Weekend in Ishkashim

After our 22 hour ride from Dushanbe, we still had an hour of walking around town in an attempt to find our guesthouse. We had some notes scribbled down, such as 'look for the blue gate with a gold sign' and other landmarks and even the address in hand, but after alot of walking (uphill), a car pulled over and offered to help, we got in (no questions asked, dumb). We eventually found the place, but not without paying too much to the helpful driver. The guesthouse was full, but we were offered a place outside on the verandah for the same price, actually we were ready to accept, the weather is lovely and we would get a pile of blankets, but then they suggested we go sleep at the neighbour's homestay across the street. We really lucked out, same price, our own room and a sweet host family recieving their 7th and 8th guests. Our dinner was a feast of local products including homemade 'compote' (concentrated fruit juice). We decided we would stay two or three nights.

Then, Myriam and Mathieu came by looking for us. They had already been in Khorog for 2 days, they also had not managed to find the guesthouse, and so were staying at the other end of town. They eventually tracked us down with the hope of a local. After an exchange of descriptions of our trip from Dushanbe, we concluded that Mathieu and Myriam had definetely had a worst time than us. Actually their trip was so bad they were reluctant to talk about it, some highlights: waiting 3 hours for their jeep to leave only to be told that the driver doesn't want them in the car (he later changed his mind when they agreed to ride in the trunk), sharing the trunk of a jeep with three other people for 25 hours, running over a dog on a straight, paved road in clear weather then being swarmed by locals wanting "compensation for their loss", exceedingly drunk passengers and driver, running out of gas at the top of a mountain pass in the middle of the night in land-mine infested mountains, being spat on by another passenger (inadvertently, but still)... After hearing their story, we really had nothing to complain about. We then got to business, Myriam and Mathieu had been checking out taxi prices for two days and had concluded that travel costs were too high for us to travel separately. We had almost identical itineraries, so Yann and I agreed to head out with them the next morning to Ishkashim, the capital of the Tajik Wakhan.

Finding a taxi to Ishkashim was harder than we thought, mainly because we hadn't set out very early in the morning. We got the usual ridiculous offers, including 100$ for the ride (the actual price should be about 6$ per person). We finally were approached by someone heading back to Ishkashim and wanting to fill the car, actually I don't think they even had any money to fill the gas tank, so they really needed passengers. We agreed to the local price, of course when we were shown to the car, the four of us in the back of an old Russian Moscovite. With a little more energy we would have insited on paying for three spots, but instead, Myriam and I took turns sitting on Mathieu and Yann for the four hour ride. Yann only had to get out to push the car three times, all-in-all, a great deal. Having Mathieu and Myriam with us was wonderful, not only for their company, but for their knowledge of the region and their Russian speaking abilities (Mathieu is a graduate student at the IFEAC, Institut Francais des Etudes sur L'Asie Centrale, based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan). When we arrived in Ishkashim, Mathieu negotiated a good room rate for us, not an easy task since there was only one hotel in town. We met up with a few other travelers at the hotel who had left Khorog earlier than us and who made us regret our sleeping in. Had we arrived a few hours earlier in Ishkashim, we could have made it to the cross-border market with Afghanistan: leave your passport at the border and cross over into Afghanistan for some shopping and eating. We missed our chance, Yann and I were pretty bummed out. Yann contented himself with throwing rocks over the river/border. Ishkashim is smaller than we had imagined, and we were told that it was virtually impossible to find transportation on Sunday, which is when we wanted to head out. We decided we would spend two nights in the the town, wait until Monday, when we hoped we could arrange a jeep to take the four of us around the valley. Sunday morning we walked around town, there was not much activity but anyone who spotted us tried to invite us in for food and tea. We managed to find a taxi to bring us to a village 15km away, the sight of the ruined Khakha fortress. We spent most of the day slowly walking back to Ishkashim, passing farmers and their families harvesting wheat. Everyone was eager to call us over, offering us tea and fresh fruits, we couldn't go more than a few meters without a new invitation. It was often painful to have to turn down the eager, smiling villagers. In a place where people cannot even produce enough food to feed themselves they were more than happy to sit down and share with us.

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