Wakhan Valley: Ishkashim – Tuggoz (Pamir, Tajikistan)
Русская версия After visiting the capital of Pamir Khorog, we decided to see mountain villages and different people inhabiting them and to move towards Kirgyzstan little by little. For this, we had to drive through the picturesque Wakhan Valley stretching along the Panj river and dividing Tajikistan from Afghanistan. This place and its people are unique. They mostly speak Wakhan language (also widespread in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China), but also know Russia and Tajik. In addition, there are many other minor languages here: not far from Ishkashim there is a village of Ryn, the only place in the world where Ryn language is spoken.
In the early morning we took a collective taxi from Khorog to Ishkashim.
Our car was in quite a bad condition, the road was again lying along the mountain river, as on the way from Dushanbe to Khorog, and the landscapes were similar.
We drove by the border passes with Afghanistan as well as the well in which we got some water.
We reached Ishkashim in less than two hours. The main attraction of Ishkashim is the Afghan border crossing, which is why the tourists are frequent here. Every Saturday Afghan bazaar opens here, and the citizens of Afghanistan and Tajikistan sell goods to each other. Since the day we came was not Saturday and there was nothing else to see, we decided to move further, to Tuggoz. From Tuggoz, it is possible to get to Bibi Fatima hot springs and Yamchun fortress, which interested us. By that moment, Mark, the traveler from Spain, joined us, since he was planning the same route and sharing the transport was cheaper. In Ishkashim, one driver offered to give us a ride for 150 manats for each person, which was incredibly high; we refused and went towards the road out of the city, where the collective taxis to Lyangar (the road also passes Tuggoz) wait. We bargained till 25 manats per person and got the best places, since two women were sitting in the trunk and two other passengers were sharing the front passenger seat.
On the way, we saw the faraway Pakistan mountains and were enjoying the views.
Fortress of Khaakha.
17 kilometres from Ishkashim, we stopped by Namatgut, at the fortress of Khaakha (3 BC – 7 AC). According to all the guidebooks, even though the fortress is at the border with Afghanistan, you may climb it as much as you want: nobody will assume that you are a spy. Only Lonely Planet calls for being careful, claiming that the fortress is currently occupied by Tajik border guards.
If you cross the road from the fortress, you will see interesting Ismaili mazar (tomb) and nearby museum of Shah-i-Mardan Hazrati Ali, one of many places in Central Asia that claims to be the final resting place of the Prophet’s son-in-law. The mazar is a small whitewashed construction decorated with the horns of argali sheep – the symbol of cleanliness and freedom. Three other pairs of horns decorate the roof and the sacrifice altar inside the construction. On the festive days, the locals make fire in the mazar oven to clean it from the malevolent spirits. This corresponds to Zoroastrian traditions which had been widespread on these lands before the Islam came.
Next time we stopped because the car motor temperature rose. This problem was solved in 15 minutes with the help of water from the mountain well. We finally reached Tuggoz and the locals immediately showed Salim to us – he keeps the shop at the road and it is possible to sleep in his place. The shop was closed, but not far from it, in the brook, there was a pack of beer from the shop, all alone – and nobody – nobody! – stole it.
When we finally found Salim, he indeed offered to stay in his place. We left our backpacks in his house, and his son went with us to show the village.
On the way, we met another villager, who introduced himself as Kolya (his real name was double and difficult) and invited us to drink tea in his house. His wife, however, did not serve tea only, but also pasta and vodka. We spend very nice time with this family.
In addition, this was the first time when we visited the famous Pamiri house, a product of unique architectural tradition, about which we have already blogged a bit.
As in all the tradtional Pamiri houses, Kolya had a portrait of Aga Khan, highly respected Ismailist spiritual leader, in the main room.
Also, in the main room, under the carpet, the bread is baked.
The next morning Kolya invited us to see the school where he works as a primary grades teacher. Even though the school is quite far from the country center, the results of its students are very high, and one even won at the national school competition in history.
We spent the night at Salim’s place: they also fed us and warmed with the hearty talks. We slept on the outside veranda, warmed by huge blankets (the house was being renovated).
In the morning, we left our backpacks at Salim’s place and climbed up to Yamchun village with its most ancient and well-preserved fortress and hot springs Bibi Fatima.
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