13. TJ – Dushanbe

We spent our morning

Buzzing with Colours and vibrancy and glitter

Bye to the Pamirs.

 

 

I will remember you.

 

Last meal with Shuric (and his daughter)

This reminded me that.. Shuric has a daughter,  my age. He is a father. Spending so much time with us, as a tour guide, also means time away from his own family. Earning these money as a tour guide, is also a means of giving his family and his daughter a better life. Everyone’s (only) trying to make a living.

Dushanbe:

Got a couch about 24 hours before. Alisher responded quickly and welcomed us to his home.

His kids are clearly eloquent and on their ways to becoming open-minded charismatic individuals. Very welcoming to their guests, good attempts at making conversations, and only… less than 12 years old.

Hurray!

​ I am once again filled with gratitude and almost disbelief at the hospitality of people towards strangers. We barely arrived 4 hours before, and there we were, with food on the table, a shower prepared, a place to sleep. Please let me remember to pass on such kindness, please. Someday I will! Host. And I will cook nice meals, and I will be kind to backpackers. I will I will I will.
Met Shakhnoz to walk around the city the next morning.

Sweethearts!

This part is funny. He shook his hand, and then did the gesture for money. Hahaha

We visited the beautiful library!

Interesting because I realised the kids here, in coloring / depicting a picture of their environment / country / childhood, they depict mountains and their traditional costumes. The children in Singapore will depict something so entirely different. It will be buildings, it will be cars…

We also visited a library. I never thought I’d go for a library tour in another country. I used to look at those foreign groups coming in to our libraries and our schools and I thought they were weird. Why would they want to spend their time in our libraries when they can be elsewhere, at Marina Bay Sands or something? There’s nothing much to see.

But their library tour was so fascinating. We were shown the different rooms – rooms for the blind with books in Braille, and a space for the handicapped. I thought that was very good and very inclusive. Do we have something like that in Singapore?

They also had different language rooms – Chinese room, Korean room, French room, etc etc. These specific language rooms held language classes for people to attend and converse in groups. Very interesting, in all. I now understand why foreigners go for these tours.

what we spent our leftover change on

at least 8USD hahaha

I LOVE ALPEN GOLD!!!!!

My favourite night would be lying down in the dark, taking turns to recount all the things we’ve learnt. I wish I took them down. That was fun.

Central Asia has been wonderful. Has it only been half a year? Gosh. For some reason it feels really long ago. I learnt so much though, from knowing absolutely nothing (seriously – not even which countries form part of it, or how to spell them) to an increased understanding of the place – its languages, historical ties with Russia, cultural differences etc. Broadened geographical imagination. Thank you world for the opportunity! 🙂

Until Iran, then. 🙂

 

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12. TJ – Yamchun / Khakha Fortress

In Yamchun, we stayed at a… bed&breakfast, gingerly perched upon the side of a mountain. should i describe it this way?

i remember we drove up a slope as night started to fall, our surroudings dimming

up we went, up a long steep slope

the place surprised me a little, a bed and breakfast located so high up, and inaccessible withot a car, highly prone to mass movement, i thought to myself

i briefly hoped it wouldn’t rain

all was well, we slept well.

1. Early morning – we woke up for a morning walk

Climbed up some height just in time as the sun rose

It felt like a random peak, and it felt like the mountains here could be climbed randomly

We hiked up and up and up in a way that reminded me of Mt Agung, and I was reminded of my weakness

waiting for me

Then the glowing sun rose and I finally reached and I heaved a sigh of relief as I sat on the stone to catch my breath, feeling sore about feeling weak

but i was happy when i reached. hurray!

i like this picture alot. hehehe

It was beautiful – I was reminded once again that such a sight can be seen only if one works his/her feet, and I was pleased

2. Bibi Fatimah – hot springs

The best hot shower ever. The best shower I had in the week (HAHAH). I’m dread cold showers, showers in the cold. The hot springs came to me as a huge relief – hot gushing water that embraced me. We had to step in without our clothes, the men and the women had separate rooms. I thought of the hot springs in Japan, and followed shyly stripping before I stepped into the warm embrace of the waters

Here the locals believe in the medicinal / spiritual qualities of the hot spring, and one can get granted wishes or cures for medicinal conditions / fertility grants if they pick a stone here (or something)

I stepped in cautiously, and was greeted by a lady completely unabashedly naked

The gushing warmth of the shower flowing seamlessly from the marbles of nature massaged my body (as exaggerated as it may sound) – best shower ever, I thought to myself gratefully

I hadn’t had a proper shower for too long. I am always grateful after going without warm showers for some time

I scrubbed my hair and brushed my teeth with ease, taking my time

3. Yamchun Fort

We then went to the beautiful Yamchun Fort.

The most impressive of the valley’s many tumbledown castle ruins, complete with multiple walls and round watchtowers. It was beautiful, breathtakingly so. There was some men up there, though. It strikes me as a surprise (or not) that there’s no attempt at protection / restoration efforts at a site this beautiful. It’s almost like an abandoned random place where people are free to ascend. Not that that’s a bad thing, but a historical site like that, this beautiful, has potential to claim greater recognition and should be preserved.

part of the ruins at the fort

the view

 

the hershey kisses mountains

interesting place, but some workers were throwing some bricks down next to us. I’m not sure what they were doing, but these bricks lying vulnerable, I could easily throw them around too. Wonder how this fort will look like in 50 years.

Driving along ishkashim, we passed by gigantic rocks and a beautiful sandy place, littered with broken beautiful patterned rocks, marble rocks of green and blue stripes that aligned neatly in pieces. I gaped at the lovely pile scattered nonchalantly on the floor. So amazing!!! So beautiful!! What were all these metamorphic rocks doing here? How were they related to the marble hot springs at bibi fatimah? What is it about this area that gives them the condition to form? We played with the softest sand glittering on the shapeless landscape.

Bye bye Yamchun Fort!! You were beautiful!
MOST BEAUTIFUL ROCKS!!!!! I wanted to pick up many of these and bring them home, but i contemplated for some time. SHOULD I? IS IT ECOLOGICALLY UNFRIENDLY??? WHAT IF EVERY TOURIST BROUGHT ONE HOME? TAKE NOTHING BUT PICTURES LEAVE NOTHING BUT MEMORIES?!?!?!
BUT… WILL I EVER VISIT THIS PLACE AGAIN? NO. 99.999999% NO.
Anyway I didn’t. I don’t think I’ll collect rocks. But I have the photos.

 

convenient platform for scribbles

we had alot of fun here, taking videos of the sand slipping from our grasps. why are the videos? – inserts video from memory –

Lunch, then

4. Khakha Fortress (Wakhan Valley)

We walked up the steps and met with some men in army green. Are those guards? I asked, as we drew closer. I think so, they look like they have… Guns. Cz replies. Calmly, as we walked closer, he greets the officer and proceeds nonchalantly. Me, I walk hesitantly behind, my nervous grin emerging. I try to be friendly and make conversation – we’re tourists, how old they were, … The age similarity (22 years old) assured me in some way- surely that forged some sort of connection, surely they won’t shoot me? Of course they won’t, but the thoughts that come to my mind when I see a gun (and especially when pointing at me incidentally) I do freak out

They turned out to be really friendly. I have a photo of me with them somewhere. They even agreed to our 360 degrees video.
A single river separates the 2 countries – Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Here’s the closest I might be.

 

View of Afghanistan across the river Panj, from the top of the Khakha fortress // Shuric pointed out across the river border, 300m away- ‘afghan car, afghan school, afghan cow,’ he says as we move on. We drive past an afghan woman and her children. They wave! We wave back at their tiny figures. ‘Afghan wife,’ Shuric says. ‘Afghan grass,’ ‘afghan flowers,’ Cz adds. I burst out laughing. We continue pointing out ‘afghan house, afghan washing clothes,’ Just a river away. So near in distance, but so distant nonetheless. I wonder if this is the nearest I’ll ever be.

 
While walking along this path, a part of me pictured getting shot from the back, thinking about the last film I watched with a landscape like that. LOL

 

James Bond Shuric. Too picturesque, we make him pose for us over and over again  (HAHAH)


 

James Bond Shuric
indeed, over and over again

Shuric pointed out across the river border, 400m away- ‘afghan car, afghan school, afghan cow,’ he says as we move on. We drive past an afghan woman and her children. They wave! We wave back at their tiny figures. ‘Afghan wife,’ Shuric says. ‘Afghan grass,’ ‘afghan flowers,’ Cz adds. I burst out laughing. We continue pointing out ‘afghan house, afghan washing clothes,’ Just a river away. So near in distance, but so distant nonetheless.

A typical plate of Tajik biscuits / sweets placed before and after each meal
Reaching Dushanbe -in the squeezy car
+10 hour drive from Khorog to Dushanbe, a conclusion that wrapped up some uncomfortable events.
 
Bye to the Pamirs and rural villages! On to Dushanbe and the city!
(the city’s hot showers and consistent electricity supply, the cars and the shops and the people, the wifi. not that i necessarily prefer so, but the absence of them during the week made these comparisons of facilities more pronounced. actually yes la i prefer so la HAHHA but i also love the nature and the quiet here but perhaps not forever, not for life)
 

 

10.TJ – Langar for lunch / Wakhan Valley

Superstar Shuric
our awesome driver, Shuvic (pronounced Shuric, he may be contacted at 900502656)
As with the Tajik tradition, giving sweets and candies is part of a culture (‘in every house you visit, fruit and sweets will be piled high in front of you’)
yes, he really poses for me

We rode past a herd of animals grazing on this barren land. Wow, I excitedly point out. The little girl stared into the distance. Her long lashes and rosy glowing cheeks catch mine. When she’s my age, would she remain as fascinated as I was? Or would she grow accustomed by these landscapes I hardly see in my homeland. I offer the Mother my remaining 2 sweets. She nods and smiles, taking them from my outstretched palm and giving them to he children. I had meant then for her, so i was slightly surprised. It made me consider if I’d do the same (well i suppose so, if i don’t eat sweets / if i have kids, but still). I stare curiously at them; they stare curiously at me.

I was actually really excited about the Wakhan valley before the trip, considering its proximity to Afghanistan, separated only by a river. But the weather was poor and cold, and Ishkashim triumphed this, so this faded in my memory. 😀

meal time! yummy in the cold!

 

i like this toilet, i found it interesting and showed it to my students
when the watch was still around.
at 4000m, the high altitude means that the surrounding vegetation and landscape is different.

 

homestay

 

 

another pamiri home!
where’s this? hmmmm

 

9. TJ – Bulunkul & on

From the outside, a traditional huneuni chid (Pamiri house) may look like a simple mud-stone box, but inside guests are greeted with carpets that line the walls and floor; gentle curtains greet the sunshine that lightly peeks in.

We woke up early this morning at 6.30, and got ready for breakfast by 7. Breakfast served that yummy sesame biscuit again, and slightly-too-salted eggs, and of course, chai! As with every meal. And a delightful plate of sweets. THE SESAME BISCUIT -GUSHES-


The Pamiri house is normally built of stones and plaster, with a flat roof on which hay, apricots, mulberries or dung for fuel can be dried.
 

A skylight, the design of which incorporates four concentric square box-type layers known as ‘chorkhona’ (‘four houses’) representing, respectively, the four Zoroastrian elements earth, water, air and fire, the latter being the highest, touched first by the sun’s rays.



More on symbolism in the Pamiri home here

act cute face

love the carpets! the prints! wait till uzbek / iran, i know, i know
We headed to Murghab:

– Visited the Shakhty cave to see Neolithic cave paintings – with their perfectly preserved red-ink paintings of a boar hunt.



Pictographs in Shakhty cave (Murghab district)



These rock paintings are supposedly approx. 12,000—8,000 BC. Now that I think about it… These rock paintings were just… exposed, and well, lying amidst some graffiti. I remember asking CZ ‘is this the one?’ We took awhile to find it, there were other modern scribbles around. 

Approx. 12,000—8,000 BC… now that’s a really long time, quite incredible isn’t it. Such art in the past. And yet lying so casually within my reach! 

Should some preservation actions be taken? hmmmm

 

“huh???”
they were asking some question about this. i can’t remember what

Akbailik holy spring of fishes

Considering it’s a landlocked country, how did the fishes get there???? We wondered

ulu signboard

spotted some shan yang. my friends. i like! HURRAY!

ME FRIENDS MEEEEEE AND SHEEPDOG

Bulunkul – lake with fishes



bulunkul

Yashiikul – the nicer lake that looks like Almaty lake

Alichor village to sleep

Next up: Introducing our driver, Shuric

 

8.5 TJ – Karakul

Karakul is, to say the least, absolutely gorgeous. I remember walking along the coast (?), freezing with the howling wind, but stood still at its breathtaking beauty. The silence and the calm that accompanied the glint of sunshine reflecting off the glittering sea, the frozen blades of grass / waves and the foam-like heaps of snow – I had never seen anything quite like that.

Nature’s beautiful way of blending its shades of blue and white

i love this, i remember sitting down and taking this picture, feeling a wave of calm wash over me

We met a little girl at our homestay, the daughter of our homestay owner. Dressed in white, she skipped around with a ball, kicking it amidst the sand. The wind blew relentlessly as the sand attacked my eyes. Each time the ball dropped, she would run after it excitedly, despite the brown sand that smeared across her white frock.

We dropped our things in the room, and headed to the lake.

The lake was one highlight

The yaks were another

weird

yak fur! shedding them during the winter season? mmmm. I touched them. They were warm. and… rough… stringy. like wires. hmm

^^

 

8. TJ – Karakul

The Pamirs is probably the most breathtaking roadtrip I’ve ever taken. How lucky I am, to be able to witness such beauty in the world!



The smallest, and poorest republic in Central Asia, Tajikistan is sandwiched between Afghanistan and China, andt also borders Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is 93% mountainous and has one of the world’s best road trips – the Pamir Highway.





‘The Pamir Highway, known more formally as the M41, runs 1,252km from the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Osh, through the Pamir Mountains – known as the “Roof of the World” – and along the border of Afghanistan until it ends in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Originally a northern segment of the Silk Road trading route, the Pamir Highway has been in use for almost 2,000 years. In fact, Marco Polo journeyed along this route on his way to China in the 13th Century. But few other travellers have followed suit since.’


After crossing the border the ride became significantly bumpier. The landscape remained its canvas of mountainous beauty, but the road slowly shifted to a bumpy dirt road. I watched cz’s head bouncing along with the tyres of the car. Potholes that splashed glistening droplets excitedly as we passed. The occasional cloud of dust. Welcome to the Pamirs! ‘The roof of the World’

I loved the melding of Colours here- the Browns of earth, the shades of beige, the green, the blue, the white, the peach; I love how the Colours came together, the Colours of nature.

The brushstrokes of its contours, painted in its cascading, surrealistic splashes of earthy colours.

What happened to the greenery? The vegestation? They’ve been replaced by a landscape of brown and white. Sugared mountain tops. Higher altitude now.

What a first impression, I thought. I am reminded of the fact that Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia. Potholes that splashed glistening droplets excitedly as we passed. The occasional cloud of dust. As we jerked along, I am reminded of Laos and Peru and Bolivia and my long bus rides.

We entered Tajikistan. The border guards are friendly (?); they come into the car to have a chat with us. We chatted a little while waiting for our driver, and we highlighted our route. Here, I nervously stand (hence awkward distance) next to a Tajikistan officer the same age as me, married with a kid.

From Osh, Kyrgyzstan, we crossed over to Karakul. The man from the CBT office picked us up early in the morning. 

 


Crossed the border with the GBAO permit!

“Mainly because most people I have met have never heard of a “country” calledGorno Badakhshan. In fact, even some Kyrgyzs people I have met this week were unaware of the existence of this disputed state, an autonomous region that has been claimed by China, Russia and Taiwan down the years, yet the United Nations (and most people) class it as part of Tajikistan. When the civil war broke out in Tajikistan in 1992, the local government in Gorno-Badakhshan declared independence from the Republic of Tajikistan. So yes, Gorno Badakhshan should have been a new country, but remains to this day as part of Tajikistan with different laws attached to it. So you’ll need a visa/permit to backpack it!”

 

Reaching our homestay!

Exciting sights awaited!

So kul at Karakul

First described by Marco Polo

What did he see then?