Signing Autographs in Tajikistan

From Khojand we travelled a few hours south to the town of Istaravshan. Its 'Old Town' is purported to be one of the best preserved in the country. Under normal circumstances we would have found our room at Hotel Istarvshan pretty grotty, but after Hotel Leninabad most of its grotesqueness went by somewhat unnoticed. After check in we set out to find Istaravshan's 'famed' alleys of mud-walled homes and its turquoise domed medressah. It didn't take us very long to find, pretty much everything west of the main street seemed to qualify as old town. The beginning of our walk was peaceful, with people peeping out of their doorways to watch us walk by. All hell broke loose when we arrived at a small water tank. Our cameras were spotted and we were immediately stormed by a crowd of wet, extremely excited young boys.

They began wrestling with each other to get as close to the cameras as possible, I couldn't get them to stand back so that I could get them in a photo. I would place my camera down, set the boys in place, but the minute I pulled up the camera to take a shot the race was on and the boys would come toppling towards me at full speed. I finally managed to get a relatively organized photo when a fearsome band of moo-moo clad, gold-toothed, unibrowed Tajik mamas yelled the boys into place. The ladies then hugged me and attempted, unsuccessfully to dialogue with me in Tajik, then Russian. The rest of our visit we were escorted by our army of tiny boys, begging to be photographed. Even older men and women stopped with requests to be photographed. We didn't exactly get to view the daily activities of the quiet old town, we just generated too much excitement among the locals. We had to cut our visit short, it was just too draining to deal with so many people around us. The town elders managed to pry away the children for our brief visit inside the medressah, but they were all waiting for us right outside the door. And, in a Tajik original request, a group of girls got us to autograph the back of handfulls of family photos. For our second activity of the afternoon, we hiked up to the top of a hill over-looking the city, here once stood a Sogdian fortress, destroyed by the armies of the one and only Alexander the Great (this is about as far as they got, Khojand was founded by Alexander, his eastern-most outpost). There is nothing left of the fortress, but we got nice views of the town and a statue and gate have been constructed on the hill. There seems to be pride over the former presence of Macedonians in the region.

Our dinner felt very Tajik (not that we really know what a Tajik dinner is), we settled at a chaikhana (a traditional tea house). Usually you eat on a tea bed, lounging on a pile of pillows without any shoes on. We opted for a small table shaded by grape vines. Locals bring their own food, including raw meat for kebabs, and pay a small fee for the use of the tea beds and of course tea and bread. We ordered tea, bread, kebabs and salad. Shortly after we began eating, the men at the table next to us brought us a huge plate of palov a plate of watermelon and a plate of honeymelon. This melon is really extraordinary, it actually tastes like it's been injected with honey. We had been warned of Tajik hospitality, and we savoured it until our bellies were full.

1 comment:

mom said...

Contrasting your picture of the boys with the picture of the girls you can see why Ginette used to say that she needed more space in her classroom when she had a big proportion of boys.