Ishkashim, Tajikistan: Afghan Market

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

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Flag of Tajikistan  , Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Pr,
Saturday, November 9, 2013

Aside from the picturesque mountains and valleys, today saw us drive to an Afghan market located in the middle of the river/border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan at a place called Ishkashim. With another day of clear blue skies the 2 1/2 hour drive from Khorog was as beautiful as ever. We stopped along the way for Ergash to say hello to the drivers of three 4WD's carrying some UN personnel who we then followed in a sea of dust to the market which they had helped build.

Reaching the bridge we had to hand over our passports to police before walking across the river and down to the market. Set up as a trade zone between the two countries it operates only on a Saturday so we were pleased to have made it. Although it was only relatively small, you could walk around it in ten minutes, the hive of activity was great. Having not eaten we dove straight in to some deep fried dough fritters stuffed with potato and onion. Not the healthiest option but when only eating a few mere morsels a day it doesn't really matter. Perhaps after having three it does.

We grabbed a beer and sat in the sun watching a man next to us have shots of vodka. As alcohol is illegal in Afghanistan they make the most of this in between land to indulge in the forbidden. This apparently includes heroin which we were told was sold in blocks out in the open. I never witnessed it but Sam said he saw a lad carrying a few packs of golden brown. Quoting from the Lonely Planet:

"Thanks to the very porous 1300km border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan is one of the world's major drug conduits. Up to 50% of Tajikistan's economic activity is thought to be somehow linked to the drug trade."

"In modern Central Asia, camel caravans of silks and spices have been replaced, it seems, by Ladas and train carriages packed with heroin. theSilk Road has become an opium highway."

"In 2009 Russian police seized 80kg of heroin from smugglers on the Dushanbe - Moscow train, a line well known to anti narcotic police as the 'Heroin Express'."

Moving onto food, there was a nice man selling plov who had an awesome set of gold teeth so we asked him for a few photos. Once the iPad was out people wanted to see the pictures and have theirs taken. Two lads kept following us around, I think wanting their photos taken or possibly to make me their bride, but they would laugh and run away each time I asked if they wanted me to take their photo.

The market itself was a jumbled mess of clothes, shoes, food, batteries, mirrors, hair brushes, tissues etc etc. Sam bought a token Afghan hat off a man who might have just possibly taken it off his own head to lay on the floor. I invested in a black and white check Afghan scarf. Another leaf to the tree.

A nice man struck up conversation with Sam. Where are you from, do you like the market, everyone is nice and friendly yes, will you be coming to Afghanistan, is this your wife? He spoke very good English and couldn't be more welcoming. He was also more than happy to have his photo taken which he and his friends all laughed at when shown.

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