Road stories #26: Invited to a mountain village and hitchhiking packed like Tajik sardines
Staying in the mountain village in the Tajik Fann Mountains
It was getting dark and we had just been driven in an old soviet car along a bumpy dirt road to a mountainous village in Tajikistan. As we were driving past, old men were sitting on their doorsteps, looking majestic in their long Tajik coats and high hats, staring curiously at the newcomers. Children were popping their heads out from the windows and the braver ones followed the car to say hello to us as we got out.
Our host to be was a relatively old man, slightly drunk, who had spotted us on the road and decided to bring us home. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the 84 year old grandma who was half my size, our host’s wife and children. We were brought into a small dark room with nothing but carpets and Tajik mattress (kurpacha) on the floors and a tiny wood heater in the corner. There was a traditional platter of sweets brought before us; there was tea, bread, jam and sour cream.
We learnt the village was inhabited by 13 families with 5-10 people in each of them. Ourhost had three children: a 7 year old boy, a 13 year old girl and a 15 year old young man who spoke good English for a Tajik teenager. He was a top student in the local school and dreamt of being a surgeon in the future. We also learnt that in winter the temperatures reach around -40oC while in summer it is +40 oC. e were wondering how the hell they manage to survive in such extreme temperatures with a tiny house with no insulation and double glazing and an outside shed of a toilet.
Later we were served some soup and we ate it together with the man of the house and the grandmother, as according to Tajik tradition when there are guests in the house, only the heads of the family are allowed to eat in their presence. The mother offered to make some plov for us too, but due to our ongoing stomach problems we were not able to swallow any solid food.
Our host, in all his good will, advised Jon to smear his chest with butter, as apparently this is the traditional way in which Tajik people deal with minor illnesses. We were not convinced, however.
After food the chairman of the village came by to greet us and find out who we were. As I briefly spoke Russian to him, he came across as a clever and charismatic man.
Life in the village died at around 8 p.m. when it got completely dark and people started going to bed. There were beds made for us and it was great to lay our heads on a soft mattress under thick quilts knowing that we had just avoided spending the night outside in the tent in the inhospitable mountains of Tajikistan.
We were woken up at 7 a.m., had some breakfast, warm showers in a basin and we ready to hit the road only to find out that the man of the house had disappeared very early and there was nobody to drive us to Iskander Kul. It was only 12 km, but we wouldn’t be able to walk it with our heavy bags and the suitcase full of cultural gifts, so we decided to hitch a lift. We said goodbye to the lovely family and were given two massive loaves of bread (one was brought in by a neighbour), yoghurt balls and a bottle of kefir. They also invited us to return on our way back from the lake but our time in Tajikistan is running out and we should really get on the move, so we will probably give it a miss.
Hitchhiking to Iskander Kul: how many men can you fit in a 4×4?
We reached the road at the bottom of the hill after a strenuous walk downhill, sat on the side of the road and waited. After some time, a few cars drove past but they were either full or didn’t want to stop so we waited some more. Then a 4×4 appeared but the guys wanted 100 somoni (10£) for 12km, so we thanked him and waited. At some point another old Russian 4×4 appeared with 8 men inside. They told us to jump in but there was no space for us, let alone our bags. We were sceptical but they insisted, so we somehow managed to jam in our bags and we asked how much they would want for the ride (by this point we were ready to pay a small amount). Initially they said 100 somoni, so we were ready to take our bags back out, but eventually we managed to beat them down to 20 and a loaf of bread we had been given. The drive was very bumpy and the car was definitely not fit for 10 passengers, two huge rucksacks and a suitcase. There was the driver and one passenger sitting at the front, then in the middle row there were us two, four other men including one guy sitting on the gearbox and at the back in the luggage compartment there were two guys and our stuff. We had a nice conversation with the guys who turned out to be a bunch of middle aged men from Dushanbe who had come for a day trip. They were impressed by our journey, but like most people in this part of the world they couldn’t understand how we can be around 30 years old and still not have children, a house or a stable life.
As we got nearer, the stunning view of the alpine turquoise lake rewarded all our discomfort and we knew we had made the right choice. In the end the guys didn’t want any money from us, they stuck 10 somoni in Jon‘s pocket and managed to convince the landlord of the campsite to let us stay there for free!
written by: Ania