Before we set off from Bukhara towards Dushanbe, Tajikistan we carried out our usual checks (oil, coolant, screen wash etc.) and noticed that the sump guard had taken such a battering on the Uzbek and Turkmen roads it was basically hanging on by only one bolt. Fearing that if it came off it may rip most of the underside of the car with it we gingerly crawled to a local mechanic to get it re-bolted on. We thought we may as well mention the strange creaking that came from the front suspension when we went over any bump. This noise first started outside Cologne and had got gradually worse during the drive. When we demonstrated the creak to the mechanic a horrified look came across his face and he said (via a translator) that the suspension was completely broken, although we did sort of know this but were half-pretended it wasn’t, and there was zero chance we’d make it to Mongolia unless we fixed it. ‘Fair enough’ we thought and asked him to make it so. Unfortunately, like petrol and good roads Uzbekistan lacked most car parts and we would have to drive to the capital Tashkent, some 575km away.
This presented a few issues as Tashkent is north-east of Bukhara and Dushanbe south-east. Due to time and visa restraints this would mean that we would have to completely miss out Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway and head straight from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan. That’s just how dedicated we are to our jobs that we would cut out a country and a Mongol Rally highlight to make sure we were back in our offices on time. Hopefully this level of commitment won’t go unnoticed…
It would however cut out several days worth of driving and perhaps give us some rest days something that might be sorely needed after nearly 20 consecutive days doing 10 or so hours driving.
In Tashkent we spent a night at a charming hostel before heading out to find a mechanic to fix our suspension. We did find a ‘master’ mechanic who spoke pretty good English and who promised would be able to repair Lexi. Seemingly like all mechanics they worked using a ‘mechanics committee’ style and we had about 7 guys tinkering around while another 10 stood by watching. A short spot of haggling ensued and we settled on an agreeable price, they would also mend our axle brackets which apparently was on the verge of disintegrating. All fixed and ready to go!
Night under the watchful eye of a guard with an AK-47
On a dark, dark night there was a dark, dark hill. On the dark, dark hill there was a dark, dark town. In the dark, dark town there was lots of dark, dark streets. On the dark, dark streets there was dark, dark…literally nothing. Out of the dark, dark literally nothing some border guards…er…guarded! There was friendly guard with a big AK-47, customs officer guard proud to be a customs officer and quiet military man who mainly just sat watching TV.
It was with these border guards that the three of us ended our time in Uzbekistan. After a long drive over steep mountains and standardly poor and bumpy Uzbek roads we had reached the border town of Uchkurgan. Although we were almost certain this rural border crossing would be closed by this late hour we thought it best to at least have a look and if need be camp close by.
Here we stumbled across a military checkpoint and in horrible English and mimes we were told that the border crossing was about a mile back down the road but were welcome to sleep under their watchful, and armed, guard for the night. Just as we settled down to sleep the shift changed and the friendly guard left us and the new guard told us to move our camp to the border gate itself. Quickly throwing the sleeping bags and roll mats in the back of the car we drove to the gate and went to sleep on the road under the stars. When daylight broke we woke to a further friendly guard standing over us… it seemed they really had been guarding us all night.
The benefit of having a watchful eye on you all night is that by the time you enter customs everybody already knows you by your first name! So when you misplace your customs declaration they’re willing to let you dig through the car to find it.
Kyrgyzstan was a stark change to Uzbekistan having said hello and goodbye to the Kyrg border guard we immediately pulled onto a blissfully smooth highway. It’s the little things on the Mongol Rally that make you smile sometimes.
Whilst Uzbekistan is largely flat farmland, it looks a bit like Norfolk… no really, Kyrgyzstan is a truly beautiful country. We planned to drive most of the way across the country to the capital Bishkek. The first half of this drive was rocky and hot, so much so that we took a quick stop at a huge crystal blue lake in the mountains.
After another few hours driving we found ourselves in an entirely different landscape. Lexi heroically climbed up two 3500m peaks where we found ourselves amongst rolling green hills, yurts and wild (debatably) horses.
Whilst driving through the hills we were mysteriously pulled over by the police and sternly told off for not having our headlights on. They wanted to ‘fine’ us $50, after quite a bit of patience we managed to persuade them down to 50p. Based on the fact that the Queen is really, really important. They seemed happy anyway.
On our way down the mountain we stopped to take in some local delicacies… see below
Arriving in Bishkek at dark we hunted around for somewhere to stay finding ourselves at the delightful Ultimate Adventure B&B we mentioned in a previous post.
Ash, Henry and Will