When in the past the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan had to be determined, it was probably agreed that Uzbekistan would have the arid, hot, dry desert area with the picturesque cities of Khiva, Buchara and Samarkand. Tajikistan, on the other hand, got the most beautiful landscape in the world with mountains to the sky, ravines so deep that you can hardly see the bottom and all in a sandstone that lights up in the evening light in millions of shades of brown.
The road from the border of Uzbekistan to Dushanbe is perfect for curves and asphalt. Where in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan constant attention was needed for the holes in the road, or the sudden lack of the road, I can now look around me indefinitely knowing that the road is good. After weeks of driving through the desert I notice that I was in need of variation in the landscape. When the first mountains appeared I heard myself calling Yes in my helmet.
It is not only the landscape, the friendship of the people seems to have no end here. The customs officer welcomed me to his country, at Schiphol I’ve never been welcomed at home by a customs officer selected on grumpy facial expressions. In many places where you come people shout “hello” or “welcome”. Countless little boys come running off the property when they hear another engine in the distance, they only want you to wave back, call hello or, if you succeed, give a high five. A small effort to make someone happy I thought, but after a while I realized that my own happiness index also goes up every time someone enthusiastically waves at me again. I had left Uzbekistan a little bit grumpy. On the one hand because I knew there was a (small) mistake in my visa and I could be sent back at the border, with another week of waiting as a result. On the other hand by a tank clerk who twice managed to spray my bike under petrol (until I took over…). But after half an hour in Tajikistan, the atmosphere on the bike had completely changed and I was enjoying myself and taking over.
Everything I say about the landscape does not do it justice. I know my brain was used to endless steppes by now but still. I can’t remember a place that has affected me more than this part. And then I know that it will probably be even more beautiful after that, the Pamir on the border with Afghanistan. The mountains are brown but because of the daily rhythm of the sun the colour seems to change every hour. The low sun of the afternoon puts everything in a glow. A river with white/blue water flows through many valleys and that makes the nature on the spot green. All kinds of things are growing and in the course of the centuries the water has worn into the landscape enormous gorges and ravines.
The road that follows the course of the valley is the local lifeline. You will come across all kinds of things, shepherd with sheep and goats. An old man with beard and turban (our Taliban association) who brings his three watermelons to the market. Little boys on donkeys, cows that are led home, cyclists, cars and the lost traveller on a motorbike or a bicycle. I met an old man on a donkey and that statue was just crying out for a picture. I realized that he might have thought the other way around as well. Different world. The image seems romantic, but the reality is that he rides a donkey because it is his means of transport and not because it fits so nicely into the landscape. At such a moment, the language barrier prevents you from gaining an insight into his world and how he looks at me. Does he know the concept of travelling just for fun or does his world consist of boxing a meal every day? I read that 80% of the population lives on less than $200 a month. In the Netherlands it’s like going out to dinner with your family once. I realize that as a traveller you live in a bubble, no matter how you get used to it. If something goes wrong, then the credit card will save you. If you live here, there’s no escape clause.
They seem gloomy thoughts but my first two days here are wonderful and besides taking in the landscape also these kinds of images play through your head. On my way to the Seven Lakes a man asks me if I want to drink tea with him. He lives with his wife and 5 children in a house with 1 room. The mattresses are against the wall and probably come out in the evening for sleeping. The tea is soon accompanied by Plof (local rice dish, a kind of pilaf), bread, tomato and a cucumber. The conversation goes by hand and feet and the little photo book I brought along comes in handy. Of all the photos there is actually only attention for the photos of my family. That’s all that matters, the rest of the photos are of secondary importance.
The second day I meet a Tajikistani English teacher at dinner. A 29-year-old boy and finally the opportunity for a conversation. We talk about everything and despite the fact that our worlds are so far apart, we all want the same thing, a little food every day, safety and family care. With us this is only a bit out of sight because we have started to think other things are more important, possessions and for example going on a long motorbike trip on your own 🙂
Sounds like a lot of things, but I’m having a great time. It is the first time that I would have liked to have Anja with me to experience and experience it together. Nice excuse to go back with the two of us. I have now checked into a travel hostel in Dushanbe where I will prepare for the trip through the Pamirs and the Wahkan Valley.