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I wouldn't usually give this sort of advice, however...
there seem to be a lot of travellers getting held up in Tajikistan by the soldiers who are supposed to be patrolling the Afghan border.
Now these soldiers although armed quite possibly do not have bullets - they couldn't show me any.
they are very bored and quite young conscripts a long way from home, they are finding it fun to "hold-up" foreigners on the road from Dushanbe to Khorog in the Pamirs and there is also a pair doing it in the Wakhan Valley.
When one pair held me up, I shouted, got angry and just rode on as have other people.
if we let them take stuff from us, we are quite possibly encouraging them to do it more often and with worse consequences, for example the cyclists (and there are quite a few travelling through at the moment) do not have the easy option of revving up and just leaving, and in fact a solo female traveller was held up last week, had her camera and other stuff stolen and the soldiers attempted to rape her - she managed to fight them off.
There is no choice on the route to take as the police in theory are not allowing foreign vehicles to take the north eastern Dushnabe-Kulaikhum route as mujahadden type guys are taking pot shots at passing vehicles. Although I do know one guy who got so desperate that he argued with the police for four hours at K'khum until they let him go that route.
So please if possible, do not give in to the soldiers, they are just strolling along - they are NOT at official checkpoints and so they do not have any jurisdiction to demand documents. I have met several travellers who once they start getting documents out, the soldiers start going through their bags and stealing stuff (one guy who realised his Tetley teabags had been stolen actually rode back and seized the teabags back).
As I said I would not usually give this type of advice, however these are not South American banditos, Indian dacoits, Somalian shifta, terrorists, guerillas whoever. They are bored young soldiers who have no bullets or who will be in big trouble for using any of their valuable ammo without good reason - this is an extremely poor country with a low defence budget - they are not running around firing guns, such as is the case in many other countries.
I have a feeling I will be shot down in flames for this, but I'm only trying to help other travellers -particularly the more vulnerable ones.
No need to think you will be shot down in flames, its good advice but of course everybody has to judge each situation on its own individual merits
I remember in Zaire (!) an armed soldier asked what our tablets were and in broken French I explained the value of the multi vitamin tablets. Said soldier liked the idea so he took them off me and said we could go on our way.
As he sauntered back to his slothful chums reclining in the shade, my girlfriend grabbed him by the arm, spun him round, said "they're ours" and grabbed the bottle of multi vitamins back.
I thought we were doomed and would die a lonely death on a remote Zairean highway, but the other soldiers took the piss out of him and he was crest fallen.
Still not sure I'd recommend that course of action to anyone - it is always such a close call when it is easily replaceable crap of little monetary value. Always a difficult call
Glad to hear you're OK Tiffany
Just a wee point though - it is very unwise to assume that anyone carrying a firearm does not have any ammunition for it or would not actually make use of it. It only takes one bullet and these are cheap... sadly, in many places, so is life- As Dick said- "judge each situation on its own individual merits".
it is very unwise to assume that anyone carrying a firearm does not have any ammunition for it or would not actually make use of it
Indeed. Although an immediate absence of ammo/magazine would suggest a lack of threat chances are that it is available in short order, should a situation arise. A bored young man with an inflated sense of power is a dangerous combination, and caution would be advised...
as a cyclist, having passed exactly this stretch, I can confirm, that it's not very enjoyable, being stopped by the wrong soldiers. It seems, that there was only a group of three young soldiers, that has been ill-mannered, in the canyon between Shuroabad and Khalaikum, just where the new bridge was build by the Iranian company (fortunately I didn't meet the group in the Wakhan). I met other travellers that had problems at exactly the same place, and gave some money or hardly got their sunglasses back. The story about the female traveller makes me angry and sad.
I got through with a Snickers and some cookies, after 20 minutes of argueing and going through the bags. As they got a little bit angry and did as if they would load their weapon (I'm a total idiot about guns, so I did not know if there would have been a danger), I prefered to make a small admission.
Afterwards I always had a bad feeling about stopping at some soldiers. But they were fine and only wanted to talk a little bit.
Another tip for Kyrgystan, be prepared for dog attacks. As cyclist I just always stopped, when a dog started running. But two motorscylists told me, that they were bitten at the frontier by the dog of the soldiers (just through the enforced outfit you usualy wear).
Seconded that dog warning in Kyrgygzstan. I don't know if it's the way they breed them but coming from the Chinese border recently I got chased three times, once at speeds of up to 50km/h, I kid you not. These dogs can run.
And with my moped only capable of 60km/h they very nearly caught me.
Best tactic I think is to stop, or ride very slowly as you approach.
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