We dropped down over Taldyk Pass and the tiny town of Sary Tash lay spread out before us at the base of the mountain.
When my pre-arranged taxi ride from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to Murghab, Tajikistan fell through (the driver decided he didn’t feel like driving on a holiday after all), I had a few minutes of panic. My Tajik visa was date specific, my permitted time in the GBAO area a measly five days. If I didn’t cross into Tajikistan on October 4th, it would make things very complicated for me. After researching flights, alternate routes, etc. I came to the conclusion that I had to attempt the border crossing by myself. I went to the local bazaar and negotiated a ride to Sary Tash, the town closest to the border.
Finding a guesthouse was easy, there were only two in town (that I saw) and they were both situated along the M41. Mine, the Hotel Aida, was tiny, colorful, and empty. It was perfect. The ancient proprietor led me around back, turning on a small space heater and showing me the location of the toilet. The price for dinner, breakfast, and a bed was 500 som (about $10).
Walking around town in the short amount of time before dinner, I couldn’t help staring at the mountains in either direction.
Isolated by the mountains and situated on a high-altitude, dusty plain, Sary Tash would be nondescript were it not for its strategic location on the crossroads between both routes into Tajikistan and a key route into China.
The next day, I caught a ride to the border with a friend of the hotel owner. The border seemed conspicuously closed, something I noticed only after my ride left. After shouting to announce my presence, I opened the gate and let myself in, heading to the most official building. I went inside and heard music coming from one of the doors. A knock brought the border guard out; he stamped my passport after giving it a quick lookover. Handing it back to me, his gaze fell on the ukulele protruding from my backpack.
“Gun?” he asked, miming shooting an assault rifle.
I snorted, shook my head, and mimed rocking out on a ukulele. He laughed and waved me on.
I walked past the second gate and looked back. There weren’t any cars on the horizon, but it was still relatively early. I had food, water, sunscreen, a tent, and a sleeping bag. It was just over 15 kilometers to the Tajik border post. Hitching a ride shouldn’t be a problem, but, if things didn’t pan out, I was confident I could trek the distance.
I should have known better. But, confident, I turned my back on Kyrgyzstan and started walking.