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Published: June 16th 2010
The largest Lenin statue in Central Asia!
Yes it has been a long and winding road so far through Tajikistan. It can't be helped, all roads in Tajikistan are long and winding. This is simply due to the fact that the country consists mainly of mountains. Those winding roads are unfortunately for the most part also abominably bad, making the trips through the mountains a hard slog on the bum! But this is amply compensated for by the breathtaking scenery.
Well enough of that. I am a bit tired at the moment so excuse me if the tale I will tell is a bit boring. To start with the border crossing into Tajikistan where we were given a grand goodbye by the friendly Uzbek customs. You may not be allowed to take out Uzbek money, but instead they loaded our bags with fresh fruit they picked for us from the apricot and apple trees growing behind the post. What a nice way to leave a country, if only all border officials were this friendly. The Tajik side was not as generous, all we got was an entry stamp.
Our first destination in Tajikistan: Khujand, once called Leninabad, and to prove it, they have the honour of
hosting the biggest Lenin statue in Central Asia. I had arranged a couch surfing host in Khojand, and our accommodation thus consisted of the lovely family house of Azizjon our host. He fed us and showed us around town and we met his family and had a drink with his father. It was all very good. Istaravshan on the other hand was really nothing to write home about and our day trip there was a bit disappointing. It was kind of touted as Bukhara without the tourists, but that is a gross exaggeration, except for the tourist part. As it is, historical sights wasn't really the reason we came to Tajikistan anyway, it was the mountains.
So with that in mind we headed for the Fan mountains to relax a couple of days at the Marguzor Lakes, enjoy the fresh air, and stretch the legs as a prelude to the more extensive hikes we were planning in the Pamirs later on. Along the way we picked up Danielle, a fiery dark haired Australian lass who joined our little team and has been with us ever since. As an introduction we were all treated to a Tajik wedding on the
With Azizjon, his father and his friends enjoying a lunch and some vodka (not Azizjon as he doesn't drink)
night we met, being invited by the brother of the groom when we were looking for a place to eat in Penjikent. There was plenty of food at the wedding and even more vodka. There was dancing and singing and the usual drunken men trying to grope at poor Danielle. Little did they know that she has a black belt at Karate! However she restrained herself and just steered clear of the leery men trying to smooch with her. They got their just punishment from their respective wives; the last we saw of the brother was him being chased out by his seething wife!
Back to mountains, were we enjoyed the hospitality of the family that ran the wonderful home stay in Shing. Every time we got back from a full day hike we were treated with a load of chocolate bonbons and tea to regain our energy, while we waited for the excellent dinners to come. It was far better than the 'sprats' we had enjoyed the previous day. What is 'sprats'? Well I don't know, it was something that Danielle had found in a dodgy supermarket in Samarkand and was carrying along. We concluded it was some
Azizjon and his friend and also couch surfing host, Javohir with Ricky and I at dinner
kind of fish pate, though it looked more like dog-food. We fell in love with the delicate flavour at once and so we have since bought a new tin of 'sprats', though we haven't dared to open it just yet. We will save it for our hour of need.
After our sojourn in the Fan Mountains it was time to go to Dushanbe a pleasant if dull city. It is leafy and has a suburban feel to it, but there seems to be nothing to do there. Two days was just enough for us, we got some more 'sprats', and some dried fruit and nuts, all the essential ingredients for Pamiri hikes and than left for Kulyab down south in our effort to reach Khorog via the more scenic southern route along the Afghan border. It was scenic for sure, but not cheap. Our plan of hitching at least part of the way fell apart when the traffic coming through turned out to be very light indeed and nobody was willing to take on three travellers with huge backpacks. Instead we ended up waiting for hours at a border post and eventually being forced to pay for a jeep
View of the town
anyway to take us along. We shall try again at a later date; I have already told Danielle she needs to show more leg!
The route was indeed spectacular, with the road flushed away at one point with a truck we had seen passing that morning stuck on its side in the ragging river. Our vehicle didn't get stuck luckily and so we made it in one piece to Kalaikhum late in the evening only to stay at the dour family that ran the one home stay we could find at that time of night willing to take us in. They weren't friendly but the shower was hot and the jam pack full of dead ants, so there was enough protein in our breakfast at least.
And so the day arrived that we started on our final journey to Khorog. Once again a precarious road cut into the steep cliffs and mountain sides along the Pyanj River demarcating the border with Afghanistan. At times it was only a stone's throw away. Along the way I am sure I managed to discover Osama's lair, I saw his beard dangling from a cave on the other side! So if you
Abdullatif Sultan Medressa
please, I would like the reward money transferred to my Dutch account Mr. President, I will give the details once you contact me. A cheque is also fine, though I need to check with my accountant on the tax details of that.
As for Khorog, well, it was raining when we arrived, but hopefully that will clear up in time for us to start our hikes in the region. We are all 'sprat'-ed up and ready to go!
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