Petroglyphs, forts and a look into Afghanistan
Langar Travel Blog› entry 363 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sigrid (Belgium), David (Canada)
Today was to be the first day that I got to set eyes on the mystical land of Afghanistan. I didn't know what to expect, what to see, or why i was so excited, it was only a country after all and one i wouldn't even be stepping foot in! But the word 'Afghanistan' simply has my head spinning with images and ideas and i was psyched to be where i was today.
Our journey from Bulunkul to Ishkashim was spectacular to say the least and began by passing the scenic Tuz Kul (Salt Lake), although the fog made it less spectacular than the previous day. After joining the Pamir Highway for only a matter of metres, we soon exited it on the opposite side of the road to begin our epic journey along the Wakhan Corridor.
12km along the Wakhan Valley road, we got our first stunning site of the day, as we stopped at Chokur Kul Lake. The Lake mirrored the surrounding mountains and had a serene air to it, in the early morning sun. After the Lake the road wound upwards to the top of a pass, which offered us our first views of the Koh-i-Pamir massif mountains, located in Afghanistan. From here the road descended down into the valley and passed a single house, which had some animals grazing on a solitary patch of fertile land.
Reaching the end of the valley, we ran into the Pamir River, which acts as an impromptu border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Although the scenery didn't take on any kind of surreal appearance, i had to pinch myself anyway, Christ this was the country and maybe the hills where Osama could be hiding! A country packed with rich culture and heritage hid behind these mountains!
The military check post of Khargush now stood in our way and it took some time to locate the guards, who could give us clearance to pass.
The views in the valley were jaw dropping and as the jeep skirted around the high mountain roads, my heart was often in my mouth. Just before the town of Langar, we got views of Ratm Fort, an abandoned and derelict fortress that is guarded by cliffs on three sides. From here the road snaked down to the fertile village of Langar, where the Pamir and Wakhan Rivers merge to create the Pyanj River.
Just before we entered the village, our driver stopped to talk to a local man who was walking his donkey home, and he told us that the village was holding a funeral for a Tajik guy who was killed in Moscow by Russian Nationalists. He recommended that Julia should pretend that she was not Russian, as tensions were running high. I'm not sure how they could link this guys death to her, but if that was the mentality of the people here, i certainly couldn't have much respect for them and their mob mentality.
The driver stopped at a traditional Pamiri House ('huneuni chid') for lunch, which really was beautiful.
Once we had eaten some snacks, we found a local guy who was willing to take us to some petroglyph's, which are located an hours scramble up a nearby hill.
When we made it to the petroglyph's, we were only too happy to pay the guide and get rid of him, as he didn't actually know anything about them anyway! I found it incredible to see how many carvings there were and the fantastic condition that they were in. Sadly we soon came across a lot of graffiti and couldn't figure out what idiots would do such a thing.
We continued to look around, but soon something more saddening became apparent. People had not only been vandalising the old petroglyph's, but had been faking new ones. Some were obvious, such as drawing the ibex with a penis and also scratching tower blocks and a Buddhist sign. What was sickening was that the new scratchings were exactly the same colour as the old ones and as the originals were basic, it can't have been hard to fake any others. We were left questioning whether any of the petroglyph's that were in front of us were genuine or not, it was impossible to tell. Lousy Planet said there were 6000 carvings in total, but they'd clearly not been here or would have mentioned the graffiti.
Leaving Langar and its lynch mob behind, we continued along the stunning valley, stopping to look up at Abrashim Qala Fortress, located high in the mountains. Just after here, we were stopped by a friendly local policeman, who asked if we could take him to the village of Vrang, located some 10km down the road. He was a real wealth of information and a keen reader of local History and filled us in on all the last 3000 years goings on in the region!
The reason to stop in Vrang is not normally to drop off policemen, but to visit some old ruins, which are believed to be either Buddhist stupas or Zoroastrian fire worshiping platforms. Our new friend was only too happy to guide us up to the remains and we were also accompanied by a pack of local youngsters.
Our last attraction for the day was to be Yamchun Fort and this has to rate as one of the coolest places that i have visited in Central Asia. Built in the 12th Century, it is located on an island of rock at the top of the valley and has commanding views over the surrounding scenery. We spent a good thirty minutes scrambling over the intact walls and watchtowers and with the sun starting to set, it furthermore added to this awe inspiring location.
It had been a long day and the five of us were all thoroughly exhausted and in need of a good hot soak and as luck would have it, the fort is located right next to the Bibi Fatima Hot Springs.
At the springs they have 30 minute time intervals for men and women to enter and the girls got to go in first. Soon it was the boys turn and i was really surprised how much i enjoyed frolicking around in a spring of hot water with a lot of aging naked men. Ok thats an exaggeration, the water was fun, the wrinkly old arses weren't!
From the springs we made a move for Ishkashim, and made it to within 15kms before calling it a night, as it was already past 21.00. Our driver woke the owner of a Pamiri House up to make us some beds on her floor and cook us some Dinner.
The next morning the owner of the house made us breakfast and collected some apricots from her orchard for us to take on our journey. This was the first time we hadn't agreed on a price and we decided to leave a little bit extra for all the effort that she had gone to. At first she refused to take any money, but we insisted and eventually she gratefully accepted it. This was the one and only time that i really felt like we had experienced true Pamiri hospitality and i guess it was because we hadn't stayed in a META home stay!