Day 98: Recharge day

Murgab Travel Blog

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View over Murghab

Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Tim & Wim (Belgium), Serge (Switzerland), Phillipe (France)

One of the things we wanted to do in Murghab was get information on the situation in Kyrgyzstan. A few days after I left Holland the president was forcibly removed by a coup d'etat and less than a month ago violent ethnic clashes had erupted in the region around the city of Osh. Although everything seemed to be calm again and the country was safe enough to travel outside the Osh region, both the Belgian and Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs didn't think travelling to the country was such a good idea.

A few days ago we had met a couple who had been travelling in opposite direction, they had come from Kyrgyzstan and told us it was perfectly safe to travel there, though it is better to avoid Osh.

Our room at Erali guesthouse - see, I am not the only person who spends all his free time writing blogs!
Tim and Wim decided this was the news they had been waiting for and that they could travel through Kyrgyzstan, instead of returning to Uzbekistan. That meant that we would have a spare day here in Murghab before we needed to continue. A spare day is nice as well, we'd done quite some intensive travel over the past two weeks, so we were happy to sit in one place, do some shopping, update our blogs and recharge our batteries (and I am not just talking camera batteries or mobile phones here). 

One of the things we also had to do was get ourselves registered with the Foreign Alien Police. Although registration is no longer necessary for people visiting Tajikistan on a tourist visa, but I think they forgot to tell the local government in Murghab. When we arrived in the city yesterday the last police checkpoint we visited had insisted on us registering.
Empty main street of Murghab
However, as it was Sunday, the local police station had refused to register us and told us to come back today. Ah, efficient Soviet bureaucracy, you gotta love it!

Once we were registered (our names written down in a big book, we didn't get a receipt of anything) we visited the bazaar. The bazaar here is quite interesting as all the shops and stands are housed in old shipping containers, leftovers from trucks, or simple shacks. The groceries on sale were rather less scenic. Murghab is deprived of many import items and it seems the only local produce they have is watermelon, onion, cabbage and bell pepper. We were planning on camping again tomorrow and I had to try hard to think of anything original to cook with those ingredients. 

One of the best things of Murghab is the people watching.
Kyrgyz man on the street in Murghab
The city has a sizeable Kyrgyz population (in fact, I think the Tajiks are a minority here) and the Kyrgyz men proudly wear their traditional felt hats wherever they go. And, to be completely honest, they look ridiculous! Well, maybe ridiculous is a bit strong, but they sure look funny. But for the Kyrgyz this is a symbol of their identity. In fact, several of the Central Asian ethnicities do so. The Turkmen wear thick turban-like sheep hats, the Tajiks have colourful skullcaps and the Uzbek, well, not sure actually if they have a traditional hat.

We wanted to get some tourist information, but we had already been warned that the Murghab Ecotourism Association (META) has inexplicably moved to Dushanbe. While I can understand that this way they might be able to catch more tourists, their has inevitably been a massive blow for Murghab.
Murghab bazaar
Tourists coming from Kyrgyzstan (however few there are these days) will not encounter any form of organised tourism agency until Khorog. It must be immensely difficult to book (cheap/honest) transportation from Murghab these days, so it is a disadvantage for both locals and tourists alike.
We were hoping to obtain some more information on the Kyrgyz situation as well as finding something to do for our last couple of days in Tajikistan. It was about 230 kilometres to the border and we had two days to get there.

The building formerly occupied by the META now houses a French-run NGO who also works on improving tourism in the region, so we figured they might be of assistance to us.
Wim and I making the long walk to the (closed) META office
If nothing else they house the only Internet point in the city, so we could check our mails and get some last updates on the Kyrgyz situation online.

It was quite a walk to the place and once there we were told that the Internet was not working today because of the power cut in this part of town and we should come back tomorrow.
On the way back to the guest house we met a Swiss guy, Serge, and we decided to grab a few beers in town together.

Around the bazaar there are some bars and from the comfort of a private section in one of the bars we could watch Murghab life pass by. There seem to be a lot of problems with alcohol in this place (as is the case with most of the former Soviet republics). We saw quite a few drunks in the streets and two of them got into a fight right in front of the bar.
Friendship monument in Murghab, commemotating the co-operation between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in this region
The fight was broken up by two army guys (arriving somewhat unimpressively in a Lada), who arrested the guys and took them away in the back of their car.

Unfortunately the fight also meant that the bar had to close. The drunk people had bought their booze at this bar (or at least as much was assumed) and therefore the owner of the bar was to blame and had to close for the day. So we were led out via the back door.
We had noticed there had been electricity in this part of town, so we had asked the bar owner if he knew of any Internet place. He pointed us to a house further up on the hill where apparently they had Internet.

We decided to go check it out and walked over and knocked on the door. A girl in her twenties opened the door and seemed rather surprised by our question.
Unexpected (first) dinner with a local family
Obviously we had walked to the wrong house. As we said our goodbyes and were about to leave she looked disappointed. “you're not coming in?” she asked. We looked at each other. Ah, why not. It is not as if we had anything else to do, so why not have some tea here. One of our last days in Tajikistan, might as well enjoy the hospitality a little more.

We sat down and were quite surprised when we were not just joined by the girl, but by what seemed to be her entire extended family. Parents, grand parents, sister, cousins, kids and whatnot. And it wasn't just tea we were supposed to have with them. We had knocked on their door just when they were ready to have dinner and basically we were expected to join the family for dinner. It was lovely. A simple meal of plov (rice with carrots, onion and meat) and some salad.
The family at the Erali guesthouse building a yurt in their garden


Although we had already ordered dinner at the guesthouse for tonight, we happily joined them. It was an experience we would not have wanted to miss. Even though we could hardly communicate with these people it was such a nice meal. A great unexpected experience.

Back in the guesthouse we met a Frenchman, Philippe (or Phil, as he lives in England these days). We had actually heard about Phil back in Khorog, he had stayed at the Pamir Lodge for a while and met several people we had met there as well. Similarly he knew of us as well. He had travelled with Guillaume and Marlene for a few days and heard about these Belgians travelling in a strange van.
It is funny how so few tourists are in Tajikistan that everybody seems to know everybody. Not unlike my time in Iran, actually.
The finished yurt


Phil is a photographer who has been doing assignments for the Agha Khan foundation. He had travelled extensively through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan last year, but his computer got stolen on the way back home, losing all his work. So this year's trip was an attempt to re-take some of those photos. And to spice it up a little he had travelled through Afghanistan for three weeks as well.

We spent a very nice evening with him, enjoying our second dinner of the day, before retiring to bed  early.

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View over Murghab
View over Murghab
Our room at Erali guesthouse - see…
Our room at Erali guesthouse - se…
Empty main street of Murghab
Empty main street of Murghab
Kyrgyz man on the street in Murghab
Kyrgyz man on the street in Murghab
Murghab bazaar
Murghab bazaar
Wim and I making the long walk to …
Wim and I making the long walk to…
Friendship monument in Murghab, co…
Friendship monument in Murghab, c…
Unexpected (first) dinner with a l…
Unexpected (first) dinner with a …
The family at the Erali guesthouse…
The family at the Erali guesthous…
The finished yurt
The finished yurt
Lenin statue
Lenin statue
Murghab bazaar
Murghab bazaar
the youngest kid in the family
the youngest kid in the family
Murgab
photo by: Biedjee