Incredible escape to the Fan Mountains via Shing, Rashnar Poyon and Marguzor Lakes
Shing Travel Blog› entry 371 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Ismatullo Inoyatav (Tajikistan)
It would be fair to say that i was feeling at an incredibly low ebb on Saturday afternoon, as we sat at Penjikent bus station awaiting our ride to the Fan Mountains. After a really memorable trip along the Pamir Highway, things seemed to have gone drastically downhill since then. I'd grown sick and tired of hearing how we were been shown fantastic Tajik hospitality, when what we were actually been subject to, was little more than poor attempts at people running bed and breakfasts. If allowing someone to stay on the floor of your house and then asking for money is classed as generosity, then Mr Hilton must be one of the most hospitable people on Earth! If our visas for Uzbekistan had already been valid, i think we would have been on the first bus out of the country, but as we still had another week until this occurred, heading to the mountains seemed like the best option.
The previous day we had some small children telling us to F**k off outside our home stay in the city and today clarified that these two words were becoming as popular as 'Hello', 'photo' and 'whats your name'. Two children who cannot have been older than ten were hanging around the station and kept screaming 'bonjour' and 'photo' over and over and then laughing like it was some hilarious joke. After ten minutes it grew quite tiring, so we moved from where we were sat to another area. The little buggers decided that they would follow us and the next words they came up with were the ones mentioned above. They clearly understood what they were saying and repeated it several times for absolutely no reason. I barely, if ever remember children using these words anywhere else in Asia, but this was the second time in two days that i had heard it here, on the back of also hearing it in Kyrgyzstan.
The bus ride from Penjikent to Shing was on an old clapped out yellow death trap and Julia had the misfortune of sitting next to a guy who was smashed off his face. The hour and a half journey saw heated words between the drunk and a couple of Muslim men, who seemed to be telling him he was a disgrace for been like this, as foreigners would be getting a bad impression. To be honest the heated words weren't making me have a better opinion either.
At Shing we met David, who had been waiting all afternoon for a bus back to Penjikent, but had finally found out that there was only one that left every morning at 06.
Approaching the first few houses in the village, a small child asked me to take his photo and after i took it and showed him, he had a big grin on his face. He said 'rakhmat' to me, which is Thank You in Tajik and then gestured with a hand to the side of his head whether we were looking for somewhere to sleep. A nod of the head was enough for him to become our tour guide and show us to a house that we could spend the night at.
Walking along the river we passed a few houses on either side, which made up the small community. The people all seemed to take an interest in us and were keen to say 'Hello' in English, Tajik or Russian. I doubt they have ever heard the 'F' word, or would use it even if they had. A bearded aging man met us at the gate of his house and gestured for us to come in and sit at his outside tea table. We thanked the young boy for his help and he smiled, put a hand on his heart and gave a bow, what a gent!
The owner of the house we were invited to stay at was called Ismatullo Inoyatav, and he was quite the character. At 73, he currently has over 50 children, grand children and great grand children, many of whom could be seen scurrying around the courtyard with big smiles on their faces.
Ismatullo was a great host and once we were seated, he got one of his daughters to bring out some bread, fresh honey, walnuts, grapes, apricots and tea. Having sat and nibbled away at the food for an hour or so, we were then brought a serving of goats meat, plov and some salad. It goes down as just about the best meal that we've had in Tajikistan and was just what we needed after days of eating barely nothing!
Ismatullo's son had just arrived back from Dushanbe, after spending a year there and it seemed like the whole village had turned out to greet him home.
Ismatullo had sired 14 children in all, but only 10 had survived and he attributed this to in-breeding. He said child mortality was high in the family, but when one of his children had tried marrying out of the family, his wife couldn't get pregnant and this proved that they should keep marrying within their genetic pool! A lot of it sounded like superstition and luck, but it was fascinating to hear him talk.
The next morning we didn't have breakfast until 10.00, as Julia had been feeling poorly all night and hadn't slept properly. We were brought some fresh hard boiled eggs, bread, honey, walnuts and tea, which was more than ample. Ismatullo sat with us the entire time, serving us countless cups of tea and making sure we were eating enough. When it came time to say farewell, he kept offering bread or snacks for our journey, as he didn't want us to go hungry, but we assured him we would stop for something to eat along the way.
I really enjoyed our brief stay here, so we decided to leave him 70 Somani ($20), which he never even looked at or counted, but just discreetly put it into his pocket and said thank you.
Walking out of Rashnar Poyon we saw plenty of interesting faces, all of which had a cheery smile and “zdraste's” (hellos) for us. The women were dressed in colourful garb and most of the old men sported long white beards. Its hard not to stare when you walk past people who have such charismatic appearances, but our behaviour was made less obvious, as their eyes are also transfixed on the odd looking white guy with a hat that makes him look like a mushroom.
Walking through the valley was incredibly relaxing and Dushanbe now felt a million miles away. I could feel the stress and tension flowing out of me and all of a sudden the World seemed a better place. Part of me wondered why i had been getting so wound up, but then again, the people really had been horrible. Escaping to such a haven had been just what the doctor ordered.
The agenda for the day was a 20km walk along the river, which connected seven lakes within the valley. I had never met anybody who had been to the Marguzor Lakes before, so i wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the weather was sublime, the mountains towered above us and the breeze off the river made the temperature bearable. Along the track we passed donkeys carrying unimaginable loads, with small children escorting them down the path, already doing a mans work.
The Lakes themselves were wondrous, filled with pristine blue water, clear enough to see the stones at the bottom. For five hours we climbed steadily uphill, receiving breathtaking views that evolved with each step. Marguzor Lake was the sixth lake in the chain and it was already 15.40 when we reached here, which meant we had to either stay carry on to the village at the end of the lake and stay the night, or turn back and head for Shing.
Our dilemma was that there was only one bus a day from Shing, which left at 06.30 and Julia wanted to get back to Penjikent to phone her Mum whose birthday it was today. If she couldn't call her on the actual day, then she wanted to at least call her the following morning. As we sat on a rock discussing the options, a little girl approached us, dressed in a beautiful dress.
After we had descended for ten minutes, a four wheel drive pulled up which was been driven by a middle aged Tajik guy, who had his young girlfriend by his side, and they offered us a lift down to Shing. We agreed to just pay them a little something, but didn't set anything in stone. After chatting for a few minutes they said that if we wanted, they would actually take us all the way to Penjikent, which was ideal.
The journey went incredibly quickly as we didn't have to stop at any police check points and he seemed to be able to break the speed limit everywhere. Clearly this guy had connections and money and looking at his dress sense and body language I'd guess organised crime could be found listed on his CV! As long as he was nice to us and there were no corpses in the trunk, i was pleased to be sat on his comfy back seat and not on a crowded sweaty bus!
The second we had arrived at the Fan Mountains, everything had gone from bad to good, just like that. The weather had improved, the people were amazing and the scenery was spectacular.