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The home-stay

 

From Dushanbe we piled into four four-wheel drive min-vans and headed on narrow winding dirt roads, with hair-pin bends and vast drops, into the mountains for a ‘home-stay’.

 

mountains of Tajikistan mountains of Tajikistan
mountains of Tajikistan mountains of Tajikistan

The mountains of Tajikistan

 

It wasn’t actually a home - more like a ski lodge. Several tour groups had converged on the building that was a work in progress. To an original relatively well-built structure additional bathrooms and toilets had been added in a 'jerry-built' way. This was only ‘home’ thing about it - 'home-handyman' the word ‘craftsman’ did not come to mind.

Food was brought in by a local family and it became our base for perhaps the highlight of the entire tour, when we walked for several hours up the valley to a stone village where an extended family herd cows and sheep in traditional style.

 

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On the walk there: past the waterfall; over the bridge; to the stone village

 

At the stone village there was no grid electricity, nor were there solar panels, so the more or less ubiquitous satellite dishes were absent – one of the few places where the World Cup (soccer competition current at the time) was not being followed. Although the farmers could walk into the village, where there were plenty of dishes, if they were really interested.

Here they do almost everything by hand, from dyeing and weaving wool to processing the milk from their cows into yoghurt, buttermilk and butter. Several women in our group had a try at the churn – ‘women’s work’.

Later we went to the local more conventional Sarytag village to participate in bread making; to watch women and trainee girls bringing water up from the river on their heads; and women hand tilling a potato field. As their home had electric lighting, and there were cars and even satellite dishes in the village, I wondered why they didn’t use a cheap electric pump to provide running water at the house. But someone in our group joked: “what would the women do then?”

 

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Sarytag village 
The bread-making house had electric lighting and note the satellite dish - behind the children

 

From this bucolic settlement we set out for Istaravshan, passing the picturesque shores of Lake Iskandarkŭl on the way, where we stopped at a holy spring and some collected the water. Here we discovered that almost every spring is regarded as miraculous and thus has some super-natural explanation. After all, water comes inexplicably from the ground. This one has multiple outlets so it must be multiply significant.

 

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Lake Iskandarkŭl

 

In this highly mineralised ‘young’ mountain range with regular igneous intrusions, and where the fissile material for the first Russian nuclear weapons was mined, I decided not to drink water that’s long been underground without benefit of a chemical assay. Drinkers may well be getting more than H2O in their plastic bottle – perhaps some salts of As, Pb, U or even P?

On our way into the village and then leaving, with intermittent rain making the dirt tracks more interesting, I'd admired the car handling skills of our driver and wondered how they do this in really bad weather. But the sealed public roads were only marginally better, with very steep climbs and descents requiring, the by now familiar, hairpin zig-zag narrow carriage ways with minimal passing room.  For some reason I failed to take pictures.

During the recent Civil War this road was closed where it passed into Uzbekistan. But since then the 5km long Anzob Tunnel has been built to avoid that section and to shorten the journey between Tajikistan's two largest cities: Dushanbe and Khujand.

Approaching the tunnel the road is frequently overarched by lesser concrete ‘tunnels’. These are for protection from avalanches of snow in winter and for landslides during the thaw – it’s a very crumbly place with a lot of active erosion thanks to the geologically new landforms.

The tunnel itself is dimly lit and as dark as a coal mine. And it's not straight, so headlights point towards the walls.  The road surface is slick with water so that the lights of oncoming traffic reflect about. This increases the eerie feeling.  And as everywhere on these narrow roads, the fast vehicles overtake the slow. So others appear from around the bend on the wrong side coming towards you or we do the same to them, in nail-biting near misses. We noticed that alongside is another smaller tunnel now used for ventilation but despite this, heavy coal trucks and buses belch fumes so the fresh mountain air quickly passes into memory. I checked it out on line, after we'd got out alive, and discovered that it is indeed known as the ‘tunnel of death’. Our drivers seemed as relieved as we were when we reassembled at the other end  – one two three four – yes we'd all made it!

 

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Anzob Tunnel (of death)
The image inside was snapped during a brief moment of relative clarity
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Yes coal trucks. This is a coal mining area. Most of the rocks here are sedimentary, with quite a bit of shale, limestone and sandstone in addition to the coal, this having been a lake or sea during the Carboniferous (about 300 million years ago).  About 50 million years ago the sea floor began to be crushed and thrust upwards, by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, to form the highest mountains in the world.  And it's still going on. Thus fossil shells have been found in rocks from the top of Mt Everest.

The erosion of the ‘young’ cliffsides is spectacular and the whole 'mountain experience' was awe inspiring as we made our way through them like ants in a furrowed field.  It was a reminder that we humans too are but recently evolved and transitory creatures, suddenly sufficiently aware and knowledgeable to appreciate of our relative insignificance in time compared to the past and future life of our planet; and in turn our planet's insignificance in the age and scope of the almost infinite universe.

 

 

Comments  

# Richard 2018-09-23 01:50
Richard

Interesting to hear your update on China’s Silk Road. In 2007 we travelled from Beijing to Kashgar then down the Kakoram Highway to Tashkurgan [less than 30Km from Pakistan border]. Whilst travelling we also visited Xiahe [with its large monestry] and noted the Chinefacation of this area. In fact recent photos of Kashgar seem to show that much of the old town has gone.

Interaction with the Uyghurs.indicat ed that they were not happy with the Han invasion.



A very interesting part of the world.



Richard Walker
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