Khorog, Tajikistan: Afghanistan

Trip Start Jul 28, 2013
Trip End Feb 06, 2014

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Flag of Tajikistan  , Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Pr,
Friday, November 8, 2013

With dawn breaking to a new morning we woke to a woman sweeping leaves outside our window and chickens clucking. Having come down with a cold the day before I was feeling not much better but at least well rested after a good 10 hrs sleep. Better still, the animals upstairs stopped their scratchings and nothing seeped through the ceiling.

It doesn't matter where you are in the world, I think its pretty safe to say most people go about their mornings in much the same way. Wake up, stumble out of bed, toilet followed by shower should you be one of the more privileged with running water. Our morning went pretty much like that except we got to choose from one of the three poo smeared squat toilets in a communal outhouse. Thankfully I didn't have to share my business with anyone else. I did, however, moon Afghanistan due to the cleanest of the drop holes having a big hole in the wall floor to ceiling giving a prime view over the river and into the neighbouring Afghan village. Morning peeps!

With that out the way, teeth brushed by the riverbed and no showers to be seen, we were in the car and on the official Pamir Highway by 0730. Bright blue skies and the sun bouncing off snowcapped mountains and the turquoise river made for a dazzling sight in every direction. Having lived in Switzerland, boarded in Whistler and hiked the Himalayas we've seen some pretty spectacular mountains and it has to be said the Tajik and Afghan ones are right up there.

Even though we didn't arrive at our next overnight destination of Khorog until 13:30, I can honestly say my eyes didn't stray from scenery once for fear of missing anything. It all changes so quickly - one minute the river is a torrent of white water rushing through a tight gorge, the next it's a mirror stretching out across a wide valley. Beautiful calm sandy stretches where shepherds herd their cattle for a drink before tackling an area of gianormous boulders left to rest after a landslide.

On our side 4WD's bounce along a dirt road or stop to let Chinese truckers pass whilst across the river donkeys and people amble along a thin dirt path cut away from sheer rock or shale. Whilst trying to protect my head from smashing into the window from all the bumps and turns I thought of two things:

(1) If I were to raft down the Pyanj river who would I have to ask for permission? Tajikistan or Afghanistan?

(2) When was it that the people living on opposite sides of a river stopped talking to each other? I could possibly understand if the river was miles wide but when you could easily see and hear the other going about their business surely that must raise query to the inquisitive?

In our time on the road we have passed two bridges connecting the two countries, each of which has been heavily gated and wired. Why don't they just bypass that, build a boat and sail across? I know if I were a kid living in one of those villages the first thing I'd do is learn to swim so I could go and say hi, see what they've got that we don't and then barter and trade. Yes I understand the term conflict but its just so hard to imagine when you pass such tranquil looking villages. Life is not always as it seems I guess.

We were treated to an early arrival in Khorog at 1330, two hrs earlier than Sam and I had expected. Found a nice guesthouse with heating and hot water then went in search of something to eat and a wander through town. Khorog itself is a lot bigger than I expected. Built on the edge of a river, snowcapped mountains all around, one main street lined with vibrant autumnal poplar trees. Population 28,000, elevation 2,100m. They got badly screwed over after independence but now have one of the best educated populations in Central Europe courtesy of a grant to set up a campus in Khorog of the University of Central Asia. Like Uzbek's the Tajik's are a good looking bunch and so friendly. As was evidenced by our impromptu evening last night.

We walked the length of the town. At one end stands the Ismail Somoni Statue and the other the WWII monument. In between we circled through a small but bustling bazaar, walked out onto a bridge for some photos, strolled through the peaceful Central Park and then settled in the Delhi Darbar Hotel for an Indian late lunch come early dinner. There was a beautiful place to sit at in the park but it was unfortunately closed due to it now being low season. The Indian was very tasty though so I would highly recommend it. Best of all, some six hours on, it hasn't caused any problems.

Distance travelled (Kalaikhum - Khorog): 238km
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