Tengen Tough

To tell this story I must first explain what a Tengen is, in the Pamirs it’s the most common form of public transportation. It’s kind of like a mini van, but looks more like a septic tank on wheels. A simple metal box with a go-cart sized engine that acts like the energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going. Well, until it doesn’t go anymore; we’ve been told one Tengen costs around $6,000 and can endure approximately 2 years of consistent work. The roads take a toll on cars and passengers.

The Tengen is rumored to be named after a character in a very popular Korean Soap Opera of the past. The character was abnormally small and was always working hard…just like all the motorized metal boxes in Badakhshan. If this story is true, the name is honoring the function the Tengen fills in a very harsh environment. Although it is easy to both love and hate the Tengen.

Mikey served as our tour guide in and around Khorog. He’s spent a lot of time in Tengens. He has a strategy: “Whether right or wrong, I always try to sit in the middle bench seat in the middle seat, if there is a wreck I think I’ll have the highest chance of survival if I’m sitting in this seat.”

On the day we traveled to the cross border market in Ishkashim, four of us were traveling and only one person could have this seat, and that was awarded to our guest Myles.  Katie, Mikey and I piled into the back seat and Myles sat in the safest spot in the Tengen, so we thought. As our Tengen was pulling out of Khorog another passenger was picked up. This resulted in 4 full grown men being squished in to the middle bench of the Tengen.

3 hours later we arrived at the market in Ishkashim. Initially, Katie, Mikey, and I were the only passengers able to walk with out a severe limp as we stumbled out of the Tengen. On this day Myles demonstrated his tolerance for uncomfortable situations, this is a good quality to have as a tourist in Tajikistan. To love and hate the Tengen is part of visiting Badakhshan.


  1. Interested in seeing a photo of these vehicles. Perhaps while you are all inside one?

  2. As I wrote this story, I was bummed to realize I didn't have a photo of the Tengen. When I return to Badakhshan in April I will make sure to post a photo. It's always a gamble to know if a driver considers 3 or 4 in a row full.

  3. I would prefer to have the real appearance of a Tengen as a mystery- your description of a septic tank on wheels does the job perfectlyu.