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Silk Route Project Craig and Simon are currently travelling from India to Istanbul with the fantastic support of World Nomads. On behalf of Footprints, World Nomad's charity, they will be visiting of a number of projects along the route to deliver supplies of essential medicines to impoverished children.

Fly Tajikistan Airlines!

TAJIKISTAN | Sunday, 17 September 2006 | Views [12578] | Comments [6]

Scuttling into Khorog, the terminus of the incredible Pamir Highway, we discovered that we had a grueling 23 hour drive (assuming the bus didn’t break down) ahead of us to get to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Normally this would be fine for gluttons of travel punishment like us but we had hoped to get there a lot quicker as we had to apply for visas to Uzbekistan. Whilst we were pondering this we came across a Dutch couple who had just flown in from Dushanbe – it was amazing they said! The scenery was phenomenal and it only cost a bit more than the bus! That sealed it for us, early the next morning we got a dented taxi to the airport.

We had been assured that we would have no trouble buying tickets on the day of the flight, apparently that is what everyone did. Just in case we got there 3 hours before takeoff and positioned ourselves in front of the booking office, apart from a lovely lady from Dushanbe with a mouth of gold teeth we were the first there. After an hour a young guy in a bad suit unlocked the office and offered us a gaze of pure scorn. How dare you want to buy a ticket, it said. This was our introduction to the warm service of Tajikistan Airlines.

Over the next couple of hours we tried to repeatedly to buy tickets to no avail. The first obstacle was actually just getting into the office and at one stage I almost came to blows with a man guarding the door. He physically dragged me out into the corridor because apparently he didn’t want me in the office. Finally we managed to get ourselves into this hallowed inner sanctum only to be told a string of reasons why we couldn’t have tickets – “I don’t know if there is a plane today”, “Come back in 5 minutes”, “Come back in an hour”, “What are you doing in the office? Get out!”, “Come back in 10 minutes”, “I don’t know if there are any seats left”, “Maybe you have a ticket, I really don’t know”, “There are no seats left”, “I think maybe there are seats left, give me money just in case” …

The ridiculous thing was that whilst we had this epic struggle there was a continual stream of local men casually sauntering into the office, hugging the ticket seller and purchasing a ticket without fuss. Meanwhile he was telling us there were no tickets for sale. In situations like this it has been our experience that the best course of action is to grit your teeth, smile and call him names that you know he can’t understand.

The lady from Dushanbe was also having no joy at buying a ticket and it finally dawned on me what was happening – they were selling tickets to all the local people and if in the end there were any left over we would be allowed to go. There may be electricity, internet and push-up bras in this country but when it comes down to getting things done it is still very, very tribal.

By some miracle, 20 minutes before take off we greeted and told that they had tickets for us! We might have just achieved something very small but at that moment we felt we deserved Nobel Prizes. With a good deal of laughing, singing and dancing we made our way over to the runway which was surprisingly free of pot-holes but we were slightly disconcerted by the herd of cattle grazing on its edge.

Check-in was the standard beaurocractic circus. A fat, smoking soldier had a cursory look at our tickets and grunted at us. After him was a group of fat, smoking soldiers who had cursory looks at our tickets and grunted at us. Then there was the fat, smoking soldier who wrote something in a book and grunted at us. There was no x-ray machine but a young guy not in uniform came over to pat our bags. He couldn’t be bothered searching the big bags so he just looked in the outer pockets. Triumphantly out of Craig’s backpack he pulled a small camping knife and told us that it wasn’t allowed on the plane but if we gave him some money then it was OK! As always when we are asked for a bribe we flatly refused so unfortunately we lost the knife.

The aging Russian YAK 40 jet could have easily have been the past possession of some Soviet despot but for now it was a passenger jet. Again we were amazed at the efficiency of Tajikistan Airlines – there was none of the cumbersome loading of luggage into the hold, everyone simply brought their suitcases onto the plane and dumped them in the back row! Similarly, there wasn’t a boring safety demonstration by the stewardess and there were seat belts but no one bothered wearing the pesky things. And leaving your mobile phone turned on was absolutely allowed!

The flight itself was incredible – for an hour we threaded our way through giant mountains to Dushanbe. The pilot probably didn’t want to waste fuel by climbing to a safer altitude which meant we were coming startlingly close to some of the peaks but the view was spectacular (despite the turbulence). We landed in Dushanbe and collapsed exhausted, though more from the ordeal of buying tickets than the actual trip. But it was worth the struggle, the flight was unlike anything we've experienced before. I think that to fly Tajikistan Airlines you need a bit of a masochistic streak - we clearly fitted the bill.

Tags: planes trains & automobiles

Comments

1

Hi guys!

seems ages since you left us in siliguri and continued the trek.

not sure if thats a smile on Craig's face in that photo, or grimace for fear of what is to happen next :)

cheers

evan

  Evan Sep 21, 2006 3:03 PM

2

All true! On my first flight from Khujand to Dushanbe two years ago, I had live chickens stuffed in bags in the seat behind me. The 30-year old Tupelov 154s are held together by duct take and string, but I have never heard of one crashing. No wonder people here talk about "Tragic Air."

  John Hickey Dec 24, 2006 8:55 PM

3

hello to all Tajiks brothers and sisters I love Tajikistan very very much. I Like to come Tajikistan that's my hope Nice food nice weather nice poeple every think is nice.

  Amir Jan 8, 2008 11:19 AM

4

hi Craig, that's a great story. i'm from Tajikistan, and has been a couple of years since i was there. i miss it A LOTTT. i enjoyed reading your story from the beginning.
unfortunately those flying "buses" are soooo true. i was horrified when i got on an dinosaur An-24 from Khujand to Dushanbe.
the government is another comedy story.
something needs to be changed, and will be changed, Inshallah.
cheers

  Nazir May 31, 2008 8:42 PM

5

hahaha no seats available. from the picture doesn't seem so lol

  Nazir May 31, 2008 8:44 PM

6

I really apologize Craig its definitely true but but but we all hate this but unfortunately it seems like unchangeable this time am from Tajikistan its great country with awesome and friendly peoples but even i dont wanna fly to this country cuz of the same reason as urs
really sorry hopefully it will be better in the future

  JON Jun 10, 2013 6:50 AM

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