the safe way out 08 to 10-08-2016


I’d rather not be crossing this border into Uzbekistan. The visa is expensive, I’ve visited the country before and it’s a detour to Tajikistan, my destination. But since the direct road to Dushanbe goes through the Afghan city of Kunduz and that city fell into Taleban hands for a few days not too long ago I decide to travel via Termez in Uzbekistan instead. This does give me the opportunity to cross the railway bridge made famous when the last Soviet troops retreated over it in 1989 at the end of the Afghan War.

The Afghan border guards are alright. One insists on becoming Facebook friends with me but the process is generally smooth. Not so on the northern side. I have to unpack my bag three times, my computer gets thoroughly checked, and even though it’s scorching hot and there’s a sink in the corner I’m not allowed to get a drink of water. To be fair there’s a lot of heroin being smuggled across this border, but it feels like they’re just being hard on me to see if I will slip them some cash.

I’m pretty close to Termez so I decide it’s easier to take a cab into town instead of hitchhiking there. It’s a chance to get rid of some Afghan cash too. I’ve found two hotels online about two kilometers apart. The taxi driver drops me off at one. I walk in and hear the price. It’s three dollars which sounds cheap by Uzbek standards. I think there must be something wrong with the exchange rate I saw earlier. I visited the country two years earlier but inflation seems to be getting crazy. So I decide to drag my bags along Termez’s stifling main drag to the other hotel. It turns out to be a very fancy affair and I turn around and walk back. I order some mors along the way, and the lady running the stall refuses to take my money which after a long long day makes everything feel alright.

I hang around town for two days, getting a Tajik visa online and visiting the city’s sights. Actually it used to be a great regional center, but just like a few other places I’ve visited in the wider area, not much was left after Genghis Khan came through. What was once a city is now a park, the only thing in it a shrine where people come to take pictures and to pray. There’s a brand new museum, but with little material remains there’s not much on show.