|Iskanderkul Lake, Tajikistan|
Saturday afternoon a friend and I flew to Dushanbe where we were met at the airport by our guide, Miskala, the owner of Orom Travel who had responded to our last minute request for a guide and driver with amazing speed and willingness to accommodate. After a filling Indian meal at Namaste-Salaam, we began the drive from Dushanbe to Iskander Kul under grey skies. By the time we reached the third and final toll booth before the ascent to Anzob pass, it was dark, and clouds were spitting rain. The toll booth attendant told Miskala that it was snowing on the pass and that there was a big traffic jam up there. After a brief conference we decided to press on. When we reached the point where the rain turned to snow, we saw what the toll booth attendant meant. Nearly a dozen big Chinese trucks were stopped haphazardly along a one kilometer stretch of road the drivers outside trying to attach their traction devices on the icy road. Sprinkled among them was the odd Mercedes sedan, one with a trunk piled full with rocks in an effort to gain more control. We weaved in and out vehicles stranded on the ice dodging an occasional Toyota coming down the hill, and with only one scary moment, we inched our way to the top of the hill and the "Tunnel of Death."
|Aznob Tunnel ("the Tunnel of Death") Tajikistan|
Anzob Tunnel is five terrifying kilometers of darkness and smog. Apparently unfinished, the interior of the tunnel is some of the roughest road I've ever ridden on. Once paved but now largely dirt, the way is mined with potholes and left-over construction equipment. Steel reinforcement bars poke out of the tunnel walls. Cars zigzag through the through the maze of ruts and potholes their low-beams illuminating the dust and smog that help give the ventilation-less tunnel it's nickname. After 20 long minutes in the tunnel we emerged on the other side alive, but facing a steep icy descent from the pass. Miskala, for a moment, considered turning around but when we pointed out that either way she'd have to descend an icy road, we pressed forward. Our Toyota Rav4 inched down the mountain passing cars that had slid into the drainage ditch or nearly off the road. As we dropped in altitude, the snow stopped, and then suddenly, the road was dry.
After another hour on a good road and an hour after that on a rough dirt road, we managed to reach Iskander Kul shortly after 11 pm, four and a half hours after leaving Dushanbe. We stayed at the camp, a collection of thirty-odd cottages on by the shore of the lake, in a small, freezing cold wood-sided cabin with only one space heater for four rooms. The night was cold, but the morning was colder - a frigid -6 degrees centigrade. We breakfasted on a feast of fruit salad, fresh bread, and fried eggs in the glass-sided dining hall before walking around the turquoise lake set among jagged, rocky peaks to the Presidential Dacha and the legendary honeymoon
cave of Alexander the Great before walking through the gorge and then climbing up to an Autumn-gold sub-alpine meadow shaded by rocky mountains thrusting into the deep blue sky. We followed the meadow to the village of Saratag, and then wound our way through the village, politely declining offers of tea from the villagers, until we were able to see the Great Ganza (over 5,200m in elevation). After a quick trip to a suspension foot bridge we dined on potato soup and hot tea provided by a generous villager before beginning our walk back to Iskanderkul.
The next day, before leaving Iskanderkul, we took a short, half hour hike to a waterfall, and on our way back scrambled into an old, rusty hand-crank cable car and crossed the river. After lunch we began the trip eastward to the Seven Lakes.
|The road to Panjakent|
road follows the Zaravshan River through a narrow gorge dotted with tiny villages colored red by the changing leaves of the apricot groves and crisscrossing the river on old one-lane cable suspension bridges. After nearly five hours (of a three hour trip) bouncing along occasionally paved dirt road and detouring through a village (where a young boy exclaimed in surprise "A Woman driver!") to get past a section of the road that is closed for construction. We arrived at our guest house just above the fourth lake just in time for dinner.
|The road to Panjakent|
|Seven Lakes, Tajikistan (the Seventh Lake)|
The next morning dawned grey and dreary. We drove leisurely back down the valley stopping to take pictures of the first four lakes and at a village to explore it's narrow streets and multi-home compounds before continuing our drive to Panjakent.
|Panjakent Tea House|
You've made it to the end of the post! Congratulations! Next post will probably be a monster picture post with pics of all the hikes I've taken this fall - unless something more exciting happens first...