Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, was the first to describe the ancient link between East and West, which is more than a trade route. Tracing the importance of the Silk Road was Konrad Fobbe’s intention when preparing his Land Rover for the long tour across two continents. Years ago, his Special Adventure company specialized in organizing exclusive trips. Participants value real adventure above all else. If it then runs smoothly and even comfortably in between – all the better.
If you want to experience the landscape on foot, it requires surefootedness. The few people you meet in the rugged Asian high mountains are delighted to meet you and mostly want to know where you come from and what brought you here.
A suitable concept for everyone
Customer wishes are to be individually catered for as early as the planning stage. If the tour takes 150 days over a long distance, for example, there is the choice of driving the entire route in your own vehicle or joining you later for individual partial stages. If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can save yourself a lot of red tape and only have to take a seat in the organizer’s vehicle or that of a local guide. Basically, all necessary permits are obtained by Special Adventure in advance, as well as visas and permits. Guests do not have to expect unpleasant surprises that could have been avoided in advance.
Lothar and Heidi want to sit behind the wheel of the off-road car rented in Kyrgyzstan. The small tour group does not miss how much the two are enjoying celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary in Tajikistan.
Even mishaps have entertainment value
Despite thorough preparation, technical breakdowns or health problems cannot be avoided on 15,000 kilometers, and at some point on the tour everyone has the opportunity to contribute their special knowledge and creativity.
Again and again, Ivan, the driver who knows his way around, amazed us with his wealth of ideas; for example, when he mended a flat tire within a few minutes.
The protruding ends of the rubber are cut off, and the heat generated in the tire by the onward journey closes the hole tightly and withstands all the torture for hundreds of kilometers. It is not until an extensive stop in a major city that the tire is permanently repaired.
Extreme climbs and stuffy tunnels
The long climbs before Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, make the trucks’ engines run hot, which skilled cyclists take advantage of for miles.
Less pleasant and quite dangerous are the long, poorly lit and ventilated tunnels with their many potholes. The most famous: the 5-kilometer-long Anzob tunnel, which was not completed a few years ago but nevertheless put into operation. This is because in winter it is the only transport link between northern and southern Tajikistan that does not require a detour via Uzbekistan. In one of the two single-lane tunnel tubes, Chinese trucks and impatient SUV drivers get dangerously close to each other. Despite poor visibility and a damaged roadway, people are constantly overtaking. Everyone is in a hurry, because staying too long in the exhaust fumes quickly leads to drowsiness. Cyclists strongly advise taking a cab to pass through the tunnel.
Road marshals can stop you – or not
In the course of the trip, we get just an inkling of the many bureaucratic hurdles that each and every border crossing in a non-EU country entails. Visas, which have to be applied for beforehand, and passport controls are known from many countries. Frequent travelers are also familiar with being questioned at length at borders. But the border crossing is complicated by the presence of vehicles. If the right papers are not obtained beforehand, the vehicle is considered to be an export and customs duty is charged. But even with the best preparation, the time spent at borders and the 17 checkpoints that Tajikistan’s military has set up in the border area with Afghanistan can be considerable. Unless you know Ivan’s special trick.
For the fastest possible clearance, Ivan, our driver, has figured out a procedure. At the beginning of the trip, he made 17 copies of all passports and official permission letters, which he bundled for the whole group at the checkpoints in the special region of Gorno-Badakhshan. Thus, he not only saved us the time-consuming waiting, but also the guard on duty the tedious copying of all entries.
Special Adventure does not rule out short-term deviations from future routes in this region, because the safety of all participants comes first. In view of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and the proximity to Afghanistan, the German Foreign Office has issued travel warnings for some sub-regions traveled through. Medical treatment in the autonomous Gorno Badakhshan Oblast (GBAO) may also be inadequate due to the temporarily tense security situation, and international flights for possible return transport of patients are not possible here.
The app, which can be used to make an SOS emergency call to the Med Con medical team anywhere in the world, will be unlocked for every Special Adventure trip participant. It is reassuring that for the whole trip a trained emergency paramedic, internationally experienced in many crisis operations, is at the side of the organizer Konrad Fobbe. Also, the worldwide SOS emergency call is activated in advance for all participants via the app of the Med Con team. German doctors are on call around the clock and can provide and initiate everything from telephone consultations to return transport in the event of an emergency. The data of all participants is available in the control center and can be assigned to the position data automatically transmitted during the call. This allows the experienced team to calmly coordinate everything, which is difficult to do in remote travel areas, also due to the lack of infrastructure. On the tour, we vividly experienced that it was very useful to be able to make use of these options in an emergency.
The cook in the five-star hotel is on vacation
We spent the night along the route either in simple accommodations (homestays) or hotels. In the homestays with family connection one is supplied with typical local courts. In a comfortable five-star hotel, however, we had pre-booked rooms. Unfortunately for the day, on which in the whole country with the victim celebration the high point of the Haddsch, the pilgrimage after Mekka, is celebrated. For this reason, only a skeleton staff was on duty in the hotel and the cook was also at home with his family. Although not intended for a hotel visit, Konrad Fobbe unpacks his expedition meals. For us it is just right this evening that at least one room has a kettle with which we can improvise on the roof terrace.
Car care – dressed up for the capital
Tajikistan has abundant natural gas reserves. Therefore, gas stations offer this fuel comparatively cheaply.
Not every gas station in Tajikistan has an air blower, which is necessary for a thorough cleaning of the air filter. But our driver Ivan has a trained eye for such useful treasures.
Since word has spread that there have already been penalties for unwashed cars in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, we take the precaution of visiting a car wash at the entrance to the city.
On the way on the traces of Marco Polo
The Silk Road leads to the most promising places in the world. On the so-called Pamir Highway, the old trade route in High Asia leads through the Pamir Mountains, where, along with the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush, the highest mountains on earth can be found. Even Marco Polo used some of the routes on his journey to China, which still lead across the roof of the world today.
The city of Dushanbe is located on the Silk Road and, as in the Middle Ages, is still an important trading center today. This is proven by the many representative buildings and the lively life in the modern market hall. The amount of fresh products and especially the variety of oriental spices are overwhelming. With this calendar you can enjoy the Orient in abundance for a whole year.
The costs of accommodation with half board were covered by the organizer
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