Special Adventures on the Silk Road

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.

Die Seidenstraße geht über die Brücke des Serafschan-Flusses in Tadschikistan / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Silk Road runs across the bridge of the Serafshan River in Tajikistan / © Photo: Georg Berg
Beim täglichen Briefing lässt sich die Gruppe auf der Landkarte die bevorstehende Etappe erklären / © Foto: Georg Berg
At the daily briefing, the group has the upcoming stage explained to them on the map / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Immer auf der Suche nach besonderen Fotomotiven. Michael aus der Schweiz können die neben dem Pamir Highway gelegenen Wege nicht steil genug sein / © Foto: Georg Berg
Always in search of special photo motifs. For Michael from Switzerland, the trails along the Pamir Highway can’t be steep enough / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Hinter der kirgisischen Flagge gruppieren sich vor dem Pamir-Gebirge drei Einzelreisende und ein Ehepaar um Veranstalter Konrad Fobbe (2. v.l.) / © Foto: Georg Berg
Behind the Kyrgyz flag, three individual travelers and a couple group around organizer Konrad Fobbe (2nd from left) in front of the Pamir Mountains / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Wo die Flüsse Wakhan und Pamir sich zum Pansch vereinigen, begehen Lothar und Heidi ihren 49. Hochzeitstag / © Foto: Georg Berg
Where the Wakhan and Pamir rivers join to form the Pansch, Lothar and Heidi celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Unterwegs wird der Kofferraum des Landrovers zur Werkbank. Konrad Fobbe fertigt aus einem Stück Gummischlauch ein Ersatzteil / © Foto: Georg Berg
If necessary, the trunk of the Land Rover becomes a workbench on the road. Konrad Fobbe makes a spare part from a piece of rubber hose / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Kompressor, Wasserflasche, Bohrer und ein vulkanisierbarer Gummifaden reichen dem Reifen, um weitere 1.000 Kilometer auf Schotterpisten durchzuhalten / © Foto: Georg Berg
Compressor, water bottle, drill and a vulcanizable rubber thread are enough for the tire to last another 1,000 kilometers on gravel roads / © Photo: Georg Berg
Etwas Kraft ist schon nötig, um den dicken orangen Gummifaden in das vorher gebohrte Loch zu drücken / © Foto: Georg Berg
Some force is needed to push the thick orange rubber thread into the previously drilled hole / © Photo: Georg Berg
Während der ganzen Operation bleibt der Reifen am Auto und ein an die Batterie angeschlossener Kompressor sorgt für ein Mindestmaß an Druck / © Foto: Georg Berg
During the whole operation the tire stays on the car and a compressor connected to the battery provides a minimum of pressure / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Ein Fahrradtourist lässt sich in Tadschikistan von einem LKW den Takfon-Pass hochziehen. Im Schlepptau von Transportern  lassen sich gerne mehrere Hundert Höhenmeter überwinden / © Foto: Georg Berg
A bicycle tourist lets a truck pull him up the Takfon Pass in Tajikistan. Several hundred meters of altitude can easily be overcome in the tow of transporters / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Verkehrsunfall im unbeleuchteten Tunnel unter dem Takfon-Pass / © Foto: Georg Berg
Traffic accident in the unlit tunnel under the Takfon Pass / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Neben dem Satellitentelefon ständig griffbereit: ein Stapel mit Kopien der Pässe und Visa / © Foto: Georg Berg
Always at hand next to the satellite phone: a stack of copies of passports and visas / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Soldaten der tadschikischen Armee patroulieren entlang der afghanischen Grenze. Militärischer Einrichtungen sollte man nicht fotografieren, wenn man seine Kamera gerne behalten möchte. Sogar Dashcams stöpselt man besser aus / © Foto: Georg Berg
Soldiers of the Tajik army patrol along the Afghan border. Military installations should not be photographed if you like to keep your camera. Even dashcams are better unplugged / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Mit der SOS Call App können weltweit Notrufe beim Med Con Ärzteteam abgesetzt werden

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.

Nach dem langen Tag im Auto lässt sich Monika in der Roof-Top-Bar des Hotels gerne nieder. Sie hat sich zum Abendessen für die Reispfanne "Balkan Art" entschieden. Nun kann angerichtet werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
After the long day in the car, Monika settles down in the hotel’s roof-top bar. For dinner, she has chosen the “Balkan style” rice pan. Dinner is ready to be served / © Photo: Georg Berg
Trek'n Eat: 600 g heißes Wasser zugießen, rühren und nach 10 Minuten ist die Mahlzeit fertig / © Foto: Georg Berg
Trek’n Eat: add 600 g of hot water, stir and after 10 minutes the meal is ready / © Photo: Georg Berg
Reißt man die Tüte etwas tiefer ein zweites Mal auf, lässt sich die Mahlzeit besser auslöffeln / © Foto: Georg Berg
If you tear the bag a little deeper a second time, the meal is easier to spoon out / © Photo: Georg Berg

Car care – dressed up for the capital

Tajikistan has abundant natural gas reserves. Therefore, gas stations offer this fuel comparatively cheaply.

Die meisten Fahrzeuge in Tadschikistan fahren mit dem günstigen Flüssiggas. Aber auch Flaschen für den Hausgebrauch lässt man sich an der Tankstelle nachfüllen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Most vehicles in Tajikistan run on the inexpensive liquid gas. But also bottles for domestic use can be refilled at the gas station / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Ein scharfer Luftstrahl macht den Staub wieder sichtbar, der sich im Luftfilter des Motors angesammelt hat / © Foto: Georg Berg
A sharp jet of air makes visible again the dust that has accumulated in the engine’s air filter / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

In der tadschikischen Waschstraße wird auch Gepäck auf dem Dachgepäckträger gereinigt / © Foto: Georg Berg
In the Tajik car wash, luggage on the roof rack is also cleaned / © Photo: Georg Berg

Reportage: Unforgettable at Peak LeninReportage
: Pamir stage of the Silk RoadReportage
: Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe

Calendar

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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.

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Dushanbe

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.

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The costs of accommodation with half board were covered by the organizer

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