Iskandar Lake & Tunnel of Death, Tajikistan #2 – July 2014

October 20, 2017

Tajikistan! Certainly, this was one of the most magical and beautiful countries along our Silk Road path, literally following in the steps of Marco Polo. We had gotten our visas and our special permit to enter the Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO) region and the city of Khorog, the entry point for the Wakhan Corridor. This mountainous region surrounded by the Hindukush Range, the Karakoram Range and the Wakhan Range is sometimes called “The Roof of the World”. Bordering China and Afghanistan, most people who visit this part of Central Asia don’t drive their own vehicle. We didn’t have that choice.

With auxiliary driving lights and fog lights aimed low we could anticipate holes and other obstacles like protruding rebar from the sides.

With auxiliary driving lights and fog lights aimed low we could anticipate holes and other obstacles like protruding rebar from the sides.

Not that we were worried about “The Tunnel of Death, otherwise called the Anzob Tunnel, (well, maybe a little bit), but its reputation did give us pause. According to reports, it was a 3-mile, (5,040 m), unvented tube with big deep holes, one-lane in places, (no traffic control), exposed rebar and no lights. Carbon monoxide accumulation had claimed the lives of people delayed in the tunnel. In any case, we needed an excuse to visit the beautiful Iskandar Lake. At 7,201 ft., (2,195 m), its turquoise color comes from its glacial origin in the Gasser Range in the Fann Mountains.

(click on our YouTube video link below!)

The border crossing at Patar was easy and the highway was good, with normal third-world traffic and long lines of overloaded Chinese trucks crawling up the steep grades. Villagers were drying apricots and we even scored a little fresh yak meat from a roadside vender, most likely not USDA inspected. Local kids were fascinated by our truck and the large map on the side of the camper was an easy way to tell them where we came from in the world in relation to where they lived.

The beautiful Iskandar Lake gets its turquoise color from the glacial origin in the Gasser Range in the Fann Mountains.

The beautiful Iskandar Lake gets its turquoise color from the glacial origin in the Gasser Range in the Fann Mountains.

After spending our first night in Tajikistan in the village of Ayni, we soon found the junction leading up to Iskandar Kul (Alexander Lake named after Alexander the Great). Not really knowing what to expect of the quality of Tajikistan’s diesel or the weather at over 7,000 feet, we stopped to add Amsoil Diesel Injection Clean and Diesel Cold Flow. Now leaving the payment, we also aired the tires down to 35psi, which aside from preventing most flats, also smoothes the ride. Winding our way up the canyon walls above the Iskandar Darya (river), the dirt road had some great views and some interesting hairpin corners.

Signing in at the guard station, there were cabins and what looked like campsites, but we continued around the lake and found a perfect place to stop next to a bubbling creek flowing out right of the rocks. The caretaker told us the complex across the road was the president’s retreat but he seldom used it. It was so peaceful we stayed a second night.

This boy spoke English quite well. He told us he was visiting from Dushanbe, the capital.

This boy spoke English quite well. He told us he was visiting from Dushanbe, the capital.

The next morning the “Tunnel of Death” waited for us. We had a plan. We aimed our PIAA auxiliary driving lights really low at a spot about 30 feet in front of the truck. PIAA Extreme White fog lights were aimed to the sides and low. Regular headlights were mostly off to avoid the glare in the dense smoke. Windows closed and AC on recycle. In 4X4-Hi we nosed into the black hole. Diesel smoke billowed out in our faces. We had planned to cross in the morning in the hopes of avoiding some of the truck traffic. It was weird. The tunnel was very dark. The road was pretty bumpy at times. There were a few deep water-filled holes and in places, rebar was sticking out like shards ready to puncture a tire. At one point it was a one-lane road. There were no safety turnouts. There was no ventilation except for one fan in the middle that sounded like an engine off a DC3 warming up for takeoff. All in all, not as bad as we had heard but we both had to be on guard at all times. It was an intense 36 minutes. As we popped out the far side we were met with blinding light and spectacular views of the snowcapped mountains Tajikistan is famous for. We took a deep breath of mountain air and headed for Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

Click on The Tunnel of Death video (6 min.) we posted on YouTube!

According to Wikipedia, in 2014 the Iranian government signed an agreement to finish the tunnel they had started in 2006 and it was reopened in late 2015. Guess, we were lucky to get through before it was closed for repairs.

 

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