Having a claustrophobic fear of road tunnels I was filled with dread at the prospect of having to drive through the notorious ‘Tunnel of Death’. Unfortunately the tunnel stood in-between us and a chain of seven serene mountain lakes in the Hisar Tizmasi range.
Cutting through roughly 3-miles of mountain underneath the Anzob Pass the tunnel has become infamous amongst overlanders. The tunnel is not nicknamed lightly; its lack of ventilation claims several lives each year. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is not the only danger; the tunnel floor is often reported to be under 60cm’s of water hiding a labyrinth of potholes, internal rock falls are common, abandoned tunnel machinery is strewn across the narrow one and a half lanes and to top it off the traffic is not regulated from either end.
We’d heard stories of 4-hour traffic jams and prevailing anarchy whilst you sit in the darkness, your headlights struggling to cut through the fumes of belching trucks as traffic from either direction refuses to give way.
Unfortunately the only alternative is to drive over the 3,372 metre Anzob Pass which is closed for most of the year due to the weather. The pass itself is classed as one of the most treacherous in Central Asia; avalanches are frequent, there is no safety barrier and the final 12 miles are a 7-8% gradient. In 1997 an avalanche so big it took 2 weeks for rescuers to reach the 15 buried trucks and cars killed 36 people.
With great trepidation we watched the GPS closely, mentally preparing for our next challenge, as we approached the mountain. Either route was less than desirable, but thankfully we were forced to take the lesser of two evils, the tunnel was closed due to flooding. Hoorah!
The pass was actually not as treacherous as we’d heard and offered some stunning views back down the valley we’d just travelled. Like the Pamir Highway the Anzob Tunnel is a right of passage for many overlanders travelling in Central Asia, for us it is one we can live without.