You could tell from the frost building up on the windows and the patches of snow and ice on the ground that it was below freezing outside. It wasn’t exactly warm inside the train either. We were just sitting there, looking out the window with our passports in hand, bags all packed up… Again. About to get off this relic of a train left over from the Soviet years. We boarded it a little over 30 hours ago in Syzran, Russia. It’s about 8:00pm and the sun set about 2 hours ago. We say goodbye to all the passengers with us in our car, for they all came to know us being the only foreigners on the whole train, then climb off the train which we are the only ones to get off here. Before we can walk out of the station we are detained by the only police officer on duty in this whole town. Aralsk, Kazakhstan doesn’t get many tourists, and the ones it does get any government official is very skeptical of. Who would want to tour this part of the country, or this part of the world for that matter. After half an hour of many questions and repeat questions he reluctantly lets us go on our way. We begin walking outside of town guided by our headlamps and found a level patch near a dried up lake bed, this would be our home for the night. A place where I learned how unprepared I am for the frigid cold. It was a long night but once the sun came up I was excited to start the day. We walked the town and found an internet cafe, there we met Konstantin, a Serbian who was essentially doing our same route only in reverse. We spent most of the day walking around with him seeing what little sights there are in Aralsk. The whole time picking his brain, getting the best and most up-to-date information about the ‘stans, particularly the Pamir region. He was more helpful than any forum or guide book I read. We made an attempt to share a taxi to the “ship cemetery” in the Aral Sea, but were disappointed to hear that all the ships have been dismantled for scrap metal. After two days we hop back on a train for another 24 hour ride to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
At this point, I only have three days remaining on my visa so we make the most of our time and hit the bazaars and sights all in a day. Then head to Samarkand, where I foolishly left the GPS tracker in the shared taxi. Once we get settled into our room we see just how incredible the city is, the mosques with the intricate tile work, the huge crowded markets, and the statues were unreal. The people were so friendly and helpful. I wish I could have stayed longer to appreciate more of the city. But we had to continue onward to Tajikistan where we are now. Leaving Uzbekistan was a hassle, but entering Tajikistan could not have been easier. We stayed our first night in Khujand, the northern region of the country. Then we were off on a gut wrenching drive through two mountain ranges in an overloaded SUV to the capital city of Dushanbe. This will be the last city in Tajikistan that has ATM’s as well as a reliable source for provisions we need to get us through onto Kyrgyzstan. I estimate about 6 days to travel through the Pamir region into the Wakhan Valley that borders Afghanistan. This is one of the key landscapes that inspired this trip. I’m quite sure it will exceed my expectations just as everything else has in Central Asia… I just have to survive the bitter cold.