The Silk Fortress of Zong
Zong Travel Blog› entry 22 of 83 › view all entries
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.