Thursday, 20 October 2011

Across the Oxus

With two weeks of camping food bought in Khorog bazaar we headed south along the Oxus. We drove south, in a taxi, for about 10 minutes until we realised that we had forgotten all our money, having left it by accident at our homestay with the remainder of our belongs which we wouldn't need during the next 3 weeks. The now bad tempered taxi driver sped back and we collected several bundles of 50 dollar notes. We were heading to a place without a bank, post office or electricity beyond what generators could supply - so we really needed that cash.

We had got our visas in London within a week and without too much trouble. There wasn't a queue at the embassy for tourist visas. Afghanistan is not top on most people's holiday destination list.

The drive south follows the Oxus which acts as the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan in this region. For 3 hours we gazed across the river, which looked wadable in parts, at a place where time had stood still for centuries. There were no vehicles on the other side of the river only men walking with donkeys and women in burqas. Half of Tajikistan's GDP (which is the equivalent of the average Hollywood film budget) is spent on security along its long border with Afghanistan and we passed several Tajik patrols on our drive.

 Afghan/Tajik border post - looking into Afghanistan

The border crossing at Ishkashim is simply made up of the Tajik and Afghan border posts either side of a small bridge. Entering the other side was like stepping out of Central Asia into a different world. A world a lot more Afghan than we were expecting. All of a sudden we were in a world of bearded men wearing shalwar kameez, turbans and women in blue burqas. Now  no one spoke Russian but a surprising amount of people knew some English. Empty shells of Russian armoured personnel carriers lay rusting around town and many people carried small arms. But with a smile and a 'A-salaam Aleykum' we quickly turned the cold stares into warm smiles. The women only seemed to wear their burqas when walking down the one dusty street which was the centre of town. Away from this road the face veil would be pushed up and the burqa balanced to cover only the head.

Typical scene in Ishkashim

We had prearranged being picked up from the border as it was a bit of a walk into town. Two young Afghans came to meet us; Adab who would become very usual indeed and the driver of the car, who was also a guide. He became very excited when we told him that we were English explaining that he had just guided an English man on a trek, his name was Mr John and did we know him? We did happen to meet Mr John later in Ishkashim and managed a brief chat where we did establish that we were in fact from the same home town.

 Dinner at our homestay

 James with a local man and his motorbike

 James meets the locals

 New and old modes of transport in Ishkashim - a donkey tethered to a Russian Armoured Personnel Carrier

1 comment:

  1. Nice rig James! The guy to you left is very definitely thinking 'WHAT the fuck?!' The next guy seems to be looking wistfully at somewhere he'd rather be. And the guy on the end simply looks pleased as punch to finally be in that modeling shoot he'd been waiting his whole life for and is stoked to show of his rad sunglasses, turban and beard look. Sounds like you guys are having a great trip. I've enjoyed following it and look forward to hearing about it at some point first hand. ps you make my current beard look like child's play dammit!