Our day began with a ninety minute transfer from our hotel in Tashkent to the border with Tajikistan. We disembarked around fifty metres away from the first checkpoint, and were immediately approached by a number of friendly locals offering money changing services. There was little point in me hanging onto Uzbek currency, so I separated off a portion of what I had to tip our guide and driver and handed over the rest. The rate I received was actually somewhat better than that reported by my currency app; it was only later that I realised that this was almost certainly a counting error in my favour.
The crossing itself was straightforward in comparison to the Uzbek/Turkmen border. The tour company had warned us to keep copies of our hotel registration paperwork for inspection by the Uzbek authorities, but this was not required today; in fact we were stamped out of Uzbekistan with barely a word. There was a ten minute walk across no mans land to the Tajik checkpoint, where our bags were put through a heavy duty scanner and an immigration officer asked a few standard questions. The only potential hiccough was a requirement for a printed copy of my electronic visa, which fortunately I had buried in the depths of my bag; for whatever reason the soft copy I had on my mobile phone was deemed insufficient.
13th July 2018
Navruzgoh is a moderately sized public park located near Khujand in the north of Tajikistan. It is set on and around a natural lake, and is pleasantly landscaped if somewhat shabby presumably due to a limited maintenance budget. The name translates to a place to celebrate Navruz, though most people reading these words will be rather more interested in celebrating its collection of decidedly sketchy amusement rides. The map shows off twenty-two attractions, though several are landscape features and many of the others are aimed at children. There are three machines that are of interest to older visitors, and we tried two, eschewing the Hysteria Star Top Scan knock-off which was (perhaps fortunately) out of service.
Crazy Mouse (#2468) was built by Huatong Taike Amusement Equipment, and as of this writing is the only coaster installation attributed to that manufacturer on RCDB. It features the ubiquitous Chinese Mite Mouse layout and an alternating colour scheme made up of faded red, white, and blue sections. Our guide asked one of the staff about its history, and was told that it had been installed in 2015, though this information was almost certainly incorrect given that the track is visible in 2011 satellite imagery. Plates on the cars list them as having been manufactured in June 2010, and we concluded that the ride must have been installed soon after. Despite being just eight years old there was a definite sense today that the hardware was coming to the end of its life; the cars had rusted through in places, and the tracking was more than a little haphazard, resulting in an experience that was more frightening than thrilling. Most of our group was happy with a single 4 Somoni (~€0.37) lap, though as ever Megan went back for a second.
Our other hit was a Ferris Wheel with twenty cars that were of the most open design I've seen in my travels. Each had four individual seats set at even intervals and a guard rail that was no more than half a metre from the base, making falling out a very real possibility. Our guide treated us to the 2 Somoni (~€0.18) cost and translated the operator's exceptionally pertinent warning not to stand up. The cars rocked sideways as we clambered into them, and the mechanism squeaked a lot, but the on board experience was fine – and the positioning was perfect for an overhead photo of the coaster.
13th July 2018
We had a pleasant lunch in a local restaurant then set out for the lengthy drive south to Dushanbe, the Tajik capital. Our guide told us that the name is the local word for Monday, and that it originated in the distant past from a village in the area that had a popular market that day. We had hoped to use a minibus for the journey, but were forced to swap it for a pair of 4x4 vehicles due to anticipated road conditions. The only road between the north and south of the country is prone to avalanches, and is frequently closed to larger vehicles as a result. Worse yet it is occasionally closed outright, stranding would be travellers; we were told that it had been shut for a period just hours earlier due to an accident. Our traversal of the route wasn't entirely uneventful; just before the half-way point a loud bang followed by a scraping noise marked the abrupt and final end of our back left tyre. Our driver was completely unfazed by this, and with the help of a colleague completed a change by the side of the road in less than ten minutes. It was evident that he'd done this many times before.
The words spectacular and magnificent are wholly inadequate to describe the scenery experienced on the three hundred kilometre journey. The lion's share of the route is through mountains, with the road threading its way through a mostly unspoiled natural landscape. The journey time is typically between five and six hours, though it is worth noting that this is far less than the fourteen hours it used to be thanks to the commissioning of several new tunnels, not least the infamous Anzob Tunnel. Our guide told us that more boring work is planned for the future, though at present most of the budget is going towards improvement works.