Salam from Lachie and Ana,
Having got a late start on the day in typical Dumb Things fashion we managed to catch one of the last cars heading to Rushon, the start of the Bartang Valley. Rolling into town the locals seemed pretty surprised to see two young travellers hop out of the Marshrukta (shared car). Not only are we very early in the tourist season, but we are also considerably younger and whiter than the few other people on the road here. Nonetheless we were quickly told that we were far too late and there wouldn’t be any more cars heading up the Bartang Valley that day. But before they could finish explaining, an older woman dragged us into her shop to speak with her son Ganji who spoke english and offered us to sleep with their family that night.
With some time to kill we headed off into the mountains above the town to catch some classic Tajikistan views. There are more impressive mountains here than you could shake a stick at.
On our way down we took a moment to rest on a beautiful patch of grass under the trees by the river. No sooner had my boots come off than we saw a man across the river beckoning us towards him. There was no saying no here, he was very insistent we should be on his side of the river. So with nothing to lose we thought we’d go say hi in Russian and then fumble through some sign language. But before we could get any syllables out of our mouths he was leading us through the village and into his extraordinary home. Homes here are exceptionally communal. They are basically one large room built on different levels to accomodate the entire families’ eating and sleeping needs. We started with some soup and then progressed to tea, bread, jam, berries and sweets. We spent over an hour with this family and they even brought their english speaking niece in to chat. All young people here are learning english and we’ve met many going on to study english at university. They see english as their opportunity to bridge the gap with the rest of the world. They see english as their ticket out. Interestingly America is a highly respected country here. Perhaps it comes from movies and tv but everyone dreams of opportunity in America. Largely because the salary here of a well respected job is only $50USD per month.
As the evening settled in we made our way back to Ganji’s place and got set up outside. Ganji insisted on cooking us dinner, and we went to sleep with the sounds of the raging stream next to us.
In the morning we awoke to some freshly brewed tea and eggs coming out of the kitchen towards us. We ate away the rest of the morning and learnt lots about the culture and history of the region here in the Pamirs. And then in the flip of an instance three guys were in the backyard offering us a lift up the Bartang Valley. We jumped in and we were off. They dropped us in a tiny village and from there it was a 7km walk further along the insane valley to the bridge that would start out hike.
We slowly gained altitude in the desolate, rocky mountains until popping over a rise in the valley and stumbling across a green oasis. There was an abundance of greenery, trees, and paddocks and a few mud brick homes built around a beautiful lake. This was the first of three villages that make up the community of Jizev. There are only ten families who make up this community and their homes are stretched across several kilometres of this beautiful mountain hamlet.
We were headed a few kilometres past the final set of houses to a famed lake that promised some pretty special views. The afternoon was wearing on so we put our heads down, feet one in front of the other and followed the paths alongside the intricately designed aqueduct systems. The community is famed for their ingenious design of water systems to keep their crops growing, valley green, and fuel a small hydro-pump for some electricity.
It’d been a 20km day for our first hike in a long time so we were pretty ready for a dip at the lake we were heading towards. The gratitude of making it to our campsite was almost palpable as we crested over the last 100m. And there was the lake, almost as dry as a bone. Locals would later tell us that it won’t fill up until July or August after the snow has all melted. None the less the mountains were spectacular and it was nice to be out camping again.
Coming down the next day was very nice to take time to actually stop in at the houses and learn more about life in the villages. They are largely self-sufficient, mainly just making the trek to town to buy sweets. But it was growing season, with winter covering the fields with snow they only have 3-4 months a year to grow all the food they need for the year. So after a quick cup of tea, the man taking care of us was straight back to work.
Our final night was spent beside the Bartang river in a large grassy park hidden in amongst the towering peaks.
The wind howled all night and shook the swinging bridge as we crossed in the morning. We tucked out of the wind in a nook in the road and cooked breakfast in the hope a car would soon potter along the quiet road and pick us up. To our surprise a Toyota Prado soon came flying down the dusty track and actually pulled up for us. They had spare seats for us and took us all the way to Khorog in what could be a record breaking time. They drove like we were in a video game and again it was pretty scary. But with not much else to do other than sit tight and hope for the best, we relaxed into the rollercoaster ride and arrived into town, hot, dusty and happy.