Adventure Manufactory

Jumping for joy in Tajikistan!
It has been 18 months since the founding members of the Adventure Manufactory made their first trip to Tajikistan in the summer of 2010. We had three people and way too much luggage packed into a bright red 1 litre Daihatsu Cuore and were determined to prove that it was capable of not only making the distance but doing so in style, facing the largest of potholes, highest of mountain passes and generally admired by locals and police alike as the greatest car in the ex-USSR! And this it did while taking us to the finest and remote parts of the Silk Road and finally, Tajikistan…

Photo: Steve Evans
Tajikistan
To get to Tajikistan, we travelled a southern route to Turkey then Iran, before heading north into the ‘Stans via Turkmenistan. The key here was Iran – Persia – the most hospitable of the fifty odd countries I have visited over the years. Tajikistan has fallen under the influence of Greater Persia throughout history, from the Achaemenid Empire in the 5th to 3rd centuries BC, and most recently the Samanid Empire (819- 999AD), ruling from Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan. As such, the Tajik people share ancestry, history, culture and language with modern Iran. This was something to look forward to – maybe we would encounter the same hospitality and fantastic food, and the Tajik language is very close to Farsi (Persian) of which we had picked up some basics - certainly it was better than our Russian.

Right: Pomegranates and Persian smiles, a way of life.

Border control
The border crossing was a great introduction. We arrived at 10pm and our visas started the next day, meaning we had to wait until midnight before we would be allowed entry. As always, the guards were interested in our unusual car and so to avoid any awkwardness, we offered to share our latest melon (passed to us at 120km/ hour by a bunch of men in a car crowded with melons). This lead to a flood of friendship: bread and tea magically appeared to transform our snack into a social feast and so the music started. The mesmerising rhythm of Persian pop songs not heard since Iran gave us a familiar feeling that we were back in a Persian land. Midnight finally arrived and armed with new dance moves and Tajik phrases (mostly greetings for women), we rolled across the border: Welcome to Tajikistan!

Photo: Steve Evans
First camp
However, it was late and we set up camp at the first opportunity. A soft grassy patch just off the road by an irrigation channel made the perfect spot. Upon rising the next morning, we saw an imposing barbed wire fence on the other side of the channel. We were clearly still close to the Uzbek / Tajik border. The fence, while a common feature of borders, was reminder of the difficult relations between the two nations created by bureaucrats of the USSR. Borat didn’t like Uzbekistan much and this holds a grain of truth about Uzbekistan’s relationships with its neighbours. From water rights (think thirsty cotton crops, the Aral Sea and hydro dams in Tajikistan), the Tajik desire for rail access through Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan, Tajik cultural claim to Bukhara and Samarkand, difficulty for citizens of both countries in getting visas or the occasional closure of border posts to “make a point” from both sides, while they get on, it is not always with the biggest of smiles.


A game of football!
The friendliest mechanic
But smiles are what we found on the ground. We pulled into a garage an hour down the road. Our muffler was broken again (the last weld in Bukhara was not a match for the potholes) and we also knew that mechanics and their families were a friendly lot. The “Mud Hut Mechanic” was no exception. From within their adobe walls, with their home made welder, they got to work. And like any family business around these parts, the whole family was in attendance! A football is aways the favourite way to pass the time and in this case, we introduced the five year old son of the house to the art of Australian Football, causing some confusion on how an oval ball works, but a ball is a ball and it was soon getting booted with much abandon!

Photo: Steve Evans
Hospitality
So, is Tajikistan the second most hospitable country I have visited? Existence in this mountainous and stark landscape is harsh and their strong culture of hospitality towards travellers finely balanced with a sometimes serious outlook on the world. But it certainly comes very close once the first fine local vodka has been passed around! Sitting cross legged around a blanket beneath the grapevines with a spread of meats, sweets, fresh fruits and the local favourite, RC Cola, is one of the joys of life. And the shashlyks! Endless toasts to you, your hosts, the nation, the Tajik people and life in general are elaborate, alternatively serious and humorous.

Right: If you are lucky to be there Eid (end of Ramadan), you will be presented with the most amazing feast! I spent all day in a restraunt being fed treats the staff bought from home. Great company, not so great business!

Until we meet next in Tajikistan #2 - on The Pamir Highway, “Roof of the world”, when the tough in Tajikistan really gets going.

Rally on!
Hugh

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