Khorog, Tajikistan, October 2008.  Islam à la Central Asia — Ibrahim and Malika flirt in public, even though she is married.

It took us two days and six (free) meals to cover the 530 km from the Tajik capital to the seat of this autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan region. Seven of us in a new 4×4, Fabian and I arch-squeezed in the 3rd, much smaller row, above the wheels and against huge luggage, with the driver putting music loud and dancing at the wheel, Malika singing and clapping next to him, Uznik smiling and hugging Blanca, and Tabriz inviting us to his house, a) he offered us the first lunch in a stall by the road, b) the driver paid for dinner in a converted container, c) we slept at Tabriz’ after his family offered us a sumptuous supper (around 1 a.m.)… d) followed by breakfast, e) we continued and were stopped in the middle of nowhere by people who invited us to a long table full of food (below), to celebrate Id, the end of Ramadan, f) we dropped 50-year old Uznik, and she of course led us all home, started cooking with her daughters, and we ended up dancing including with the Grandma, positively unforgettable, the Pamir hospitality, so similar to their Persian cousins’, so very different from cold, selfish, and stingy Westerners. Malika, 33, had been very friendly with all the men in the car, here above with driver Ibrahim waiting for the last meal. Yet, her husband waited for her at destination. Thanks to Soviet influence, Muslim women are much freer in Central Asia.


Rushan, Tajikistan, October 2008.


Bulunkul, Tajikistan, October 2008.

At about 3,500 m high, I had a headache in Bulunkul, you can’t imagine a starker contrast with the colorful Wakhan Corridor (see Pamirs), this was a high plateau, totally barren with half a dozen adobe houses in the middle, and as the sun was down it started to be real chilly, we turned down a yurt, empty, dusty and cold, and stayed inside the house of a family, the living room was for us. This was contrary to older traditions. “In the Merv oasis […] people owned mud houses of the oasis type, but these were used chiefly for storage or for entertaining visitors. The people preferred to live in yurts, often set up beside the house” [Elizabeth Bacon, Central Asians Under Russian Rule – A Study in Culture Change, p.52], we had seen this juxtaposition of yurts and mud houses throughout Central Asia, as far as Mongolia in the mountains around Ulan Baator where they had similarly put us up in a yurt right outside a big hotel, at least in this instance, people have changed and got accustomed to living in houses while they put foreign visitors in yurts, I guess for the exoticism of it. But no, thanks, we had seen enough yurts in several countries, just as we had seen enough dunes in the Sahara as not to be wanting more.


Bulunkul, Tajikistan, October 2008.

A young shepherd taking his cows to graze on this high plateau came up to me, smiling. He stood silent for several minutes. Further away, half a dozen donkeys were playing, raising a thick cloud of dust, the barren mountains were bright now, the back range darker than the first one, all with callisthenic designs. We might as well have been from another planet for him. Another man who did speak passable English, told us he organized hunting parties, mostly for North Americans, to find the famous Argali Marco Polo. He said they each paid 25,000 dollars ! Just the permit was over 2,000, plus the transportation where you sometimes needed helicopters to get to these remote areas. We were surprised. How would this shepherd not look at us in wonder?


Bulunkul, Tajikistan, October 2008.


Murgab, Tajikistan, October 2008.

Karakul was a large village, with small, white houses, I heard some music and shyly got close to the busy little school. Maanilchan, an English teacher, came out to greet me. It was Teachers Day and New Museum Day, a couple hundred schoolchildren of all age, but in majority 6 to 12, were assembled around a circle made of tables on which they had put items they had made for the museum. An exception was the 17-year old girl who stood next to Maanilchan, wearing the same tulle ribbon, most girls that age were married or working. There was a lot of shuffling around, then the small – and short – delegation of officials, all wearing the beige felt hat so emblematic of Kyrgyz people, came out of the main door. They greeted me and invited me to sit next to them, I was impatient for the ceremony to move on as the driver would call me soon to continue. Always rushing and no alternative, I had thought of staying in Karakul but the constant problem was transportation, already so extremely difficult to find in a main center such as Murgab (above) — a most dilapidated place in spite of being the autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan region’s second town. I didn’t even have time to take the physician’s name, a pleasant middle-age man (below), let alone inquire on more basic conditions. Karakulians definitely looked Chinese, Maanilchan explained why, the whole village but one family, is Kyrgyz, her own mother lives across the border in Kyrgyzstan near Osh, I had read about lots of Kyrgyz moving south as far as Afghanistan.


Karakul, Tajikistan, October 2008.