Archive for the ‘Tajikistan’ Category


Weeks 60 & 61: Pecha Kucha

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Seeing as I put the effort into selecting 20 photos to present at Pecha Kucha in Muenster I might as well share them with anyone reading my blog – I’m looking at you Nan! It wasn’t easy to select only 20 photos from the past 61 weeks of travel. A quick count says I’ve taken just over 11,000 since the start of 2010 alone, and I don’t want to admit how many I’ve taken in total over this trip. Let’s just assume it was many more than 20. So below are what I think are some of the best photos I’ve taken this trip, though some of them were chosen more for the story than the artistic side of things.

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Week 52: Statistics

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A year into the trip I’ll share some statistics about what we’ve been spending our money on. Brett, the nerd that he is, has kept track of every yen, somani, kroner, hryvnia and lei that we’ve spent. Not only that but he’s broken down our spending into various categories – accommodation, transport, food, sightseeing, visas, communication and misc. It seems like a lot of work but actually the data he’s put together is really interesting. When we were feeling a little low on cash it was good to know how long we could sustain our lifestyle given the reserves we had left. Besides, it’s just good to know where the money goes. I’ll give a quick summary of costs in this post – I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested read on…

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Week 52: Highlights

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Seeing as we’ve been on the road for a year, I feel it’s time to write about some of the highlights. Some of these were written about when they happened, but some are little things that didn’t necessarily register as worthy of a mention at the time. In no particular order:

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There are plenty of people killing time in Dushanbe and it’s a nice place to do nothing, if only because there’s not much to do. But not wanting to spend the week until I flew in Dushanbe I decided to head northwest to Penjikent. My main (only) reason for heading to Penjikent was to do a daytrip to the Marguzor Lakes, a chain of seven lakes in the Fan Mountains. I hoped that there would be other guests at the homestay that I could share costs with and I had a few nights to lie in wait for them.

The owner of the homestay took good care of me, suggesting that I eat dinner with him and his family rather than go out alone at night. I’d been a little apprehensive about travelling alone but everything seemed to be going OK. Still, as his concern proved: just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not after you. I’d already come to the same conclusion and stocked up on dinner supplies. There are still plenty of places where being a lone woman is a hassle.

Unfortunately nobody else turned up so I had to pay for the whole car but it was a nice day trip. The lakes were formed by landslides from the steep sided valley. We drove up over the landslides and got to the seventh lake where we got out and walked around the shore. For my safety the homestay owner suggested the driver go with me but this time it wasn’t sleazy men he was concerned about, it was bears. Right. On our way back down to the car we walked for a while with a family who were bringing down wood from the mountains. Everywhere in the villages you can see people preparing for the winter, stockpiling feed for the animals and wood for heating. I’d heard that there were often power supply problems in winter and one of the reasons for this is the fact that much of the power comes from hydropower. A clean and renewable energy source until the lakes freeze.

Back in Penjikent I met a really cool girl from Khojand (further north in Tajikistan). She was fascinating to talk to because she perfectly embodied the clash between traditions and modernity. She’s 24, well educated, independent and unmarried. As she told me, in Tajikistan most women are married by her age and the gossip mongers are talking about her and speculating that she has some “problems”. One of the problems she mentioned they might be talking about is that she can’t have children though I’m not sure how someone who is saving themselves for marriage would know that. Most promiscuous Westerners probably have no idea until they actually try to conceive. Proposals have come her way but she’s reluctant because she doesn’t want to lose her freedom. I got the impression that in Tajikistan women are much more subject to the desires of their husbands; if her husband allowed it she could still work but if he was more traditional she’d be popping out babies every 9.5 months. Well not quite but there was much more a feeling that things change for women after marriage. At the same time she does want to get married, in the abstract sense of it. Her parents are very liberal but value family and have told her that having children is the natural thing for women to do in order to continue the family line. Apart from the fact that she’s almost beyond marriageable age is the fact that her younger sister is 20 and ready to get married. The older sister has to get married first otherwise the gossip mongers would go completely crazy.

In the share taxi on the way back to Dushanbe the woman next to me threw up constantly for 8 hours. Once again I was very happy to arrive though at least this trip didn’t take 55 hours like the last one. A few more lazy days in the capital before I flew to Riga, Latvia. First impressions were fantastic (see my last post) and I’ve decided that I’m going to spend most of the time until Brett gets off the boat hanging out here.

Unfortunately the sun that bathed everything in that warm beautiful light is now nowhere to be seen and my couchsurfing host keeps laughing at me when I say I’m waiting for it to come back. As it turns out I was very lucky to see it and autumn in Europe is grey. Who knew? The last few days have been the kind of weather that makes people jam their hands in their pockets, shorten their necks into their scarves and walk briskly to the next heated area. Anyway, my project for the 6 weeks is to learn how to build a website so grey days aren’t so bad, less temptation to run around taking photos.


Week 26: 6 months!

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After much charades and Pictionary action at the local taxi stand we managed to organise a car from Osh, Kyrgyzstan, to Murgab, Tajikistan. There wasn’t much in Murgab itself but the homestay we found was fantastic and we did a nice day hike up in the Pamir Mountains over Gumbezkul Pass. Overall the mountains seemed to be pretty rocky and barren which makes it hard to believe there are snow leopards lurking in the area. We did see a group of four ibex which was pretty cool, though they ran off before I could get overly close. Obviously seeing animals in the wild is cool but in a way I’m always disappointed that I can’t get as close as I can in a zoo. Another indicator that I’m a city girl I guess? Water in the hotsprings nearby was hot enough to boil a person and the hospitality of our guide’s family nearly made us miss dinner at our homestay completely. Most of the population in the Pamir mountains are ethnically Kyrgyz though apparently the “city” of Murgab is majority Tajik. In language and religion the Pamiri Tajiks are different from the lowland Tajiks who live in other parts of the country. Not that we were there long enough to see these differences, they’re just things we’ve read about or been told.

Driving from Murgab to Khorog wasn’t as spectacular as we expected, though towards the end as we followed a winding glacial river through a scenic valley we did wish we had the flexibility to stop. Khorog immediately impressed us, there were so many people on the streets and the fact that it has a campus of the University of Central Asia seems to give it a youthful, energetic vibe. Apart from the odd car on fire or terrible Indian restaurant.

From Khorog we headed into the Geisev Valley to do some hiking. The Aga Khan Foundation and MSDSP have helped set up homestays in the 3 villages by providing toilets, showers, mattresses, cooking gas and tea sets. Altogether in the valley there are 100 people in 15 houses, mostly in the first village which is 2.5 hours from the nearest road. The nearest road is still a long way from anything you could call a decent sized town, and even Khorog (1.5 hours away) isn’t that big. Ironically the isolation which could make life difficult at times is the thing that makes it such a nice place to hike for people like us. A man who spoke some English told us that many of the men went to Russia to work, and the CIA fact book says that nearly half of Tajikistan’s labour force works overseas. At the moment jobs are scarcer because of the financial crisis. It’s hard to believe that a place as remote as this feels the pinch when the global economy falters.

Back in Khorog we tried, with no luck, to organise a flight to Dushanbe as we’ve heard it’s a scenic/scary route through the mountain valleys. Instead we opted for a share taxi to the capital, though our choice of car ended up being a bad, bad mistake. Before we even left town we were going to petrol station attendants houses to wake them up and buy spare tyres. Not that it did us much good, within 5 hours we’d stopped twice to fix flats. At lunch time we had another flat and ate lunch looking across the river to Afghanistan. At 3pm we stopped to put more water in the radiator as it had a leak and tried to put a new fan belt in as the engine was steaming. Then the back right tyre exploded. The driver disappeared to buy fan belts and inner tubes and 3.5 hours later we were on the road again. Around 11 pm we stopped in a town and there was much discussion (none of which we understood of course) and we ended up sleeping in a gostinitsa where the floor in the squat toilet was caving in. 17 hours into what was meant to be a 10 hour trip we were half way, there was still 284km to Dushanbe.

In the morning our travel companions had disappeared. But we found them again near our still broken down car where we waited a few hours until the car was “fixed”. Half an hour later we had another flat and sat there for about 4 hours. Incredibly the driver was not carrying a pump and so we had to wait for someone to come past and lend us one. That and he had to keep begging inner tubes from people as we were going through them faster than he and the lackey could fix them. Unfortunately there wasn’t much traffic, possibly because it was the end of Ramadan, a celebration we’d hoped to experience in a big city. Around this time the engine started having real problems and we had to push start the car regularly. As it was getting dark we had another flat and a fellow passenger told us that we still had 200km to go. Fixed again we headed off and got another flat tyre a few hours later. With not much traffic going past it was looking like a night in the car, a perfect end to a perfect 6 month wedding anniversary. Suddenly the four other travellers bailed on us, hopped into a passing truck and left us with the driver, lackey and the broken car.

By 9am the next morning we were ready to go again and about 20 minutes later we had another flat. I think by this stage even the driver had had enough as he just kept driving, determined to at least get to the town in the distance before he let something so trifling as driving on rims stop him. The tyre was absolutely shredded and by the time we stopped there was a second flat. We had been travelling for 50 hours at this stage and by hour 50.5 we gave up on the minibus and hopped in a passing 4WD. By hour 55 we checked in to a super expensive hotel where we enjoyed luxuries like running water, a toilet that flushed and a hot water shower. All these have been relatively scarce in the past few weeks. We also took a break from local food and had some Mexican, sometimes the expat cocoon you find in capital cities can be oh so welcoming.

We spent today relaxing, wandering the streets of Dushanbe and trying to organise ourselves for Brett’s final week before he heads back to work on the 29th. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have felt a bit rushed, we could definitely have used a month in each but it was a good taster and if nothing else it was great to finally get to a small part of Central Asia. At the moment it looks like I’ll hang out in Tajikistan while Brett’s at work though apparently visa extensions are hard to get as the president’s daughter is out of town. She heads up the ministry in charge of these things and we’re told things don’t happen when she’s away. Nobody can tell us when she might be back. When Brett gets off the boat in early November we’ll meet up again in Cairo for some time in Egypt then north through the Middle East until he gets pulled back to work.