Tunnels and Spies

The Tunnel of Terror is a six kilometre tunnel dug through a mountain pass at 3300 metres. It was, and still is by all accounts, a nightmare to ride through as it is not finished off properly, with roughly hewn rock walls, celling and ground, it’s pitch dark as there is no lighting, water pours non-stop from the roof where the snow on top of the mountain is constantly melting, there are deep pools of water on the ground, but you can’t see them as it’s so dark and the whole ground surface is covered with water anyway. And have I mentioned the big trucks that trundle through it, taking up most of the space and belching out diesel fumes, which as there is no ventilation system, means that riders are choking the whole time as well as eyes streaming due to the toxic fumes. There are a few workers struggling to cope with what little maintenance is done, they have no lighting and no high visibility clothing of any sort- it’s an extremely risky job to be doing.

Anyway, having launched into a lyrical description, which I had regaled the group with a couple of times, though in fact, I had downplayed how bad it really is as I didn’t want to scare them off. It then turned out our route would not be taking us that way after all. A huge sigh of relief when we found we were facing no more than 60 kms of tarmac to Dushanbe. Though we had great views of the Fan Mountains, home to the Tunnel, riders were looking up at the snow-clad mountains with a shiver.

I really like Dushanbe though it bears almost no relation to the rest of the country. It has shady, tree-lined boulevards, posh cars and lots of smart buildings. It’s possible to eat at international restaurants, my favourite is the Lebanese restaurant, the best baba ghanoush I
have ever tasted, though after days or weeks of laghman (noodles) and plov (rice) anything different tastes amazingly good. I directed the group to the Opera Square, which is an open-air plaza around a large fountain which has beer gardens and restaurants. A great place to spend some time people-watching and just relaxing. Meantime we also had some serious work to do, namely 26 tyres needed changing. And guess who’s going to do them? It turned out to be me and Alan. The riders did the basic servicing of their bikes – oil and filter change, while we got on with the tyres, my back was aching so much at the end of it, I felt like I could hardly straighten up.

However the bikes looked great with their rugged, knobbly tyres, ready for the tough conditions we were going to be riding once we left
Dushanbe.

The hotel we were in had lots of air force personnel staying, from a variety of countries. They are all flying missions in and out of Afghanistan which brought the conflict there to mind and made us realsie how close we are to the Afghan border. They were all very intersted in our bikes and our journey and we'd find ourselves chatting to American, Spanish and Belgian pilots about our route and future plans.

I caught up with some emailing and website stuff in the business centre of the hotel, where I came across a guy who I’m sure is a bit dodgy. He spoke perfect colloquial English, looked like a blond Hugh Grant and then casually mentioned he was in Dushanbe after the war. Well, for all you Brits, the only “war” we would refer to is the Second World War, and he definitely wasn’t old enough for that. Some more digging and I discovered he actually works
for the Russian Embassy – so I’ve decided he’s a spy. Lips sealed etc, he’ll be getting no secrets from me.