Short Distance, Long Drive

Vrang Travel Blog

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I woke up to another noise, but this time with the light I noticed it was rain dripping from the skylight, and when I went outside I noticed it wasn't rain but snow! Yes, the season's first snow fell on Langar and apparently the rest of Tajikistan. It was a pretty, light snow that was sticking a little to the soil and making the roads muddy. I was assured by my host, who served me--you guessed it--last night's leftover potatoes, that there would be a bus to Ishkashim so I paid him and headed to the bus stop in the snow. When I arrived there was no bus, no vehicle and no people at all. In fact, it was completely desolate in Langar. A few minutes passed and a man stopped by the bus shelter where I'd sought refuge from the falling snow, and asked me where I was going (obviously I needed assistance, with my huge orange backpack).

The caves of Vrang
He assured me that a bus would come--tomorrow. But I wanted out of Langar today! I insisted that I leave today, and after talking with the first car that came through town, he suggested I walk to Zong and pick up a bus that was going all the way to Khorog. I dreaded the thought of walking an hour in the wet snow with my heavy pack, but seeing that the alternative was to return to the creepy-crawly den of potatoes, I decided to walk. I had just passed the midway point village of Isor when a car headed in my direction was approaching. I flagged him down and he stopped to ask if I was going to Ishkashim, and with that I was loading my wet pack in the trunk and getting in the warm back seat after learning he only wanted 30 somoni instead of the 80 I'd paid to get to Langar.
River bend and village in Afghanistan

Sometimes you get what you pay for. Our first stop was at Zong, where we gassed up the vehicle and picked up another passenger. The next village was Zugvant, where we stopped again and I was encouraged to get out and visit the store. I bought what was to become a lunch of orange-flavored cream-filled cookies and got back in the car, where we turned around and went back to Zong. We stopped and doubled back to the previous town again during the journey, but we also stopped at every town and village along the way. It appears that the front seat passenger was some sort of tax collector or something because we stopped at the police stations in each village, and depending on the village, some visits took longer than others. In Vrang, I waited for two hours in the chilly car while scratchy Iranian music blared from the staticky speakers in the back where I was sitting. I found it interesting that the driver stopped by each time the tape reached the end, only to turn it back on again. I ate the cookies and took my giardia medicine while a slackjawed boy pressed his nose against the window to watch my every move.

After about an hour, the driver opened the back door and told me I'd have to put my backpack in the back seat with me because a woman was loading up the trunk with stuff. The woman, who reeked of lotion and body odor, jumped in the back seat for about 5 minutes before getting out and cleaning leaves and snow off the car while she argued violently with a man carrying a bloody hunk of meat partially wrapped in burlap. As I sat in the back, watching the time tick away, people would gather and depart, exchanging assalomu aleykums while they chewed and spat nasvai on the wet gravel. We had ironically parked right across from the sign advertising the nearby caves and Buddhist temple of Vrang, which I probably could have climbed up the mountain to see and gotten back in time, but not knowing what was going on or how long we were going to be there, I could just stare at the sign. I should clarify that on the way to Langar we did stop in Vrang and at least I got a photo of the caves from a distance. For a tiny town, Vrang was quite the center of activity on a snowy day, very much unlike Langar where it seemed that few souls moved around no matter what the weather.

Eventually we made our way out of Vrang, past the towns of Yamg, Vitchkut, Yamchun and Ptup, all places I had contemplating staying to see surrounding sites, but given the amount of time it took to travel from place to place and my limited time in the country, I decided to move on. Plus, I'd had enough climbing for awhile! So, after setting out on foot at 8am, we finally arrived in Ishkashim around 4pm. As soon as we rounded the last mountain before Ishkashim, my cell phone's signal picked up and I called Gulshan. She was still at work but welcomed me to her house, and knowing where it was I was happy to see some familiar faces even though we'd just met less a week before.

Zuhra had left for Dushanbe and would soon be going to Moscow to work. Many people in Tajikistan work in Moscow, because they can make a lot of money to send back home. Gulshan worked in Ishkashim for a microfinance bank, the first in the area. She wore jeans and would fit in very well with the university student population of Khorog. Her family was welcoming and brought out the tea and snacks before she got home. I felt like I'd returned to see old friends, and for dinner I was invited to eat in the kitchen where the family usually eats. After eating a filling meal of buckwheat and sausages, we watched a video of her brother's wedding, which had just occurred in August. It was nice to feel close to a family and reminded me so much of my experience in Peace Corps Uzbekistan. Even though I didn't see everything I'd planned on seeing in the Wakhan Valley, I am glad I passed back through Ishkashim yet again and feel like I now have friends on the Afghan border.

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Ubiquitous chatting
Ubiquitous chatting
The caves of Vrang
The caves of Vrang
River bend and village in Afghanis…
River bend and village in Afghani…
photo by: sayohat