WARNING: If you hate waiting, please ignore this post.
What a difference a day makes!
With unfounded optimism and a change of taxi driver, I was hoping that my second attempt at the Tajik embassy would prove more successful. Arriving at 9:30am, I was met by the same embassy official as yesterday. He ushered me in to a formal waiting room where he asked me what I wanted. A tourist visa and the special GBAO Permit, please. He invited me to take a seat and wait. Eventually, another embassy official came and asked me for my passport and then invited me to take a seat and wait. The second embassy official eventually came back and asked me for my paperwork and again invited me to take a seat and wait. All these invitations were too good to refuse so I proceeded to wait and wait and wait. After about 30min, the second official came back and said that I could have my tourist visa – no problem. And what about the GBAO Permit? “You want to travel in Pamirs?” Yes, please. “Please, take seat and wait”. No problem, I’ve had lots of practice.
After some more waiting the second official returned with the first. That’s when I heard the words that all travellers dread to hear. In a heavily Russified accent, “There is problem. You must get GBAO (ge-bow) permit in Dushanbe”. The only problem with this was that I wouldn’t get to Dushanbe until the END of my travels in Tajikistan not the START. Out came my trusty map of Central Asia and I indicated the route that I wanted to take through his homeland, emphasising that Dushanbe was my final destination not my starting point. “No problem. I must ring Dushanbe and ask your permit. Please wait”. No problem, I can wait all day.
After a bit of good waiting the second official returned with a third, obviously more senior, official. “There is problem. You must get GBAO in Dushanbe. It is special stamp. We do not have here.” Oh dear, here we go again! I try to explain that Dushanbe is at the end of my travels not the start.
“Then you must get in Bishkek or Beijing. They have special stamp” Bishkek? Beijing? Bishkek was hundreds of kilometres out of my way! And as for Beijing – it was thousands of kilometres out of my way!! Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, No. 2 and No. 3 starting disagreeing about something. When they were finished No. 3 said “He will write for you. No problem. Please wait”. No problem. I’m getting pretty good at it.
After some really high quality waiting, I was eventually invited into the visa consul’s office and ……asked to wait. No. 2 appeared and it seemed that he was the visa consul. He approached me with my passport in his hand. This is it, I thought, the waiting is finally over. “I give you tourist visa. These dates”. Thank you, thank you, thank you. “Now I must write GBAO. Please wait”. Shattered, I waited.
In this game of diplomatic good cop-bad cop, No. 2 was the good cop doing his best to help me. No. 3 was … well you get the picture!
While I waited some more No. 3 reappeared at the door (cue: sinister bad guy music) and came over to speak to me. “He will write for you in passport permit. If you have trouble you must go to Dushanbe for special stamp”. So if I have trouble, I must go to Dushanbe to get a special stamp for somewhere I’ve already been? “Yes. He will write GBAO permit now for you. Please wait”. Of course, what else would I do?
Finally, Mr. Nice Guy No. 2 approached me again with my passport in his hand. This is it, the waiting really is over this time! “I write GBAO permit for you. OK.” Thank you so much. So I can travel along the Pamir Highway. “No! No Pamir! Only GBAO.” But the Pamir Highway runs through the middle of the GBAO. “No! No Pamir!” Totally gobsmacked, I tried to resort to my map again. “No. Please wait.” Mr Nice Guy No. 2 asked a fourth official to join us as translator. No. 4 said that I could travel along the Pamir Highway but not into the Pamirs – the main geographical feature of the area which lends its name to the highway. I was not sure how I could comply with this condition as the Pamir Highway is the main access route through the Pamir region.
I was just about to query this apparent contradiction when I decided that I should quit while I was ahead. My passport with my Tajik visa and GBAO permit were mere centimetres away. So I can travel along the Pamir Highway? “Of course. No problem.”
And so, after a little bit more waiting just for good measure, Mr. Nice Guy No. 2 handed my passport back to me along with a free tourist map and a hearty “Welcome to my country”.
The lesson in waiting was over!