The drive from Lake Iskanderkul to Khujand took up a good part of the day but like all of our time in Tajikistan it was low-key, filled with engaging conversation, and worthy scenery. Every travel experience is partly about that place at that moment in time and partly about our physical and mental health while there. But there are also the serendipitous moments/insights that appeal to all of our senses and to our desire to be part of a wider world of wondrous stuff—if only we can pause to appreciate it all. The bright freshness of the apricots and tomatoes; the easy friendliness of the little kids in the mountains, the elegance of Tajik women of all ages in their silk and velvet rainbow-hued dresses and trousers; the casual urbanity and knowledgeable insights offered by Beck on every aspect of Tajik history and social life. And I suspect one of the pleasures of our time in Tajikistan is that there were relatively few western tourists and most of them hikers and backpackers. It’s nice to be tourist-free…says the tourist. No. I am not a tourist; I am a traveler. There are a whole lot of Russian visitors but with so many ties between nearly all of the Stans and Russia they hardly seem like tourists.
Tajikistan has, as mentioned in previous posts, an intimate history with Iran. As well the northern part of the country where we traveled was directly on the Silk Road so it has witnessed a plethora of all kinds of ‘visitors’ over the centuries. The latest incarnation of Tajikistan overrule was during its years as the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. Not everyone in the Soviet Union was thrilled by its demise and that included and still includes some of its ‘republics.’ In fact all of our guides and contacts expressed a mixture of relief and regret at the disintegration of the ties leading back to the Soviet Union.
Tajikistan was involved in a horrendous civil war in the 90s; every region and belief system seems to have had a dog in that fight but at least the hard-core Islamists didn’t win the battle—although as in every other corner of the world the fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and Jews seem to lurk in the dank dark corners until another opportunity arises. I do remember reading a number of years back that this was a dangerous part of the world in which to travel. I reflected on that now and then as we traveled about, in reality at least several degrees safer than in Trump’s gun-slinging America.
I always experience a little sadness, nostalgia, regret when I leave a place I’ve almost loved and to which I know I’ll never return. I even feel that now as I prepare to send my last posts about Tajikistan. Oh sure…when it’s in the news I’ll feel a familiarity and the smallest of connections but it’s doubtful I’ll read a lot about the country or think so very much about it. There’s such a big world and such a fascinating cast of good guys and evildoers one cannot keep up with it all. Tajikistan will be like Romania for me. I am drawn to almost everything about the two places but my attention’s too fractured by the noise of the day and my life too short to get back there.