3 Things in Tajikistan that didn’t suck.
3 Things in Tajikistan that didn’t suck.
I hadn’t been in the GBAO region ofTajikistan for long when I began to notice bright orange, part beaver part weasel critters bobbing along the desolate terrain. I was immediately captivated. Marmots, my guide pointed out. I’d never seen Marmots before, so to see them thriving in the Pamir mountains, a place that seemed uninhabitable to even a lizard, was mildly thrilling. As I periodically found myself slipping into despair from a combination of everything I wrote about in the previous post, spotting the occasional Marmot scurrying about was the only thing that momentarily put a smile on my face. I decided it was my power animal.
The Wakhan corridor
This was the only part of the country that intrigued me. The Wakhan corridor is a relatively lush, fertile valley, partitioned by a river that places Tajikistan on one side and Afghanistan on the other. In some areas the river runs so thin that you can throw rocks from one country into the other (as I did). However bleak that Tajikistan is, the open, unobstructed views into Afghanistan came as a handy reminder that things could always be worse.
I passed almost 400km of Afghan border and counted 3 motorised vehicles on the other side. Infrastructure was non-existent, people were dressed strictly in traditional robes and were travelling around either by foot, donkey or horse. In some areas, huge swathes of land were marked with unexploded ordinance warning signs. The only wealth on this side is to derived from the gangsters who frequently smuggle heroin across the porous border, on the long road to Russia. The thinly stretched Tajik military frequently find themselves in skirmishes with this lot, with one particularly large shootout occurring just 20km from me while I was in Ishkashim. On said occasion, 7 Afghans were shot in a small convoy while attempting to barge through the nearby border crossing, having already been busted with a half ton of Heroin. As a result, the two legitimate border crossings in the Wakhan corridor were closed indefinitely, depriving me of the potential adventure to experience a new kind of hell. Tajikistan must be the easiest place in the world to get a Afghan visa. If you show up to their consulate in Khorog, they’ll issue you one on the spot for $150. But even if the borders had been open, it all would have been an absurdly reckless venture just for novelty of acquiring an Afghan passport stamp. It wasn’t as if I needed a bigger challenge.
Fortunately, the Tajik side of the Wakhan actually threatened to cheer me up. The locals – especially children – were very friendly, always running out to wave and smile as we passed through. Even the local military were a jovial bunch. My guide was friends with one sergeant stationed at a lookout point over the river, who despite having just been shooting up Afghans the previous night, thought it was hilarious to illegally dress a New Zealander up in full Afghan militia gear and pose with his AK47, just for the photo opportunity (I was going to include a picture of this, but I’m entertaining ideas of re-entering the USA this year). There were a few mildly interesting historical ruins in the area, and even a couple of excellent, dare I say spectacular geothermal hot springs (namely Bibi Fatima & Garmchasma) which provided my only source of sanitation in a week. They also gave me the opportunity to practise being comfortable bare ass naked in public since swimwear is forbidden anywhere near them. Don’t get too excited since access rotates between the genders hourly.
3. This Waffle Ice Cream
I got this from a store close to my hotel in Dushanbe. It featured kiwifruit ice-cream, kiwifruit, snickers pieces and a chocolate waffle. It was the only thing I ate in the whole damned country that I actually enjoyed. It also distracted me from the fact that all water in the capital city was cut off and I still couldn’t take a fucking shower for the night I was there.