Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Turkmen visas - a riddle wrapped in an enigma

You will never get a transit visa if you specify exiting via the Caspian Sea - ferry is too unreliable.

Turkmenistan is closed for all of October.

Konye Urgench is a restricted area, you can't enter Turkmenistan there.

These were just some of the things we were told in the months leading up to applying for our Turkmen visa. There were so many myths and contradictions about the visa process that we didn't know what to believe, and by the time we were stood outside the Turkmen embassy, with our passport photos at the ready, we had pretty much written off our overland dream.

However, the reality is that many travellers require a Turkmen visa, as it is a key crossing point on a overland trip, due to other alternative itineraries having to include crossing Afghanistan. We therefore knew it was possible. This post is about how we did it, to try to dispell a further myths. Having said that, it certainly isn't an exact science and, as always, is subject to constant change.

To begin with there were a few things that all Centrel Asian overlanders agreed upon. Firstly, that there were two sorts of Turkmen visa, a transit visa (usually 5 days) and a tourist visa (longer than 5 days). The requirment for a tourist visa is that you are on an organised tour with a Turkmen accredited guide - read minder. The consequence of this is that it is expensive. Most people travel on a transit visa and although this only allows a short amount of time in the country, there isn't the expense or restrictions of a tour and, as we found out, there's not much to see in Turkmenistan anyway, so 5 days is plenty! Secondly, everyone also agrees that you require the visa of the country you are exiting to, for most people this is Iran but for us is was Azerbaijan, before you can obtain a Turkmen visa.

Now this is my advice for getting a Turkmen visa once in Central Asia -
  1. If you are in Dushanbe, Tajikistan apply for a Turkmen visa here as they are very helpful. There was only a small queue outside the embassy at 9 am when we got there (no need to go earlier).
  2. AVOID the Turkmen embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan at all costs.  
  3. You require 1 x passport photo, 1 x photocopy of your passport, 1 x photocopy of your exit country visa. You also need to know the exact dates you wish to travel in Turkmenistan and the border crossings where you will be entering and exiting Turkmenistan. 
  4. You can apply for a Turkmen visa in Dushanbe and pick it up in Tashkent, this is what we did.
  5. We applied for an express visa service in Dushanbe which meant that the visa would be ready for collection in 7 days time.
Our application for a Turkmen visa in Dushanbe was possible due to discovering that there was infact a Azerbaijani Embassy in the city, despite it not being mentioned in any guidebooks. We managed to get this visa on the spot, although the embassy official ignored the dates that we requested and we had to get him to change them (tipex was his solution). In Dushanbe we applied for the 7 day express visa service in the Turkmen Embassy. Once we had got to Tashkent we found out that the embassy there was only allowing a 21 day standard visa service, another reason to AVOID Turkmen related visa stuff in Tashkent. Back in Dushanbe the first official told us that we would not be able to cross into Turkmenistan via the Konye Urgench border crossing but we asked again and the second official allowed it - so always worth asking twice. They didn't bat an eyelid at our request to exit Turkmenistan via Turkmenbashi (i.e. by ferry across the Caspian Sea), disproving the idea that they would be concerned about the ferry being delayed. You only pay for the visa on collection and I believe that it is also possible to change the visa start date when submitting your passport after visa approval but you might want to double check this.

The procedure for applying or picking up your visa at the Turkmen Embassy in Tashkent.
  1. Get to the embassy by at least 6 am and put your name on the list (a piece of paper at the security gate). We got there at 6 am and were 17th & 18th on the list.
  2. DO NOT leave the embassy gate because at an undetermined time (it was around 9 am for us) some embassy staff will read out the names on the list and you will be asked to show that you are present with your passport (a French woman managed to just show photocopies of hers and a friends as the friend was at the Iranian Embassy trying to get visas there). From this a second list is made. If you do not get on the second list you do not get into the embassy.
  3. It was at around 10.30 am when we were called into the embassy to find out if we had been approved for a visa.
  4. For those PICKING UP visas your passport is taken off you in the morning (so make sure you have a photocopy in case the police check you during the day) and then you have to return to the embassy to collect your passport and, hopefully, visa at around 4.30 pm.
What actually happened when we gave in our passports that mornıng was that the embassy officials were not aware of our application. In Russian we explained that we had applied in Dushanbe. After they had made a few phone calls it got sorted out, however we needed to refill out all the forms, including more passport photos which we didn't have with us. The embassy staff allowed us to bring photos when we returned to pick up the visa. A Danish motorcyclist, Morten, who was with us was refused a visa - no reason given. Apart from poor Morten's visa outcome, we actually found the Turkmen embassies to be a lot more flexible than we imagined. A french couple we met outside the Embassy in Tashkent had applied for their Turkmen visas (3 weeks earlier) without their ongoing visa as they were having difficulty obtaining their Iranian visa. The Turkmen embassy had allowed them to apply on the understanding that they would have to show the Iranian visa on collection of their Turkmen visa. Again proving that it is always worth asking. Once we found out that we had been approved we left our passports at the Embassy and returned at 4 pm where we waited an hour before being called into the embassy to collect our passport with visa. Then a couple of beers to celebrate!!!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Avant-Garde Art in the most unlikely location

During Soviet times Savitsky collected over 90,000 artifacts and works of art, many of which did not conform to Soviet ideals. Some of the artists were persecuted for their art and many works were lost. But in the far west of Uzbekistan, on the Turkmen border, Savitsky was left alone by the authorities. Now this collection is one of the most important of its era and something we did not want to miss.

It was worth the journey. We were the only people in the gallery and spent a wonderful few hours drinking in the fantastic works of art. We had had a complete drought of contemporary art for 6 months so it was such a treat. Although works are lent to other galleries around the world it is fantastic that the main collection remains in the remote town of Nukus - a real reward for people that make it to this corner of Uzbekistan. The gallery seems to also retain its rebel streak with an exhibition on the environmental disaster which is happening in the Aral Sea.

Otherwise the town of Nukus has little to write home about. It used to be the site of a chemical weapons factory which is vaguely interesting. But we found it a breath of fresh air as, unlike the other towns and cities we had visited in Uzbekistan, there were at least people going about normal life.

Block of flats in Nukus

The Karekalpak Museum housing the Savitsky art collection

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva - mosques, madrassas and minarets

For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand

Eloy Flecker, 1913

The three ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva with their tiled blue domes and Great Game history were the initial inspiration for travelling to Central Asia. So it was with great excitement that we got the train to Samarkand. Rounding the corner in a taxi we finally saw the Registan, a huge blue domed monument of Islamıc architecture. We stayed in a homely backpackers hangout close by, with a vine the size of a tree in the courtyard and pots of tea and water melon brought out every time we sat down. It was there that we bumped into Mio, who we had first met in Khorog, Tajikistan, over a month previously.

We were now fırmly in the domain of group tours and large groups of grey haıred tourists, who were clearly spending the kids inheritance, and who were being ushered from one sight to the next around us. We took a more lesurily pace walking around the Registan, the Shahr-i-Zander Monuments, a narrow avenue of gleaming blue tiled mausoleums, the Bibi Khanym Mosque, the Islamic world's biggest mosque when it was built at the end of the 12th Century and the Mausoleum of Timur. Soviet archaeologists opened up the mausoleum in June 1941, despite dire warnings for anyone who did so. The following day Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.

One evening we were taking a walk down past the Registan and heard music blaring out of a restaurant. We thought we would go and have a look at what was going on - big mistake. It looked like a wedding and some drunk Uzbek men rolled out of the door and grabbed us, insisting that we joined the party. We were shown to a table where several other wide eyed tourists were being held hostage. It turns out that the party was a celebration of a circumcision. There must have been around 200 people at the event but now only the drunkest remained. We eventually managed to make our excuses and leave.

Next stop was Bukhara. We caught the train, appreciatıng every minute of a more familiar form of transport rather than the rigmarole of shared taxis. In Bukhara we bumped into Australians Ned and Morgan as well as Iranians Rita and Mo, who we had last seen in Dushanbe, Tajıkistan. This meant lots of drinks and a good catch up.

We did also manage to fıt some sightseeıng in, the huge Klyan minaret and surroundıng madrassa and mosque as well as the fortress known as the Ark. Bukhara is at the centre of many a Great Game escapade and James and I made a special visit to the jail into which the fated British Army Officers, Stoddart and Connolly, were incarcerated in the 'bug pit', which to our delight was still there. My favourite sight was the little visited Modari Khan madrassa. Clearly not on the tour group circuit, we had the run of this deserted building, climbing up the crumbling stairs onto the roof from where we could see across the city. Our hostel was opposite one of two sinogoges in the cıty and we had a look around, intrigued at the Jewish community in this ancient Islamic city. Although beautiful in every sense the old city lack something. After the bustling markets and cities of the rest of Central Asia it was disappointing that the only people in the old city were tourists and souvenir sellers. The old town felt like a sanitised museum.

On our last evening we went wine tasting in a tastefully decorated whitewashed cellar. That was where the tastefulness ended as Uzbek wine is not about to fınd its way into any Michelin stared restaurants. It is incredibly sweet and resembling something closer to sherry. However, with the Australians, a couple of other Brits, two Americans and our very kind Uzbek hosts we had a hoot and the drinking continued back at our hostel.

The following evening we caught the night train to Khiva. James had eventually managed to buy tickets after much confusion and had helped another tourist get hers too. Teressa was a air hostess from Spain and one of the most fascinating people I've met. She had had the most incredible life, including studyıng for a PhD at Oxford. After changing trains in the middle of the night we ended up on a stifflingly hot carriage chugging through the Kyzylkum desert. Bizarrely it was occupied entirely by women, children and James - as if a town somewhere had been evacuated. It was too hot to sleep and was told off when I attempted to open the window. It seems that  windows are for throwing rubbish out of - not for ventilation.

In Khiva we wondered around the sights but we were now at saturation point when it came to mosques, madrassas and minarets. Khiva was even quieter than Bukhara when it came to local life. We did climb the minaret by the East Gate for giddy views over the city and walked along the city walks one evening.

We left Khiva to take a tour around the many unrestored forts in the area, planning on stayıng ın a cheap hotel on the way to our next destination. However, were forced to return when we couldn't fınd an affordable hotel that would take foreigners. The next day we had to retrace our steps to get to Nukus.

The Registan, Samarkand

Mosque in Bukhara

James hangs out with some Uzbek tourists in Bukhara

The unfinished minaret at Khiva

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tashkent; capital of Uzbekistan

The police immediately clocked a flicker of hesitation as we tried to make our first trip on the Tashkent underground. We were pulled over, our passports checked and bag searched. Despite the complete absence of any of the registration slips that you are bizarrely required to present for every single night of your stay in Uzbekistan we were allowed to continue our journey with a stern warning - we had 24hrs to get some. We didn't have the documents because we were staying with friends and after a couple of days of investigations we discovered that our visa didn't allow this and there was nothing the authorities could, or would, do about it. James had worked with Alison, who with her husband Phil, had recently moved to Tashkent for work. We had invited ourselves round and they had very kindly offered to put us up. Phil happened to be the Deputy US Ambassador for Uzbekistan and, needless to say, they had a pretty nice pad. It was the most luxurious accommodation we had had on our trip, so there was absolutely no way we were going to give up it up for a pesky bit of paperwork. In the end we had to resort to paying for a hotel room to get our registration slips; returning the key after a couple of days.

If it hadn't been for Phil and Alison's generosity Tashkent would not have scored highly as a destination on our trip so far. It felt as if the soul of the city had been removed by the town planners. Huge buildings and boulevards seemed deserted and lacked any sort of character. We eventually found some sort of life at the Chorsu market, where we went to change dollars on the black market. In Uzbekistan there is a vast difference between the official rate and the black market rate for currency. There are 2500 Uzbek Som to a single US dollar on the black market rate whilst only 1750 at the official rate. In addition to this inconvenience the largest note is 1000 Uzbek som. People have to carry about wads of cash, most men carry manbags for this purpose and money countering machines are extremely useful.

Although the police continued to be annoying, we soon worked out a few strategies to minimise this. Firstly, I would always carry the bag and money - they rarely searched women and secondly, we tried to look like we knew where we were going. Of course, as soon as we got the registration slips we were never asked to show them again but we probably looked less guilty. And in all fairness to the police they never asked us for a bribe.

Our days in Tashkent were filled with administrative tasks. After sorting out the registration issue we managed to post over 23 Kilos of mountaineering kit back to the UK and had a full day at the Turkmen embassy picking up our Turkmen visas. All of this was made much more difficult by the Uzbeks lack of understanding of the concept of queueing. In one queue James pointed out to a young woman that there was a queue and she rudely replied, 'what queue?' and continued to push in front of us. Luckily there were two of us so I went for the left arm block whilst James got to the front of the queue from the right. However, we did also meet some lovely Uzbeks during the many hours of queueing that week getting invitations to lunch and were often pointed in the right direction when we were lost.

Our final success of the week was obtaining our Turkmen visas. After an anxious day we got the elusive visa. This was the last visa we required to get us back overland to the UK and deserved a celebration. We eventually found a cafe with some outdoor seating and celebrated with Clement and Emilie, two French overland cyclists, with a couple of beers.

Loads of money - I'm rich beyond my wildest Uzbek dreams!!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Oybek crossing into Uzbekistan

With no more days left on our Tajik visa we had to continue our journey to Uzbekistan. Driving north of Khujand, through the Fergana valley, we could see that the cotton harvest was in full swing. The roads were good now, and the landscape flat and open. The taxi dropped us at the border and we exited Tajikistan. We then had to drag our bags through the across an excessive amount of no-mans land to find that everyone was squeezed into a tiny building where the Uzbek passport control was located. Badly laid out and organised, queuing would have been intolerable if it hadn't been for the Tajiks who, always polite and gentle, insisted on queuing fairly. The Uzbek officials treated them terribly. A French tourist fainted and was let through. Passport control closed for a lunch break. Eventually we made it to customs where we had to fill out the form several times, our bags were searched and then we were finally in Uzbekistan.

Luckily we only had to do that crossing once. I pity the Tajiks who have to do it regularly. In Uzbekistan there are many ethnic Tajiks, with majority Tajik areas being in the famous cities of Samarkand and Bokhara, but the Uzbek authorities make life very difficult for them which has separated families and stifled trade. Uzbekistan is also rated by Transparency International as the 4th most corrupt country in the world and is one of the worst for Soviet bureaucracy, all of which we were about to experience a lot more of.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Khujand - Last stop in Tajikistan

Yet another epic journey between main Tajik towns, via terrible roads and over mountain passes. The journey was only bearable with the knowledge that this was our last shared jeep journey on this trip. James and I were squeezed into the two seats at the back of the jeep with a third person. Various other bits of luggage were wedged in around us and a budgie in a cage was passed in for us to hold. We bounced along in the back of the jeep through the Fann Mountains. At one point the road dived into the side of a mountain. The tunnel was unlit and thick with fumes. It was several inches deep in water which concealed crater sized potholes. The air was so bad and the tunnel so long that I began to develop a headache. We began to wonder whether we were transporting a budgie for a reason. Luckily we all made it out the other side alive - including the budgie.

In Khujand we checked in to a rather politically incorrect hotel called the Leninabad Hotel. It was a crumbling Soviet building with bathrooms which were sure to be a breeding ground for Legionnaires' Disease. A more appropriate name would have been the Lenina 'Very' bad Hotel. Morten, the Danish motor biker we had met outside the Turkmen embassy in Dushanbe was also staying here.

After settling in we met with Azamov a NGO worker who James had met in Kyrgyzstan. He gave us a whistle stop tour of Khujand. Many new buildings had been opened to mark the 20th year of independence celebrations including a swimming pool. Azamov managed to get the museum opened for us. It was great to have the place to ourselves as, although small, the artefacts were much more imaginatively exhibited than the other Central Asia museums we had been to. Azamov won't let us pay for anything including the museum and an ice cream in the park, we were his guests he kept insisting.

Khujand was yet another Tajik town which resembled no other in Tajikistan. It is affluent with several universities and is located in the fertile Fergana valley. Azamov, a highly educated professional, had only been to the Tajik capital once, by train through Uzbekistan when the Uzbeks had allowed this. Now it was difficult for Tajiks to travel through Uzbekistan and the only way from the north of Tajikistan to the capital was via the potholed road we had taken.

After our whistle tour of Khujand, Azamov drove us back to his family home where we met his mother, children, wife, brother and brother's children. His mother spoke excellent English and enjoyed practising, whilst her grandchildren ran about giggling. We ate dinner together and then were introduced to the rest of the family via various DVD's filmed at family events.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Princess Diana and Dentists in Dushanbe

James peered into my mouth as the dentist was explaining something to him in Russian, as soon as he saw my tooth he reeled in horror. This is not the reassurance that is needed when you are having to have some major dental work on the other side of the world.

The tooth ache had started a week ago when a filling had fallen out and I had been trying to ignore it. Each day the pain would gradually build until it was too painfully to sleep and I had to resort to strong pain killers. I was going to have to see a dentist. I phoned my insurance company to find out what I would need to claim for the treatment. As I explained the situation to the person at the other end of the phone I could hear an audible gulp when I mentioned I was in Tajikistan. "Are you in...........the capital?" he replied "Yes, in Dushanbe" I said helping him out.

We had arrived in Dushanbe from Khorog which was a gruelling jeep ride through the Pamirs. We'd heard horror stories of it taking 22 hours, so were expecting the worst. For the first four hours or so the road (read dirty track at best) follows the Afghan border, through a gorge and beside the Oxus River. At one point we noticed a crane parked at the side of the road. In the river two back wheels of an upturned car were all that could be seen of the wreckage. The scenery changed suddenly as we crossed the pass to Dushanbe and we cruised into town after only 13 hours on the road. We had shared the jeep with a Tajik family who had done the trip from Murghab in a oner (2 days on the road) and a Belgium backpacker, Mio, who we had met in the homestay in Khorog. One of the Tajik women spent the entire journey discretely vomiting into a plastic bag and then throwing it out of the jeep window. On arrival in Dushanbe we celebrated with Mio in 'beer square', a collection of make shift outdoor bars around a fountain outside the Opera House, busy with locals. We soon discovered the local beer SimSim and, with two Australian backpackers, Ned and Morgan, we became regulars there.

Dushanbe with the huge Tajik flag dominating the skyline

I ended up needing 3 dental appointments over a week for a root canal and filling and was a little worried about the final bill, however it ended up totalling $60, so therefore didn't curtail the SimSim drinking. In between dental work James and I spent our time filling out forms in various embassies for the next round of visa applications.

Unfortunately accommodation wasn't as cheap as dentistry in Dushanbe but a local couchsurfer came to the rescue. Despite going on holiday the evening we arrived, Ryan, gave us the keys to his flat. It was wonderful to have a homely little place to go back to after several hours in the dentist's chair.

Whilst hanging around in Dushanbe I also thought I would get my haircut. I was very tempted by the Princess Diana Salon but decided that I didn't actually want a Princess Diana cut so headed to a less fancy place. Life in Dushanbe is beyond laid back so it was very easy to slip into a routine of doing not a lot. The impending expiry of our Tajik visas got us moving again.

 Me with local Tajik women in Dushanbe. The women are wearing the typical 'nightdress' and featuring 'strong' eyebrows

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The demise of The Beard

After 3 months of cultivating, James's beard had reached monstrous proportions and was the source of much comment on facebook whenever we posted photos or when border officials saw him cleanly shaven in his passport photo. It was all in an effort to try to fit in in Afghanistan, so he was initially greatly disappointed when he met the cleanly shaven Adab in Ishkashim. It turned out that Adab was a city boy and once in the sticks in the Wakhan, with the help of his shalwar kameez, he fitted in quite well. However, now, and much to my relief, it was time for it to go but not before a little fun.

 Off with the beard!

 Why aye Jeff man.

 The Mexican

 The Fitzroy

 The disturbingly similar to James's dad. It was accpetable in the 80s.

 He just needs a haircut now!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Last days in the Wakhan

Returning on foot to the track which provided the vehicle access along the Wakhan a day early, we wondered what we would do as we had arranged for the car to meet us the next day. To our complete surprise there was a car parked off the track. It could only be waiting for us. Somehow Adab had known and sent the car for us. This was a double birthday present for James as we could now enjoy a hot meal and bed in Ishkashim. We divided up our remaining food and gave it to the donkey men and headed to Ishkashim.

The following day we went to the local clinic to donate much of our medical kit. It had been built by the Agha Khan Foundation 5 years ago. One of the young doctors took us on a tour. There were special rooms for TB treat and two infants were in the malnutrition treatment room, where they would get 21 days of treatment. The clinic was basic but clean and tidy. A man waiting outside explained that he was here with his wife who was having treatment, his 4 month old child had died that week. The Wakhan Corridor has the highest infant mortality rate of any region in the world and this heart wrenching story was tragically repeated frequently here.

Me at the clinic

Back at our homestay we were not the only tourists. Tommy was a Belgian who had visited Afghanistan before and had had various adventures in Afghanistan and Iran which had helped him to develop a good command of Persian. We had a pleasant evening chatting to him.

Before heading back to Tajikistan we had a final look around the market and James was ecstatic to find pomegranates. He had nearly jeopardised our trip by buying very expensive pomegranates in the UK and then complaining that they were not as good as Afghan ones so now he was happy.

James very happy to have found some pomegranates

When trying to cross the border later that day we had badly timed our attempt as it seemed to be closed for an unspecified amount of time. The Afghans blamed it on the Tajiks saying that they were praying. If that was the case then it was the first time we had heard of Tajiks doing any praying. Anyway it gave us a chance to get a few good photos with the Afghan border police, as well as befriending a fellow stranded tourist who had a vehicle and driver. This was useful as we had no idea how we were going to get back to Khorog once across the border. He was Swiss and was profoundly deaf. He had spent a total of 2 hours in Afghanistan and proudly told us that it was his 56th country.

James doing his best mujahideen look

Friday, 4 November 2011

Maybe, just maybe, we will have some luck.

The following day, with the sun shining, we had a relaxing day recce-ing a route through the moraine and looking for a good route up the glacier and beyond. We had picked out the central mountain as the easiest technically to climb. With the weather still good the next morning we packed up the camp and negotiated our way up the moraine onto the glacier. The terrain then became difficult as we painstakingly found our way around huge crevasses and across snow bridges. The weather had now turned overcast and as we were making our way through the final steep section when it began to snow. At 5000 m we pitched our high camp and retreated to the tent out of the deteriorating weather.

Base Camp

Big crevasses

That night I went down with something and felt rubbish the next day. We thought we'd do a recce of the upper section of the glacier and we set out but I was not feeling great so we returned to the tent. It didn't matter as the clouds soon closed in. The following day I felt better but the weather was threatening so we were confined to the tent for yet another day. Our supplies were now running low; we were now stretching three days of food to four in the hope that the weather would improve.

Terrible weather at High Camp

Unfortunately the next day the weather was the worst yet. It was blizzarding outside but we needed to retreat back to base camp so had to brave the weather. As we picked our way back through the crevasses and down the moraine the snow turned to sleet and then rain. We were thoroughly soaked by the time we reached base camp. Sitting in a wet tent with everything around us damp we reflected on the weather. Being September it was late in the season for mountaineering, was it that winter had  already arrived? Yet another wave of incredible frustration came over me. It seemed like we were not having any luck with this mountaineering lark.

The following day the storm had cleared the weather and we set about trying to dry everything. We also needed to rest as the effort of getting up to the high camp and then having to retreat, together with the bug I had picked up, had drained us of energy. 

The weather remained good as we prepared to head back up to high camp again. We reestablished this camp and as the weather was still great the following morning headed out for our summit attempt. The route up the glacier was fairly straight forward and certainly easier regarding crevasses than the lower sections. It lead us towards the col which denoted the border with Pakistan. We tried to climb the rocky ridge on the border but the rock turned out to be a chossy outcrop which required some delicate moves to traversed out of it. This took us onto bullet hard ice, an initial salvation in the form of two solid ice screws which formed a belay so that James could safely climb out of the choss but then meant some teetering across an awkwardly angled slope on our front points before we managed to access easier going terrain on the northern slopes of the mountain. We followed these slopes for what seemed like forever, passed false summit after false summit until the slopes flattened to form a large plateau which was the summit. The GPS read 5730 m which tallied with the Google Earth research I had done. 

On the summit.

We reached the summit at 1238hrs local time and had stunning views over Pakistan and the Hindu Kush to the South, and to the north the Wakhan and the Pamirs of Tajikistan beyond and over the Oxus River. We spent some time savouring the moment of making a first ascent. On our return we took care to avoid the chossy ridge and got back to the high camp 4 pm. A 12 hour day, not a long summit day but long enough for us.

 Descending. Looking towards Pakistan.

With plenty of food still left, and having learnt from running short on our previous excursion, we decided to stay at the high camp to see if we could make an ascent of an adjacent peak. That night, however, James got struck down with 'The Bug', except worse. The following day I knew that, with James ill, we wouldn't be making any more ascents. We retreated to base camp where James proceeded to be very ill. Luckily the weather was good as we waited for the donkey men to return to help us get our gear back down the valley.

The day before we were meant to meet the donkey men was James's birthday and we had planned a lie in before attempting to organise the gear for packing. So it was with great surprise that we woke up to the sound of voices. It was our donkey men. We rolled out of our sleeping bags and shook ourselves awake. James was feeling much better although had noticeably lost weight, he was pleased to be heading down the valley a day early. 

Retracing the steps we had taken 2 weeks earlier, our mountain gradually disappeared from view as the Ravens flew overhead, threatening a repeat poo strike. And as for a name well there was one that came to mind, Koh-e-Zaghcheh, meaning Raven Peak.

The peak climbed - see comments below as to why it wasn't a first ascent