The Wild Wakhan Valley

Langar Travel Blog

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Badakshani lunch: shir choy, bread, melted butter and sweet milk on the side. Sheer joy!

My departure from Ishkashim on Monday was not as smooth and easy as I was led to believe, but eventually successful. There was absolutely no transportation in the morning, but after waiting two hours looking for a ride, I met a man named Hudoded who was heading to Langar, the outpost at the junction of the Wakhan and Pamir Rivers, about 110 kilometers east of Ishkashim. He invited me to have tea at his sister's house in the adjacent village, so we walked with his daughter, who was suffering from pterygium and therefore was why he had taken her to a Khorog hospital, down the road, through a field, over a stream, up a small hill and through the narrow paths of the village to his brother-in-law's.

At least this time he wasn't smoking a cigarette!
I was invited in and had my first taste of Wakhi cuisine, a bowl of shir choy and a cup of sweet milk. The shir choy is essentially "milk tea," but is made with black tea, milk and salt, and is customary to put several spoonsful of melted butter and chunks of bread in it and eat it like a soup. The balance between the salty tea and sweet milk made for a decent lunch while the brother-in-law filmed my every move with his video camera. As the murky tea conconction dribbled down my beard, he encouraged me to take a sip of milk so he could capture it on film. I added some key English phrases thanking him for his hospitality and tasty meal. I suited up in full backpack regalia, prompting more compelling footage for his collection, and then we were on our way.

We still waited for two more hours, and I finally agreed to pay 80 somoni for a taxi to get to Langar, which probably paid the way for the rest of the passengers, but at $23 it was either that or wait for another two hours for possible transportation.

The ruins of Khakha fortress
Well, it was nearly 45 minutes before we even made it past the "Welcome to Ishkashim" sign. The little Russian car, another Lada, was battered from one too many rough trips, and had trouble getting started. This would foreshadow many stops for repairs and a strong-lunged driver attempting to siphon gas through the hose to get the car running again. But despite the setbacks, the drive took about 3 1/2 hours, again through amazing scenery along the southern border of Gorno-Badakshan along the Pyanj as we followed it eastward.

Hudoded pointed out some of the sights along the way that in some cases I was able to photograph, like the ruins of Khakha fortress near Namadgut and the hill caves at Vrang. Gholib, our trusty driver, insisted that we stop next to what appeared to be a garrison or restroom, but was supposed to be another hot spring, though not as picturesque enclosed in concrete.

A Wakhan Valley scene
It had turned pretty chilly and after looking at the murky water next to a room with a trough that did act as a restroom, I declined the offer to take a dip.

The last passengers to exit were Hudoded and his daughter, and Gholib and I drove into Langar as dusk was setting in. I had asked to be taken to the village jamoat khona, a type of community hall that sometimes doubles as a guesthouse, but I later found out it was temporarily closed, and Gholib had his own motives. We pulled up next to a house in the west end of town and as he said, "seichas," I wondered just which interpretation of that word I should be taking. But when two dirty children pulled open the gates to the house and we pulled in, I figured he had found a place to stay for the night whether I had anything to say or not.

That's me on the banks of the Pyanj, near Drij village
A tough looking 9-year-old boy lugged my heavy backpack out from the trunk and carried it mostly unaided into the house, posing long enough for a picture I insisted on taking.

It turns out that the place wasn't so bad, except for the fact that I probably contracted my first case of giardiasis for the trip on account of the improperly boiled tea. In Langar, most cooking was done on Franklin stoves in which twigs, dried plants, cardboard and eggshells are used for kindling. The first cup of tea was only lukewarm, and the second registered slightly above warm. I reluctantly swallowed the warm liquid and ate a decent meal of fried eggs and ramen noodle soup. I flipped through the various phrasebooks I brought, trying to find enough words to make conversation, but then Gholib prayed devoutly and then had a lengthy conversation with his sister and an old woman who remained unidentified in the corner.

Little Hercules with my bag and hostess Bibi holding the baby
Dilshoda, a short-haired girl with a bit of a temper, insisted on thumbing through one of my phrasebooks, and in doing so managed to coat it with however many layers of sticky candy residue that had been on her fingers. Washing hands was not a priority in the Wakhan Valley.

When I reluctantly asked where the toilet was, Gholib led me outside and began to tell me he didn't know either, and with the pocket-sized flashlight I'd picked up at my last job's Annual Conference exhibit hall (thanks RAPS!), we found a field behind the house. As I was carefully looking down to avoid tripping over any rocks or ledges and twisting my ankle again, a bent section of fence that had been sawed off at the top appeared ready to take off the right side of my face, but I escaped with a small scratch. We climbed over a pair of (un)electrified barbed wires and shut off the flashlight. I was about to ask where the appropriate place to relieve oneself would be should one need to do something other than pee, when a distinct sound from another section of the field answered that question for me. Dreading the likelihood of a midnight rendezvous to fertilize the field, I realized this was the adventure I was seeking and was thankful that at least I brought along some toilet paper.

adastra23 says:
I've been catching up on your story after your internet hiatus. I'm glad you avoided serious ailments of the GI tract up until this point. I hope you feel better and I'm looking forward to more entries and pictures.
Posted on: Nov 03, 2008
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Badakshani lunch: shir choy, bread…
Badakshani lunch: shir choy, brea…
At least this time he wasnt smoki…
At least this time he wasn't smok…
The ruins of Khakha fortress
The ruins of Khakha fortress
A Wakhan Valley scene
A Wakhan Valley scene
Thats me on the banks of the Pyan…
That's me on the banks of the Pya…
Little Hercules with my bag and ho…
Little Hercules with my bag and h…
photo by: Biedjee