towards Dushanbe where we would spend the rest of the day seeing the city sights. But something came over me as I walked back towards the van. It said to not go to Dushanbe. It said to go to Iskander Kul. Earlier, Kai had said that it would not be possible for us to go to Iskander Kul because it would take us too far out of the way. Well, I wanted to go. It was such a glorious spring day and I hadn't had enough of the spectacular mountain scenery. I thought to my self....what if we gave up our sightseeing afternoon in Dushanbe? Could we then go to Iskander Kul?


 I decided to pose those questions to Kai. He was a bit taken aback at first but when he realized I was serious, he answered, "yes". I then asked Pat if she was willing to forgo seeing the Dushanbe sights to see the lake. I thought I would have to convince her but she was already on board with not seeing another museum, mosque or madrasah. So we Kai, we wanted to go to the lake. He called his office to inform them of our wishes and to get their approval. When he got off the phone, he told us we were going to the lake!!  He then delivered the news to Zarif.  In a way, I think both of them were just as happy as we were to spend more time with Mother Nature. 

From the restaurant, we were just stone's throw from the turnoff to Iskander Kul.  The sign said we had 24 kilometers to go but the road is narrow and unpaved.  It will easily take an hour to get there.

The road ran alongside another river or perhaps it was still the Zarafshon.  Whatever it was, the color of the water was something I could not get over.  


We passed several flock of sheep and goats grazing.  Looking at the landscape, it was hard to figure out what they were grazing on.  There's barely a blade of grass to be seen anywhere.



As we rode along, I was in my happy space - absolutely thrilled with the decision to go to the see the lake versus spending time in the city.


It was a bumpy ride but both Pat and I are used to offroading.  Besides, it was worth if for the scenery.  I'm so glad we came to Tajikistan at this time of year - later in the year and much of the snow will have melted off.



Then....we saw a glimpse of liquid turquoise.  I swear I had goosebumps when Kai confirmed it was Iskander Kul we were looking at.



We stopped to take in the view and of course, snap a few photos.


The winding road, often littered with debris brought down by melting snow, led down to the level of the lake.

Zarif parked the van and followed Kai for a short walk that led us, through a wooded camp resort, to the shore of the lake.


Oh. My. God.  Iskander Kul is a small lake but it is absolutely STUNNING!!  The water is a shade turquoise green that I have ever only seen one before and that was with Yamdrok Tso, a mountain lake in Tibet.  It's only when you are in pristine nature that you see water like this!





We spent a few minutes taking in the impressive views.  WOW!  There was a small lakeside restaurant but unfortunately, it was closed - probably too early in the season.  Otherwise, I would have convinced Pat and Kai to sit and have a drink so we could enjoy the view for a bit longer.  But, alas, we left after a short while.

On our walk back to the van, Kai suggested we hike up a nearby hill. On the other side we would have a view of what he called Snake Lake - another beautiful lake. We would also be able to see Iskander Kul from a higher vantage point. He said it was a difficult climb. We said would give it a try. The first part was steep but manageable if I went slowly. It was just dirt so I had to be careful of slipping on loose dirt. I was really impressed that Pat was able to do the climb and without needing any assistance from Kai. The second section was even steeper. I took one look at it and said that I would not do the climb. Pat had the exact same reaction as I. Kai looked a bit disappointed. I think he really wanted us to have the view but he understood..   Perhaps I should have sent him up with my camera to take a few photos.  Oh well.

On to Dushanbe. 



On our way, we had Zarif stopped once more so we could take photos of the lake from another angle - it was where the lake emptied into a small stream.  At the mouth of the stream, the shallow water was in shades of light green and yellow.  So beautiful.





Our next stop was at a small ice field that Kai said was a place that you could often see partridges.


Hard as we looked, we didn't see any birds.  But the boy in Kai could not resist playing with the snow :-)




As Zarif maneuvered the van on the gravel road, we just gazed at the scenery.  I can never tire of such views.


We passed by quite a few small villages on our drive.  We noticed that in many of them, brand new brick homes were being constructed.  Kai told us that many of the men, who live in the region, are working in Russia and sending money back to their families who are in turn, using the money to build the homes.  According to Kai, the homes reflect Russian architecture which is preferred as it appears to connote higher economic status.  Personally, I didn't think they were attractive homes - I prefer the traditional Tajik design.


Our next stop was at one of the local villages.  The sight of cows licking logs caught our attention.  I just did a search on the web and learned that *lick logs* is a log that is either split or has a trough cut into it. The trough is then filled with salt which the cattle lick.  This forces them to drink more water and therefore, put on more weight.  Typically, cattle owners will take their animals to the licklog just before they are sold and led off to slaughter.  Interesting.



A cute and curious calf walked up to me.  I petted it and then sent it off before Mom noticed.


Cute village boys, as curious about us as we were about them.

Several kilometers away from Isakander Kul and the same small river that we had seen water flowing into from the lake was now a raging river.


The fluffy whitish pink blooms of apricot trees.

Eventually, we arrived back at our starting point, near the restaurant where we had eaten lunch.  Zarif turned on to the road leading to Dushanbe.  We soon left the green valley behind, returning to the dramatic mountain tops.


Winter is still here.  It was a warm day today but I can imagine that the temperatures plummet at night.


Then...., another moment I had been waiting for.  The Anzob Tunnel!  You wouldn't think that driving through a tunnel would be something that you would consider as an experience of a lifetime but this truly was.  A ride like I've never been on before.  Although the tunnel is only about 5.5 kilometers (3.5 miles) in length, it took us nearly 20 minutes to get from one end to the other.  It's a two lane tunnel.  It's not lit.  The road is filled with potholes that the driver cannot easily see. There are construction vehicles parked where they shouldn't be.  Not to mention there are people working inside the tunnel.  The air is hazy because there is no ventilation.  Oh....and Zarif had to use his windshield wipers.  WTF?  Quite a ride!  Zarif and Kai and driven this route dozens of times so they're completely immune to all that is odd and slightly scary about the tunnel but for Pat and I, it was a ride like no other!



We were relieved to make it out of the tunnel unscathed.  We were greeted by a winter wonderland.  A thick cover of snow blanketed the ground and the mountainsides.




As we continued on, we passed through more tunnels -  very short ones that were built, most likely, to break up avalanches.


The road wound its way down the mountains, following course of a small, raging river.



Shortly, before we arrived into Dushanbe, we had to make another stop.  This time to get the car washed!  Believe it or not, there is a law in Dushanbe that all cars, the city, must be clean.  I've never heard of such a thing before!  Apparently, you'll be fined 60 somoni f you're stopped by the police for having a dirty car. Since the van is white in color and we had been driving all day on dusty, muddy roads, there is no way that it would unnoticed on the streets of Dushanbe.

So, all the along the road, you find enterprising who had set up *pop up* car washes; the water is simply pumped up from the river.  It costs 10 somoni for a wash.

This was too entertaining to not capture on video :-)



When the guys were done, Zarif did a check before paying the guys.  He wasn't too satisfied with the wheel wells so he grabbed the hose and a cloth and wiped them down some more. 

Clean van!

As we reached a security checkpoint, I caught a quick glimpse of young boys selling green onions.  Seemed like an odd thing to sell but as we drove further, there was the occasional child waving onions at us.


Further along, we started to see buildings alongside the river.  According to Kai, this region is a popular vacation spot for Tajiks - mainly for residents of Dushanbe who come here to escape the summer heat.  The buildings belong to individual resorts.




We arrived into Dushanbe shortly before 7p.  It had been a long day and Pat and I were ready to call it a day but we had to have some dinner so we agreed to meet back up with Kai at 7:30p.

Skipping sightseeing in Dushanbe was the best decision we made today. The incredible sight of Iskander Kul will be something I will remember forever!  And....driving through the Anzob Tunnel and getting our car washed on the roadside will forever give me a good chuckle!

I'm ready for dinner!