In a little known and remote part of Tajikistan is the Anzob Tunnel However, most tourists and locals have a more sinister name, the “Tunnel of Death” or the “Death Tunnel”! Another name it received was the Tunnel of fear, but the Tunnel of Death has more of a ring to it.
The Tunnel of Death
The tunnel is the only way to get from the north of Tajikistan to the south. The tunnel not only connects two important regions of the country, but also the capital Dushanbe with the second largest city Khujand. Before the tunnel was built, travellers needed to take a 90km mountain pass which was closed for half of the year because of the harsh Tajik winter. Thus, a 5km tunnel that allows all year access seemed like a pretty good idea. Or so you would think….
Officially finished in 2006, just over 5km long and costing 4 billion dollars, the tunnel was originally built by the Iranians. Though rumour and common sense suggest that the majority of the 4 billion cost was embezzled by Iranian officials, thus the really horrible tunnel they produced, which surely any of us could have built with $20 and a shovel.
When finished there was no drainage and no lighting. There was also, most importantly, no ventilation. No lighting made the drive quite the challenge. One needs to avoid the horrible axle-breaking potholes and invisible obstacles in the road, but there was also the challenge of avoiding other traffic and individuals on the road. There were regular car crashes because of the lighting, and it made the whole experience, amongst other things, truly creepy.
Because of the lack of drainage, the road became treacherous very quickly, and because of the constant water on the road, you couldn’t see where the potholes (which more accurately should be described as small craters) were. This caused a lot of damage to cars driving through.
Anyone who has travelled through Central Asia, especially Tajikistan, knows that the cars aren’t in great condition and, as such, these potholes, and in some parts quite deep water, caused a lot of cars to break down.
This is where the loveable name nickname, “Tunnel of Death”, came into common vernacular. People would get out of their cars to see what was wrong, or would be stuck in the tunnel for hours waiting for help. With no ventilation, they were breathing in nothing but the carbon monoxide of car fumes and in a few instances, individuals actually died. So it wasn’t just a figurative “Tunnel of Death” – it was quite literally a tunnel in which people came to their death.
What About the Tunnel Today?
With the help of the Chinese, in 2015 and then again in 2018, large improvements were made, and it is now lit, albeit quite dimly. The main aspects of improvement are the addition of drainage and repair of potholes. And now, fortunately, the Death Tunnel is no more. Of course, there are those thrill-seekers who will be saddened to know they can’t tempt fate by making the journey, but of course, we must remember that people really did die because of the engineering blunder that was the Tajik Death Tunnel.