At this point in the journey it was time for some craggy peaks, potholes, and lakes. There are handful of gorgeous, shimmering blue, alpine lakes that are absolutely untouched. It’s weird seeing such nice places with nobody around. Although a drink stand or café somewhere would have been ok.
Not far from one of the lakes was a village of 100 people or so, and that’s where we’d end up staying for the night. We picked the guesthouse with the most comfortable looking floor mats, had some afternoon tea, and some time to explore. I really do enjoy walking around these villages and observing Tajik small town life. Their clothes are so eclectic! It's like they got hand me downs from Russia, China, and Afghanistan and put them all together. Also, I still don’t really understand how the people living in this completely isolated town make any money (apart from the guesthouses) or get through the winter without either running out of food, freezing, for dying of boredom, but apparently they manage somehow.
The woman running our guesthouse was very friendly and could speak some English. They made us some very nice vegetarian communal style spreads for both dinner and breakfast. But like everywhere else around here, once it got dark, there wasn’t much to do. We played some headlamp lit card games and then settled in under our monster sized blankets.
The next part of the trip would take us off the M41 (the main highway running through Tajikistan) and diverting south towards the road that runs along the Afghanistan border, known as the Wakhan region. We asked about the Taliban to one of the military guys and they said that some of them stayed about 15 miles over the Afghan border up in the mountains, but they were too scared to get near the Tajik border. Okay then!
The road here is all unpaved gravel and it cuts up high into the sides of the mountains. It can be a little intimidating, especially passing other cars! While our driver seemed very skilled, he did have a penchant for driving as close as possible to the edge of the road as possible, making sitting on the far left hand seat the most nerve wracking!
After a full day of driving along the bumpy, dusty, cliffside road we finally made it back down along the river bank, where the landscape had opened up into a fertile valley, where people actually lived in. This part of the country actually had a few things of interests to tourists, namely old forts and hot springs, and even a small museum highlighting the life of …, a Tajik scholar and poet who had been way ahead of his time, but largely forgotten by history due to his obscure location in eastern Tajikistan.
As for the hot springs, they are actually hugely popular with the local Tajiks, as they’re believed to have many health benefits. They’re gender segregated and all nude, and they’re oddly insistent about the all nude part. The Tajiks seem to have absolutely no social hang ups about public nudity, so it can be slightly awkward for a westerner! But of course, I’m not going to pass up on hot springs after being in the car for hours. We managed to make it to three different hot springs before finally making it to our final destination, the city of Khorog.