Thursday, 20 August 2015

Uzbekistan and the Pamir Highway

A lot has happened since we last posted and I am sure, dear reader, that you are just dying to find out what we have been up to.  Well, I shall relate our adventures from Uzbekistan to Kyrgystan which include the trials and tribulations of the infamous Pamir Highway.


I suppose that the troubles getting into, and out of, Uzbekistan may have been an omen of things to come but as it was we were blissfully ignorant of what was to come in Tajikistan.  So, we left Shymkent and headed towards Uzbekistan to find that the border crossing was closed to road traffic and so had to detour to another border at Yallama where we met the customs officer from hell.  As far as he was concerned right hand drive cars were not allowed in Uzbekistan and as such we couldn't proceed in Albert.  To cut a very long story short it was eight hours before one of his colleagues suggested he use the carnet we had obtained for Iran to temporarily import Albert and thereby allow us to move on. After being shown how to do this his colleagues promptly decided to write on Albert while turning him inside out looking through everything, anyway once they had had their fun we were on our way to Tashkent where we spent the night.

The following day saw us arrive in Samarkand where we were going to deliver the second of our clothes parcels to the local SOS Children's Village.  While I was visiting the Village Sarah was looking around Samarkand as I had visited last year.  It was great to meet the children and look around the village to see the great work being done with the money we are raising.  The clothes went down well especially the football kit donated by Phil Carroll and it took some convincing the lads that this was for the village team and not any individual.

From Samarkand we moved onto Bukhara and spent a day looking around before making our way to Denau and the border crossing into Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway.

Getting out of Uzbekistan seemed to be slightly easier than getting in but not by much.  Firstly the customs officer there had never seen a carnet so had no idea what he had to do.  Fortunately he followed instruction and stamped the requisite forms and took his copy so hopefully I won't lose the deposit.

While we then had the obligatory turfing out of everything in the car, Sarah was being strip searched by a rather over zealous big butch women.  The customs official dealing with me looked at all our photos, went through our spares and other bits but we hit a problem when he came across my medication.  It seems that statins are prohibited in Uzbekistan so he wanted to confiscate my supply despite my explaining it was prescribed and needed for my diabetes.  He also didn't seem to be concerned about the fact that when they turned Albert over on entry they saw these but didn't say anything so given we were leaving why was it a problem.  Anyway the problem was solved by my giving him my Monocular as a 'present' as he was quite taken by it.

By the time we left Uzbekistan and passed through Tajikistan customs it was getting dark and so finding a suitable camp site wasn't possible so we ended up parking up in a bus stop and spending a rather uncomfortable night in the car before arriving in Dushanbe early on Sunday.

Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway

We left Dushanbe early Monday morning to start our drive to Osh in Kyrgystan via the Pamir Highway some 950 miles away on some 'roads' a four wheel drive might think twice about.  We had met up with some of the Mongol Ralliers in Bukhara and decided to convoy some of the way with the Yorkshire 'Special' Branch team - Mark, Matt and Aidie.

Our first port of call on the highway was Khorog some 378 miles from Dushanbe.  The early part of the journey lulled us into a false sense of security as we were on a good tarmac road which after around 60 miles simply disappeared and changed into broken up tarmac with potholes and unmade road.   Our average speed dropped like a stone and it ended up taking three days to do the 378 miles.

The first day was fairly uneventful (except for all the rattling and shaking around we endured) however we only managed to cover a total of 121 miles which shows how much the road deteriorated after the good stretch from Dushanbe.  We camped by a river and had a camp fire and all was good.


The second and third days were fairly brutal and driving became much harder with avoiding potholes, rough roads and some minor water crossings but nevertheless we managed to cover around 120 miles each day. The second day saw as camping just off the road.  Not as nice as the one the previous night but not bad at all.  Awoke in the morning to find that one of the rear tyres had gone flat overnight so changed for a spare and set off finally arriving at Khorog where we found an hotel and went for an Indian meal with the lads from the Yorkshire 'Special' Branch team.  Before leaving for the next stretch of the journey we filled up and got the tyre repaired.

We were told that Dushanbe to Khorog was the hardest section which may have been true if you weren't in a 1968 Morris Minor Traveller.  We left Khorog and planned to reach Langar as our next port of call.  It was on this day that our troubles started.  The day started off well enough and although the roads improved a little our average speed was still only around 15 miles an hour on the flat.  We noticed that Albert started to lose power on hills and was struggling and our average speed dropped dramatically.  In fact the power loss was so bad that just outside Langar where the road was steepest Sarah had to keep putting chocks behind the rear wheels to stop Albert rolling back as the hand brake simply wouldn't hold him.  Once we had reached the top of the switch backs I had to leave Sarah and head for the campsite where Mark, Matt and Aidie had already pitched their tents so that someone could go and get Sarah who was merrily (not!) walking up the hill in the dark.

Aidie who happens to be a mechanic had a quick look at Albert and felt that the power loss could have been due to the carburettor dashpot not having enough oil and the accelorator cable being too slack. He tightened the cable but we had no 3-in-1 oil and so decided to top up the dashpot with WD40.  Initially this seemed to do the job and we started the day in good spirits.  Mark, Matt and Aidie bid us farewell as they needed to crack on to make sure Matt caught his flight home in Almaty.

We were soon to be disabused of our good feelings as our day deteriorated to the Day From Hell!!! Our problems first started with our getting stuck in the sand whilst going up hill.  Albert just didn't have enough in him to maintain momentum.  We even tried reversing up with no joy.  Fortunately a passing truck gave us a lift and towed us to the top where we just about managed to get underway again (ironically we passed the same self truck bogged down in sand about a half-hour later).  The roads had now become a mixture of sand, rocks and general detrious and were predominantly uphill with a little respite on the flat but even then telegraph wire on the road became a hazard getting caught up in the wheels.

On a particularly bad section of road which was full of sand traps particularly deep ones where trucks had churned up the road we needed to go 'off-piste' to stand any sort of chance to make headway - mistake!! While going through some difficult bits of sand we hit a rock buried in a sand trap. Although we were only doing around 10 miles an hour the hit was huge and the steering column parted company from the lower section and we were effectively without steering.

After a bit of scratching heads, reading the book (we took the Haynes Manual for the Morris Minor I bought Sarah for Xmas with us) we managed to re-attach the column all be it temporarily.  At least we now had a means to control Albert and managed to get him back on the road and start on our way although it wasn't long before we needed to stop again as Albert was struggling and overheating.  At this point a passing driver stopped and asked if we were OK.  We had some language difficulties until another passing group stopped to help and one of the party (who incidentally had done the Mongol Rally a few years ago) spoke Russian and translated for us.  We explained what had happened and without too much ado we jacked Abert up and the driver of the first car checked out the steering and also tightened the odd nut here and there.

Once Albert had cooled down and had his nuts tightened we started off again but soon lost power. We checked the dashpot and decided that we would try some of the 14W-40 engine oil to see if something thicker would make a difference anyway this seemed to help and we managed to limp into Arichar after a miserable 80 miles in around 12 hours.  We crashed at a truckers hostel and hoped we would be able to get to Murgab the following day.

After a disturbed night's sleep we decided to make an early start for Murgab only to find we couldn't start Albert.  It was clear that fuel wasn't getting to the engine.  We 'thinned' down the dashpot oil with some WD40 but no joy.  It was then I recalled that the Morris Minor fuel pump ocassionally
stopped working and needed a little gentle persuasion of the tap with a hammer type so Sarah gave it a friendly belt and lo and behold Albert started and we were off!  We managed to cover the 71 miles to Murgab in a few hours without too many issues arriving in time to get breakfast at the Pamir Hotel where the manager spoke English and was able to help us get Albert checked over and the steering column re-attached properly.

After a good night's sleep and feeling positive we left Murgab for Sary Tash in Kyrgystan and our last port of call (hopefully) before getting to Osh and the end of the Pamir Highway.  Once again the day started off well only to soon go down hill.  We were still experiencing power problems and Sarah made best friends with the tack hammer we were using to 'encourage' the fuel pump to behave.  We also continued to add a mixture of WD40 and engine oil to the dashpot and in this way we managed to limp along.  Going up the long slopes to the 4,655m (15,270 ft) high Ak-Baital pass proved to be hard going with frequents stops, for Albert to cool down, requiring Sarah to chock Albert and walk up some of the way while I got him to a flat bit.

We reach the top of the Ak-Baital Pass

At last we reached the pass and were looking forward to an easier time of things given it was effectively all down hill to Sary Tash (not a chance!).  Once we started down towards the Kyrgystan border things just seemed to go from bad to worse.  Two punctures meant we now had no spares and 30 miles of washboard type road made the going really tough. This only got worse once we crossed into Kyrgystan where the roads deteriorated into dried muddy roads which had been rutted and chewed up by trucks so although we were now going downhill we were manoeuvring around even more obstacles than before.

Could things get worse we wondered?  Well actually they could.  As we were negotiating the steep decline towards SaryTash we ground to a halt and no amount of gentle persuasion could get Albert to start.  With the petrol guage still reading around half full we decided to top up using the Jerry can of good quality petrol in case that was an issue as surely we couldn't have run out could we?  After topping up and a quick tap Albert started up and we managed to continue limping our way onwards only to be in sight of Sary Tash when once again we came to a grinding halt.  In desperation we topped up with our remaining 10L of fuel and managed to get into Sary Tash where we found an 'hotel'.  Twelve hours and 157 miles later we had got there.

After spending a night on the floor of our 'hotel' we spent some time getting our tyres fixed so we once again had spares.  I had also noticed that there was some oil leaking from the Diff and that the drain plug was loose so we managed to find a 'mechanic' who once again checked the suspension and tightened up the drain plug he also checked the fuel pump over and tightened the outlet nut using cotton where we might use PTFE tape .

It was also amazing to watch this chap make an alan key to fit the drain plug to enable hiim to tighten it.  He then tried to undo the filler plug but to no avail so I decided that would need to wait until we got to Osh.

We had come so far and with only around 130 miles to go before we got to Osh with tarmac roads we were feeling that the worst was over and we should be able to get to our destination where we would be able to recuperate and get Albert's problems sorted.  The day started off well, as many of the previous ones did, only to get worse as we got further down the road.  With our daily startup routine down pat we managed the first 60 miles in good order and with no real problems however once we got into the hills again and started to climb the lack of power began to tell on Albert.  Once again a passing driver stopped to help and he looked at the carburettor and checked that the needle wasn't sticking that the air filter was clean and generally he couldn't see a problem.  With Albert a little cooler we managed  to start of again only for him to completely give up half way up a steep slope 81 miles into the journey.  No amount of cajoling or fiddling could get Albert going there was just nothing there.  Again, a passing Samaritan stopped and this time towed us the 48 miles into Osh.  The Pamir Highway was finished!

Osh to Bishkek

Now we had arrived at the end of the Pamir Highway we needed to get Albert's problems fixed otherwise our Mongolian Adventure would come to untimely end as we just couldn't continue with him in this state.  Fortunately we met a chap, Sanjar, as we were towed into the hotel who could speak English and better yet even understood a little about older cars (result!).

Anyway our first problem was dashpot oil and after 'googling' 3-in-1 oil we found out we needed SAE20 oil (so much for the Haynes Manual) now the challenge was to buy some.  With Sanjar's help we went to one of the places that sold engine oil and explained what we needed and we were told we
should get some at the auto bazaar.  Sarah and I were taken to the bazaar by one of the hotel's drivers where we managed to find said oil (needed to buy a litre though).

We changed the dashpot oil and managed to get Albert going.  I took him to get his brakes checked as after 48 miles being towed I thought that may not be a bad thing.  Engine oil was changed, diff oil topped up and he had a general check over with his nipples being greased and nuts tightened yet again (this is getting to be a regular habit)

Now to the power issues.  We were happy that there wasn't an air filter problem as we had checked that and changed the filter on a number of occasions.  We checked the carburettor to make sure that there was no dirt/dust causing any problems.  The fuel pump had also been giving us jip and we noticed that there was a small leak from the filter plug I tried to tighten this but couldn't seem to stop it.  Also as we had to 'encourage' the pump to work I decided that we should change it as I had a spare.  After a lot of mucking around and Sarah acting as a plug to stop the petrol going everywhere we managed to replace our potentially faulty fuel pump.  It seems that this did the trick and Albert seemed to be back to full power again.

We left Osh in good spirits with Albert running well, in fact so well we picked up a speeding fine.  We made good time with the steep, winding ascent from the plains being easily handled.  We covered 424 miles this day and so felt positive our troubles from the Pamir were finally resolved.  We arrived in Bishkek in good time and with a couple of final tweeks Albert is back to his old self.

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