|Encounter during one of our weekend hikes|
Just as we are slowly settling into a routine of work-weeks and free weekends (spent on hiking through mountains or attending Pamiri weddings) it is decided that we are going on a couple of road trips to experience and check out the “tourist” product. No punishment. Another day at the office….
|Landscape along Afghan border|
Picked up early in the morning by an experienced driver and our colleague Aydigul in a four wheel drive, we are soon making our way towards the city of Rushan. The road from Khorog leads north along the Afghan border and while the driver is artfully avoiding donkeys, sheep, cows, schoolchildren and goats we take in the incredible sites of the Afghan landscape on the other side of the river.
|Children on their way to school|
We visit several districts during this trip and local convention dictates that we meet with the local area-manager first, go over the program and then visit the sites. So, after an extensive brunch along a beach like river bank, we are off to the hamlet of Gisev where we will visit our first home-stays.
|Preparing lunch, as fresh as it gets|
Home stays are the Tajikistan answer to our bed and breakfasts. The places are mostly run by farming families who try to make some extra income; the places are simple but clean. You eat with local families and mostly sleep in a separate room of the house with the other guests. Often, there is no running water, shower or bathroom! Bring your own towel and TP too, just in case.
|Home-stay; should we have stayed home?|
The hike up to Gisev is long and winding. First, we have to cross a cold looking river in what looks like a port -a- potty painted in Tajik colors hanging from a thread (the bridge came down a couple of months ago). Then it’s a 2 ½ hours hike up the mountain and it’s an arduous track. We arrive late in the afternoon and it’s getting cold; altitude is around 2750 meters here and the temperature drops quickly. The mood is not overly exuberant; we all have colds and aching limbs.
|No bridge over this troubled water|
|Spot the happy camper (Aydigul, one of our colleagues)|
|Long and winding (hardly) road upto Gisev|
According to the Lonely Planet, this is a great adventure in the summer but we wonder whether the brave folks of this publication have ever tried to do this in December. A hot cup of tea in the home stay of our choosing and a warm dinner (soup) brightens the spirits considerably. However, there is not a lot of entertainment up here so we hit the sack at 8.30 PM. The room is heated by a wooden stove, outside it’s minus 5 (Celsius that is) and we hope we can find the toilet in the middle of the night. Turns out we can. Never seen such starlit skies in our lives. No light pollution up here.
|Our home stay hosts|
The next morning, we are glad that the sun warms our bones. After a breakfast of porridge and tea, we visit the Gisev Valley and hike back to our car. We see a couple of eagles on our way down which is a definite bonus but when Aydigul decides to sprain her ankle, the trip down becomes less fun. Thought I’d never say this after 18 years of LA but we were glad to see a car (our car) after the hike.
|Along the Afghan border|
After this adventure, things become less strenuous and more relaxed. Guided by our very kind hosts we visit different kinds of home-stays and we get to see several projects of our employer (MSDSP) and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF).Greenhouses, bee-hives, schools, electrical facilities, you mention it..We start to get a better impression and understanding of this fascinating country.
Driving from Rushan to Darwaz (continuing along the Afghan border) we see help supplies being delivered to Afghan villages; we notice around 50 adult women, squatting outside along the river banks and we are told, they are taking school lessons (three cups of tea, anyone ?). We visit more projects and start to understand the influence and scope of the NGOs, operating in this country.
|Cross border market|
On Saturday morning, we visit the cross-border market in Darwaz and we have our first encounter with women wearing burqas. It turns out, that the Darwaz area borders a more traditional part of Afghanistan, which shows in the clothes some of the women wear.
|Afghan family plus some of our colleagues|
Everything feels very relaxed and pleasant in this bustling market. People are eager to meet and talk and we have lots of encounters with Afghan traders and their friends. One of them manages to barter an old plastic piece of wrapping paper for one of our perfect (clean) handkerchiefs; we leave in the happy belief that the new owner will be undoubtedly guarding this new-found piece of textile with his life!. Time to go back. Darwaz is halfway between Dushanbe and Khorog (which is 16 hours) so it takes us around 8 hours to drive home, where it's nice and warm. More adventures await....
|The new and former owner(s) of a pretty handkerchief...|