Kazakhstan/ Tajikistan/ Uzbekistan/ Kyrgyzstan 2019

Another week and we will arrive in Almaty and hopefully find the red Elan waiting at our hotel. After a long period of idleness, the first day is some 600 kms so hope its feeling good! Start day -4 Just heard from the rally organiser that the Elan has got stuck in reverse gear – what have they been doing out there? Off to see Graham Bolton tomorrow and hope he can give me some ideas; there’s not much he doesn’t know about these gearboxes.
Start day -2 and the rally organiser sends a what’sapp video of him driving the elan round the container park – forwards! Never a problem, just the guys unloading the container didn’t know how to change gear!!

Sunday 7th and we have arrived in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan.

the evening sun softens the stark communist era concreterie in the main square

We landed in Almaty (ex capital of Kazakhstan) in the early hours of Friday 5th when our first task was to visit Customs to register our arrival as part of the process to clear the cars. That was achieved later in the day and we got back to the hotel in the late afternoon. Even then it was apparent that it was seriously hot – in the thirties. On Saturday we set off for Shymkent in the west of the country – a long hard drive on variable roads of 8 hours without the stops. We had sun, rain accidents, crooked police but fortunately no breakdowns. I was stopped for so-say doing 64 in a 20 limit at some road works and my USD40 went straight into his glove box! What did happen was that the oil degraded and oil pressure dropped alarmingly. For my peace of mind we changed it once we got to Taskkent. On Sunday it was the Uzbek border crossing. Our organiser was adamant that we get to the border by 11.00 am and prepare ourselves for a 4 hour wait in the sun as the Uzbeks plodded through their procedures to ensure there was a queue. In the event the process was quite smooth and two hours was enough to get out of Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan. We had also been told to get the cars full of fuel as Uzbek quality is awful. We didn’t quite manage that and hope that a couple of gallons of Uzbek 91 Ron will mix with the Kazakh 96 to enable the car to run.

Statue of Tamerlane

Tomorrow is a rest day as we’ve done about 15% of the distance (but not the hours already). The car needs a rest as its been so hot and the guage is hovering between 90 and 100.

Tashkent Imam Hazrati Complex

Tashkent Sheikhantur

Over-the-hill route to Samarkand

Gur Amir – Mausoleum of Tamurlane

Bibi Khanum

The Registan

July 11 we drive to Dushanbe in Tajikistan after a day looking at the sights of Samarkand. Another border crossing which the organiser thought would take about an hour but was probably twice as long. The first car through was unloaded but they gave up on that by the time it was our turn. lunch stop at a small museum in Panjakent beside a muddy pool with over-ripe apricots falling around us. Then a long climb to about 2700 metres and the Iranian built Tunnel of Death- a 5km barely lit and unventillated tunnel; we followed the mechanics as they had lights that showed them where to go! We stopped on the way up before we overheated.

To avoid overheating

View on the descent

July 12 a rest day in Dushanbe. The heat is the killer! When we got out of the car last night, the ignition key was almost too hot to hold. At breakfast we listened to the rally organiser outline the route ahead for the next few days as we head into the wilderness of the Pamirs. Everything will be in short supply except for heat and dust! Should we take the by-pass route to the campsite in 3 days time, with the offer of easy tarmac, a shorter day but without the most scenic part of the drive along the Afghan border? Its posted as a 7 3/4+ hour day but bound to be longer for us. Bad news for the sweep as we will be the slowest car and he will have to stay with us. We’ll go for it but first we have to get to Khulaikhum and Khorog!

July 13 another long day as we head away from the capital and into the provinces. Dushanbe has wide tarmac roads and magnificent buildings – not so in the rest of the country! The first hurdle was another 5 km tunnel and we managed to find a passing local to lead us through.

Cyclists memorial

We passed a memorial to 4 cyclists killed in a terror attack a year earlier and then the halfway point of Kulob. Here we visited the mausoleum of the Iranian writer Hamadani where we were greeted like royalty – though as ever the car stole everyone’s attention. Our next stop was unintentional as the ascent to the pass proved too much for our cooling system so we stopped before we boiled over. That happened twice so that evening we removed the thermostat which we hope will let more water through the radiator. Police checkpoints were forecast to be a feature of this section of the rally as we are now in the semi autonomous area of Badakhshan. Visas and lifting the car headlights are what they want -every time!

First view of Afghanistan

Bridge to Afghanistan but not for us!

From here we are travelling the Afghan border – just across the river – and you know it looks just the same as where we are! We followed on and off tarmac to the overnight stop at khuilaikhum where the hotel was on the main road and the sight of 6 oddball classic cars was a magnet for every (annoying) kid for the whole town! We have a couple of niggly faults- the gear stick gaiter comes off which allows quantities of heat, noise and dust into the car, the passenger door jams and cannot be opened from inside and the headlight vacuum system (which lifts the lights) has a broken junction piece (and the new one broke as well!) so we’ve had to bodge an old damaged one.

July 14th an 8 hour drive at an average of 30 kph along off-road roads. This was the Pamir highway, the main trucking route from China with huge lorries plus trailers.

Give way – he’s bigger!

no kidding – that’s the way to go

The start of the day was unusually cool – thankfully – as we followed the river and the Afghan border all the way to Khorog.

Afghanistan over the river

July 15 a rest day in Khorog when not much got done! Our hotel was on the bank of the river separating us from Afghanistan and breakfast in the gardens gave us views to the other side.

Breakfast was as close as we got


July 16 a potentially long and rough day along the “Wakhan corridor” beside the river to a wilderness campsite. We opted for a more gentle route with more recognised roads. Our local guide accompanied us in his 4×4 and it was ironic that it was his 4×4 which broke down! we helped him repair his cv joint and shared a very sweet melon with a passing truck driver who stopped to look. After the lake the track was very rough and corrugated which meant that we were in first gear for much of the next 30 miles. At one incline, the track was so steep and rough that the car could not get up. We had to clear rocks, roll back,charge up and hope to limit the damage to the underside. On this section we sustained a lot of damage both to the sump guard which was smashed and dented and to the rear exhaust where the fixing under the boot was ripped out; the exhaust is now held in place by its safety chains. We got to the campsite and decided to leave the damage where it was but to raise the suspension to give us more ground clearance.

July 17 – the Sweep did most of the work to raise the suspension – the fine threads on the adjustable spring platforms had been filled with dust, which combined with a bit of damp meant the result was near concrete and needed a lot of extra leverage from his tools to turn the adjusters. We retraced our route along those 30 miles but more easily. Twice we stopped to remove stones which were rubbing between the dirt shield and the brake disc and once the car just stopped – and restarted a few moments rest. A couple of cars were suffering with variable fuel – cutting out or frothing out of the tanks.
After this work we were at the end of the rally with the sweep behind us. The plan had been to go to another wildcamp – we got there to find lots of mosquitoes but nothing else – change of plan but the organiser failed to tell us – he misjudged how far we had got but fortunately Phil and Kieron came to see the campsite and told us of the revised plans.

July 18 – another border crossing, now from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan. There had been a border dispute so the two posts are 20 km apart on the top of a mountain and that 20 km of no mans land has no-one to maintain the rocky, baked soil track which passes for a “road”. Fortunately we were going down hill but going up after rain would have required a 4WD. On the way we met various groups of cyclists. Question – who is more deranged, someone cycling in these conditions or someone in a Lotus Elan?

Golden marmot

with one of many cyclists

and they are cycling to over 4600 metres!

by Lake Karakol

Between the border posts

July 19 a rest day in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city. Both we and the car were dustbowls – it was everywhere! We tinkered with the car before taking it to a very thorough (and long winded) carwash at the garage next door Then a stroll up to Solomon Mountain and down to the river walks where an old aircraft sits in a clearing, its wings providing shade for a cafe.

July 20th from Osh we set out on our longest scheduled day to a yurt camp in a old caravanserai 500 kms and 9+ hours away.

Mountain pass-the camera suffered from the dust as well!

We together with Paul and Mary in the Jag XK decided that would be too long a day as most was on gravel and there was another yurt camp the following night. So we took most of the route before taking the tarmac to a hotel in Naryn. Even our route took 10 hours, not helped by having to return to the hotel to tighten up the fan belt which had been ok yesterday! And three halts on the inclines as we stopped to cool down before boiling over

July 21 no rush today as we had only a couple of hours drive to an upmarket yurt camp on the shores of Song Kul lake.

Beside a babbling brook….

To get there we had to climb the 33 Parrots Pass; we haven’t found out how it got that name though 33 seems to refer to the number of hairpins. These had to be taken at speed as we didn’t have enough spare engine power to pick our way gently round the rocks and gulleys – a bit of a wing and a prayer perhaps?

Count them if you can

Our Yurt, wood fire and 4 beds

Group breakfast

Action outside

Everywhere we looked here there were scattered yurt camps and herds of sheep, goats and horses – all looking very fit and well fed on the plentiful grass.

grazing herds/flocks

July 22 we left the lakeside wilderness for Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, sooner overtaken by the organiser in his 4WD who enveloped us in clouds of dust. Then it rained, the temperature dropped and we stopped to put on some warm clothes! The windscreen wiper rubber became detached from the holder so we stopped again to re-attach it – wearing waterproofs – but the rain did keep the dust down! Approaching Kochkor, we fortunately took the wrong road. This meant that we were going much slower as we came upon a police control! They stopped us but as we were not speeding and had our lights on, there was not much they could do apart from ask for documents and let us go on our way! Others were not so lucky and were done for “no headlights”. Allison decided the car was too empty so we had to stop (a number of times) until we found a women’s co-operative who made the felt rugs. Leaving town we picked up our “Sweep escort” – they had been making coffee waiting for us – all cars have trackers and the sweep is meant to follow the last car on the rally route; chose a different route and you lose the comfort of the Sweep. We stopped at Burana Tower where we found the Aston Martin

Burana Tower – dust affecting the camera shutter

View from the top on a hazy day

Then off to Bishkek mainly on tarmac side roads, following the Aston until his superior power on the hills left us behind.

July 23/24 two rest days in Bishkek, doing the sights, checking on the car (the sweep, Pablo had planned to attack the sump guard with a large hammer but problems with the Mercedes wheel bearings distracted him so we remain with a mis-shaped guard!). I made an attempt to hold the rear of the exhaust on a mounting bracket as opposed to the safety chains so time will tell how long that lasts!

Bishkek Ala Too Square

More Ala Too Square

In the bazaar

Swimming in Ala Too Square

Tree lined boulevard near the hotel

Austere WW2 Memorial

Tomorrow – we leave Bishkek (and the heat?) for Issy Kul lake and Karakol, will the Lotus exhaust and the Merceds rear wheel bearing hold up?

July 25 a drive along tarmac roads from Bishkek to Karakol, much of it alongside the 100+ mile long Issy Kul Lake. We were stopped twice by the police; the first was purely a “what is this?”, all very pleasant and we carried on. The second was on a dual carriageway when we were singled out in a line a free flowing traffic and asked for a USD 100 fine, this went gradually down to USD 40, then USD 25 then they gave up and I walked away clearly being a time waster! We tried to find a “salt lake” but that was a small fenced off pool so we tried the Skazka Valley Fairytale Canyon.

Skazka Valley

Skazka Valley

/ Then down to the lake for a sandwich lunch and very brief paddle;there was zero activity on the water and we were told there was plenty on the more developed northern shore but none here on the southern. We were now at 1600 metres compared to 700 at Bishkek but the effect on temperature was enormous. It was hot in the sun but otherwise cool – bearable!

By Issy Kul Lake

. After this, things got a bit confusing but not for us. The Sweep was tracking us as we took a wrong turn towards Barskoon Waterfall. As he lost network coverage, he assumed we had gone on to the waterfall so he followed along and found us not there! In fact we had taken the wrong turn into the village as Allison wanted to revisit a felt factory she had visited 12 years ago. She found it eventually by asking at a shop where someone recognised a person in the photos she had. So we found the factory, had koumiss with owner, talked about changes to the factory and were given some hand made mats for car seats representing a traditional pattern. When the sweep regained coverage he saw a spiders web of tracks as we wandered round the village. We were last into the hotel and spent a happy hour repairing the door lock which was threatening to fall off and did just that as soon as we showed it the toolbox. We had bypassed a fine art museum but in doing so missed an abandoned Soviet era uranium mining village, which was much more interesting!

July 26 a rest day in Karakol, Allison went to the market with our Kyrgy guide whilst I attempted the never ending tasks of dusting the inside of the car with a damp cloth and adjusting the handbrake. En route to tge picnic arranged by the organiser (60 kms away) we visited the Russian Orthodox Church (rebuilt 1860 following an earthquake) and the Chinese Mosque, built without nails

Karakol Orthodox Church

Dungan Mosque

We were late to the picnic site after being stopped by some would-be police who had a barrier across the road and demanded documents so I asked them for proof they were police; they showed something but it could have been swimming club membership for all I knew! We got through but decided that Allison could drive back in the afternoon.

Picnic Valley

Tomorrow we are camping and then its our last driving day arriving in Almaty on Sunday afternoon.

July 27 – our drive to the Kazakh border was obstructed by the closure of the highway (which we took to avoid 25 kms of rough road) but as it happens we got rough roads when the highway ended!

Last road in Kyrgyzstan

The road was mainly tarmac in Kazakhstan but undulating and we had to slow to avoid smashing the exhaust as rear bounced up and down. The exhaust survived but we broke the catch chain, which I heard dragging on the road. The sight of the day was Charyn Canyon, it must have been formed by a river but the floor now is a dry and dusty trail leading to a holiday village

The smooth, bleak road to the Canyon

Above the canyon

The Canyon Floor

A walk along the valley flopr

Heading for the Campsite we were stopped by the organiser to be told that the site was very windy with sand blowing everywhere in the gusts; did we want to camp or continue to Almaty, as the first three cars had done? We chose Almaty. At a cafe in the next village we met up with the crew and, later, the last three cars – all of whom chose to camp! We took the Highway and an uneventful 2 hour run to the hotel. The alternative was the “rally route” which the organiser later told us was rougher than expected.

July 28 – our first call was Violet’s car wash, where we sat with Richard and Heather and a civilised tea whilst an almost all-female team cleaned the cars. Then sightseeing, the Orthodox Cathedral,

Cathedral of the holy Ascension

the Arasan Baths “exuberant 1980’s Soviet architecture” and the pedestrianised Zhibek Zholy Street after which we took a tube and walking route back to the hotel and the end of the rally. The car had not done the entire rally route but had survived some very rough tracks with no major problems and not even a puncture;plenty of minor niggles, mainly caused by things rattling loose. Next trip – Moscow in the yellow Elan,lets hope its more successful than its abortive trip to New Zealand!

Leaving the Almaty hotel for the container port

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