Hello Tajikistan

Murghab (Tajikistan), 05.06.2013

It was a rough start this morning. Drugged by the beauty of the Alau yesterday we forgot to mention that it was 5 degrees Celsius when we went to sleep and that I had started to breathe heavier once we had reached 3500m, feeling very exhausted in the evening after a rather normal driving day. Well, during the night the temperature further dropped. The last time we had camped in the mountains was in freezing cold Armenia, but this time it was worse. And I couldn’t sleep because of the lack of air, the heavy breathing. The altitude is showing its effect. Also, our fantastically comfortable aerobed is leaking air, this night more then usual, making it hell for our backs. And as if all this wasn’t enough, it started raining at around 03:00. I woke up at 05:00, completely frozen and with wet feet, went to the car and got our dawn jackets out. We were very close to sending them back to Europe, since we want to make room in the car. Fortunately we didn’t, because they are sort of a second sleeping bag. Back in the tent I fell asleep after an hour, still fighting with the breath but at least comfortably warm down to the feet.

The sun had already dried one part of the tent when we woke up. We were destroyed before the day had even started. Moving is exhausting up here, and it took us ages to make breakfast, pack our stuff, take a freezing cold speed shower. At 11:45 we hit the road, and soon after it went straight up into the mountains. We had discovered our sat phone’s GPS functionalities during breakfast and seen that we camped at over 3600m. Soon after we passed the Kirgiz border station and drove further up. The road is unpaved, and in bad shape, and somehow the Range Rover lost power. We drove all first and second gear, if not just first gear. Suddenly the car showed a red alert, the engine was overheating and the temperature indicator was over the max limit. I’m always having an eye on the display and didn’t see the temperature rising, it must have happened very fast. We stopped immediately, opened the engine hood and waited a while. Every move costs energy, stepping out of the car, walking to open the hood, back into the car – exhausted. We continued slowly up, all in first gear now. In 20km of driving we made over 700m of altitude as we crossed the Kyzyl Art Pass at 4298m, we’ve never been this high up in our lives! Another break, again the few steps to take some pictures costed tons of energy.

Diesel consumption was high at 15l/100km as we crossed the pass, and we started to worry about autonomy. Yesterday night at the last village the gas station was closed and we had little fuel left plus the two spare tanks and no idea of what to expect from Tajikistan. Down the pass we rolled, but the brakes started to make strange noises, not for the first time on our journey. Soon after we reached the Tajik border station. We had to wait until a 15 motor bike convoy left, many Britons, a French, a Swiss, Americans. Friendly travelers, we chatted with two of them while we waited. Then it was our turn. Passport, immigration, customs and road police in just half an hour. 15 USD was all we had to pay, and everybody was extremely welcoming.

Past the border we entered the Pamir region, the road leads close to no mans land with China for a long time on the left. It’s hard o describe the beauty of the mountains here, but we’ve never seen anything similar. It was a clear day, visibility was excellent as we drove through the vast valleys, admired the panorama. The impressive features of the area are the vastness, the emptiness, the clear colors. Progressing slowly, we reached the bright blue Karakol lake, that contrasts sharply with the yellow desert plain surrounding it. Shortly after the car gave another, yellow warning. The diesel particles filter was full. We drove on carefully, trying to understand from the handbook what to do. Soon after the same alert repeated, but red. “See a dealer”. Well, the next one is probably 6000km away, what do we do? Our sat phone came into action at this point, no mobile coverage up here. I called our dealer’s garage in Madrid to understand what to do. Basically the guess is that thousands of km with dirty truck diesel have stuffed the filter with dirt. This combined with high altitude kill the engine power and the car can overheat. Following the dealer’s instructions, I tried to drive at high rpm and as close to 90km/h as the roads up here allow. The engine won’t exceed 2700 rpm at best, and over 70km/h it gets complicated to drive. It takes a lot of concentration at the fatigue levels up here. Altitude sickness sucks!

But we weren’t finished for the day. The Ak Baital Pass was still ahead of us, and I was afraid of the engine dying on us. Fortunately the Range Rover took us up to 4655m, slowly but steadily, without further issues. After the pass, the second altitude record in a day for us, the road took us downhill and then continued for a long time predominantly flat. We met several cyclists up here, tourists and locals.

Finally we reached Murghab, approx. 3500m “low”. We fueled up, found a local handicraft store and a hotel. Our forces were leaving us as we went for a very early dinner. The people at the hotel and particularly the women in the open kitchen were so super friendly, looking at us with a smile all the time. We had salad, shorba (soup with mutton, potato and carrot, called Laghman in Kirgizstan) and mante (steamed dumplings filled with mutton). So delicious! For today it’s game over. We need to recover. Tomorrow more discoveries will be waiting for us.

Trip data for the day

– Km driven: 212

– Hrs on the road: approx 7h

– Diesel l/100km: 8,9

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