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  • Jerome Kocher

66. Tajikistan - The Seven Lakes

In the southeast corner of the “stan” countries lies Tajikistan with still a different face of Central Asia. It’s the most mountainous of the stans, as well as the smallest. It also seems to be less wealthy and more isolated. During the Soviet era Tajikistan had less privileges and benefits. Historically it had more of a Persian influence as heard in the Tajik language which has roots in Farsi from Persia and now Iran. It borders northern Pakistan and  Afghanistan.

Again, the border crossing had multiple passport controls through which one had to walk at least a quarter mile. No Olympic record set here. It was excruciatingly slow while on foot, but I shouldn’t complain as I am used to several hour border waits by car from Mexico to the States. We were warned ahead of time that Tajiks can be pushy and jockey to go to the head of the line. What I didn’t expect was that this was true of the women. I had to step to the side to block their outflanking us. And there were verbal exchanges that conveyed facial gestures and tone rather than linguistic understanding. They were pushy. But it gave me a close up look at their faces. Eyebrows were plucked and replaced with dark black mascara replications. This meant they were married and not available for conversation, unless they were crowding you from behind. I had my hiking sticks with me and one kept begging me to give her one because of her hip pain. But No, that’s not going to happen. I actually extended one stick and tapped her on the shoulder as a shot over the bow, “Don’t cut ahead.”

Arriving in Panjakent we made a pilgrimage to the bazaar for a few snacks. Without knowing Russian, I spoke Arabic instead to break the ice, “Salam Alaykum,” Peace be upon You. They generously said something back which I did not understand, but could assume to be good or put their hand to their heart, a pre Babylon gesture before we were divided by languages. In the bazaar they had an abundance of dried fruit, nuts and seeds from their own Fergana Valley, a bread basket of fruit for Central Asia giving Tajiks an edge with these products in the Bazaars of neighboring countries.

Outside the bazaar there were used plastic bags in the street. The cities so far have been very clean, even empty public trash cans in Almaty. Though a landlocked country they were polluting it like their own personal ocean. The pushiness and the trash showed a lack of civic courtesy and responsibility. Many places in the States could be worse, though I didn’t expect it here based on their brothers and sisters to the north. But this is only an isolated negative observation and absolutely not indicative of the people as a whole.

Tajiks are the least nostalgic or sympathetic for their former Soviet rulers. No love lost. And they paid a heavy price with the collapse of the USSR. In the 90’s they sunk into a civil war which seemed to be promoted by outside interests to keep them vulnerable and fractured. They’ve only had two Presidents since Independence in 1991 till now because a "strong man” principle is needed for stability and consistentcy.

But our trip here was centered on an adventure to the Seven Lakes of the Fan Mountains. To go there we drove several hours south to a mountainous area with an evelation from 4500 to 7500 feet high.

The one way cliff hanging roads took us only so far, then we hiked the last hour to the the top, to the mother lake called “Thousand Springs.” At the base of snowcapped mountains its waters flowed by river or underground streams downward to the other six lakes ending at “Eyelash Lake" with the bluest and deepest color of all. Long eyelashes are a sign of beauty for the Tajiks, and girls so endowed are given that name just like the lake. 

Eyelash Lake, a deep azure blue, is the first of seven lakes on the way to "Thousand Springs."

I saw some animal tracks smaller than a donkey's. Was not quite sure. Sheep? Then a few rocks tumbled down the slope. Sure enough the goats revealed themselves. Their shepherds were more visible on the greener patches further on. Small wooden bridges older than me forded the streams on the way. 

Mothers kept their distance. The children were more curious.

After hiking back down to our driver we started the more difficult descent. With a chinese placard reflecting in his windshield, he threaded the one way mountain roads back down to the the valley floor. No one honked. Just caution, experience and maybe prayer guided him around the blind curves. These roads would heighten your awareness of mortality more than any mosque or church. He was a sherpa with a driver's license.

On the way home we passed through a checkpoint that provided security for a local gold mine in the same valley. But as far as Nature was concerned, the true gold was the Seven Lakes, some more colorful, others more dramatic. While there the braying of a donkies could be heard, but other than that all was silent. The animals, shepherds and hikers were not there to talk but to appreciate the beauty of Tajikistan. It was a restful detour from the main route of The Silk Road.

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what would it be like to be a shepherd tending your sheep all day long in a place like that? did you see any cell phones? would there be service there? thanks for sharing

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