Road Stories #22: Messing with the police in Tashkent and crossing the Uzbek-Tajik border
We retreated back to Tashkent after our failures in the Tian Shan Mountains, wet but none the worse for wear.
Already fed up with hostels (even if it was the best hostel in Central Asia) we gave Couchsurfing another go, at least for one night before the registration monster came a calling. Our host this time was the excellent Zafar, an Uzbek of Tajik descent who originally came from Samarkand but had been living in Tashkent on and off for a while.
He told us some interesting stories about how he felt being a Tajik in an Uzbek land. He found it difficult to find work as companies were unwilling to hire him because of his ethnicity and he was a little bitter about being treated differently just for having a foreign mother tongue.
To highlight the case, we were drinking on the streets a few evening later when some policemen rocked up to ask us what we were doing. We played the foreigner card (i.e. talk English, pretend you don’t understand and smile) whilst he attempted to engage them. Their attention turned quickly away from us to him. They took him away, left us with our beers and only later did we learn that he had to pay a fine, which went straight into their pockets, no doubt, after being frog marched to a cashpoint. Corruption of the highest order and a bit of disgrace.
Tashkent and the Tajik visas, kept us in the Uzbek capital for a week, where we did little but drink, wait and drink some more. Finally, the entry date arrived and we were ready to go to Tajikistan at last.
We decided on our usually plan of hitchhiking close to the border and camping. We found a lake that looked pretty on a map (all lakes do, though, right?) and made for it. The spot was actually really nice and the experience involved us making a fire for the first time. Survival experts we most certainly aren’t, however, and after several failed attempts using cotton wool we took the nuclear option and poured a bucket load of alcohol fuel on it. That got it started …
The Uzbek-Tajik border crossing at Bekobod was small but friendly enough. The moment of truth with the registration papers arrived – we were missing a few days here and there but with the help of a well placed pen, which turned the 18th into the 19th and the 21st into the 24th, we thought we had all the bases covered. We had been discussing for the entire month what to do if there was a problem and we had limited ourselves to only a few days hostel free at a time. We still couldn’t cover the whole month, thoug,h but it was too late to do anything about it now.
The border guard grunted ‘registration slips‘ and we approached nervously while trying to look nonchalant.
We pushed the stack under the window and held our breathes.
He, more nonchalantly than we could have ever managed, cast a lazy eye at the pile. Turned them over as though the secret might be contained on the blank side.
‘OK’, and he waved us on.
A month long stress for nothing, we were now in Tajikistan!…
written by: Jon