Meeting the Afghans

Ishkashim Travel Blog

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Afghan trader selling a carpet

People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sigrid (Belgium), David (Canada)

Our first stop of the day was at Khaka Fortress, which is located fifteen kilometres from Ishkashim and just two minutes down the road from where we had spent the night. The fort dates back to the 3rd century BC and although old, we had read reports that the fort was now occupied by the Tajik military. If this was the case then obviously it would be off limits, but our driver assured us that they had packed up and left long ago. The fort seemed in pretty bad shape, so this seemed a reasonable assumption to us.

The lower areas of the fort had some sections of wall still in tact, but it was nowhere near as impressive as the fort at Yamchun that we had been to the previous day.

Colourful cloth brought by Afghan traders
The driver told us that the views were better from the top, so we began to ascend towards a modern looking building that was presumably constructed by the military before they had left. The windows were boarded up with stones and the place had an empty, eerie feeling about it. That was until we heard some scuffling sounds.

Two young men appeared at the top of the hill, one wearing full army uniform and holding a Kalashnikov, the other looming just over his shoulder in a vest, that gave him the look of a man who had hurriedly thrown on some clothes after been arisen from slumber. Heated words were exchanged between the driver and the guards, some of which we understood and some which we didn't. The gist of the conversation was that the guards wanted to know what the hell we were doing there and the driver was asking them the same question.
Afghan man cooks up some tasty shashlik
He told them that we wanted to look around and asked them what was their problem! The guards also kept asking what was in the bag on Julia's back and in the end they said we could stay if we paid 40 Somani ($11.60). The driver said it was too much, so the soldier in uniform told us to get the hell out of there quick smart, which we were only too happy to do! The driver told us they were only there as the President was visiting the area in the coming days, but the truth be told, i don't think he had a clue what he was talking about!

It took twenty minutes to reach the town of Ishkashim, where we registered with the local police office, before heading off to the Afghan market. We were dropped at the Tajik border, where we left our passports with a guard and then entered no mans land with a bunch of Tajik traders.
Afghan men get some respite from the sun
A bridge led into the centre of the Pyanj River, where an island had been converted into a make shift market. As we neared the stone wall entrance, we met Afghan traders carrying huge amounts of goods, and streaming over the bridge from the Afghanistan checkpoint.

When you watch films which depict Afghanistan, i always believed that they used stereotypical images of people, and that they probably didn't look like that. After a morning at this market, that idea was completely erased from my head. Their clothes and their looks were everything that i had ever associated with them, it was uncanny. Stalls were laid out selling carpets, head scarfs, traditional hats and the likes and bargaining was taking place at a phenomenal pace.

Intermingling with the people was top of my agenda, and the Tajik women looked fantastic in their bright outfits.
Deats trying to look Afghan...
I found it interesting to watch the Afghan men greet each other with sloppy kisses and stand holding hands, before leading each other around the market by their index fingers. If i didn't know better i would have thought i was at Mardi Gras!!!

Julia ended up buying a checked scarf, after which we went and sat on a mat by the kebab man and sampled some very tasty meat with naan bread. The morning was turning out to be an absolute belter and sadly there was no shade to catch any respite. By 11.15 we were all exhausted from the energy sapping heat, so bought an ice cream and headed back to the jeep.

It took about 3 hours to reach Khorog from Ishkashim, along a scenic, well paved road. It was sad to be drawing a close to our trip along the Pamir Highway, but i think we were all ready for a hot shower and some home comforts. It had been a mesmorising week long journey and one that i can't recommend highly enough.

Deats says:
:) Thanks. I only hope to visit Afghanistan for real one day. Such interesting people!
Posted on: Oct 21, 2008
cmgervais says:
Great pix, as always.
Posted on: Oct 21, 2008
Deats says:
Thanks Sylvia. We had to register in border zone areas and in Uzbekistan you have to register in every hotel, well at least technically. All the beauracracy left over from the Soviets!
Posted on: Aug 09, 2008
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Afghan trader selling a carpet
Afghan trader selling a carpet
Colourful cloth brought by Afghan …
Colourful cloth brought by Afghan…
Afghan man cooks up some tasty sha…
Afghan man cooks up some tasty sh…
Afghan men get some respite from t…
Afghan men get some respite from …
Deats trying to look Afghan...
Deats trying to look Afghan...
Khakha Fortress
Khakha Fortress
Khakha Fortress
Khakha Fortress
Khakha Fortress
Khakha Fortress
The bridge spanning the Pyanj Rive…
The bridge spanning the Pyanj Riv…
David, Julia and Sigrid cross into…
David, Julia and Sigrid cross int…
An Afghan trader on his way to the…
An Afghan trader on his way to th…
Tajik women check out the clothing…
Tajik women check out the clothin…
Afghan traders selling carpets
Afghan traders selling carpets
Tajik woman looking to buy some Af…
Tajik woman looking to buy some A…
Afghan man with his son at the mar…
Afghan man with his son at the ma…
2 Afghans monitor whats going on a…
2 Afghans monitor whats going on …
Sigrid barters for a traditional A…
Sigrid barters for a traditional …
Afghan man selling his spices
Afghan man selling his spices
Bartering at the market
Bartering at the market
People at the market
People at the market
Afghan man selling his colourful c…
Afghan man selling his colourful …
Market in the middle of the river
Market in the middle of the river
Welcome to Afghanistan sign
Welcome to Afghanistan sign
Afghanistan border control
Afghanistan border control
On the road from Ishkashim to Khor…
On the road from Ishkashim to Kho…
The Pyanj River gushes between Afg…
The Pyanj River gushes between Af…
Rapids act as a natural barrier be…
Rapids act as a natural barrier b…
Scenery between Ishkashim and Khor…
Scenery between Ishkashim and Kho…
Ishkashim
photo by: Deats