Published: September 8th 2010August 1st 2010
The Tajik cognac still has it's effect on me,still a bit groggy I forced myself out of bed to get ready for a big day, I start my 4 day trek in the Fan mountains but first I have to buy food in the bazaar, I took a minivan marshrustka to the bazaar, It took me awhile to figure out what to buy, what I need, I started at the fruit section and bought the delicious mini pears from my favorite stall, this shy girl wanted to know my name but she can't express it in English, finally after giving me my change she pointed to herself and announced her name, so then I get it, nice to meet you, Gil in her broken English, all the while the whole fruit section watching us charade, they don't see a lot of tourists here despite the Fan mountains being very popular trekking destination, most group comes from Samarqand and from what I hear majority British and French people, they rarely venture in the bazaar they go straight to the mountain trailheads, and when a few independent backpackers show up we get mobbed!
Next up is to buy bread, all the ladies
in the bread section were pining for my attention, one loud and eager woman was making jokes in Tajik at my expense everyone laughing I do not get it, anyway after I paid I said thank you and then shook everyone's hands and they loved it, they mimic me like parrots, goodbye, thank you etc. I was the center of attention wherever I go, I met my Finnish rommate Jakko at the cookies and dried fruits section, I showed him where I bought my favorite cookies coated with peanuts and then I bought a delicious honey from the mountain, everything is so cheap, well not as cheap as Kyrg but reasonably priced. I stopped at a minimart on the way home to buy some goudah cheese, Gintare the Lithuanian girl bought some the night before and they were good, and lastly some mutton sausage. I got back at the GH and quickly pack and sorted my stuff and left some of the things I don't need to storage, Nematov told me their van is about to leave now and he gave me instructions where to meet my guide etc.so off we go.
The drive was long past sunflower fields
the backdrop of which is the colorful hills surrounding the villages, it's very dry and arid but the fresh cool water from the mountains irrigate the farms thus making it fertile. we stopped briefly for lunch, the driver does not speak English and yells out words in Tajik to me as if I will understand him it is a bit louder, he is quite moody and tries to make extra bucks by taking fares and pockets the money, i paid for his damn lunch too! i stole salt from the table as I forgot to buy some!The road to the alplager in Artush is bumpy and is going uphill, we gave a ride to an old woman who chanted some prayers before we get going and for some reason the driver got fed up with her, she yaks it up endlessly and some shouting ensued, I dont know what happened but when she got off It sounded like she is cursing him!
Less than half an hour away to the base camp alplager, we picked up some backpacker toiling away in the uphill road in the searing heat of the day, the driver took pity and loaded them up
the van, they can speak Russian but for some reason I thought they were Polish, I remember my roommie Jakko telling me he encountered a group of Polish that crossed the border with him going to Artush to start their hike, this must be them. Anyway it was stuffy in the van and the stench of B.O. prevailed, I blame them for it. Ungrateful bastards did not even say thank you to me or even acknowledge me when we left them at the alplager, they got a free ride at my expense, I will pay for gas to get here! the driver dropped me off across the river and he told me to wait, my guide is coming and true enough, 5 minutes later i met Afred, we passed him earlier on the road riding the donkey. he is a pleasant man very respectful and speaks good English, he introduced me to our donkey, Johnny we call him he will carry our bags for us.
The walk up would have been difficult without Johnny, it's uphill for about 2 hours, we took our time and chatted and get to know each other, we are a bit slow as Johnny,
seem to want to eat all the time and he had to be constantly beaten to get moving, it may sound harsh but otherwise he won't move, that's how donkeys are, stubborn. at the top of the Artush pass we met a shepherd who told us no one is camping near the lake. we met some group who is on their way back to the alplager, we reckoned they just did a day trip somewhere as they have only day bags. We reached our first camp at Chukurak lake. Beautiful lake, blue green color, I planned to have a swim but it's quite cold! The sun had disappeared and clouds rolled by, we gathered some firewood to make fire to cook, I set up my tent next to the water, Afred has no tent! I offered him to share my tent with me, but he refused, only he said if it rains hard in the night. We cooked dinner of pasta and sardines, the rain started and so we tried to shelter in the cypress trees that abound in the area, then it's bedtime, i went to my tent while Afred settled in a shaded area full of cypress trees.
it rained on and off in the night and unfortunately it was cloudy when I got up in the morning.
We quickly made breakfast, some bread, cheese and honey, the honey is superb and I have to finish the cheese because Afred is not fond of it. it was a bit cold as we headed up the pass hiking up the valley called Gokhona, we passed a group of shepherds camp near a small green lake, the hike was a bit tedious, we took our time, the sun finally showed up. Afred told me to go ahead while he goes to the toilet, so he left me with the donkey, at first I just follow him as he seems to know the way then as the trail got steeper and branches off in different directions, Johnny the donkey decided to take the trail that heads back down! I cannot stop him, i don't know the command yet, good thing Afred was on his way up! we continued on until we reached the top of the pass the Fan mountain range to our right 2 tall peaks namely Ziorat and Zurmich covered in eternal snow. from afar we can see
a glimpse of Chukurak lake but lo and behold, better scenery awaits on the other side of the pass, the Kulikalon bowl is just below and the lakes are stunning torquoise with greenish hue! i gasped as I clutch my camera I headed towards a ridge for better views while Afred takes a nap, he'd seen them thousand times before. It's breathtakingly beautiful, the enormous mountain ranges with it's glaciers and snow covered walls though coludy gives an excellent backdrop to the gorgeous hues of the dozen lakes dotting the bowl, the glacier valley of Kulikalon.
As we started to head down the rains came on and off occasionally we need to shelter in some trees along the path and it gets colder by the minute, at one point rain fell consistently we sat and made fire under a cypress tree. When it stopped we walked down quickly and crossed some stream to get to the island where we will camp for the night, what a beautiful spot, the Chamtarga range right in front of you like a grand theatre , the snow covered range dominates a deep glacier valley and at one of the islands on lakes created
by the melt water we sit in our camp. the rain came again as we eat a late lunch of veggie salad, the tomatoes are squished but still good. I set up my tent and took a nap after picking up firewood for later use. Meanwhile Afred took Johnny out to pasture closer to the glacier valley. A group camped on the other side of the island, it's a big group with their own dinner tent and a set up loo for toilet, they must pay lots for this trip. Most of these pre arranged treks lasts from 8 to 14 or 21 days! I cannot afford it, I pay $20 a day for guide and additional $10 for the donkey. I could have saved more if I am with other people but I was unlucky to not find anyone else going on a trek in the GH all the other backpackers seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere else, pity, I did not come all the way here to skimp out, a once in a lifetime experience, I decided to splurge just to see the Fan mountains.
Woke up the next morning to a beautiful day,
Afred still sleeping, clouds suddenly came out from nowhere and the threat of rain seem imminent, as we started the hike to Alauddin pass, the sun came out again, we followed a stream past ancient cypress trees, the branches and stem contorted and peeling off. this is where I noticed Johnny's pee is very milky yellow and only a trickle, the scientist in me realized he might be having some kidney trouble, Afred confirmed as he was getting him ready putting packs on his back the right rear oh the donkey's back is swollen, I told him we must let him drink a lot of water today, treating him like human. Anyway, the pass wasn't as difficult as LP said it would be, we reached the Alauddin lake, we left Johnny to graze and we walked around the lake nearer to the glacier valley the lake is bright blue, on the other side of the lake there are giant boulders, Afred evere like a mountain goat climbed up one in no time, I explored the area further, getting close to the glacier, giving me a nicer view of the Alauddin lake. We got back to fetch Johnny and we started
walking back down Alauddin pass, along the way we encountered backpackers, with donkeys, Russians, Afred concluded, then we met some of his cousins from Penjikent doing their own hike, a few more people we met along the way, as we go around some lakes we saw tents the name of the lake is Bibi Jonat the to another lake called Gowkush where there is a summer tent selling supplies of food. Eventually we arrived at the last lake in this area called Garm. The water here says Afred is not as cold, so i invited him for a swim but he chickened out, he promised to keep an eye on trekkers as I skinny dipped, there is something about being in the buff in nature that makes it more enjoyable experience for me. the water indeed is not as cold.
We continued on this time slowly descending an area Afred called the 2nd Turursh, we follow a gorgeous stream, but the trail is slippy with loose rocks and gravel, thunder started to sound off as we make it to the bottom of the valley, we camped next to the stream, we found some shelter behind some wild rose bushes
and cypress trees,perfect spot, my only concern was next to us is a massive landslide od rocks and other debris from the mountain top, Afred assured me it happened eons ago and it hasn't slid since. it rained again as we have lunch, thunder got worse and I retreated to my tent, I waited it out, Afred sheltered in some trees somewhere. we saw a group of backpackers with their donkeys slowly ascending the trail in the wind and rain. When the rain abated we made fire to keep warm. When the sun came out again we decided to go for a walk, as we were about to leave our camp, a man from a distance yelled out something, Afred said we should wait for him to come over, he is apparently a forest ranger and he said we should put out the fire right away. He was an arrogant dude,I was not happy for his brashness which he soon realized, he took photo of the camp fire with me on it and told Afred it's for evidence. later Afred said the man was just kidding, our fire is ok and not a danger to the forest etc etc. he
was playing with us, i wasn't happy about it and never smiled at him, feeling he wasn't welcomed he left soon, reminding us to be careful and be sure to put out the fire when done. Afred told me this guy used to be a cop in Penjikent and he gets stopped all the time by this corrupt ass when he drives a taxi cab in the winter.
We went for a walk near the edge of the stream where it becomes a waterfall, there we met more shepherds from Afred's village, they have also donkeys carrying loads of firewood. One dude is wearing a traditional coat like Afred and I took a photo of them next to the edge of the waterfall, I have to remind myself to buy one. as we were cooking we noticed a load of people going up the trail towards Kulikalon lakes, the girls are wearing traditional garb with heels on! How they made this far we don't know. After dinner we enjoyed the campfire we made and sang some songs, I taught Afred some kiddie rhymes, nursery songs and some contemporary songs, for some reason he loves the chorus for the John
Denver song West Virginia. He memorized it and repeated it to no end. And Shakira's football song, only we replace South Africa into"this is Tajikistan!" He is an English teacher and wants to learn as much colloquial term as he could, and some bad words in English and Spanish. I made him promise not to teach his students the dirty words I taught him!I don't want to be the bad American that spread street lingo in Tajikistan! the night was cold but bearable, Johnny the donkey slept next to us.
The morning was crisp cold but the sun is coming out on a cloudless blue sky. I told Afred to sleep in and for once I will start the fire for hot water, we have no tea so we use the honey to flavor our hot drink. Anyway I gathered some wood and as I do that a couple of young boys were yelling at me in Tajik from the other side of the river, shepherds, I concluded. Trying not to attract attention to myself but it's too late, they crossed the footbridge and was conversing with me as I start the fire, they realized I could not get
a fire going as hard as I try, they motioned they will help me make it, so I gave up and handed the match to them. Yossu and Saf these boys wasted no time getting the fire started and as they do it they giggle and exchange words in Tajik, probably something like, "this stupid foreigner thinks he can start a fire that easy". For their effort I was grateful and so I invited them to join us for breakfast which they rejected and ran out and went back to their donkeys in a hurry, I yelled to Afred to tell them in Tajik, they don't want breakfast, he yelled back at me. They waved goodbye from a distance, I wasn't about to give up, I ran after them and I motioned them to come, eventually they relented, these shy little boys reluctantly takes things from the spread of bread, cheese and honey, like Afred they did not like the goudah cheese! once they finish they left quickly but not after i had some great pictures of them.
We packed our things and while doing that the group that came last night towards the lakes are on their way
down, we encountered them on the way down the valley, the trail down is slippery and steep we took our time and eventually we reached the alplager once again, along the way we met Afred's schoolmate, the dude has 2 handsome young boys who keeps imitating what I do, quite funny, I played with them a bit while the schoolmates talk. we continued on to walk towards Afred's village called Yokohona. we still follow the beautiful river, encountering occasional locals along the way. A couple of backpacker's were resting next to the river edge as we approach Afred's village, we arrived at his home, it's a beautiful simple home, he lives with his parents as tradition dictates, him being the youngest son, the home has a gorgeous courtyard full of flowers and apple orchard. He introduced me to his mom and dad, the father took me quickly to the dining table and soon food arrived, tomatoes, sour cheese, fresh apples from the garden which was to die for, never tasted this variety before, and surprise surprise, a bottle of vodka which we polished in no time. Afred does not drink because of his beliefs but the father does, and boy
he can drink. I fell asleep right after dinner and woke up with the table cleaned up and no one is in sight, for some reason I was never formally introduced to Afred's wife, it turns out she was the one serving us food, she is quite pretty, Caucasian looking like Afred and his family, quite shy and reserved, i was not supposed to shake her hand I was told!
When I came to my senses after a brief nap we walked around the village and he showed me the mosque, some retail store, his grandma spinning a woolen yarn in the street, etc. After a quick round of the village, he is now ready to take me back to Penjikent,today Saturday no bus runs apparently and have to use a share taxi which we did not find, he ended up driving me back to town which cost me a whopping 100 somonis, about $25 roughly, I have no choice really. We stopped at the Rudaki mausoleum, we were able to find the caretaker which took us to the mausoleum where Rudaki's tomb was, I hesitate to enter as I was wearing shorts but he summons me inside anyway
saying it's alright. Then we gave a ride to 2 old men, they did not pay, darn!Arriving in Penjikent he refused to drop me off at the GH as he did not want to see Nematov, whom he refer to as the big fish, so he dropped me in the street next to it, I have no room for me yet so I left my stuff and went with Afred and met his friends.
After hanging out with Afred and his friends I walked back home to Nematov's GH, they put me in a single room inside their house, I was so tired I passed out and did not wake up for the meet up with Afred later. next day I am off further north to Khojand.
There are more photos below