Silk Road 21: More Langar & Ishkashim, Tajikistan; Sept 2019

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Silk Road Tajikistan Sept-Oct 2019
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After Bulunkul visit the previous day, we arrived in Langar in the afternoon; plan was to stay the night at Misha’s Guest House in Langar. Langar is a small town (280 families) in the Wakhan Corridor, along the Panj river, with Afghanistan across the river. By now, the altitude had dropped from the 4,300m (14,000ft) in the Pamir mountains to 3,000m (9,800ft); still high altitude, but since we had spent the past week in the high Pamirs, this lower altitude was no issue for us; and the weather had got warmer.

Since this Wakhan Corridor area was 99+% Pamiri (Ismaili) from here till past Khorog; we knew Misha would be a Pamiri, and so introduced ourselves to Misha as Ismaili’s. Misha spoke a little broken English, and introduced us to himself (real name was Mohammedali, Misha was a nickname), his wife Aklimo, his sons Romish & Gafur, and his baby daughter, Osima. They welcomed us warmly and told us a little about himself. He had worked in Russia for 10yrs like many Pamiri men; sending home money for his family, and savings. Eventually, he had saved enough so he came back, and started his Homestay and family, adding to it over time. He runs the homestay in the tourist months (spring-fall) and then in the winter, he uses his car as a taxi to ferry people from Langar to Khorog and Murghab; to make ends meet. Very nice family, hardworking.

I asked him that we wished to attend prayers that evening, and after making a few calls, he said that there was no prayers that evening in Langar, because of harvest time. Disappointing. We settled ourselves in, and had a shower (they had hot water showers and indoor western flush toilet 🙂 ). There were a few other guests that joined us in the Homestay that evening. Aklimo showed us her daughters ECD books, and we talked with their boys. Cellphone coverage was now available (but not for my TMobile service), but data was slow and unreliable, and therefore not usable.

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Our dinner at Misha’s Homestay
Our dinner at Misha’s Homestay

After dinner, Misha asked us to come with him for prayers. This was a surprise to us as earlier, he had said there were no prayers. Turns out (as we found out later), that since he made his calls to the local Khalifa’s earlier; they decide to gather that evening for us to grant us our request. Prayers that evening were not in Langar (280 families), but in Hisor, a small village next door to Langar, with a population of 100 families. Misha drove us there with Romish, his eldest son. When we arrived, the Khalifa of Hisor, and a few elders of the congregation were there to meet and greet us. No English, but fortunately, Misha’s cousin, Fatima, was there, and she spoke decent English. They led us down a tiny alley to a house in the back, which was the prayer house. It was a traditional Pamir house, similar to the ones we had seen here in Tajikistan, and in Hunza, Pakistan. There were about 40 Pamiri’s here gathered for prayers.

Prayer house and the Pamiri’s gathered for prayers

After the prayers, the Khalifa welcomed us (with Fatima translating); and asked us if we wanted to say anything to the congregation. So with Fatima translating, we recounted the same story we had portrayed at the prayer meeting in Osh; we gave them a history about our Gujarati Indian Khoja origins, followed by migration of our grandparents to Kenya, Africa for economic reasons, and to escape the famine/Spanish Flu in 1918; two generations born in Kenya, and then to England to study Electrical Engineering at university, followed by migration to Ottawa, Canada and eventually to the USA. We told to them about our travels all over the world (South America, Asia, Middle East, Europe, etc) as our hobby, and they were very interested. We asked them if they had any questions, and both the men & the ladies had questions. Since they had not visited much of the world past GBAO, I’m sure our stories must have fascinated them. At the end, the Khalifa got up, and with Fatima translating, the congregation gifted me with a Pamiri hat and Dilshad with pony tail hair extensions. So very humbled at their kindness.

After this, we said our goodbyes; and the Khalifa escorted us back to Misha’s car. Fatima had invited us to her house in Hisor for tea, so after making sure it was OK with Misha, we went to Fatima’s place. Turns out, she and her family were also running a Guest house called Davlatkhan, in Hisor village. When we went to the kitchen to meet Fatima’s mother, we went through the communal dining room, and there were a group of about 10 Dutch tourists having dinner. So we briefly chatted and exchanged stories about our travels, before having tea and snacks in the kitchen with Fatima and her mother. Very nice and hospitable. After this, Misha took us back to his Homestay for a good night’s rest after a wonderful day.

The next day, after a nice breakfast, Misha told us that this was the first time an Ismaili family had stayed with them in their homestay, and they gifted Dilshad with a Pamiri hat and I was gifted with thick woolen socks. Amazing that these humble and simple people were always so generous to us everywhere we turned. Wonderful experiences. Misha then took us to check out the Langar prayer house and Museum. First, he showed us where the Aga Khan had visited and given an audience when he visited Langar in May 1995.

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Podium that was built for the Aga Khan’s visit to Langar in May 1995
Podium that was built for the Aga Khan’s visit to Langar in May 1995
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Field where the faithful had gathered in Langar to have an audience with the Aga Khan in May 1995
Field where the faithful had gathered in Langar to have an audience with the Aga Khan in May 1995

Next door, was the small building that housed the prayer house and museum

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Prayer House & Museum in Langar, Tajikistan
Prayer House & Museum in Langar, Tajikistan

The museum contained a few artifacts from the region, as well as some religious background materials

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Some artifacts in the Museum, at the entrance to the prayer house in Langar.
Some artifacts in the Museum, at the entrance to the prayer house in Langar.
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Entrance to Prayer Hall from Museum; note the elaborate woodwork and the Marco Polo sheep carving/painting. With the Museum caretaker
Entrance to Prayer Hall from Museum; note the elaborate woodwork and the Marco Polo sheep carving/painting. With the Museum caretaker
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Inside the Pamiri prayer house in Langar; similar to the prayer house in Hisor, but with more wood carvings and more elaborate overall
Inside the Pamiri prayer house in Langar; similar to the prayer house in Hisor, but with more wood carvings and more elaborate overall
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Rendering of Nasir Khusraw, the Ismaili Pir (Emissary) and poet; who had moved to, and settled in Central Asia, from Persia, bringing with him the faithful
Rendering of Nasir Khusraw, the Ismaili Pir (Emissary) and poet; who had moved to, and settled in Central Asia, from Persia, bringing with him the faithful
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, More carvings and décor. Again, the Marco Polo sheep-head. Renderings are of Imam Ali
More carvings and décor. Again, the Marco Polo sheep-head. Renderings are of Imam Ali
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Typical celling structure of Pamiri houses, this design is supposed to withstand earthquakes better. Note all the designs carved in this ceiling of the Prayer Hall
Typical celling structure of Pamiri houses, this design is supposed to withstand earthquakes better. Note all the designs carved in this ceiling of the Prayer Hall

We left the Prayer house and drove back to Misha’s place

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Drive through Langar back to Misha’s place. Langar had much more vegetation than we had seen in the past week; mainly because we were now below the tree line
Drive through Langar back to Misha’s place. Langar had much more vegetation than we had seen in the past week; mainly because we were now below the tree line

Back at Misha’s place, we packed up and loaded up the Landcruiser, as it was time to keep going.

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, We said fond goodbye’s to Misha and his wife, Aklimo and daughter, Osima. So very nice and hospitable family
We said fond goodbye’s to Misha and his wife, Aklimo and daughter, Osima. So very nice and hospitable family

We started driving towards Ishkashim; most of the time following the Panj river to our left with Afghanistan on the other side. Some scenes along the way

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Pamiri’s farming the land, cultivating potatoes
Pamiri’s farming the land, cultivating potatoes
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Either a shrine or a kubrastan (graveyard)
Either a shrine or a kubrastan (graveyard)
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Pamiri farmers taking a break
Pamiri farmers taking a break

Soon, we arrived at a small roadside construction, where a café was being built above a natural underground spring, which is why we had stopped. There were several people filling up water bottles and we filled our as well. But Sherali asked me to taste this water with a small sip before drinking more, as the taste of this spring water was different from what we had been drinking till now. We both tried a small sip each, and the taste was definitely different. But we could not figure out what the different taste was (the taste was not bad). We closed the bottle and kept driving. A while later, I felt thirsty, and opened the top of this bottle, and I heard some gas slip out, as would happen with a carbonated drink. That’s when we realized that the different taste was because the spring water was carbonated. This was a first for us, a natural spring that had carbonated water. Amazing.

We continued driving; some more scenes below

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, View of Afghan mountains beyond the Panj river
View of Afghan mountains beyond the Panj river
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Family hard at work separating grains from the husks the old fashioned way, by tossing the mix in the air and using the wind to blow away the lighter husks
Family hard at work separating grains from the husks the old fashioned way, by tossing the mix in the air and relying on the wind to blow away the lighter husks
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Beautiful view of farmland, grazing sheep, the Panj river and Afghanistan beyond
Beautiful view of farmland, grazing sheep, the Panj river and Afghanistan beyond
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Harvesting potatoes
Harvesting potatoes
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Harvest time, with majestic mountains in the back
Harvest time, with majestic mountains in the back

We stopped at the village of Vrang, to check out an ancient Budhist Stupka ruin. Here, we met Aziz and his friend, just returning from school for lunch

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Aziz and friend returning from School at Vrang
Aziz and friend returning from School at Vrang
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Aziz leading us to the Budhist Stupka ruins, on the hills behind the fields
Aziz leading us to the Budhist Stupka ruins, on the hills behind the fields
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Stupka from 5th to 6th century BC, made from rocks; and has its origin in Tibetan Buddhism
Stupka from 5th to 6th century BC, made from rocks; and has its origin in Tibetan Buddhism

Views of the fertile farming plains of Vrang from the Stupka

Dilshad gave Aziz two US $1 bills as our thanks for guiding us to the stupka; Aziz was so excited, he ran to show the bills to his friends 🙂

We continued to another small Pamiri village, Yamg, where Ahmedali turned off the road and took us to the small Museum of the Ismaili Sufi, Mubarak Wakhani.

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Entrance to the Museum of Mubarak Wakhani at Yamg
Entrance to the Museum of Mubarak Wakhani at Yamg

Sherali knocked at this entrance till a gentleman came out; who turned out to be a descendant of the Ismaili Sufi, mystic, poet, Mubarak-i Wakhani. He introduced himself as Ahmadbek, and took us inside the well-kept Museum (a typical Pamiri house), where he showed us some of the artifacts he had collected, played the local stringed musical instruments and then showed us his collection of books, newspapers and manuscripts

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Museum artifacts
Museum artifacts
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Museum collection of stringed instruments
Museum collection of stringed instruments

Music demo by Ahmadbek

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Book written about this Sufi mystic
Book written about this Sufi mystic
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, This well-worn edition of The Ismaili was a prized collection for Ahmadbek. It is from this magazine that we learned of the Aga Khan’s visit to multiple towns and cities in Central Asia in May, 1995
This well-worn edition of The Ismaili was a prized collection for Ahmadbek. It is from this magazine that we learned of the Aga Khan’s visit to multiple towns and cities in Central Asia in May, 1995

Outside at the entrance to the Museum, was a small Observatory. We thanked Ahmadbek for showing us around, and he refused to take any money from us, as Sherali had introduced us as Ismailis. Again, generosity toward total strangers. We left and drove along the Panj for a short time before turning right back into the mountains, to check out Yamchun Fortress and Bibi Fatima hot springs

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, More farming scenes
More farming scenes
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Yamchun Fortress, built with stones, dating between 300-100BC. Locally referred to as Zamr-I Atisht Parasht, the fortress of the fire worshippers, meaning Zoroastrianism was strong in the Pamirs back then. A fire temple might have housed inside the fortress.
Yamchun Fortress, built with stones, dating between 300-100BC. Locally referred to as Zamr-I Atisht Parasht, the fortress of the fire worshippers, meaning Zoroastrianism was strong in the Pamirs back then. A fire temple might have housed inside the fortress.
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Commanding views of the Panj, Wakhan valley and Afghanistan, from Yamchun Fortress
Commanding views of the Panj, Wakhan valley and Afghanistan, from Yamchun Fortress

We drove another 3kms to arrive at the Bibi Fatima hot spring; where a natural hot spring spouted 40C water all year round, with many dissolved minerals in it. We stopped here for tea and bread, and spent a little time in the hot spring; there was a natural stony-cave area where the spring emerged, and there was a separate pool, men and women rotated between using these two areas.

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Bibi Fatima hot springs were behind the orange building, located in a narrow cleft between the mountain-sides
Bibi Fatima hot springs were behind the orange building, located in a narrow cleft between the mountain-sides
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Men’s urinal near the hot springs
Men’s urinal near the hot springs
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Lunch at Churshanbe homestay high-up overlooking the Panj river and Afghanistan opposite.
Lunch at Churshanbe homestay high-up overlooking the Panj river and Afghanistan opposite.
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Stopped here to help this disabled vehicle by towing and clutch-starting it with our Landcruiser
Stopped here to help this disabled vehicle by towing and clutch-starting it with our Landcruiser
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, We continued our drive to Iskhashim along the Panj river with traffic jams and friendly Pamiri’s
We continued our drive to Iskhashim along the Panj river with traffic jams and friendly Pamiri’s
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, And arrived at Ruun Guesthouse in Ishkashim, where we were staying the night.
And arrived at Ruun Guesthouse in Ishkashim, where we were staying the night.

Our trip so far

Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Krygyz travel
Krygyz travel
Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan, Tajikistan map till Ishkashim
Tajikistan map till Ishkashim

Onto Khorog next

This entry was posted in Asia, Silk Road Tajikistan Sept-Oct 2019, Tajikistan

7 thoughts on “Silk Road 21: More Langar & Ishkashim, Tajikistan; Sept 2019

  • Pingback: Silk Road 20: Langar, Bulunkul Tajikistan; Sept 2019 - Ali Karim Travelog Asia

  • Abdulmajid Morani May 17, 2020 at 9:21 pm Reply

    Thanx for the excursion. I hope the Silk road is upgraded by the China project, and the Western Super power admit “PANDEMIC” is an act of God.

    • Ali Karim May 18, 2020 at 10:37 pm Reply

      Thanks Abdul

  • Sue Dunsmore May 18, 2020 at 11:10 am Reply

    Ali and Dilshad, what a wonderful adventure! I found the construction and woodwork of the Pamiri prayer houses fascinating, especially the roof construction. I even sketched it up to add to my architectural knowledge. The goat traffic jam is a wonderful picture as well.
    hugs
    sue

    • Ali Karim May 18, 2020 at 10:50 pm Reply

      THanks Sue, for the feedback; Glad you enjoyed our journey in this area.
      The structure inside the Pamir houses is 5 pillars in the central part of the house, supporting the ceiling and roof. Of these 5 pillars, 2 are part of the entryway.
      The 5 pillars actually have a religious significance in Shia Islam, representing prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); his daughter Fatima; his cousin and son-in-law Ali; and his two grandsons Hassan and Husain.
      The “square within a square” inset design of the ceilings is apparently done to help the home withstand earthquakes better and prevent damage to the house in case of earthquakes (or so I am told)

  • Nick paroo May 29, 2020 at 7:37 am Reply

    Ali Karim discovery journal. Amazing 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

    • Ali Karim May 29, 2020 at 10:03 pm Reply

      Thanks Nick

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