Hissar Travel Blog› entry 15 of 83 › view all entries
On Sunday I visited the fortress near Hisor (also spelled Hissar), about 20 kilometers from Dushanbe. It turned out to be the highlight of my trip to Tajikistan thus far, and possibly a prelude for hiking in the country. I didn't expect much other than a the entrance gates to a former fortress, which is what is portrayed on the 20-somoni banknote (worth about $6). But I discovered Hisor was definitely worth the hassle of the two buses and a taxi to get there, and really didn't take that long. As soon as I got out of the taxi, I heard the familiar wedding tambourines and saw a wedding party dancing down the walkway to the fortress's main entrance. A bride was slowly pacing down, constantly bowing her head as is the tradition, while the whole thing was being filmed. I was asked to photograph a couple of eager adolescents who suggested I get closer to the bride for more photos. I wasn't sure if I was going to have to dance, but this time I only took pictures.
After the wedding interlude, I continued up the path towards the main gates of the fortress. A boy was playing on the turnstile at the entrance, but otherwise no one was around. Beyond that the path led to a large field and to the sides were looming hills, especially on the right. I first ascended the pillars of the main gate and could see from there that the entire compound was much larger than I originally suspected. I'd guess about 2 or 3 football fields in size. I saw some guys run down the hill to the left and decided to head in that direction, where I found a plateau surrounded by the steep perimeter walls of the front fortress. The large field was beyond that but lower and was also surrounded by an extensive jagged walls. I walked over to a narrow path atop the fortress wall and walked around back to near the entrance.
A group of high school boys shouted hello to me and a few of them ran over to me to get a better look and practice English. Ismat seemed to be the "cool" one and with the best English. He wore a large watch with a faux diamond casing that read "G-Unit." Tajik bling, I surmised. But he was very friendly and a few of his friends were also trying to chat. I nearly blew them away when I told them I spoke Uzbek. Here that just seems odd, and I'll admit it does to me too. Most people aren't very eager to speak Uzbek as the two neighboring countries aren't the best of chums. Anyway, Ismat and I exchanged numbers and I headed toward the large hill. Suddenly a rather pale boy with freckles on his nose approached me and started babbling in Tajik. It appeared that he was trying to explain some of the history of the fortress, but it also became clear that he wanted money. Out of nowhere a deaf girl ran up shouting as well, both of them asking for "danga" or "money" in Tajik. Wondering if children would start appearing out from the hills with blunt instruments, I admit it was a little uncomfortable. The girl left but the boy was quite bold and insistant, pointing to my wallet, camera, backpack and even my ring, and wanting something. I didn't understand much of the "history" he was explaining, although he had pointed to a section of the hillside that appeared to have been rooms and said "zindon," which I know means "jail." He also said something about soldiers, but I really didn't think that qualified as a historic guide. I eventually gave him one somoni and asked that he share it with his friend, which I'm sure he did not.
Aside from the freaky kid, I enjoyed Hisor and spent about an hour hiking around. I was not at all expecting to hike, just thought there would be an entry gate and crumbling walls. Well, the walls probably are a bit crumbly, but it was good to do something besides just walk. From the top of the walls, the views were spectacular of the entire fortress, the surrounding village, two mosques in front of the fortress, farmland, distant mountains and a beautiful partly cloudy sky. I can only imagine the grandeur that awaits me in the Pamirs, not that I'm going to hike 20,000-foot high mountains, but there will be foothills for the non-alpinist-types like me.
When I got back to Dushanbe, Symon told me rumor had it that the interior field of the fortress had been used as a mass burial site for casualties of the Tajik Civil War, which ended in 1997. Maybe that's what the boy was trying to explain. It still amazes me how much can change in the span of about ten years. The magnitude of change is escalated in these countries where still a relatively short time ago were part of the Soviet Union.