We had a full car as we departed Karakul and said our goodbyes to Tajikistan. In our 4×4 there was myself, Steve, Ashraf, Connor, the Belgian couple, and our Kyrgyz driver. Our luggage was strapped to the top of the vehicle that morning and we headed off down the gravel road towards Kyrgyzstan.
The border crossing between these two countries is a bit unique. Rather than checking out and then checking in right after each other, we had to check out of Tajikistan then drive through the mountains to reach the entry point to Kyrgyzstan. I wish we had been able to take pictures at the check points, but they were staffed by military and of course that wasn’t allowed.
Leaving Tajikistan was amusing. The border guard’s office was a shipping container that we had to enter one-by-one. We all had paper copies of our e-visas and we were required to hand these in as we left to prove we did not overstay our 30 days. This was all simple enough until we discovered that our information was being recorded in a hand-written ledger book that looked like something out of Harry Potter and our border guard was then tossing our e-visas over his shoulder onto a huge pile of other papers. They seemed happy enough and let us go but Steve and I were receiving warning emails from the Tajik government for MONTHS afterwards about the fines for overstaying a visa… I guess the hand-written ledger didn’t make its way to the data entry office…
Another great sight to see was the 4×4 that pulled up after us with several families in it and two or three goats strapped to the roof under blankets with just their heads poking out! And we thought our ride was squishy…
By that point, I thought we had seen all Tajikistan could offer us in terms of stunning mountain views, but I was wrong! The mountainous area between the border check points was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I’ve never seen so many different pastel and muted colours in a mountain setting. That was one of the highlights of Tajikistan for me because it was so unexpected and unique.
We drove by a ram statue and Tajik map, which we assumed meant we were officially leaving the country.
As we headed into Kyrgyzstan, the landscape changed from mountains to greener pastures. We stopped at the Kyrgyz border and had one of the sketchier bathroom experiences of the trip (I’ll leave it at that – it had a great view though!). It took some time to be processed because there were a few other vehicles there but eventually we were sent on our way towards the first Kyrgyz village of Sary-Tash.
Sary-Tash wasn’t much to write home about but we were hungry and it was our planned lunch stop. We also had to say goodbye to the Belgian couple at this point because Kyrgyz laws don’t allow for one vehicle to transport six tourists. Thanks to our driver, they were able to find their own ride onwards to Osh (our final destination that day). I’m sure they enjoyed not being squished in the two back seats for those final hours.
The roads after Sary-Tash were just as gorgeous, with more yurts and horses around every bend. We also came across the most amazing hairpin turn road as we descended from the mountains.
We spent one night in Osh just to relax and refresh. We had to allocate so much time for the Pamir Highway portion of the trip that we were forced to cut out more time in the larger cities, but to be honest, I didn’t mind. We had a great BBQ dinner and had an early night.
As many of you know, Steve loves hats, so I should mention his special souvenir that my brother picked out for him in Osh – a kalpak. The kalpak is a traditional Kyrgyz men’s hat that is made of a soft, felt-like fabric and embroidered with different abstract motifs. It actually folds up in four sections and was very easy to carry around for the rest of the trip. My brother and Connor have matching ones and they are a great little reminder of all the friendly people we met in Central Asia!