|Cool pepper dude|
|Kids at our guesthouse|
|Apricots with a view|
|Lady in Veshab|
|Invitation for lunch|
|Opera at 10 am with a chicken and a cat|
|Music and light fountains|
|More music, more lights, more fountains and in the background the Palace of Nations - one of the President's numerous houses|
|Presidential palace number 120|
|Brick fast, lunch, diner|
|The dream has come true for Abs...gamburger for 7c|
It didn't take long to discover that Tajikistan was different. On trying to find a bus to take us to Khujand Abs made our first contact with the locals and soon had an old man enthusiastically showing him a picture of a naked woman on his phone, as if he was a pubescent teenager who had just discovered that girls were different (the old man, not Abs). I guess Abs just has that special ability of bringing out the best in people.
After a brief interlude in Khujand we decided to head down to a small town called Istaravshan that the guide book claimed to be a smaller, less touristy and less impressive version of Samarkand. The guidebook didn't lie and apart from a busy bazaar, and a few mosques and medressas there was not much to see. But we still liked it, in fact we liked it so much we ended up staying for 3 days. Maybe it was all the attention we got at the bazaar, or the smiles from the 10 kids at our guest house, or the free food we kept getting from our hosts but we really didn't want to leave. And so after 3 days of eating and relaxing on the guesthouse's tea bed we said goodbye to Istaravshan and followed some fellow traveller's recommendations to head over to a small village in the mountains called Veshab.
Transport was scarce and we had no choice but to accept anything going our way. This turned out to be a ride with 10 other people in a jeep meant for only 5. By the time we had arrived in the village Abs no longer felt his legs and couldn't let go of the melons he had been cradling for the past 2 hours up the mountain.
As a consolation however we were able to take in yet another beautiful landscape. As we crawled along the mountainside in our human cattle truck we gazed upon beautiful auburn mountains that seemed to sweat out acres of jade green foliage into the ravine below. It was truly unique.
Despite being thoroughly exhausted by the long day's travel we managed to drag ourselves to the guesthouse and still had some energy left to go and see a traditional music show in the middle of a small apple orchard. Whilst Veshab had little to see it was beautifully located in the middle of the mountains and gave us a rare glimpse of Tajik country life.
We stayed one night and the following day decided to move on to Dushanbe, the capital city. Getting out of the village turned out to be a challenge. It was a Sunday, someone important had died in the village and no one seemed to be interested in leaving. After a 1.5hr wait and shaking hands with all the village elders a kind soul decided to take us to the next village at no cost and to arrange a car for us from there on to Dushanbe.
It must have been our scrawny faces and withered bodies (Abs paid a man to weigh himself and is now "apparently" 8kg lighter...) that made them take pity on us and invite us for lunch.
We had Russian/Chinese/Tajik chocolates, sweet dried almond-filled-apricots, home made bread, the ever present tomato salad and a delicious creamy onion soup. And for desert we were introduced to the grandmother, who happily gave us a hug and told us all about her aching back.
A shared taxi was soon found to take us to Dushanbe and we were sent on our way with a bag filled with dried apricots and several pieces of fruit from the orchard.
Eight hours, and one car wash later we arrived at our destination. Wide, tree lined streets and pastel coloured buildings welcomed us and made this a comfortable stop for the next 5 days of waiting for our Kazakh & Uzbek visas. We spent our days eating ice cream, lounging around the city's only air conditioned cafe, looking at the several faces of the "democratically" elected president (there were posters on every corner of him either holding a baby, cooking bread, wearing a hard hat, or some other random "I'm just an ordinary man" pose) which went along famously with his several summer houses dotted around the city centre. With little to do we found another entertaining past time finding weird named government departments, including out favourite "Department for the Struggle Against Corruption".
We also decided to go the opera which was bizarrely on at 10am one Thursday morning. It was only when the human chicken came on stage and started talking that we realised that this was in fact a kiddie opera spoken / sang entirely in Russian. It was extremely entertaining but we were happy that the show lasted only an hour and we were still able to force smiles of gratitude to the staff clearly proud of their production.
With our visas for subsequent countries issued and the Pamir Highway closed due to the conflicts in the area, one of the main reasons we came to this area in the first place, we decided it was time to leave the country and so headed onto our next destination Uzbekistan.