Road stories #23: Tajik peculiarities and religious disputes

Buzkashi - header

We entered the world’s 5th most mountainous country, Tajikistan, from its northern frontier shared with Uzbekistan. Hitchhiking from the border into town wasn’t difficult and in fact we were extremely lucky as the driver who gave us a lift was our CS host’s relative and drove us directly to the door.

Learning about the versatility of the floor

Breakfast with economy students in Khujand, TajikistanOur hosts were this time a bunch of economics undergraduates, but the fact they were students had nothing to do with how basic their flat was. We would soon realised that most Tajik people view furniture as utterly redundant. In most places we stayed at, across the whole of Tajikistan, people made do with carpets and traditional kurpachas on the floors, squat toilets and buckets that served for baths/washing machines. Now, a kurpacha is a great invention. It is a thick one-person mattress covered in velvet that can be folded and used as a seat or a sofa during the day and spread out to make a bed at night. Tajik people are also great at using the floor space for everything, including food preparation and eating. So if you ever want to make money in the furniture industry, remember, Tajikistan is not the right place for your business venture!

Visiting Tajikistan’s undiscovered gems

During the time we spent with our hosts, we travelled to the stunning Kayrakkum Reservoir which simply took our breaths away! Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, this huge turquoise artificial lake would be one of the most frequented and touristy places if it lay in Europe. But fortunately it doesn’t, so even though it was the end of April, there were absolutely no people and we had the whole lake just for ourselves!

Kayrakkum Reservoir, Tajikistan (2)

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Cooking Tajik national dish and watching its fierce national sport

On the way back from the lake, one of our host’s friends showed us how to make the local version of Tajikistan’s national dish, qurutob, which consisted of bread soaked in yoghurt water, greasy mutton and raw onion. It tasted as it sounds, not the world’s highest cuisine, to be honest.

Qurotob, Tajikistan

Qurotob

As we were watching him cook, another friend played a DVD of Tajikistan’s national sport, Buzkashi (Kokpar) which is similar to polo, with the only difference being that instead of  using sticks and ball, the horse-mounted players aim to drag a goat’s carcass towards the goal. Unlike in Afghanistan or Kyrgyzstan, where the game is also played, in Tajikistan riders don’t form teams but compete individually against everyone else. The winner is usually given an animal, like a sheep, goat, camel or even a wild bear or wolf! Now, why anybody would need a vicious and scared to death wolf in a cage, I have no idea. The show was quite bloody and the way the livestock was treated during and around the game (e.g. how live animals were passed from one rider to another) didn’t pleas us much, and when we asked why they prefer to use a dead animal over a ball, our host replied that after the game the meat is usually eaten and it’s delicious and tender…

Buzkashi

By Peretz Partensky under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And participating in religious disputes…

Khujand central square, TajikistanOver the last few months we have stayed mostly with Muslim people, given the fact that we have been travelling across Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Our Tajik hosts were also Muslim, but the way they approached Islam was a novelty to us. For instance, although they did listen to some Tajik music channels, they held a rather relentless opinion that music was a sin and women shouldn’t be allowed to make it. His reasoning was that since women are seductive by nature, they should stay away from such activities that could drive men into sin.

All very logical… I almost felt convinced.

Then, although I usually avoid religious disputes, the conversation got even weirder and at some point he was trying to disprove evolution by referring me to one of religious leaders I could watch on Youtube.

Truth be told, he didn’t manage to convert me to Islam and all his efforts were shattered a few days later when, after leaving Khojand, one of his friends transferred our sim card (registered on his name) onto his own account, stealing all our internet and phone credit and leaving us phoneless.

Not the most positive first impression of the Tajiks, but fortunately it was soon overshadowed by all the kindness and hospitality we received after leaving Khojand.

written by: Ania

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