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Published: March 3rd 2018
It was about 160km from Ishkashim to Langar. For most part the road was pretty reasonable and with quite a few stops it still only took us 5.5 hours to get there.
The scenery was beautiful, wide open valleys with big mountains forming a guard on either side. As we left Ishkashim there was a lot of life in the valley as people were heading out to work in the fields with donkeys and cows in tow, before it got hot.
Our first stop of the day was Yamchum Fort. It sits high above the valley, up a series of steep switchbacks, so has the most fantastic views - down the valley to the left and right, and directly in front the huge mountains in Afghanistan. Built in the 12th Century it played a key role on the Silk Road, controlling traffic, cargo and providing security. In its day the outer walls were 2m thick and it was fortified by 36 towers. The rock it is made out of must have been brought in specially to built it as it is not found in the local area.
After spending some time exploring the Fort we headed a kilometer
higher up the mountain to Bibi Fatima hot springs. These are the most well known hot springs in the valley. Amongst travellers they have the reputation for being the naked hot springs, but we think they all are here. Men and women have alternating bathing times. These hot springs are believed to boost fertility, and there are a number of fertility boosting rituals you can do in while in the springs.
I had done my homework. Emma hadn't. So I didn't bother to warn her that the locals like to encourage travellers to perform the rituals. We struck lucky, arriving during womens bathing time. We hadn't been in the spring long enough for it to have warmed through to our bones before we were being beckoned over to crawl into a small side cave. Emma to the bait... The oval entrance was about head height, and with none of the locals speaking any English and us only having minimal functional Tajik Emma didn't understand the instruction that you had to climb up and then get your leg in, and attempted to go in head first. With that any semblance of decency she had promptly disappeared. I was left suppressing
The local women rescued her before she did disappeared into it head first, and after man-handling her to try and get her into it the right way, one of the older women got in it to show her how it was done. There are certain hand holds in the smooth rock that you need to grab, and a certain order to move limbs in. Now Emma understood after the woman got out she was soon in there with just her head poking out of the entrance. Apparently it was a small deep pool and Emma said it was comfortable but it was pretty hot. You're supposed to stay in there for 5 minutes and dunk your head under a number of times, but after just a couple of minutes and a couple of head dunkings Emma was ready to climb out. The moment she did the women were beckoning me over, no way was I going in there, too claustrophobic for my liking. so I point blank refused and gestured that Emma needed all the help she could get!
Whether the women understood that or whether they just weren't going to let me miss an opportunity
to boost my fertility we were next handed jam jars full of water which they were all drinking. Of course the number 1 traveller rule is not to drink the local water. Particularly if it is dodgy hot spring water. But if we didn't we clearly risked offending. So we pretended to guzzle it with gusto and satisfied with the response the eyes on us turned away and I promptly emptied my jar's contents over my shoulder. Emma cottoned on and quickly did the same. We relaxed for a few minutes but getting increasingly hot and feeling like we'd had the experience, we thanked our new friends and got out.
The heat of the outside felt positively cool compared to the heat of our bodies, and we felt amazingly refreshed. I had a walk down to the Fort to take some photos while Emma and Abdesh followed in the vehicle as short time later. With a slight breeze and amazing views I felt very alive. It also worked magic on our aches and pains, physically the journey is quite tough.
We wound back down the steep switchbacks to rejoin the valley floor and continued on our journey. Our
next stop was at an ancient Buddhist Stupa. The only one of its kind in the area (given its a Muslim region). A couple of kids hiked up to the Stupa with us and offered us some raw rubies they had collected off the mountain. They literally had a handful each.
When we got to Langar we settled into our homestay. There are heaps about and our driver has ones that he usually stays at.
There are plenty of people doing the Pamir Highway and Wakhan Valley but you don't see that many; we were the only people at the Fort and Stupa and the only foreigners at the hot springs. Really you only see other travellers at the homestays.
There were 6 of us at this homestay and only 4 of us at the homestay the night before. All the travellers we've met are really quite well travelled. It's not a first time desintation.
After we got settled in we headed out to find some ancient petroglyphs on a mountain nearby. There's no sign or any other markings so we checked with someone who was out in the garden that we were on the right
route before heading off up a mountain path. We knew the petroglyphs were hard to find, and we ended up walking up this sheer mountain side, just troddling around at over 3,000m. We never did find the ancient petroglyphs, just some of that were more 'modern.' It had the most amazing views of the Hindu Kush mountains and if the sun hadn't started to go down we could have happily stayed up there for hours. We free ranged it back down the mountain side.
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