Monday, May 05, 2008

Three Stans - Into Afghanistan!

We finally arrive Khorog after a minor fender bender at a police post (3 hours----Tajik Time is rather abstract I discover....and the town is beautifully situated...where two rivers (one unpronounceable) meet at a sort of Pittsburgh Golden Triangle to form the Pyan. The town is VERY green with a few pretty houses...a largish bazaar...the headquarters of the Aga Khan good cause group (and he is utterly revered...these Ismailis have no mosques as such, the women are totally head scarves....and the priest is a normal citizen a bit like someone normal to us as a Presbyterian preacher or a reformed Rabbi). Nothing would do but we head to Amahl' house where her gregarious, English speaking a rather vodka loving husband (he looks like John Garfield of eld) has set a lunch of lamb pilaf, beautiful new tomatoes, yoghurt and kefir, delicious bread, honey.....and finally to the Serena Inn where we lodge. We see Khorog...not much to see specifically but one lovely botanical garden in the hills.

The Pamiris, the high mountain people, are a breed apart from most ordinary Tajikis. They are often very tall, have the superb posture of mountain people, adore gardens and trees and with the help of his highness they have prevailed upon the world to send specimens of trees which can thrive at 6000 feet. Oddly the winters are not unbearably cold so that even some of our southern trees thrive here; cottonwoods and even hickories. NOW finally we reach the Serena is a long slung rather lodge-like hotel of 8 rooms which would grace someplace liked Jasper or Jackson. My room is absurdly opulent of course. The local travel agent, a TERRIFIC guy named SHARGAF and his buddy, Amahl's husband who is KORAM arrive with two bottles of chilled Tajik vodka. So we sit in my highness’ room and get merrily stewed and work our way through dinner which is secondary in the priorities for sure.

ALL plans are made. This morning Aysegul obtains an Afghan visa for a $40 bribe. Koram invites his buddy, the senior Tajik customs inspector, along...and we roar up the GUND River 125 KMS to Ishkashi. We have a some rather happily spirited moments with the Tajik inspectors at the international bridge which we cross to enter the Afghan customs post where Koram spreads out chocolates, deviled eggs, dried fruit and a sweet bread...along with two huge bottles of vodka bought for the occasion. The Afghan guards, proceed to drink the forbidden nectar of Tajikistan and get truly roaring drunk.

In walks an Englishman named Andrew who is the good-works manager for the Afghan Aga Khan group. He invited us to his office where I am now. He outlines a lovely drive a few km up the WAKHAN corridor (also spelt WAKAN and VAKAN) into unbelievably rough, beautiful country which reminds me of the Big Hole in Montana. The Afghan villages ARE poorer though they DO all have schools in this region and the women are not wearing the Burkha...these Afghanis are mostly Tajiks and since the USSR dissolved are discovering family roots across the border. The stores are rather sparsely supplied but people look healthy, even robust and meet our glances with a direct and proud demeanor. It is wrenching to me to see essentially the same people living vastly different lives on two sides of a river no wider than the White at Calico Rock; and having been so horribly manipulated by foreign powers. I guess these lovely Tajiks have suffered since the day of the Great Game between the Russian Empire and the British Empire when the Wakhan Corridor was established so that the two bellicose nations would not have a common border. The map is even more absurd than the Oklahoma Panhandle......and before I return to Tajikistan later today I hope to have calmed my thoughts of imperialism at least a little.

Travel is glorious. The plane to Dushanbe is cancelled for tomorrow...the aternate road through the higher Pamirs has been closed by rockslides....and if the damned highway were not so bumpy I could read WAR AND PEACE....14-16 hours.....yeeeek. Travel is glorious.


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