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Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan: Roof of the World

January 29, 2018

 

 

 

Corruption, beauty and the unknown. Crossing a territorial border in Central Asia isn’t exactly a walk in the park for locals let alone foreigners. In fact, there are numerous horror stories scattered across the internet detailing the horrible and drawn out experiences people have had, mainly solo travellers. Tense political relationships spanning back generations paired with boredom and some of the most corrupt authorities make for an exciting adventure. The reward, however, is access to lands you only read about in stories.

 

 

The Long Road Ahead - Start of the Pamir Highway (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/5000 sec at f/5, ISO 400, 7mm

 

Everyone knows everyone (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/10, ISO 400, 41mm

 

 

Testing out the Stabilisation (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 12mm

 

 

Roadtrip (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 47mm


Way back in Bishkek our rental car operator had warned us that there was a particular guard at the Kyrgyz border gate that was giving many people troubles. He could not stress highly enough the importance of making sure all our papers were in check and that we only hand over what is needed. And once we did, that we make sure we got them back. We were even told that our car must have a special permit to allow window tinting, so if you drive from Kyrgyzstan into Tajikistan ensure this is done. Of particular concern was the sheer amount of camera gear we were carrying, not that we were press or documenting the government or military, but we weren’t taking anything to chance.

 

 

Daily Commute (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1500 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 86mm

 

 

On arrival at the Kyrgyz checkpoint, Shamil pulled over, asked for our passports and Kel’s visa (Australians do not need one) and went inside to get our documents checked. I casually stored my memory cards and hard drives out of sight as the guards asked us to open our bags and questioned me about my drone. They were curious as to why I had it and what I was using it for. I smiled and told him that I was filming a tourism campaign. My excuse was enough to satisfy their curiosity, and we were moved up the road to wait for our passports to be checked a second time. The whole 10-minute process took around 45 minutes before we were on our way to no man's land. Although technically still under Kyrgyz rule, the mountain pass was out of bounds to all but those passing through. 

 

Kyzylart  Pass in No Man's Land between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/3200 sec at f/5, ISO 500, 12mm

 

 

Shamil doing what he does best (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Road or Walkway? (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 11mm

 

 

We drove to the top of one last pass before descending on the Tajik border checkpoint a few hundred metres down the road. On arrival, it became apparent that there were significant differences between the way each country ran their checkpoints. The officers on the Tajik side were wearing faded, scrappy uniforms, many of which were worn by officers and soldiers no older than 20 years of age. They did not appear to be armed as the Kyrgyz guards were and there was a sense of disorganisation in the ranks with many of them joking and poking fun at each other. It is said that Tajikistan is one of, if not the most corrupt country in the world, represented in every way by the fact that to pass you must pay a ‘tax,’ which of course is just a fancy name for bribes.

 

 

Views of the Pamir Highway (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/8, ISO 500, 23mm

 

The Nissan Patrol (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/500 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Dried up Riverbeds (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/11250 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 41mm

 

 

While some people pay cash, Shamil offered a large juicy watermelon. I even saw one guard taking an iPod and speakers to be stashed in the back of a worn out Lada. You could see the disappointment on Shamil’s face at having to part with his hard earned cash. They earn so little as it is, only to give it away to some lazy would-be officer. 

 

 

The whole process was a lot quicker than I anticipated, and within 30 minutes, we were on our way. I noticed a large fence that ran adjacent to the dusty road we had taken and Shamil informed us that this was, in fact, the Chinese border. Parts of the fence were in disarray, and it was clear that this border was more of a symbol than to keep anyone out.

 

 

Adventure Mode (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/640 sec at f/13, ISO 500, 7mm

 

 

Chinese Mountain Ranges (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 30mm

 

Seperation (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/240 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

A couple of kms down the road we came to a massive valley with a strangled river system forcing its way through a small gap in a man-made bridge. Shamil was on edge about letting me drone here but agreed to let me for a quick few minutes. I am glad he did as the view above was extraordinary. 

 

 

Tajik Fire (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/180 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

Muzkol River (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/240 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

Darkness Falls (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/220 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

Some of the enormous semi-trailers that were speeding down the road were nothing short of insane. Shamil shook his head as one of the trucks ventured off the road to follow us around the main road, crossing creeks and navigating hills many wouldn’t dare in a regular car. “Very experienced truck drivers” he said, “also very stupid.”

 


There was no shortage of epically long and straight roads for us to take the classic travel photo.

 

 

Never Ending (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/4, ISO 640, 70mm

 

 

Roads for Days (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, 44mm

 

Views from Karakul (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 12mm

 

 

Our next stop was at the sleepy, and the slightly strange little town of Karakul which sat on the shores of Karakul Lake. Once we had eaten our lunch, Shamil and Kel dozed off to sleep, and I set off to explore the town. 

 

 

Karakul was as close to a ghost town if I had ever seen one. There were a handful of people wandering the streets; none wished to have their photo taken, nor break a smile. I came across two young boys who were keen to check out the camera and pictures but unwilling to have theirs taken. I handed one of them a camera so he could take photos of his friend, he then attempted/pretended to run away. I laughed and grabbed it from him whereby he tried to staunch me with a raised fist. Confident for an 8-year-old. 

 

 

A House in Karakul (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/8, ISO 400, 10mm

 

Best Friends (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 100mm

 

 

Would be attackers (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1400 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Curious Kids (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

Small Tajik Boy (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/100 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 100mm

 

A Father and His Kid (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 40mm

 

Fixing a Roof (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro + MC-14 Tele: 1/640 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 420mm

 

 

Lake Karakul info in English! (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/80 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, 12mm

 

Afternoon Chat (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

Collecting Water (Matt Horspool

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 70mm

 

 

Lazy Dog (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, 16mm

 

Shamil and Matt Sorting out the Car before we Head Off (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 


Another early start and we made our way up yet another large mountain pass. I looked at Kel and asked him what this was. We were both a little confused as we knew that the infamous Ak-Baital pass (highest pass on the Pamir Highway at 4,655m) was somewhere near here and were expecting something of a grand monstrosity you'd see in Lord of the Rings. Alas this was it, still epic in every sense, but nothing like we had experienced before. This was the highest I had ever flown the drone and it performed like a boss proving that even at 5000m there is enough air to operate. 

 

 

Pit Stop (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

Taking in the Views (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/125 sec at f/9, ISO 400, 66mm

 

View from the Other Side of the Pass (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/5, ISO 400, 20mm

 


One of the truck drivers pulled up at the pass, and his wife called out the window in Tajik asking if we had some form of herb/food for her husband as he was suffering altitude sickness. It is well advised you do not try and make the pass straight from Osh as it can be quite dangerous without stopping and acclimatising for at least one night. 

 

 

Trying to catch the sun (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1640 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Shot of Kel at the Ak-Baital Pass (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Taking in The View (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

 

Shamil had suggested we stop by another lake on our way to Murghab, our destination for the night. The lake went by the name of Shorkul Lake and was along an incredibly dusty and barren road that cut its way through some of the most otherworldly landscapes we had ever seen. If you picture what Mars would look like, then this is it. 

 

 

Kel hopped out of the car to try and capture some time-lapse of the clouds, and I popped the drone up to see if I could get some adventure style images. 
Conditions were against us as the giant mosquitos came out to feast.

 

 

Along way from home (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/80 sec at f/2.2, ISO 103

 

Where worlds collide (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/50 sec at f/2.2, ISO 103

 

 

Storms Approaching (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/100 sec at f/2.2, ISO 122

 

Mountain Textures Near Shorkul(Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 70mm

 

 

A short few hours drive later we arrived at Shamil’s hometown of Murghab where we would spend two nights relaxing and exploring the area. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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