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Flirting with Afghanistan

We entered Tajikistan with one aim - to conquer the Pamir Highway, which starts in the south of the county and winds over the mountains to Kyrgyzstan. With one of our fastest border crossings yet, we burst into Tajikistan and shot past the world’s tallest flagpole with only a quick overnight pit stop in the capital, Dushanbe. It’s a capital which has seemingly bounced back from civil war, which officially ended in 1997 (although there has been examples of violent outbreaks as recently as September of last year). A zoo, a lavishly-lit racecourse and green parks confidently hint at new wealth and a city on the up. But our main interest lay further ahead; and we pushed on eagerly. As we approached the southern “highway”, the rocky roads hugged the Afghan border. We looked across the river to find we were driving in parallel with Afghan cars and motorbikes. The only sign of UK-reported unrest was the regular Tajik army border patrols, who’d smile and wave as we passed by. The ditches, humps and jagged rocks which formed the “road” soon took its toll on the newly-installed sump guard. Each of the four corners sequentially came away from the car and dragged the ground. Putting our amateur mechanic skills to the test, we crawled under a jacked-up Bluey, wired up the sump and limped on gingerly. Each village would have a go at fixing it, with varying degrees of success. Whilst slightly morally draining, sumpy’s desire to be liberated from Bluey’s underbelly had the positive effect of bringing us closer to the kindness of the Tajikistan people - people who would drop everything to help a few weary travellers continue on their journey. Following our “test and learn” approach, over the course of one day we had mastered the best mechanism for holding the sump guard securely under our engine. Wire! Not fancy bolts or welding. Reaching Khorog we rewarded ourselves with a shower and the first curry of the trip, and on meeting other ralliers we soon realised that not only were issues with sumps common, we were very lucky the nearly impassable roads hadn’t caused us bigger problems. Buoyed by our relative ease of passage, we hit the road with renewed enthusiasm. Over the next three days we weaved around the snow-capped mountains and sparkling lakes, popping up over high passes nearing the height of Europe’s Mt Blanc. Camping at these heights proved nippy, especially for Charlie in his child-sized sleeping bag (a little lesson for him for the future - that sleeping bags come in a variety of sizes)! On passing the Tajikistan border the team was certain that the highway presented one of the most memorable experiences so far, and certainly some of the most epic photos!

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