The return route from Nofin did not match the onward trip for quantity. There were two men at the back with the two of us and the driver at front. The lakes were dimly lit in the moonlight. But we did have drama in the form of the woman in the front seat who was affected by motion sickness due to the severe jolting of the vehicle as it descended through the rough track. We had to stop a couple of times to give her some relief.
We were at the outskirts of Penjikent at 7:00 a.m. and we were approached by taxi drivers bound for Dushanbe even before we got out of our car. Within seconds, our bags were in another vehicle and the long wait for filling up that car began. It took an hour and we were off with a full vehicle. M sat in front next to the driver, while V shared the back seat with 2 other men. 4 adults were squeezed into the cargo area cramped in an impossible position. We don't know what they paid but it was not the 100TJS that those who could sit properly did. The front seat position that M occupied allowed her to capture some of the spectacular scenery enroute on the 225 km journey from Penjikent to Dushanbe.After the 90 minute ride eastward towards Ayni which essentially retraced our earlier route from Khujand to Penjikent, we turned right onto a nicely paved road south towards Dushanbe. The route traced the Varzob river for the most part. It then climbed steeply and topped off at Anzob Pass (3372m). On the way, the 4 men in the cargo area got off (or were let off) which brought us some relief to the rest as we could throw our bulky bags into the back.
We were unprepared for the real highlight of the trip, a nightmarish 30 minute ride through a dark tunnel still under construction at the top of the pass. Water covered much of the surface. Our driver's philosophy thus far had been the exact opposite of Yokub's. He paid a lot of respect to the slightest warp on the surface and most vehicles passed him without ceremony. Once inside the tunnel, we noticed that regular sedans with low clearance simply froze into inaction when faced with depressions that were several inches deep and several of which were under water. We were on a high clearance vehicle and had to go around these. The same bizarre dance that we had seen a few days earlier on the Shakhristan pass repeated here. But instead of open skies and steep cliffs, we were in darkness and enclosed inside a wet tunnel. The lighting inside was minimal and once in a few kilometers we would see helmeted engineers strolling casually by unmindful of the great challenges that the road in its current state posed to trucks and cars alike.
Once past the great big tunnel, we encountered several more but these were much shorter. Some of them were meant to protect vehicles from landslides as they really did not penetrate through a mountain wall.
We had a repeat of our Khujand-Penjikent experience. Lunch with no vegetarian fare (no salad this time, only bread, grapes and tea). The ride included the obligatory playing of Hindi songs at loud volume just for our benefit.
We were dropped off at the shared taxi stand and had to take a city taxi to our hotel. We had obtained the hotel's address from the tour guide in Nofin and skillfully directed our driver but were let down by the complete absence of any signs outside any buildings on that street, with the exception of the French Embassy. After letting the taxi go and walking up and down the street on the hot afternoon, we gave up and asked around and only got confusing answers. The Tajik hospitality we had been showered with in mountainous villages was not to be seen in the big capital and we even heard someone dismiss us with "I don't speak English" spoken in perfect English. But we are a persistent lot and did not give up our questioning. Eventually we rang the bell outside the gate of a mansion that we correctly guessed was our hotel and were let in.
Dec 2016 update: While looking for an update on the state the Anzob tunnel, we came across this Oct 2015 Daily Mail article about the so called "Tunnel of Death". Watch the 2 minute YouTube video embedded in it and you will see we were not exaggerating. And remember, we went through it in 2012 and several sections were in an even less finished state (if that is possible). While the car in the video seems to have mostly a clear path ahead, we were constantly weaving around stopped cars while also trying to avoid on-coming trucks. It was super scary!
Everywhere in the world villagers are more hospitable than their city bred folks. Some lesson there.
Methinks M & V have got rather spoilt by California freeways and now consider fairly innocuous roads as threat to limb and life. You are welcome to experience Bangalore roads which might give some stiff competition to Tajik roads :) From , on Sep 20, 2012 at 04:09AM
@Ramesh : Absolutely not! Been visiting and "enjoying" Bangalore traffic regularly the past few years. Bangalore roads are not bad. They are just swamped for capacity making the traffic bad. It cannot compete with Tajikistan roads. OTOH, Gurgaon is a different story. It can definitely hang in there with Tajikistan. From, on Sep 30, 2012 at 04:29AM