Along the Afghan Border
Ishkashim Travel Blog› entry 18 of 83 › view all entries
My first taste of the true GBAO (as the Gorno-Badakshan region is still abbreviated) travel experience was a rollicking marshrutka ride along the Pyanj River from Khorog to the border town of Ishkashim in southwestern Gorno-Badakshan. Famed for its Saturday Afghan bazaar, Ishkashim is the main town in the Wakhan Valley and as I was to find out, the last bastion for cell phone reception in the area and devoid of any Internet connections.
After rushing around Khorog in the morning, I crammed in the last remaining seat in a full marshrutka, facing backwards and sitting in the middle. Within less than a minute, we were bumping along the rocky road headed south, my leg and butt muscles working overtime to keep me from falling into surrounding passengers' laps.
One of the most stunning views of the trip happened to occur when we stopped to assist a helpless Lada, which was surrounded by five men looking cluelessly under the hood.
According to my unreliable guidebook, the trip was to take three hours, but the time was doubled due to frequent stops for benzin (gas), nasvai (the semi-narcotic substance almost all men stuff in between their teeth and gums every chance possible), passenger pick ups/drop offs, assisting broken down cars or random chatting. It seems that everyone on the marshrutka knew everyone we saw in every single town along the way, and so some passengers stopped to briefly see relatives along the way. Lucky for me, one of our stops included a 14-kilometer roundtrip detour to the famed Garm Chasma, a natural hot springs just off the road from Anderob village. The site was easily visible by its phosphorescent yellow-green color and a bubbling spring at the top. There was plenty of time to climb to the top of the formation and get a glimpse of the acrid sulfur-smelling water steaming and gurgling from its source. Rumor has it that the water is said to cure skin diseases, and although I had no current ailments, I rinsed my hands in its warm, mineral waters. I can only report that aside from feeling comfortably warm, it only provoked one of my hangnails to bleed. Perhaps touching the water requires first a dermatologic condition.
The journey continued, past continually spectacular scenery of sharp rocky cliffs, rushing Caribbean-blue rapids, villages on either side of the border filled with adobe, stone or thatch houses, and occasional herds of sheep or cattle and boys riding donkeys with sacks of flour and grain. We encountered only about 15 vehicles during the entire 6-hour trip. Since it was my first rough ride of the trip and the scenery so amazing, I hardly took notice of the length and relative discomfort of the ride. We rolled into town about an hour and a half before dusk, with the girls helping me find the guesthouse at the end of town. I was relieved that I decided to take public transportation rather than hire a private jeep, and beamed excessively at the adventure the day had blessed me with.