The Silk Fortress of Zong

Zong Travel Blog

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And here the traveler enters Zong

I started the day with a familiar meal--the potatoes I hadn't finished the night before but with an option of instant coffee instead of just tea. It was enough to get me going for a relatively strenuous trip to Zong, a small village about 4 kilometers west of Langar and home of Abrashim Qala (or Vishim Qala in the local Wakhi language). It took about an hour to walk to Zong, from where I saw the typical blue sign announcing a tourist attraction. But within less than a minute of turning off the main road, there was a fork at the top of the first hill and I had to ask some local children which way to turn for the fortress ruins. They happily pointed me in the right direction a couple times due to the twists and turns along the path. From there I followed another unknown path along a rock fence until I came to a structure that resembled the fort at Ratm, but looking up saw something on a hilltop in the distance that looked much more like a fortress and continued the vertical ascent, stopping frequently and cursing myself for not exercising more.

This sign didn't help much!

I came to a particularly steep incline where the path disappeared and I scrambled across the steep rock face to the next semi-level foothold. Even from that vantage point the views were amazing, thanks in part to another beautiful sunny day. I saw an embankment of sorts and climbed up to it to find that it was a small stream that had been channeled. From what I could tell, the stream led to near the fortress mount, so I walked along the berm of the creek for several hundred meters. The path became steeper and rockier as I stopped to refill my water bottle with seemingly fresh mountain stream water and used the SteriPen to clean it. Shortly after I was within close proximity of the fort hill, but saw another path leading to a hill that would surely have a decent view of the fort with a background of the Hindu Kush mountains (it did).

Worth the climb
Then turned back along the path directly up the hill to the fortress. According to the history, this "Silk Fortress" was built to protect against Afghan and Chinese invaders along this particular section of the famed Silk Road, hence the name (it was built of rock, not silk!). I lingered for about 20 minutes admiring the breathtaking views, which were definitely the best I'd seen in the Pamirs. From the junction of the Pamir, Wakhan and Pyanj Rivers laid out like a fan below to the majestic peaks of the Pamirs and Hindu Kush ranges, it was a sight to behold.

Eventually I began my descent, which was just as difficult as the upwards climb, as I had to lock my knees and use the sides of my feet to skirt down some of the very steep, rocky and often pathless mountainsides.

More mountains!
After the exhausting climb, I reached the upper village but realized I wasn't sure which way to turn again, despite having already scaled it. The same two children who'd helped me before approached me, this time with other kids and eventually a couple adults and insisted that I come in for tea. By now I realized "tea" meant not only that but most likely a meal and a round of questions in Russian. But since it was lunchtime and I was hoping to avoid potatoes again, I decided to take them up on their offer.

When I entered the dusty house, I saw a group of about five men finishing a lunch of meat and, of course, potatoes. I was shocked that they not only offered me the best seat in the house but refused to let me take off my shoes. I found that actually it would have been more comfortable, but there wasn't time because I was prodded along to the comfy seat and offered a plate of food and a bottomless cup of tea.

Silk Fortress (left) and Hindu Kush mountains
Eventually more men came and at its maximum there must have been nine guys in the room, with the woman of the house somewhere hiding in the room behind where I was sitting, occasionally making an appearance to hand a teacup or bread to one of the men to put on the "tablecloth" (there was no table; people sit on the raised platform around the perimeter of the room). One of the men was clearly the oldest, and every time I looked at him and smiled, he fussed at one of the guys to refill my tea or give me candy or something. At one point he, along with two others, started smoking something that was not plain old tobacco, then switched to cigarettes. But I noticed that they were all more or less carrying on with typical behavior and not grilling me with too many questions.
Victory!
Before I left, however, I was asked to take pictures and send them, which of course I plan to do when I get to a place that allows photo printing. There are no Wal-Marts here in case I needed to clarify that!

I left with the man who had originally invited me in and two other young men, one carrying a hatchet and the other a hacksaw. We walked along an upper trail through the village, me with these sharp implement-wielding Tajiks, stopping for random photographs of friends and family. I took a total of 7 pictures and promised to send them, as long as I can get help deciphering the Cyrillic scribble the man wrote on the piece of paper I had. Since I was staying in Langar and needed to get back, the man and I parted ways but not before he insisted a local boy show me the way back to the main road.

Pandhanbe (left) with Hacksaw & Hatchet
By then it was probably 3pm and knowing it would be another hour-long walk but not having much else to do and with the prospect of no electricity and a potential plate full of potatoes, I sauntered back to Langar enjoying the scenery yet again and reflecting on another beautiful, though arduous, day.

It should come as no surprise that my dinner was indeed potatoes, although they mixed it up a little by adding fusilli pasta and carrots. However, a source of light was not as generous as the previous night. The candle I was given was very short, and surely would only provide another 45 minutes of light, and it was only 5:30. After eating as much of the potatoes as I could stomach, I dove back into the book I'd been reading. I found it particularly appropriate that I finished reading it by the last few flickers of candlelight in a town in the valley in which the book's last chapter had taken place, albeit on the other side of the border. I highly recommend the book, Three Cups of Tea, to anyone, regardless of your location or light source. It's one of the most inspiring books I've read, highlight the career of Greg Mortenson and his quest to build schools for the most remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Thank you Rachel for the excellent and well-timed recommendation!

With my candle burnt out and only flashlights I would have to hold or press a button to get light, I decided to just go to sleep. It was only about 7:15 but pitch black. Despite the potential length of time I would have for sleeping, it was probably one of the most restless nights I've had. I was awakened at 9:30 by some sort of bug that fell on my face, and I responded with a yelp and a quick grasp for the nearest flashlight. I must have searched for half an hour, but did not find anything. After shaking out my blankets and bedding and scouring the walls and corners for remaining critters, I decided to go back to bed. Another half hour later, I heard another scurrying sound but after shining the light high and low, I found nothing. This process would continue through the night until I finally fell asleep around 11:30...only to be woken up around 2:00 with an unmistakable case of giardiasis that I'd mentioned must have come from the unboiled tea. Two trips to the bathroom and I fished around in my backpack for the metronidazole I'd purchased for just such an occasion. The bitter pill wasn't much of an improvement over the sulfur burps and upset stomach, but I washed it down with the sterilized stream water and some tiny biscuits that my hosts had left out for me, and settled down for what was to be another couple hours sleep before bugs of the fauna and intestinal kind woke me back up. But at least I'd had a great day and decided my journey in Wakhan was sufficient enough to begin backtracking towards the north the next morning.

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And here the traveler enters Zong
And here the traveler enters Zong
This sign didnt help much!
This sign didn't help much!
Worth the climb
Worth the climb
More mountains!
More mountains!
Silk Fortress (left) and Hindu Kus…
Silk Fortress (left) and Hindu Ku…
Victory!
Victory!
Pandhanbe (left) with Hacksaw & Ha…
Pandhanbe (left) with Hacksaw & H…
Zong
photo by: sayohat