Four merry days in Langar and Zonk passed by.
I spent the time walking, climbing, reading, watching, listening, taking photos, and absorbing the Wakkhan with its lovely villages, high mountains, yellow fields and Afghanistan just a river’s width away.
In the morning, idle donkeys trotted with immense bundles of hay tied to their backs from village to village. The evening light revealed the dust sweeping along the corridor between the mountains on each side of the Panj river.
Coincidence had decorated the clay houses with a great attention to details:
child’s bicycles laid in the dust, a barrow leaned upside down on the wall, a ladder lead up to the roof, where tomatoes and apricots dried in the sun, a stubborn goat tied to a tree pulled on the rope, a sleigh sat patiently on a fence, waiting for colder days to come, old car doors became wickets to small fields and paths, and crooked branches fenced in a iceblue stream running beside the path.
The evening I decided to move on, a Czech couple and a german guy appeared in the homestay. With them, they brought two Vans, a very badly trained dog, a lot of raspberry vodka and a free seat for me in their Vans.
However, only two days in their cars were enough to disenchant my view of the oh-so-romantic Van life:
Sitting in a Van all day makes drowsy and disconnected from proceedings outside the car doors. You’re obliged to block out the sunlight and let the magnificient landscape outside pass by, starring at the road. You breathe dry, dusty air and pollute the outside with the cars’ exhaust gases. Getting out of the car becomes as hard as it was when your parents drove you to Sunday walks as a Kid.
After all, it kills the thirst for adventure.
I definitely enjoyed the freedom to stop at any place though, and luckily the german guy was a gifted cook with a van kitchen better equipped than my one at home.
We got out the folding tables and chairs and prepared lunch while his obnoxious dog ran around like crazy and knocked everything over with his leash. The german guy never got tired to tell stories about his brother-in-law’s wedding and I couldn’t help wondering whether the Czech couple actually enjoyed traveling with him or just took advantage of his cooking skills.
Anyways, after two days we got to Khorog, and I had to find out how I could get back to Murghab. Someone sat me into a bus to the shared taxi stand, and just as I got out, a familiar face grinned at me and said:
It was a taxi driver I had met a few times before. He was doing the 6-8 hours drive from the Wakkhan up to northern Tajikistan about every day and spoke a little German, as he had lived in Düsseldorf before.
After we had found two more people to fill the car, we took off. The villages, green fields and streams just behind Khorog very soon transformed into a barren, dusty moonscape seemingly uninhabitable.
A few times, I could make out a small cluster of houses or yurts crouching on the foot of a mountain range or in a valley between two hills.
We passed by a beautiful deep blue lake, sprawling beside the road like the last garrison of terrestrial environment. Two or three brave shepherds sat beside the road, watching over their sheep picking parched grass from the ground.
They protected their face from the sun with balaclava-like masks, making the scene even more bizarre and unreal.
We stopped for our first lunch break, uniformed school boys and girls giggled excitedly when they saw me. They walked back home for kilometers, the girls in blue skirts, white blouses and pompoms in their braided hairs, and the boys in ironed suits and leather shoes.
The taxi driver entertained me with stories about his second business – guided hunts, starting at about 30.000$, for the Marco Polo Sheep, and showed me photos of proud Americans posing with impressively spiraling horns of the endangered species.
Rich people must be so bored.
After a few hours, we arrived in Alichur, a village on a plateau on about 4.000m above sea level. Alichur feels like a forgotten moon base:
exactly nothing grows on the hot, dusty ground, it’s so silent you can hear a pin drop and the few people living here entrench in their white, low houses.
Far and wide, all you see is brown mountains, hills, snowcovered peaks, behind which only more mountains rise up, but not a single human soul is to be found.
Here was where we took a second lunch break.
My belly filled with mutton soup, I started worrying that I
1. had just caught food poisoning, and
2. that I deeply upset my table partners as I – as a woman – had just refilled their – male everyone – teacups.
But as I looked to my counterparts, I started wondering who possibly committed the bigger moral offending: Me, unwittingly infringing local customs or the potbellied guy on the other side of the table, who gnawed the mutton from its bone, splashed soup all over the table, then wiped out his bowl with bread and finally poured the last sip of tea into the now-empty bowl.
He smiled with satisfaction at me and I smiled shyly back, relieved he didn’t seem to care about gender-specific tea-refilling rules. The men began picking the rest of the muttons from between their teeth and spat the rest on the floor.
A girl in a brown dress cleared the table and we stepped out of the door onto the windy, dusty parking lot, the sun shining brightly in our squinted eyes.
Just at sunset, we arrived in Murghab: a miserable place that makes you think of fuming coal-fired power stations, mining shafts and album covers by Alice In Chains (though I’m pretty sure you won’t find any of these things in Murghab).
My taxi driver dropped me at an old Hotel where the collapse of the Soviet Union was bravely ignored: plastic plants in pots filled with stones, musty curtains and flickering chandeliers against orange wallpaper flaking off the wall.
Pensive, I sat down in the Lobby, ate biscuits and watched an Italian travel group, mainly seniors, discussing their itinerary and the bad WiFi, and thought:
“So this is my last evening in central Asia …”
After a while, I pulled myself together and gave the rest of my biscuits to the Italians, took a shower and went to bed.
Tomorrow I was gonna set out on a journey with an uncertain outcome – to the Tajik-Chinese border.