One Last Tajik Hurrah: Khujand Trip

First, a story:
On Sunday, Chris and I were in Istaravshan. We asked an old man if he knew how to get to the 15th century mosque and madressa. He lacked teeth, but more than made up for that in character. He offered to take us to the mosque, and along the way a large group of pre-teen boys joined our little party. When we got to the mosque we met the care-taker, who informed us that some ruffians had stolen her key. Which happened to be the only key to this 15th century Timurid mosque. She suggested we hop in through a window.

With my new friend, the toothless impromptu guide of Istaravshan

So that’s what we did- Chris, the old man, the group of pre-teen Tajik boys, and me. And then we climbed up the disintegrating stones steps of a spiral staircase- which clearly hadn’t been touched since the year 1500- to the minaret, where we all huddled on a tiny perch over looking some 500+ year old graves.

And I thought: Holy crap, I never want to leave Tajikistan!
I quickly came to my senses- I’m quite excited to go home in less than two weeks!- but it was a nice reminder about why I picked the Taj as a study abroad locale.

A view from the outside of the 15th century Timurid mosque

Getting there:
In the spirit of adventure and cheapness, we decided to drive to Khijand, instead of flying (we flew back to save time). A driver who also took us to the Pamirs offered to drive us. We shared his car with an under-18 boys wrestling team, and their gruff coach. In the middle seat sat four wrestlers, and Chris and I shared the back of the jeep with another wrestler.

We drove together for 8 hours, over an unpaved mountain pass that had been mostly washed away with the heavy rains this year and through the “Tunnel of Death,” where we got stuck behind a construction crew doing “pavement” work. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride I’ve ever taken, but then it definitely wasn’t the most uncomfortable, either (that was an overnight bus between Dharamsala and Delhi in 2009). The wrestling team wasn’t great at sarcasm. Chris and I convinced them that we ate hamburgers for every meal in the US, and that since pavement didn’t even exist in the US, the unpaved roads didn’t bother us. Everything they’d ever seen in movies was lies!

Where we stayed:
We stayed at the Hotel Leninabad in Khujand (Leninabad is the Soviet name for Khujand). It is the type of place where a lost old man will wander over to your room at 9pm and ask your TV works. When you say yes (a bit of an overstatement, it gets 4 very fuzzy Russian channels), he asks if he can take it. And waddles back down the hallway, television in hand. It will probably not win any awards for comfort. It may win awards for best Soviet throwback, though.

Khujand Bazaar

What we saw (in Khujand):
On Saturday Chris and I split up for a bit to go exploring independently. I musuemed for a while, and then walked across the Syr Darya to go find THE BIGGEST LENIN STATUE IN CENTRAL ASIA. I couldn’t remember how to say “statue” so I just asked strangers to show me where “Big Lenin” was. It worked. I met a young government worker (who swore he wasn’t corrupt), who offered to show it to me.

Khujand was embarrassed about the giant 22meter Lenin in the middle of their city nearly 20 years after independence, so last year they moved it to a field slightly set back from the town. The tallest Lenin in Central Asia shared the field with a hungry cow and a couple of stay dogs.

Biggest Lenin in Central Asia + a cow in a field.

After he showed me Lenin, my not-corrupt friend and I had this conversation:
Him: “You should visit my family’s house now. My parents will slaughter a goat and make Osh”
Me: “Where does your family live?”
Him: “In Penjikent.” (That’s 6 hours away, assuming the road is good).
Me: “When would we go?!”
Him: “Now.”
After that, I took my leave and went back to meet Chris.

What we saw (in Istaravshan):
Well, you’ve already heard about our mosque/madressa adventures. The other great thing about Istaravshan was its bazaar. Outside there were lots of live chickens. Inside, there were lot of old yogurt makers who let us sample their fresh yogurt (delicious!). The smells of a million kabobs. We went to the bazaar in Khujand too, and that was also wonderful. In fact, it is apparently among the best and largest bazaars in Central Asia, and was situated in a picturesque central city square. But I preferred the bazaar in Istarvashan. We ate a wonderful lunch of Tabaka (chicken grilled on a spit), in the middle of the bazaar.

I asked if I needed to cover my hair while visiting the 15th century mosque. Our new friends said no, but then decided it would be hilarious if I wore the old man's hat.

Later, we sat on a tiny bridge over the small, fast flowing river in the middle of town, and watched the afternoon and some goats stroll by. Chris also played soccer with a bunch of kids in the middle of the old town. Many of the kids insisted that I take about a thousand photographs.

Chris on the soccer pitch

Coming Home:
Quick flight on Somoni Air. Comfortable half hour spent on a 737. No teenage wrestling team. Back to Dushanbe in time to relax with my host family on Sunday evening.

Here are some verses by Nima Yooshij, a relatively modern Persian poet from the early 20th century:

I stand opposite the sun
I cast my gaze upon the sea.
And the entire world is desolated and ravaged by the wind
And the ever-playing piper progresses onto his path
In this cloudy world.

تا دوشنبه آینده


A trip to Kulob: The Land of 1,000 Emomalis

On Saturday we were lucky enough to take a trip to Kulob, the third largest city in Tajikistan and the birthplace of everyone’s favorite Tajik president, Emomali Rahmon. Actually, we learned, he wasn’t born in Kulob but in a village nearby, which we drove through on our way to Kulob proper.

He looks so young in this photo! Awe.

Kulob is a decent distance away from Dushanbe. About three and a half hours. But the trip was punctuated by interesting scenery, and odd stops. We stopped at a beautiful reservoir to eat rhubarb. There was basically an entire market in the middle of the Tajik “highway” just devoted to rhubarb. This is a great country. Also, rhubarb is delicious!

Near Kulob, we stopped at an old fort. Now, generally I really like old forts. But I hadn’t had any coffee, and we left Dushanbe at 6am. So I was grouchy and mostly stomped around the fort, which has clearly been rebuilt within the last 5 years. I managed to take nice photographs though.

Putting on a brave face, despite being uncaffeinated.

After a lunch that involved a cup of coffee, I was feeling much happier and genuinely enjoyed visiting the mausoleum of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, which was in Kulob town. He seemed like an interesting fellow: He was born in Hamadan in Iran, and traveled all the way to Kashmir, where he spread Islam and Sufi thought. On one of his travels between Kashmir and Hamadan, he died hear Kulob. Hence, mausoleum.

The park around the mausoleum was certainly among the most pleasant places in Kulob, if not Tajikistan. It also featured the young Rahmon picture from above. Because, you know, what goes better with 14th century Sufis than 21st century post-Soviet personality cults?!


Afterwards, it was time to head back to Dushanbe. The other excitement of the day was stopping to find animals as we drove along the road. We stopped in the morning and found turtles. In the afternoon we found a snake. Actually, a legless lizard. Not poisonous.

With the legless lizard

Next weekend, we’re going to Khujand. The second largest city in Tajikistan, and supposedly also one of the most pleasant places here. Chris and I went to buy plane tickets on Friday. In a reminder that Tajikistan is pretty much the definition of cash-based economy, you can’t even buy flight tickets with a credit card here. We will drive there, because the idea of Tajik mountain roads after a tough winter is just so exciting. And then we’ll fly back to save time.

Here’s a poem by Manuchehri, an 11th century court poet:

Get up and bring fur clothes as Autumn is here
A cold wind is blowing from the Khawrazm yonder
Look at that vine leaf hanging on the vine bough
It looks like the shirt of dyers
The farmer is biting his finger with wonder
As in the lawn or garden is left no more rose or lavender

تا دوشنبه آینده،



I may have had some odd expectations when I first came to Tajikistan. I may have thought that I was going to spend the year riding on yaks, defending Sogdiana from Alexander the Great. In reality, I spend most of my time sitting in cafes, trying to explain that I don’t speak Russian.

But sometimes, Tajikistan lives up to my weird stereotypes. On Saturday, we went to see Buzkashi. Buz means goat, like what we often eat for dinner. Kashidan means to pull, like on a goat.  Before I tell you about it, maybe just watch the video I took. It probably captures the whole thing better than I can:

Buzkashi involves a bunch of dudes riding around on horses, trying to steal a goat carcass from each other. They have these crazy whips that they use to pick up the carcass , and to whip everything in sight (including each other). They also wear cool hats. The crazy whips are cow intestines. The cool hats are Soviet tank helmets.

Action scene

The point of the game is to get the goat carcass into the goal. On Saturday, the goal was a big hole dug in the ground between two Tajik flags.

When you watch a Buzkashi tournament, you stand up on mountains or hills. Then, down in the valley, all the dudes kash the buz. You can walk down closer to watch. In fact, you can walk down on the field. Many people do this. It greatly increase their chances of being trampled. Some guy decided to set up his snack stand too close to the field, and it got trampled. Good-bye, candy-bars.

View of the "stadium." Note the camel in the corner. More on him in a minute.

Now then, how would you go about organizing a Buzkashi match? On first gland, it didn’t seem like it needed any organization at all. Anyone who wanted to play could, as long as they brought their horse (or mule. or yak, maybe?). There were not teams. Everyone just wanted to get the buz for himself and shove it in the goal. The game took place in a big valley between two villages about an hour outside of Dushanbe.

More action

But, it is actually really well organized. Somebody had to dig up the floor of a valley and turn it into a giant buzkashi field. Somebody had to invite all the villagers and all the foreigners and also the President’s son. Somebody had to organize the prizes.

On Saturday, the prizes were mostly rugs. But the “grand prize” was a bactrian camel. I don’t know who won the camel. It was not me. Unfortunately.

This Bactrian Camel was the grand prize.

I was pretty excited about Buzkashi. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I kept waking up to see if it was time to go yet, like a little kid before Christmas.

Buzkashi feels pretty much like a sporting event anywhere in the world. Kids walk around selling coca cola and seeds and hot dogs. Young people get far too worked up. Basically, Buzkashi was like my version of March Madness. For me, in both cases the fun is not so much the competition itself, but the atmosphere and festivities that accompany it.

Except usually at sporting events back home there aren’t teenagers goofing around on horseback in the stands. Back home, said teenagers also usually don’t lend you their horse to take pictures with, which is a shame.

A young boy lent me his horse in order to snap an awesome photo.

I guess Buzkashi wins. Sorry, basketball.

The other exciting news is that NOWRUZ IS NEXT WEEK (Reminder: Nowruz is Persian New Year. And the first day of spring). My special Nowruz clothes should be ready by Monday. The seamstress ripped me off, but then she made me feel better about it by inviting me to her house for her Nowruz festivities.  I am going to make a mighty fool of myself in the Nowruz show. I have very enthusiastic professors so, somehow, I have agreed to do Dari-language Karaoke and be the Nowruz Princess. If you’re lucky, I’ll have embarrassing photos to share with you all next week.

Here’s part of a  poem by Attar, a 12th century Sufi from Nishapur:

“Don’t be dead or asleep or awake.
Don’t be anything.

What you most want,
what you travel around wishing to find,
lose yourself as lovers lose themselves,
and you’ll be that.”

تا دوشنبه آینده

Happy Halloween from Tajikistan: It’s getting cold here!

Happy Halloween from a freezing cold Dushanbe. I hear the east coast of the US has recently been treated to snow, so I don’t feel to bad that its only October and I’m already wearing my fleece. And I even carved a pumpkin here, so no worries about possible halloween-induced homesickness.

I have some exciting news to share: as of Saturday, I have officially visited every province of Tajikistan! This is maybe not as impressive as it sounds- there are only four of them. There’s the Districts of Republican Subordination, where I live, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblsast/ Kuhistoni Badakshon, where I traveled for the Pamirs trip, Sughd Province, where I visited Iskander Kul, and now, finally, Khatlon Province, where I traveled on Saturday.

We went down to Khatlon to see a place called “Chelo Char Chashma” or “Forty Four Springs” (The Tajiki alliteration has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?). Unfortunately, as it was absolutely freaking cold, we didn’t stay too long, although we did have some adventures along the way.

(Very cold) water at Chelo Char Chashma.

We started off in two minivans, across the desert that makes up the Southwestern portion of Tajikistan (You know how I’ve mentioned that 93% of Tajikistan is mountains? This is the 7% that isn’t). However, about 2.5 hours into the 3.5 hour ride, the van I was in mysteriously stopped working. Just boom, done, out there in the middle of the desert. There was a guy on a donkey nearby, but I don’t think he could have offered much help. The driver called his cousin in Dushanbe to come tow the van, and all 11 of us piled into the other van to continue the trip.

Before stopping at Chelo Char Chashma we visited an old abandoned mausoleum/madrassa, which has recently been renovated thanks to USAID funds. Unfortunately, the caretaker had decided to was too cold out to stick around, and we didn’t really know anything about it. Not too worry, however! Whenever we’re at a loss for what to do with something in Tajikistan, we climb it. So we climbed the mausoleum. Someone had left a ladder tipped against it, which made getting up to the first level quite easy.

After quick, very cold stops at the springs and a bazaar in Shahrtuz village, we decided to head back to Dushanbe, where there were warm beverages and an outing to a Chinese restaurant waiting for us. A taxi-driver had been located in Shahrtuz, and he drove three of us back to Dushanbe in order to save us the discomfort of seating 11 people in a minivan for 3.5 hours.

He was an interesting fellow, and despite the fact that he had an accent I wasn’t too familiar with (to me it sounded like a mix between the Dari my Afghan conversation partner speaks and the Uzbek-influenced Tajiki my host family speaks), I managed to have a fairly interesting conversation with him. He is disappointed that I have not yet learned to make Osh, and thinks I’m getting kinda old not to be married. He says that maybe if I learn to make Osh he can find me a Tajik husband.

I really enjoyed my list making exercise last week, so here are two (shorter) lists- things that have changed now that its cold and things that stay the same.

Amusing photo outside the mausoleum

Now That I’m Freezing All the Time:

I’m a little less gung-ho about hiking all the time. I considered going on Sunday, but there are times for hiking and there are times for drinking warm beverages in cafes and memorizing vocab. Yesterday was a warm beverage kind of day.

I can see snow on the mountains surrounding town. Its really really cool. I’m excited for a trip to a near-by ski “resort” at some point.

The constant tea-drinking makes a lot of sense: I wake up in the morning wanting tea. When I come home in the afternoon, I want tea. Before I go to bed: tea. Its the best thing ever.

Borsht is my new favorite dish. Borsht is beet soup, and staple food in the former USSR. It’s also really good when its cold out.

On the topic of food, we no longer eat in the courtyard, but instead huddle around the space-heater in my host parents room. This allows us to watch Russian reality TV while eating, which is always a treat.

I’ve traded early-morning runs through Dushanbe for the gym. Although its closed on Sundays, which means I run in the cold rain. Yesterday it was totally worth it though: I discovered a quaint little neighborhood near my house that I hadn’t been aware of previously.

I no longer have to worry about whether the length of my skirt is culturally appropriate. Hiking pants and northface jacket, 24/7.

Things that don’t change:

The sounds of my house in the mornings: My host brother and father getting up to pray, around the same time I get up to head to the gym. My host mother admonishing the baby “tu mymon!” (you’re a monkey!”). My host sister’s horrified reaction when I sneakily attempt to wash my own dish.

Classes. Yup, the classroom gets colder now. But I still have five hours of Persian most days, still spend my time between class memorizing words and finding new BBC Persian and Radio Farda articles for Mass Media and still feel great amounts of frustration about the application of the Arabic root system Persian.

The desire to occasionally eat things besides Osh and Borsht: The outing to the Chinese restaurant was a major event in my week. TOFU! THINGS WITH SPICE!

The Rusiki (Trussian?): Actually overheard a woman on the bus this morning say that something she had bought was “ochen qemat.” Ochen is Russian for very, Qemat is Tajiki for expensive (and Farsi for price). Confusing.

The fact that the soundtracks at local cafes and bars are permanently stuck in the 90s: Who doesn’t love the macerena though? Thursday night we even ended up at a place with a live singer: the 80s and 90s classics of the US are somehow less comforting when sung by an elderly Tajik gentlemen who intersperses them with confusing renditions of Ave Maria.

My general excitement to be here: If nothing else, the changing of the seasons reminds me that I’m here for the semi-long-run. Sure, 9 months isn’t that long, but by the time I leave, the warm weather will be back, and I’ll have readapted to all my warm-Dushanbe ways. I’m already excited to see Dushanbe with snow and Dushanbe in spring.

I’m also pretty excited for Eidi Qurban (Eid al-Adha to my Arabic speaking friends) next weekend. We get a long weekend, and depending on the weather, I may travel, although I wouldn’t mind sticking around to celebrate with my host family.

Happy Halloween!

Here’s an excerpt of a poem by Saadi:

“A drop of rain trickled from a cloud into the ocean. When it beheld the breadth of its waters it was utterly confounded:
‘What a place is this Sea, and what am I? If it is existent, verily I am non-existent.’
Whilst it was thus regarding itself with the eye of contempt, an oyster received and cherished it in its bosom.
Fortune preferred it to a place of honor; for it became a renowned royal Pearl.
Because it was humble, it found exaltation: it knocked at the door of Nonentity that it might arise into Being.”

تا دوشنبه آینده

Two Lists, a big fort, and a lesson in Tajiki baby talk

I was going to write this post about how great I felt about finding a routine in Dushanbe, about how the creation of normalcy in my life here meant I had adapted, and that Dushanbe had become my home. And I guess that’s true, but I don’t think it actually took 6 weeks, I think I just noticed now. And in any case, Tajikistan still has plenty of surprises up its sleeve for me: Just when I think I’ve settled into the slow rhythm of daily life, I end up at the top of an ancient fort in a storm, breathing in cool, refreshing Tajik country air.

Hisor Fort

So here’s two lists: Things that seem normal, and Things that keep me on my toes:

Things That Seem Normal:

Sounding out Tajiki and Russian words: “Suuu-peer-maar-ket. Supermarket!” So, I still don’t have a great command of cyrillic. I’m getting there.

Tajiki baby-talk: “Hai-Hai” means “bye-bye.” “Tai-Tai Kardan” means “to toddle.” “Deh deh deh” means “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” “Hooligan” means “Hooligan.” (That last one’s Russian). I think these are really useful phrases which will help me immensely wherever I go in life.

Drinking tea: What else would we drink? Why wouldn’t we drink 6 pots of tea a day? What would I be doing if I wasn’t drinking tea? These are all unanswerable questions.

Shouting “Rah-eh Sefid,” or “White way/Safe travels” to anyone leaving my house.

Watching reality TV from Russia, soap operas from Turkey (dubbed into Uzbek), music videos from Iran (or the Iranian community in Los Angeles), and news/propaganda from Tajikistan: You don’t watch TV in three or four languages? What’s wrong with you?

Writing down at least 100 new words each day: and knowing there’s no way I’ll ever be able to memorize them all.

Playing with some plastic acorns my music teacher gave me: In order to loosen up my fingers for better Ghijak technique.

The 20 minute walk to school among the beautiful fall foliage and heavy pedestrian traffic: I used to stroll along slowly, taking in all the sights and sounds, but its become such a routine now that I walk down the street, bopping along to my i-pod, and know exactly where the potholes are. I do however have to be careful to watch out of the errant car-on-the-sidewalk, which is a problem in Tajikistan.

Fall foliage, on a hike I took Saturday

Catching myself pretending to understand when I actually don’t, and awkwardly asking for an explanation.

Informing taxi drivers that I don’t speak Russian, but I do speak Tajiki, and then allowing either extreme confusion or a very pleasant chat to take place: I was lucky enough to have the second this weekend. I think my taxi driver was something of a linguistic nationalist; I’ve never seen anyone get so excited about the prospect of a foreigner learning Tajiki.

The Public Transit: I know the 8 bus from the 11 bus from the 22 mashruka from the 3 set route taxi. Public transit is pretty easy, if pretty crowded.

Things that keep me on my toes:

The sheer adorableness of my baby host sister: Definitely, cutest kid in Central Asia. Probably cutest kid in the former USSR. She calls me “Amon” and cries when I leave for school, so I have to sneak out of the house.

Old Stuff- Reading about it, talking about it, but mostly, seeing it up close and in person! Probably the most exciting story I have from this week is the group excursion to the city of Hisor, which is about an about an hour away and has an ancient fort. The fort is more than 2000 years old, and was conquered by just about everyone important ever  (if your fort keeps getting conquered, maybe you’re doing it wrong?) The trip was particularly exciting because the weather was awful. This sounds weird, but imagine standing on top of a 2,000 year old fort in the middle of a rain/dust storm. It feels really cool. Also, my Farsi Media professor came along, and I got to history nerd it out with him.

Above Hisor Fort, in the rain

Electricity Outages: I can tell I haven’t adjusted to these yet because I still think they’re kind of fun. The rest of my host family rolls their eyes and pulls out a candle and sighs that “this never happened during the Soviet Union.” I, on the other hand, get all excited to sit around the candle and drink tea and go outside and look at the stars.

The Mountains: If I ever claim to be used to or bored of the mountains, yell at me. You are allowed to get bored of my pictures of mountains. I, however, will never stop being on awe of their actual presence. Saturday morning, a friend and I took a short hike through some of the local hills, and it was incredible. You walk for 20 minutes, and suddenly, you’re in Middle Earth, with quaint hill-side villages and brave mountain cows and men with mules.

The former USSR: To me, the Soviet Union is something old, something to read about in textbooks. To my host parents, and my professors, and most of the people I meet, its the country where they grew up. It still sounds weird when someone starts a sentence “back in the Soviet Union,” as if its just a place you might vacation.

The flag says "Proletarians of the World Unite" in Russian at the top, and then in all the languages of the SSRs (including Tajiki) around the hammer and sickle.

“Gir, Amanda, Gir!” This means “Take, Amanda, Take,” and is what my host family says every time there is a perceived lull in the rate of my eating. I’ve come up with a couple of techniques to deal with this, the most effective of which is constantly having tea in my mouth, and therefore being unable to eat more Osh. Even my host baby has recently taken to yelling “GIR AMON” at random intervals.

The fruit: I don’t mind at all when my family tells me to “Gir” the fruit. The fruit here is the best ever. Hands down. No competition. Don’t even try.

The Instant Coffee: Just, Ew. This is the only truly unpleasant part of my study abroad experience.

Today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Mahsati, a 12th century female Persian poet:

“Since there is nothing left for whatever exists, except wind through the hand
Since everything is immutable and has an end
Think that everything that exists, does not exist
And that which does not exist like it exists.”

تا دوشنبه آینده،


I’ve been a lot of pretty cool places in my short life. But the Pamirs, Wakhan Corridor and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in general may be the coolest places I’ve ever been. If I wasn’t already convinced that Tajikistan was the best place I could have chosen to spend 9 months of my life, I would have been convinced by the Pamirs trip (note: I was already convinced).

Incredible view of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, from the Wakhan Corridor

The trip featured early morning hikes at 12,00 feet, tiny languages isolated in mountain villages, incredible views of the milky way and shooting stars, baths in hot springs, ancient Zoroastrian forts, Ismaili shrines, YAKS and so much more. Keep reading, and you’ll hear all about it. I’ll warn you, however, that this post will be massive. As such, if you’re just looking for some light monday morning reading, I recommend days 4 and 5- those were the coolest.

Day One- Dushanbe to Kalaikum

Climbed up on some rocks over the Panj

Day one involved a lot of driving and a lot of sitting by the road waiting for Iranians.We left Dushanbe at 6am, and hit the open Tajik rode. However, when we stopped for lunch we were informed that the road ahead was closed because an Iranian crew was “blasting the mountain,” presumably to make a better road. So we drove up to where it was closed, and stopped and sat. For about 5 hours. Really, it was not so bad: it provided a great chance to teach the drivers how to play UNO. UNO, in case you were wondering, is now called “YEK,” because we are in Tajikistan. They responded by teaching us “Durak” a crazy Russian card game, later in the week.

When the road was reopened, we drove to Kalaikum, a small Shughni speaking town along the Panj river. (Fun fact: I can now count to three and say “yogurt” in Shughni.) Kalaikum was the first place on our trip where I saw real stars… although the stars were better later on, there is something magical about seeing the milky way again after a long time.

Day Two: Kalaikum to Khorugh

This picture was actually on the 4th day. Deal with it, chronology.

Khorugh is the capital of Badakhshan, and with a population of about 30,000 people, the urban center of the region. We spent most of day two in the car getting there, although we made a number of very scenic stops along the way, and enjoyed delicious dates, pomegranates, figs and dried mulberries in the car.

Khorugh is basically a small mountainous provincial capital, although the Aga Khan has a large presence, and there are lots of somewhat lost seeming backpackers there, going interesting places and struggling to digest Tajik food.

Day Three: Khorugh to Iskoshim

Jumping in Iskoshim

We spent the morning of day three exploring Khorugh; checking out the bazaar, trying to find a statue of Lenin that was moved to the outside of town recently, and hunting down coke-a-cola light. Perhaps the most exciting part for me was meeting the mother of a United World College student in the bazaar. We’re everywhere!

In the afternoon we drove to Iskoshim, which is near the southern tip of Tajikistan, also along the Panj. We met a group of children who took us climbing to a cave. Running and jumping over creeks and pulling myself up over rocks… this was the moment of the trip when I realized how spectacularly awesome it everything about the Pamirs is. The Pamirs are spectacular.

Day Four: Iskoshim to Langar

Incredible view during a car-break... note the snow-capped mountains in the background!

Day four was when the trip got awesome. We woke up at five to go for a hike along the main road, passed some small towns (one of which was home to a tiny language spoken only by that village) and a lot of gorgeous scenery. Even though it was 5am and we were dealing with a small bit of altitude, I felt very energized. I even ran a little, although the altitude and my weak lowlander lungs conspired to make that unpleasant. We hiked to an ancient zoroastrian fort (our first of two for the day)… we couldn’t climb all the way to the top because the Tajik military had a watch-post there, but from the place we climbed to we had fantastic views across the river as well as of snow covered peaks in the distance.

After the fort, we checked out a museum of the Wakhan, and bought some books on the region (The translation from Tajiki to English in the Wakhan book is quite unique and provided a lot of entertainment in the car). We then headed off to another ancient fort, and afterwards to hot springs! After a morning of hiking and climbing around old forts, a bath in hot springs was exactly what I needed. Also, note: hot springs are actually really really hot. I could only stay in for about 10 minutes.

View of the Fort

The afternoon involved another museum and an ancient buddhist stupa, although by that point, I was ready to get to the home-stay and take a very long sleep. That night, we stayed in the Wakhi speaking village of Langar, a tiny town that no longer has much left in their shop, as we bought it all. Langar was the best spot on the trip to see stars: we spent the evening gazing skyward in absolute awe. I can’t describe it… imagine a planetarium, and then multiply it by 10.

Day Five: Langar to Khorugh

This is my new pet yak. His name is Babur. My host family is thrilled.

Day five closely edges out day four as my favorite day of the trip, mostly because of the exceedingly large amounts of Yaks involved. We once again set out around 5am, and this time, the hike was significantly more desolate and isolated- we hiked for about 4 hours on the main road, and not a single car passed by… we only saw a few shepherds, who seemed to think we were a little silly. We also saw incredible views of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, all the way across the Wakhan.

Our car/Boren scholars/soon to be DC-based Central Asian band. Note the bactrian camels behind us.

When we met up with the jeeps we drove until we reached the Rabbit Pass to the high Pamir plateau. Along the way we saw Yaks! and Bactrian Camels! and Kyrgyz caravans headed to China! across the river. Bactrian Camels are apparently very rare and endangered and not supposed to be found in the wild anywhere except Mongolia. But there they were, right across from us.

Freezing, desolate sun-rise

The Plateau was the most desolate place I’ve ever been. Have you ever been no where? The Pamir Plateau is no where.  It is huge and freezing and grim and absolutely incredible. We drove through nothing for a long time, and then suddenly, there were glacial lakes! And then shortly after that, we came to a Kyrgyz village, complete with yaks and yaks milk yogurt and butter and and general feeling of being at the last place on earth.

Yummy! Yak yogurt!

After the Kyrgyz village, we turned back towards Khorugh to prepare for the long trip home to Dushanbe.

Days Six and Seven: Khorugh to Dushanbe, via Kalaikum and the Rasht Valley

Days six and seven were slightly less interesting than those that preceded them, simply because a lot of time was spent in the car, and we had seen much of the scenery before. However, we did spend the sixth night happily relaxing at Kalaikum, and on the seventh day drove through the Rasht Valley on our way home. None of the roads on the trip were particularly great, but the Rasht featured the worst. If any world powers are looking to make friends in Tajikistan, I recommend coming to pave there: you would have at least one friend in Tajikistan- me.

These are the kind of incredible views I got all week. I want to go back.

Home Again

So that was the trip… abridged, obviously. Although getting to the Pamirs requires a lot of special paperwork and some minor inconveniences, I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for an incredible place to travel.

While the trip was fantastic, coming back to Dushanbe also felt great.  I think when people think of Dushanbe (if they think of Dushanbe) they think of a small, dusty, Central Asian backwater. But its really quite  cosmopolitan, and I’ve been enjoying that this weekend: Iranian and Georgian food, runs in the national botanical gardens, international cafes with their fancy restrooms, and especially, my host family. I’m pretty lucky to have all that here.

Before I sign off, people and things that deserve thanks for making this week awesome include my stomach and dramamine, for forming a cooperative partnership; my car-mates, for making the trip relaxing; our trip leader, for knowing way more than any person should ever reasonably know about Tajikistan; and our driver, for generally just being the most strong and silent and competent person on the planet.

Coming up soon: the beginning of my Badakhshani Tambur music lessons, a weekend trip to Iskander-Kul, and amusing language adventures!

I’ll leave you with a quote from Nasir Khusraw, a Persian poet who after traveling the world lived for many years in Badakhshan. Also, another picture of Bactrian Camels.

“The world is a deep ocean, its water is time; Your body is like a shell, your soul the pearl.
If you wish to have the value of a pearl, Raise up the pearl of your soul by learning.”

Note the two humps: a rare and special quality.

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