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Early in the morning, the convoy with three drivers arrived at our hotel in Dushanbe. They will take us from Dushanbe through the Pamir to Osh in Kyrgyzstan.
Shane Dallas, also known as the Travel Camel, has brought together the participants of this tour. He is waiting for the drivers and the guide in the lobby of the Hotel Lotus.
The executing organization is Pamir Guides (pamirguides.org), based in Murghab. In fact, most of the drivers and guides of the company live in Osh but originate from Murgab or the surrounding area.
After a first get-together, we stow our luggage and set off. Destination of the first day is Kalaikhum, about 370 km away.
Shortly after Dushanbe, we are stopped on the first long straight road section. A policeman waved with a radar gun around in the air. It did not look like he could carry out a sensible measurement this way. Even so, the drivers had to pay for the supposedly too fast driving.
The Pamir Highway usually leads directly from Dushanbe to Kalaikhum. This route is also known as the northern route. The southern route leads via Hulbuk and Kulob to the valley of the Panj River. Many members of the Tajik government of Duschanbe originate from this region. This route is longer than the northern one, but the road surface is much better. At that time we do not yet appreciate this.
From Dushanbe, we drive eastwards but turn to the south after approx. 20 km. Then the road climbs continuously. After a short time, we pass the 4.5-kilometer-long Khatlon Tunnel (formerly called Chormaghzak Tunnel) before the road descends again into the Vakhsh Valley. A bridge crosses the river west of Nurek City.
Immediately afterward, the road climbs again and leads through the approximately 2.2 km long Shar-Shar Tunnel, renamed Ozodi (Freedom) Tunnel. Leaving the tunnel, the view opens towards the Nurek Dam, currently the highest dam in the world. A 300 m high dam holds back the lake to more than 70 km in length. It was built with Soviet help in 1961. An even higher dam with a height of 335 m is upstream under construction. It is to generate electricity for two further aluminum plants and for the export.
The making of the two tunnels started with Chinese help in 2007. China invested a total of $ 720 million in Tajikistan.
The area is seismically active. Since the construction of the dam, the activity has increased.
Shortly after the Shar-Shar Tunnel is a rest place. From here we have a wonderful view of the water reservoir. Besides, you find some food stalls. We take the opportunity to gather first impressions of the daily life in Tajikistan.
The journey continues through a hilly pastureland. Although the meadows seem brown and a little dried up, we see large animal herds, mainly cows, and goats.
Then we reach Hulbuk (Pingan). It seems to be market day.
In the distance, we see the elevation of the 1334 m high mountain Chodscha Mumin. Already Marco Polo has reported of it. Estimated it contains over 30 billion tons of salt. Thus, Hulbuk and Kulob also have a railway connection, used to transport the salt.
From the 9th to 11th century, Hulbuk was under the rule of the Samanids and Ghaznavids. At that time it was among the biggest cities in Central Asia. Later the Seljuks destroyed the city. A mighty citadel was part of the city. Read more about our visit of the citadel.
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