On the Road with Hugh Philpott, HM Ambassador Tajikistan (Part I)

On the Road with Hugh Philpott, HM Ambassador Tajikistan (Part I)
Oct 20, 2016
By Greg Stephenson

Travelling between capital cities in Central Asia by air is a challenge at the best of times, but getting from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, two of the closest in distance, requires either a layover in Almaty, Kazakhstan or a tiring trek west and then east through Istanbul on trusty Turkish Airlines. This in mind I decided to make my necessary business visit to Tashkent from Dushanbe into a road trip with my work colleague Umar. I had in mind to take care of some business in Khujand in Northern Tajikistan on the way and then also make a detour south to Samarkand before arriving at Tashkent for my meetings there.

Departure from Dushanbe to Khujand had to be delayed until midday on a Wednesday, because of some things I needed to finalise around town and in the office, but once on the road I was able to focus on the days ahead and study the various maps and guidebooks I keep in the car. Immediately I realised we had no maps of Uzbekistan and only some very general materials on Tajikistan. Fortunately Umar knew the route to Khujand well and reassured me that with his Uzbek ancestry (and language), and also the briefing from other colleagues, he would be able to navigate well to Tashkent via our detour to Samarkand. I remained less convinced, but did not argue.

The road north out of Dushanbe towards the north is a good one, albeit a toll road, it is well surfaced and generally keeps moving. In comparison to the roads of the Pamir in Tajikistan's far East, it is well kept and comfortable. Just twenty minutes out of Dushanbe and we were well into the Varsob valley where we passed comfortable holiday dachas and inviting roadside Osh Khona (plov and shashlik restaurants). The aroma of barbecued meat and fragrant plov reminded of my skipped lunch and my stomach started to grumble. With no prompting Umar said not to worry we would eat after the tunnel! The words 'the tunnel' always had an ominous ring to travellers on this road. In order to reach Soghd, the northern province of Tajikistan, it was necessary either to take a perilous mountain pass or a very long tunnel. Until last year's renovation work this tunnel had been known as the 'tunnel of death'. Now, at least personally, I simply refer to it as the 'tunnel of the medically induced coma' – this new title fully recognises the advantage of an improved tunnel road surface, now cleared of bottomless murky water-filled potholes and twisted steel reinforcements jutting from the ground, but it does still reference the suffocating car and lorry exhaust filled stygian gloom, which awaits those passing through.

Once through and out the other side the mountain scenery simply continued to defy descriptive superlative. I am fortunate enough to have travelled this road several times before, but it still never ceases to inspire awe. If mountain scenery up close and personal and also in vista style is your thing then this is your road.

Greg Stephenson

Greg has lived and worked in Central Asia since 1997. His hands-on understanding of the people, culture, and tourist destinations provides our clients the opportunity to feel comfortable knowing that they are in good hands. His travels throughout Central Asia have given him the opportunity to interact with many professionals in the tourism industry that enables him to providing the highest quality of services anywhere in the world.

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