Mugrahb Tajikistan to Osh Kyrgyzstan – The border crossing

We woke up after 5am in Mugrahb because we needed to be away early for the minimum 10 hour drive to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. This involved a border crossing, one that we were approaching with trepidation. We could be fined, we could be evicted from the country, we could be stuck in no-man’s land at the border at over 4000m, or we could get through.When we woke, it was dark. Inside and out. Power was not on. Thankfully we all had our camping torches. the cars were packed, We paid our bill, but not until chasing up the hotel owner who was still asleep, despite our informing him of our earlier departure.
We drove up to the 24 hour petrol station the hotel said had diesel. We had to knock on the window to wake the staff up, only to be told, no diesel. Not in the whole town!
We calculated we could make Osh, as we had 2 full jerry cans in the back, but our main tank was only a quarter full! More pressure.
Off we went, the sun was just rising and it started to rain!
We forded the bridge-out section 5km north of Mugrahb. Luckily the water had just receded. A few days ago, locals with large trucks were making a fortune carrying travellers across the river because the road bridge had been washed away.

As we drove on, the clouds began to clear and the sun came out. We could not help but be continually overwhelmed by the beauty of this rugged, remote landscape.

Then came Ak-Baital, White Horse pass, at 4655 metres. Up we climbed. The cars were down on power. The air was thin.

Twisting up we went, trying to keep the revs up, as below 2000 rpm the diesel would almost stall. We needed to keep the turbocharger working to force the thin air into the engine. The Quokkavan fell way behind, their naturally aspirated engine struggling and blowing smoke.They need to go up in first gear. Finally we reached the top!

It was cold. Small snow flurries were felt, but we had made it. We patted each other on the back. Wow! A Roof of the World Highway we had just conquered!
We climbed back in quickly to begin our descent, heater full on, a satisfied grin on our faces. Again, more vistas.

We then travelled along a barbed wire fence that ran for a hundred kilometres or more. We were only 10kms from the Chinese border, and we were travelling along a secure corridor.

The next highlight was Lake Karakol, reputedly the highest navigable lake in the world at 3944m, higher than Lake Titicaca. It is a saline lake and freezes from September to May. There is a small village there. Amazing place to live! It was such a vivid blue, and the snow topped mountains surrounding it were spectacular.

40 kms away was the border. How would we go?. No photos of this area as the border officials are very strict on photography here. When we pulled up, there was a freezing cold wind blowing. What a god-forsaken post this was. At over 4000m, a collection of ramshackle huts with coal fired stoves, some basic cots in each building, rubbish everywhere. We had to go through several buildings carrying out the protocol, filling out forms. The longest part always involved the cars. Car papers required, ledgers filled in, some very dubious charges acquired and needed to be paid. Certified on one form and stamped but not added to any ledger. Most of it went into pockets we are sure. At one stage the Veterinary control officer wanted us to fill out forms and pay fees. We said no way. He said, Okay, you go!
Then all was done except the last visa and passport check, the gate awaiting us, but manned by an armed soldier. We went into the hut and handed our documents over. Stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, collect and stamp our GBAO permits we needed for the Pamir, then finally the group visa!
The official picked it up, scrutinised it, Andrew said, we only got a copy on entry, he looked again, stamped it and put it in his pile. Shook our hands and said goodbye. We were through!

The relief washed over us. Down we went to the Kyrgyz border. In the 20 km no-mans-land, the road was abysmal as nobody maintains it. On the way however we came across a couple who were cycling to Tajikistan. An American and his Italian girlfriend. They were resting after having ridden up the incredibly steep incline from the Kyrgyz border.

The Kyrgyz border was a relative breeze. Clean, organised, nice buildings, computer scan of passports. Only the car import/export documents were time consuming and needed a fee paid. Jus as we were leaving, a bunch of Italian motorcyclists, again on BMW bikes ( thank you Ewan McGregor!) rolled up. Ahead of us the border gate was shut. The customs guy told us to see ourselves out, but shut the gate behind us! Jeff did the honours.

Down we went into a whole new world. A little barren at height first, but then rolling green countryside with magnificent Kyrgyz horses everywhere.

Then at last, the roads became smooth. White lines marked. Road signs pointing to towns. We had a few mountains to cross but they were bliss. Then we came to the downhill zig-zag road. Stelvio Pass in Italy. Ha!

This was better!

There was the odd traffic jam, but not as you would expect!

Finally we reached Osh. A city of 300,00 people. Traffic. Speed cops. We had some trouble finding a hotel due to the series of one way roads and all the maps and street signs being in cyrillic. At last we got to our hotel.

A day of rest before more adventures.

C-YA Andrew and Jeff

Andrew Bochenek
Mongolia Charity Rally 2015

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