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Botanical Garden Adventure, Work and Play

view from our window across the river...
As we mentioned in our last blog, we hadn't finished with our long weekend, which, on Monday Nov 8, brought us to the much touted Botanical Gardens (the second highest in the world, does anybody know where the highest are ??). 
Sunday rituals, preparing for another magic carpet ride

Another cab-ride along a wild raging river brings you, on the outskirts of the city, to the bottom of a mountain (everything is at the bottom of a mountain here btw) , where we were unceremonously dropped off by the driver. We couldn't see anything which remotely looked like a garden but the signs were directing us towards the top of the mountain and, who are we to not obey, so we started making the long and steep climb. We were all alone; had expected many families and people here on a beautiful holiday afternoon but that didn't dampen our enthusiasm. After a track of 45 minutes, we ended up before a gate which looked very closed but, after further inspection, was unlocked. We carefully opened the gate (there are a lot of wild dogs around here, got those rabies shots) and laid our eyes on what can only be described as a terrace-garden with spectacular autumn colors and back drops. Best thing, absolutely nobody there..

Strolling through empty gardens
All alone in paradise (no signs of snakes here though) with the exception of a couple of cows, wandering around and eating the probably very valuable plants which, we thought, added to the charm of the place.
The Garden comprised 634 hectares and are completely hidden, almost in a bowl, surrounded by mountains.We visited in early November and the trees were fast losing their leaves and not much else was growing.But what a gorgeous place; in the middle of nowhere and beautifully planned and laid out.

Rewards after a long climb; beautiful autumn colors, spectacular back drops
After having wandered around for about an hour, we encountered an old shepard (Yamiri), who explained us about Siberian and Tajik apple trees, Russian pines and the Pamiri flora and fauna.
This all in Russian so some things might have been lost in translation (Michiel, where are you when we need you) but the rewards were not less. We left, having made another friend for life. The rewards of a little outing are great here !!
returning home; bridge close to the Bozor

Later, we were told that a hotel has also been built close to the Gardens but yet has to be opened for business. We never noticed it. We'll find out more about what is holding up this development. Given it's remoteness, probably it is staffing.....

It's Monday, 4:30 pm and a colleague mentions, by-the-way, tomorrow is a holiday.... so it's deja-vu all over again.........

As we have decided to try to make a trip to Dushanbe before the winter weather really locks us in, we opt to work on this Muslim holiday - Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), which commemorates and honours the Prophet Abraham's intended sacrifice of his son to God. Muslims who can afford to do so offer domestic animals, usually sheep, to family, friends and the poor, to be eaten. It also happens to be Jelte's birthday. The roads are empty; the stores and markets closed and the only 'workers' in the office are the expat volunteers. Shades of a non American's vision of Thanksgiving celebrations in the USA; you just need to substitute a turkey for a sheep. But I digress. The intention is for us to take Friday off in lieu and fly to Dushanbe for a few days of stocking up on essentials like Lavazza Coffee, Danish Bleu cheese (if we can find it) olive oil, some plain white tee shirts, hair conditioner etc., etc.

So we work the day and have a birthday dinner of Indian cuisine at the best joint in town, The Delhi Durbar. And what do you get a guy who has everything he can ever ask for? Pamiri jirib and felt indoor shoes were the perfect solution!! We promise to take some images and post them on our next blog!

Wednesday is a work day again and now is as good a time as any to tell you about our work set-up. Physically, we are working in two different offices. Jelte is located in Central Park in the office of PECTA , also known as the Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association. Christine is in the MSDSP office (Mountain Societies Development Support Programme) a 10 minute walk away. Both Tourism Advisors, working on developing the 'capacities' of the tourism personnel within their respective organizations. In essence, we are helping build the Pamiri tourism product for both the domestic and international markets. Almost a month in to our placements we have identified our specific objectives for the year ahead.

Today, my colleague mentions that the entire office has been invited to the home of another MSDSP staff-member to celebrate (think Thanksgiving dinner) yesterday's EID and the birth of his son. Mid-day, we take a short 2 minute walk, arrive, duly remove our shoes and enter this traditional Pamiri Home (more about this another time). One large room, open to varnished wooden rafters with seating on platforms of varying levels. We gather and in 15 minutes the room is full of guests, sitting on long, padded cushions, facing each other with a central 'corridor' of space left free for the meal. Ritually, table cloths are placed in front of guests and the feast begins! If you are a yoga practitioner, you would enjoy the next hour or two, sitting cross-legged, enjoying your meal. Sitting on the floor, with no back support and feeling your legs go numb, and no way to relieve the sensation takes a little getting used to for the rest of us non-Tajiks.

Boj: an ancient Iranian dish - a porridge of cracked wheat cooked with a ritually slaughtered sheep (or goat). This meal is served on special occasions, in this instance Eid al Adha . Coincidentally, I was sitting beside Rod, the Canadian volunteer from Medicine Hat, who, poor guy, happens to be a vegetarian, a very rare breed indeed in Tajikistan. He's been stacking up on bread, potatoes and nuts in this country!! The rest of us tucked in to Boj, served communally, with bread and green tea. One can truly appreciate the importance of this dish in the context of its preparation and delivery. To slaughter a domestic animal is a major expense in this part of the world. Coupled with a religious feast, the birth of an offspring and celebration with friends and family, it is hugely significant and important. I can honestly say I enjoyed this meal, sitting beside Gulnoz, the Manager of our Enterprise Development Unit, who explained the nuances and customs of being part of this close-knit Ismaili community. The local imam was also at the meal and he led the after lunch prayer with chants while guests held their hands cupped, at chest level, responding at appropriate times . The prayer is concluded with everyone gently wiping their cupped hands down the sides of their faces and it's then back to work for the rest of the day. As Jelte says, this is one of the reasons we have made this journey - to experience and appreciate the diversity of cultures our world has to offer; and we count ourselves lucky enough to be included. This, coming from two people whose hackles rise when we are obliged to be part of any religious practice!! I suppose we are never too old to learn.

We wrote about our first Tajik wedding in our last blog. Well, owing to two of us being laid up by various little lurgies, only Jelte made it to our 'second' Tajik wedding. Which is a whole 'nother story.....
Mulberries: Have you ever tasted a dried mulberry? It's sort of a cross between apple, honey and ambrosia..... well maybe that's a bit of poetic licence. There are growers here that are producing dried mulberries and other by-products for export, currently to neighbouring countries. I think of the vast quantites of exotic dried fruit that Trader Joe's retails and wonder when the Pamiri mulberry will take its rightful place on the Californian shelves.
More about Pamiri food. Here in Khorog, the staple diet, like everywhere else in Tajikistan is pilav. Now, if you're thinking of pilao, or pilaf, you're on the right track. Tajik pilav is made with a base of meat stock in which there is a disproportionate amount of animal fat, julienned carrots, tajik rice and once cooked in a deep, round pewter bowl over a tandoor fire, topped off with the meat of the day - often beef and sometimes goat or sheep. The pilav is very tasty, but every time I encounter a plate, I think of my heart needing the equivalent of a bottle of Draino and manage to resist. There are a small number of other 'staples' available here in Khorog: two types of soups, both with a meat base, one with ravioli type dumplings stuffed with meat (beef or mutton) and the other with noodles. There's very limited use of spices, generous amounts of salt and potatoes. Often, a goulash is served, together with mashed potatoes. There are different types of kebabs available, but as yet, I have not found any that doesn't make my heart quiver in fear. In the markets, now that we are into mid-November, the winter veggies are available - potatoes, beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, cauliflower , egg-plant, and still a few end of season tomatoes. There are even oyster mushrooms around , which makes me wonder which NGO is responsible for that project? But THANK YOU; the addition is greatly appreciated. Fruits: lots of persimmons, the most juicy and crunchy pears, apples big and small, the last of the grapes and mandarins 'shipped' in from China.

Much more to tell; more stories and pictures to follow; got to drop off the garbage first though.....


  1. Wow what natural beauty - I mean the two of you, of course :) great blog keep the news flowing, so good to get updates Mady PS: Pat wants to know about the quality of the carpets ( silk, wool etc) and not made in China, we presume :)

  2. Christine and Jelte, Great post -- love the food description and drano warning. We had similar experience with kababs in the Stans -- they need surgery before eating.

    I am hoping that this goes thru -- kind of a test. I have been reading regularly, but comments have failed. Hope that you got your hibernation pack on your trip to the capital.


  3. love your writing- keep it up!


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