November 2021 Update

It’s been a bit since I did one of these update posts- mostly because I was back on the road this fall after wrapping up my friend’s wedding in Colorado. 

Wild Times in Tajikistan 

I’ve taken on the Pamir Highway more times this year than I ever have in the past combined- so know that I know the entire route just about by heart. But this trip I did manage to get out to a few new days places. 

Aral Yuj Hike, South Aral Peak Hike, Karakul, Tajikistan
View from the top of Aral Yuj (South Aral Peak)

Welcome Back to the Wild Wild East 

First on the agenda was the far northern reaches of the Bartang Highway between Karakul Lake and Pasor Village. Naturally, we took some time to knock out a few new things including the short day hike up Aral Yuj (South Aral Peak) for views over Karakul

Next up we continued along the rough track that brought us past the interesting geoglyphs of Shurali and down the nerve-wracking Kök Jar Pass with unreal views of Tanymus Valley before bending a turn into the northern extremity of the Bartang Valley past Gudara and onto Pasor. 

Kok Jar Pass, Tajikistan
M holding on for dear life and debating why she lets me talk her into these adventures

Bartang Highs 

From Pasor we loaded up and started our trek to Khafrazdara Valley, only this time with the goal of reaching the viewpoint over Grum Grijmailo Glacier. The trip went a bit off the rails, my trekking buddy, M got sick, so I ended up making a day trip from our second camp to Grum Grijmailo, a 15 hour, 32 kilometers (20 miles) journey- in dumping snow and high elevation (all over 4,000 meters). 

The next day we realized we needed to get out of Khafrazdara since it was getting snowed in, so we made the journey back to Pasor to stay with a lovely family that had taken us in before the trek. 

Grum Grijmailo Glacier, Khafrazdara Valley, Tajikistan
Grum Grijmailo Glacier in the distance

From Pasor, we continued along the Bartang Highway toward Rushan, stopping into villages as we trundled our way down the valley. We had had plans to trek up to Peak Istiklol Base Camp and around Khijez on our way down, but those plans ended up shelved. 

After finishing up the Bartang we headed back to Khorog to rest for a couple of days before making our way back to Dushanbe

Yapshorv, Bartang Valley, Tajikistan
Goats and boys on the road near Yapshorv, Tajikistan

Just Think of the Shared Taxi as Your Dysfunctional Family for the Next 13 Hours

I always tell people traveling with me this before their first shared taxi ride- and usually, this is 1000% correct, especially on this one. 

We packed up and went to the shared taxi stand past the Khorog Airport to try and find a Dushanbe-bound car and after a little hassle, we found a van headed that way. 

This ride consisted of two drunk uncles in the front seat, one who kept his shit together, and the other- we’ll just call him uncle touchy. The middle row was home to three aunties, one a feisty fighter, one mellow, and mellow’s narcoleptic cousin who slept through almost the entire ride, and finally, me and M. in the back seat with a 25 year old who cracked a Baltika at 9 am. 

In the end, Baltika 25 thought it would be funny to switch seats with uncle touchy who kept fluttering his unibrow and waving at me from the front seat (a clear declaration of rural Tajik mountain man-love). Feisty auntie started hitting uncle touchy (me too, he kept trying to touch my upper thigh) until we stopped the car and Baltika 25 and uncle touchy switched seats once again. 

This led to an even drunker uncle touchy trying to pay for my dinner at a chaikhana stop in Kulob, followed by aunt feisty beating the shit out of him once we were back in the car for being a drunk pain in her ass (PS: don’t worry narcoleptic auntie was still sound asleep).

The grand finale took place outside the Badakhshan Taxi Stand in Dushanbe as me and M hopped in our Rakhsh Taxi (think Tajik uber), with uncle touchy trying to rip the door open while yelling that he wanted to go back to the hotel with us…

I told you- just one big giant dysfunctional family.

Our shared taxi driver likely questioning his life decisions to this point

News: They’ve almost entirely resurfaced the road from Dushanbe to Qala i Khumb (via Kulob) which has helped to cut the drive time between Dushanbe and Khorog to a mere 13 hours!

Jehova’s Witness Attempted Conversions in the Haft Kul & A Birthday at Kulikalon

After a couple of days recovering from our 13 hour dysfunctional family road trip, we headed up to Panjakent to make a short trip back into the Fann Mountains since M hadn’t seen them before. First up we made a day trip to the Haft Kul (I’ve been several times here in the past so I didn’t mind the day trip fast-track).

Gushor, Haft Kul, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

The real fun began on the return trip, having picked up about 8 hitchers along the road- a group of young Tajik hikers on their first overnight camping trip. I had offered M the front seat seeing that she’s obnoxiously tall but she declined, so I quickly fell asleep.

Next thing I know, we were back on the paved road near Panjakent when M began pointing out how beautiful the sunset (it was mediocre at best) was in English to me- so that’s when I knew something was up. 

So what had gone on while I was blissfully asleep in the front seat? The group of 8 were all Jehova’s Witnesses who aggressively tried to convert M the entire way back to Panjakent 🤣

Blissfully asleep and soon to have a neck ache

The following day we grabbed a car bound for Artuch and began our short trip to Kulikalon and spent my birthday up there. Nothing weird ensued this time… nothing like the rest of the trip thus far. 

Covid Theater + A Ceremonious Border Crossing

Since it was time to head over next door to Uzbekistan we used the opportunity to squeeze in a visit to the ancient ruins of Sarezm that I’ve passed countless times before without visiting. 

At the border, the ridiculousness began as we existed Tajik immigration with a busload of young guys carrying Tajik flags. We weren’t entirely sure what was happening until we got to the Uzbek side where we were greeted with more young guys toting Uzbek flags. What we gathered was that it was some kind of parade for the alleged dropping of visa schemes for citizens of the two countries.

Sarezm Border Crossing, Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border crossing

Even more ridiculous was the Covid theater to follow on the border. You see, there’s nowhere allegedly to get a covid test in Panjakent, so they administer them on the border when you get to the Uzbek side. So a lady in a billowing gown comes up to the fence every so often to swab people’s mouths that were formed into a mob against the gate. She’d take your payment and passport and put what was more than likely your vile in the passport and then run them over to the “laboratory”.

The lab appeared to be a random immigration building that I doubt even test the swabs- it appeared to be more likely just a guy inside who hand wrote the “results” on pieces of paper… you guessed it, all negative!

The funniest part was that there was no rhyme or reason behind when the tests came back- mine showed up in a mere two minutes (if that), while M’s took probably close to 20.

Destruction and Demolition in Uzbekistan 

I’ll save the blue tile fatigue and let you just read the posts I already have on SamarkandBukhara, and Khiva and skip straight on to the part where we met up with my good friend Dan in Khiva and then continued to Nukus to get out to the remaining South Aral Sea. 

The trip out to the South Aral Sea probably isn’t for everyone- it’s a long journey through fairly uninspiring landscapes until you git the Ustyurt Plateau, just before the current Aral Sea shore, after several hours of driving from Nukus.

Eventually, we did arrive at a yurt camp overlooking the shore, before all getting stuck in the Aral Sea mud and having to go for an outdoor shower in gale force winds back at the yurt camp. But hey, there was at least a huge family of Karakalpaks that had all come back home here to get together and party for the evening so there was vodka all around.

Yurt, Aral Sea, Uzbekistan
A plastic-wrapped yurt (I’m guessing to protect the feltwork from toxic dust?) and the Aral Sea at sunrise

On our return back to Nukus, another friend of mine had arrived there with his own wheels as part of a larger trip through Central Asia. His destination? Vozrozhdeniya Island, the once home to the secret bioweapons testing lab of Aralsk-7.

So of course I joined along- but I’ll cut the misery of a long story out of it: we drove for about 7 hours through the Aralkum Desert to find that the entire site had been bulldozed (and fairly recently). The ghost town of Kantubek and all the secret labs that were part of Aralsk-7 are gone, completely gone. 

I later found out from a contact (there’s not a single news mention of this I could find) that Kantubek and Arasl-7 were completely destroyed in the past few months, but it sounded like the ministry in charge realized that that may have screwed up seeing that it could have been made into a destination in its own right for dark/disaster tourism.

Aralsk-7, Kantubek, Vozrozhdeniya Island, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan
The remains of the Aralsk-7 Runway

Let’s go melt shit at Parkent

After the trip to literal nowhere and a train ride back across Uzbekistan, Dan and I made a brief stop for him to see Samarkand before heading up to Tashkent en route to the Fergana Valley, though we had an agenda: to see the Solar Furnace in nearby Parkent.

Built in 1981, the Solar Furnace (or Institue of the Sun) features thousands of curved mirrors that reflect light, creating concentrated solar power to reach temperatures as high as 3000ºC to make energy… or melt shit (we asked and we were told they actually do experiment with melting various things, because why not? The inner childhood pyro in my loves this).

Solar Furnace, Parkent, Uzbekistan
The Solar Furnace in Parkent
Solar Furnace, Parkent, Uzbekistan
Boiling some chai (see above commentary on melting shit)

A Return to the Uzbek Fergana Valley

For our last bit of time in Uzbekistan, Dan and I continued up to the Uzbek Fergana Valley to take him to see the historic cities, sites, and Silk weaving that goes on up there- in fact, I hadn’t been back myself in about five years or so. 

Mullah Kyrgyz Madrasa, Namangan, Uzbekistan
Mullah Kyrgyz Madrasa in Namangan, Fergana Valley

Monasteries and Gluttony in Georgia

My trick to getting back to the states for cheap you ask? Flying home from Tbilisi, Georgia. I haven’t quite figured out why, but it seems if I can get to Tbilisi, I can get back for a hell of a lot less than from Central Asia.

So needless to say, we had nearly a week of wine drinking and eating as much khachapuri, sulguni, lobio, khinkali, chirbuli, shkmeruli, Abkhazian ajika chicken, and badrijani nigvizit as possible (and also coating nearly everything consumed in ajika). Surprisingly we made some time for adventures, like our marshrutka roulette to Rkoni (don’t worry it was successful, despite there being any info on how to get there) and taking some time to fully explore Tbilisi between our many meals.  

Queen Tamar Bridge, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia-4
Me and our doggo escorts in Rkoni who insisted on getting a photo with me. Not pictured: lots of dog-on-dog humping
Spatchcocked Abkhazian Chicken in Ajika-Garlic Sauce, Amra Restaurant, Tbilisi, Georgia, Shkmeruli, Abkhaz chicken, Abkhazian chicken
Spatchcocked Abkhazian Chicken in Ajika-Garlic Sauce at Amra Restaurant (I still dream of this meal)

A Short Stay in Nevada

Since I was bound back home and found an incredibly cheap ticket from Tbilisi to Vegas, I decided to stop off for a few days on my way home to eek in a visit to Death Valley just across the border in California.

Artist's Palette, Death Valley, California
Artist’s Palette, Death Valley

What’s Next?

I’ll be leaving Christmas day bound for Baghdad to start the Iraq group trip (it sold out, so if you’re interested in a future departure, fill in the form on the sidebar on this page (near the bottom if viewing on mobile).

After that, I’m not entirely sure but am planning to stay in the Middle East region for a little while (so long as Covid doesn’t shut us all down again). 

New Posts

Since I haven’t done one of these updates since August, here are the new posts I got out since then:

Upcoming Posts

Since I may or may not get around to writing any form of update at the end of the year (or for a month or two…or three), here are some posts that are in the works:

  • Peak Engles Meadows Hike, Tajikistan
  • The Solar Furnace in Parkent, Uzbekistan
  • Shokhdara Valley, Tajikistan
  • The Gumbezkul Pass Hike, Tajikistan
  • Climbing Koh e Mekh, Afghanistan
  • A Tbilisi Travel Guide, Georgia
  • Visiting the Uzbek Fergana Valley 
  • The Trek up Aral Yuj, Tajikistan

So until then, happy adventuring!

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice, or over at World Nomads.

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