Thursday, 10 September 2015

Tashkent to Ulanbataar - Sorted!

Well dear reader it has been some time since I last posted and much has happened.  With some enforced rests and difficulties en-route we have finally made it to Ulanbataar. 

Read on to find out what we had to endure.


Uzbekistan was really 'just passing through' on the way to Dushanbe in Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway.  Of all the countries visited thus far the roads in Uzbekistan were the worst in terms of the general state of the roads.  Whilst many of the countries upto this point had bad bits the roads were in generally good repair.  Not so Uzbekistan.  Anyway, Matt and Sarah took a couple of days exploring Samarkand and Bukhara introducing me to the Children at the SOS Children's village in Samarkand.

After the difficulties entering Uzbekistan leaving proved just as difficult but in the end we were allowed to go and entered Tajikistan and the start of the most difficult stretch of our journey yet.

Tajikistan to Kyrgystan and the Pamir Highway

There is some debate as to where the Pamir Highway starts but for us it begins in Dushanbe in Tajikistan and ends in Osh, Kyrgystan although the M41 (its designation) ends in Kara-Balta to the west of Bishkek.

Whilst en-route to Tajikistan there was unseasonal rainfall and as a consequence much of the main highway was damaged and was closed so we had to modify our route to travel further south to Ishkashim then to Langar and rejoin the main route to Osh.  Total miles covered was around 953 most of which was on roads a four wheel drive car would baulk at.

We left Dushanbe and convoyed some of the way with the Yorkshire 'Special' Branch team - Mark, Matt and Aidie. 

Our first main port of call on the highway was Khorog some 378 miles from Dushanbe.  The early part of the journey lulled us into a false sense of security as we were on good tarmac road which after around 60 miles simply disappeared and changed into broken up tarmac with potholes and unmade road.   Our average speed dropped like a stone and it ended up taking three days to get to Khorog.

The first day was fairly uneventful (except for all the rattling and shaking around I endured) however we only managed to cover a total of 121 miles which shows how much the road deteriorated after the good stretch from Dushanbe. The second and third days were fairly brutal and driving became much harder with avoiding potholes, rough roads and some minor water crossings but nevertheless we managed to cover around 120 miles each day.  It was certainly a new experience going up and coming down hills in first but we managed to complete the first leg to Khorog in good time only suffering one flat tyre which was duly repaired before the second stage of the journey to Murghab.


We were told that Dushanbe to Khorog was the hardest section which may have been true if you weren't in a 1968 Morris Minor Traveller.  We left Khorog and planned to reach Langar around 150 miles away.  It was on this day that my troubles started. 

I started to lose power on hills and was struggling and our average speed dropped dramatically.  In fact the power loss was so bad that just outside Langar where the road was steepest Sarah had to keep putting chocks behind the rear wheels to stop me rolling back as the hand brake simply wouldn't hold.  I managed to get to the campsite where Aide, who happens to be a mechanic, had a quick look and felt that the power loss could have been due to the carburettor dashpot not having enough oil and the accelorator cable being too slack. He tightened the cable but we had no 3-in-1 oil and so decided to top up the dashpot with WD40.  Initially this seemed to do the job and we started the following day in good spirits. 

The day soon deteriorated to the Day From Hell!!! My problems first started with getting stuck in the sand whilst going up hill.  I just didn't have enough in me to maintain momentum.  Matt even tried reversing me up with no joy.  Fortunately a passing truck gave us a lift and towed me to the top where I just about managed to get underway again (ironically we passed the same self truck bogged down in sand about a half-hour later).  The roads had now become a mixture of sand, rocks and general detrious and were predominantly uphill with a little respite on the flat but even then telegraph wire on the road became a hazard getting caught up in the wheels. 
On a particularly bad section of road which was full of sand traps particularly deep ones where trucks had churned up the road I needed to go 'off-piste' to stand any sort of chance to make headway - mistake!! While going through some difficult bits of sand I hit a rock buried in a sand trap. Although I was only doing around 10 miles an hour the hit was huge and the steering column parted company from the lower section and I was effectively without steering.

Matt managed to re-attach the column well enough to give control so I could get back on the road.  It wasn't long before I needed to stop as I was struggling with the lack of power and overheating.  A passing car stopped and the driver checked out my steering and also tightened the odd nut here and there. 
Once I had cooled down and had my nuts tightened we started off again but I soon lost power. Matt and Sarah checked the dashpot and decided that they would try some of the 14W-40 engine oil to see if something thicker would make a difference anyway this seemed to help and I managed to limp into Arichar after a miserable 80 miles in around 12 hours. 

Matt and Sarah decided to make an early start for Murgab only to find I wouldn't start.  Investigation showed that fuel wasn't getting to the engine.  After 'thinning' down the dashpot oil with some WD40 but no joy.  It was then Matt recalled that a common problem was that the fuel pump ocassionallystopped working and needed a little gentle persuasion of the tap with a hammer type so Sarah gave it a friendly belt and lo and behold fuel flowed and I started and we were off!  I managed to cover the 71 miles to Murgab in a few hours without too many issues arriving in time for Matt and Sarah to get breakfast at the Pamir Hotel where the manager spoke English and was able to help get me checked over and the steering column re-attached properly.

We left Murgab for Sary Tash in Kyrgystan and our last port of call (hopefully) before getting to Osh and the end of the Pamir Highway.  Once again the day started off well only to soon go down hill. Again I was still experiencing power problems and Sarah made best friends with the tack hammer we were using to 'encourage' the fuel pump to behave.  Matt also continued to add a mixture of WD40 and engine oil to the dashpot and in this way I managed to limp along.  Going up the long slopes to the 4,655m (15,270 ft) high Ak-Baital pass proved to be hard going with frequents stops for me to cool down, requiring Sarah to chock the wheels and walk up some of the way while I reached a flat bit. 

Me at the top of the Ak-Baital Pass
At last I reached the pass and was looking forward to an easier time of things given it was effectively all down hill to Sary Tash (not a chance!).  Once I started down towards the Kyrgystan border things just seemed to go from bad to worse.  Two punctures meant I now had no spares and 30 miles of washboard type road made the going really tough. This only got worse once we crossed into Kyrgystan where the roads deteriorated into dried muddy roads which had been rutted and chewed up by trucks so although I was now going downhill I was manoeuvring around even more obstacles than before. 

Could things get worse?  Well actually they could.  As I was negotiating the steep decline towards SaryTash I ground to a halt and no amount of gentle persuasion could get me to start.  With the petrol guage still reading around half full the Jerry can of good quality petrol was used to top me up in case that was an issue as surely we couldn't have run out could we?  After topping up and a quick tap I started up and we managed to continue limping our way onwards only to be in sight of Sary Tash when once again I came to a grinding halt.  In desperation Matt topped up with my remaining 10L of fuel and managed to get into Sary Tash where we found an 'hotel'.  Twelve hours and 157 miles later we had got there.

Matt spent some time getting my tyres fixed so I once again had spares.  He had also noticed that there was some oil leaking from the diff and that the drain plug was loose so we managed to find a 'mechanic' who once again checked the suspension and tightened up the drain plug he also checked the fuel pump over and tightened the outlet nut using cotton where we might use PTFE tape . 

I had come so far and with only around 130 miles to go before we got to Osh with tarmac roads I was feeling that the worst was over and I should be able to get to our destination where Matt and Sarah would be able to get my problems sorted.  The day started off well, as many of the previous ones did, only to get worse as we got further down the road.  With our daily startup routine down pat I managed the first 60 miles in good order and with no real problems however once we got into the hills again and started to climb the lack of power began to tell and I completely gave up half way up a steep slope 81 miles into the journey.  No amount of cajoling or fiddling could get me going there was just nothing there.  Again, a passing Samaritan stopped and towed me the 48 miles into Osh.  The Pamir Highway was finished!

Osh to Bishkek

Now I had arrived at the end of the Pamir Highway I needed to get my problems fixed otherwise my Mongolian Adventure would come to untimely end as I just couldn't continue in this state.  Fortunately Matt and Sarah met a chap, Sanjar, as I was towed into the hotel who could speak English and better yet even understood a little about older cars (result!).

Anyway our first problem was dashpot oil and after 'googling' 3-in-1 oil Matt and Sarah found out I needed SAE20 oil Matt and Sarah managed to get some at an auto bazaar and they changed my dashpot oil which really helped.  My brakes were checked, engine oil changed and the diff oil topped up and I also had a general check over with my nipples being greased and nuts tightened yet again (this is getting to be a regular habit)

My power issues needed sorting so Matt first checked the carburettor to make sure that there was no dirt/dust causing any problems.  The fuel pump had also been giving me jip and Sarah noticed that there was a small leak from the filter plug also as she had to 'encourage' the pump to work Matt decided that he should change it as I had a spare.  It seems that this did the trick and I seemed to be back to full power again.

We left Osh with me running well, in fact so well Matt picked up a speeding fine.  I made good time with the steep, winding ascent from the plains being easily handled.  I covered 424 miles this day and so felt positive my troubles from the Pamir were finally resolved.  We arrived in Bishkek in good time and with a couple of final tweeks I was back to my old self.

Kyrgystan to Russia via Kazahstan

While on the Pamir my  brake lights stopped working also while being checked over in Murgab it looked like the rear universal joint was suspect and probably needed changing and so Matt and Sarah got Matt's mate Paul to send out a couple of universal joints and brake light switches which we would collect at Semey before crossing into Russia.

Now back to full power I was able to get to Semey a couple of days ahead of schedule where we waited for the parts to arrive.  As before the roads in Kazakhstan were pretty boring and with full power restored we made good time.  Parts arrived in Semey and Matt fitted the brake light switch and decided to wait until we got to Russia before getting the universal joint fitted.

Other than waiting in Semey for the parts, Kazakhstan was simply a transit to Russia and so nothing remarkable to report.  I crossed over into Russia a week after crossing into Kazakhstan but four days were simply waiting for parts.

Russia to Mongolia

The Russia to Mongolia leg of the journey was originally to take me to Barnaul and from there the southern route through the Gobi desert to Ulanbataar.  We decided that the trials and tribulations of the Pamir were potentially to be repeated but this time on a much less travelled road and so the risk of my breaking down and no one around to help was too much of a risk so we opted for the route through Russia dropping down to Ulanbataar from the north.

The universal joint that was identified as being suspect was changed in Barnaul but it seems that for some unknown reason the part sent from the UK was too small for the prop shaft so the mechanic managed to source a joint from different car and used that instead.  It was also noticed that the near side mounting bracket for the tie bar had fractured and so this was welded and made good.  I left Barnaul thinking everything was now going to be fairly straightforward.  How wrong can you be!

We left Barnaul and I soon developed a fairly worrying whining and grating noise from somewhere to the rear.  Rather than simply stop and find I had an issue that couldn't be resolved and once I had stopped I maybe wouldn't be able to start again I carried on to Novosibirsk which was our next stop over.  Matt and Sarah took me to a garage where it was found that I had a number of issues with the rear axle.  Firstly one of the half shafts was completely knackered, secondly the gasket had gone and finally, and more importantly the diff was totally shagged.

After some deliberation it was decided that if I was ever to reach Mongolia and complete my adventure a new differential was required so I was fitted with a brand new Lada rear axle.  This had some advantages in that the 3.9 diff ratio would mean that on the good Russian roads my cruising speed would be improved by probably around 5mph.  The downside was that the torque would be lower so steep inclines would be harder on me but we weren't expecting anything on the scale of the Pamir from now on.  So the new axle was fitted and I was on the road again.

It was around 1,800 miles from Novosibirsk to Ulanbataar on for the most part good roads.  I left on the 4th of September and after 5 days driving arrived in Ulanbataar reaching Mongolia and the destination of the outward part of my adventure.  Despite all the difficulties on the way I had made it.  

Me at the Genghis Khan statue - Ulanbataar
 Preparing for the journey home so had a quick check over of steering, brakes and suspension which are all OK so will be heading off back to Russia and all points home. Some stats of the trip so far;

List of issues encountered on my outward journey.
  • Bulgaria - Front universal joint replaced
  • Turkey - Lost starter motor bolt (replaced)
  • Kazakhstan (1st visit) - Front trim bolts lost (replaced), bonnet catch came loose
  • Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway - Steering column came adrift, three punctures, loss of power and overheating, loose bolts on steering and suspension, speedo coming loose, brake lights stopped working (switch replaced in Kazakhstan), rear universal joint failing (replaced in Russia)
  • Kyrgystan - Replaced fuel pump, replaced dashpot oil with SAE20,
  • Kazakhstan (2nd visit) - Front trim bolts lost again (removed and nuts and bolts used instead)
  • Russia - Replaced rear universal joint, diff failure (new rear axle), solenoid playing up
Journey stats
  • Miles traveled from Potton to Ulanbataar - 13,125
  • Gallons of petrol used - 306
  • Miles per Gallon - 42.89
  • Actual days driving - 58
  • Average miles covered per day - 226
  • Number of speeding fines - 3
  • Number of other fines - 1
  • Number of problems requiring a mechanic - 9
  • Number of minor problems solved by Matt/Sarah - 6

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