Three days out of Khorog, capital of the eastern Pamir, we continue traveling through the Badakhshan Valley hemmed in by the Panj River and Afghanistan always to the right.
Before Khorog, the farms and villages on the Afghan side are many and flourishing while on the Tajik side, the rocky, stark mountains skirted the road. After Khorog, it was the opposite and the Tajik side is fertile, farm land with plenty of figs, apricot, apple, mulberry trees along the road.
The Badakshan Valley meets the Wakhan Corridor ( a long and narrow wedge between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan that leads to China and India.)
Along this corridor, the migration of people, goods and culture traveled over minor trade route. The corridor is a border division created by the Great Game, the competition between the British and Russians Empires for territory during 19th century. The evidence is the many fortresses along the way: 4th century CE ,Qahqaha Fortress built in the 3rd century BCE by Zoroastrians relic from the Kushan Era:
Yamchun Fortress is oldest monument of Wakhan Corridor on top of the cliff overlooking the valley for unobstructed observation, dating from 3-1st century BCE:
Panj fortress on Afghan side dates back to 2BCE-1CE:
Abreshim Qal’ai (Silk Fortress) dates to 3rd century BCE-1st CE:
Several of the fortresses have elements of Zoroastrianism ( the religion of Zarathustra), which was still prevalent here before Islam. Also Buddhist caves and stupa and Buddhist monastery fences with stone walls.
The caretakers through the century of the monuments and fortresses have been the people of the Pamirs. We stayed with a Pamiri family who had added onto their traditional home a quarters for travellers something like a modern-day caravanserai. Traditional houses in the Pamirs are known as chid and built with strong symbolism to their Ismaili faith. In older homes, a main pillar represents the prophet Mohamed with five supporting pillars representing each member of their prophet Ali’s family, and four square layers in the ceiling, expressive of the Zoroastrian elements of fire, air, water and earth. The roofs are flat and yak or cow manure is dried there and used for fuel.
There, we ate with the family in the traditional Central Asian way of eating on low tables and sitting cross-legged on thick carpet. Home cooked meals, fresh from the surrounding farms and orchards.
At Yamj Villiage we stay with the family who are direct descendants of the Sufi Mubarak-i Wakhani who is a local Ismaili-Sufi scholar, poet, and traveller who died in 1910. The name of Mubarak-i Wakhani (1839-1903) , a Persian (Tajik) mystic poet, musician, astronomer and Ismaili religious scholar from Badakhshan Valley. Mubarak has received little attention from modern scholars despite his importance to Ismaili esoteric thought and Ismaili traditions of the people of the Pamir Mountains.
The Soviets discouraged the Pamiri Ismailis from building mosques and many homes are converted into prayer rooms or shrines. One evening the family came together to sing and dance. The men uncovered the instruments that have been passed down for generations and began singing ancient Pamir ballads while the children performed traditional dance.
The Pamir road is only open from Khorog to Osh in the summer months as the winter is extreme thus people in these areas continue to be isolated though many young men find their way to Russia to work as labourers and remit money to their families. One young Tajik I met along the way said he worked in Moscow for 4 years and was able to save enough money to build a house for his family and now is rebuilding his barn/stable:
Left over vehicles from Soviet times are till very much in use.
1950-55 tractor still in use:I was invited to meet a neighbourhood ladies group who get together everyday in the afternoon to sew traditional Pamiri costumes. They explained that they make these articles for sale in shops and it gives them extra income plus a chance to share daily ups and downs.
Leaving the Wakhan Corridor, we ascend over desert mountain landscape and come across struggling cyclists.
Over the Ak-Baital Pass of 4655 meters:The last night in Tajikistan was spent at a dusty outpost and Tajikistans’s highest altitude town, Murghab, where petrol was scarce and air dry. It was time to move north and join the Tian Shan mountains along the Alay Valley of Kyrgyzstan. The Pamir Highway over the border to Sary-Tash and the landscape changes drastically to green pastures and onto the 3000-year old city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan.