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On the roof of the world

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Travel by Tajik, Afghan and Chinese Pamir

Since the Soviet era romance called the Pamir “roof of the world”. And this poetic name for a reason: here are some of the highest peaks of the planet. Pamir interesting not only for its unique nature, but also a very unusual culture of the locals. “Ribbon.ru” to understand the details.

Islam from a Buddhist tinge

“Roof of the world” — the only area of land where nearly all the natives — the Ismailis, the followers of Shia sect of Islam who were deeply influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism and even Greek philosophy. The doctrine of the Ismailis is replete with complex philosophical concepts. According to the beliefs of the Ismailis, Allah is God the absolute that gave rise to the world-mind, which, in turn, gave birth to the soul of the world. The universal spirit has created matter, can be easily appreciated. The Ismailis believe in reincarnation, and pray, unlike other Muslims, five times a day, and only two. It is not surprising that the majority of Muslims do not approve of such a peculiar interpretation of Islam and the Ismailis believe the Gentiles.

Descendants of soldiers of Alexander the great

Today the roof of the world divided between three States: Tajikistan, Afghanistan and China.

Although technically ethnic Tajik Pamir (Mountain-Badakhshan Autonomous region) and are considered to be Tajiks, their language, religion, food and customs differ dramatically from the mother country. Even externally, the Pamiris doesn’t sound like the Tajiks. Among them there are blue-eyed and blond. The residents of Gorno-Badakhshan love to explain this paradox quite controversial version: allegedly, they are the descendants of soldiers of army of Alexander the great, who really visited these parts.

Pamiri women are very beautiful and quite independent. They never wore a burqa and was not accustomed to slavishly obey her husband.

Local food also very little similar to Asian. So, Pamiris don’t eat rice, but I love fried potatoes with meat. Local tea resembles soup: add salt, oil, milk and walnuts. Badakhshanis quite tolerant to alcohol: almost every house guest can be offered a moonshine made from the mulberry tree.



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Surrounded by mountains in the Chinese Pamirs

Photo: Igor Rotar


The hospitality of the inhabitants of Gorno-Badakhshan is amazing: any free the traveler will be allowed overnight in any village house and heartily feed everyone that “God sent”.

Vehicular traffic between villages is rare, and the most distant small settlements and is not accessible by car. Bus service is absent here since the Soviet times, but a ride has to wait for hours (but any machine will pick up the traveler). This has its pros: you can travel between villages on foot, enjoying the magnificent views of the mountains. And overnight accommodation and food, as mentioned above, do not worry.

So, the Pamirs are quite similar to Tajikistan, and indeed the country with the Muslim culture. Local shrines (tombs of Muslim saints) is strikingly reminiscent of Buddhist sacred monuments.

There is also an ancient Buddhist stupa. And this is not surprising: after all, the Pamirs directly borders the Indian Himalayas. According to one version, the name “Pamir” is interpreted as the foot of Mithras (Vedic and Indo-Iranian deity).



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Ismaili shrines very similar to Buddhist shrines



Home of the Ismailis, too, are very different from Tajik. The house must be a model of the universe in miniature. Mandatory architectural element — the five pillars. They are named after five saints: Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain.

In the Empire of God

The spiritual leader of the Ismailis, “the vicar of God on earth” Aga Khan IV lives in Europe and is considered one of the richest people in the world. A Harvard graduate, he is trying to unite his fellow believers in the “common spiritual Imamate”. The leader of the Ismailis not only helps them to get an education (he created the University in the capital of the Tajik Pamirs, Khorog), but also provides them with substantial financial support. Aga Khan twice, in 1995 and 1998 — visited the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous oblast in the Pamirs. Thanks to the agreements reached with the leadership of Tajikistan, Gorno-Badakhshan flowed a generous humanitarian assistance. It is no exaggeration to say that it now grants the Aga Khan is the backbone of the economy of the Tajik Pamirs. Today in Tajikistan joke that Badakhshan has become a “little Empire of the Aga Khan”.

Alas, unfortunately, Pamiris, there is another, less righteous source of income. Tajik and Afghan Pamirs separates the river Panj. From the Tajik Pamirs to see the Afghan villages, and the citizens of neighbouring state can be perekrikivayutsya the sound of the mountain river. The boundary here is almost transparent, which is used by smugglers. The main product from Afghanistan, it is clear, is drugs, mainly opium.

As the boats the smugglers use the usual inner tube, which is sewn on the bottom. Row of wooden shovels. Illegal crossings operate in nearly every border village.

“If Russia took us to her”

Perhaps it is the proximity of Afghanistan is due almost phenomenal love Pamiris to Russia. Here like to emphasize that the Pamir has joined Russia voluntarily, the Russians defended the locals from the raids of the Afghans.



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Ismaili mosque in the Chinese Pamirs

Photo: Igor Rotar


About the Soviet era, when the region lived on the subsidies of the center, remembered as a Golden age. Badakhshanis loved to learn, and share of population with higher education the Pamirs took first place in the USSR.

Alas, today is not to study. After all, why would living on handouts of the Aga Khan. Doing the same drugs, fortunately, not all agree. So very many go on earnings to Russia.

It is not surprising that the Tajik authorities here are not too warm and not happy to become citizens of the new independent state. The Tajik badakhshanis not believe and I well remember how during the civil war, the Tajiks (more precisely, the authorities of the Republic) staged a blockade of the region. Then, if not the same Aga Khan Pamiri people simply died of hunger. Here I love to dream on the theme, “if Russia took us to himself”, though I understand that this is unrealistic.

In the middle ages

However, even today, thanks to the Soviet heritage, Tajik Pamiri people still live much better than their Afghan tribesmen. On the Afghan side of the river, except for one broken highway that connects the region with the capital, no roads in sight. The villages are linked by mountain paths and origami — artificially created “balconies” on the cliffs above the rivers. To get to the road, have to undertake a long journey: on foot, by horse or donkey.



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With Tajik banks afganka villages are visible at a glance

Photo: Igor Rotar


The houses are heated smoke: fire smoke escapes through a hole in the ceiling of the home. Electricity and TV are absent in principle. Not uncommon, when the family only one pair of shoes for all the kids. Not in wonder hunger. Often the only food in the families of the Afghan Pamiris — mulberry.

A serious problem is security. The Taliban feel very at ease, the Pamiris they are treated like Gentiles, they have to pay their “tax”, and often simply killed “for the cooperation with the invaders”. In Tajik Badakhshan fear the mass breakout of Taliban and on that side of the river, but still somehow do.

Badakhshan comfortably

In China, and Tajikistan, the peoples of the Pamir Tajiks are considered, and they have even Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region. The road to the Chinese Pamir starts from the ancient Uyghur city of Kashgar. This way along the high-mountainous lake Karakul is extraordinarily beautiful. In the valleys of the Chinese Kyrgyz pastures with herds of yaks and camels.

Optionally (for a very reasonable fee) and to live together with the shepherds, eat healthy dairy food, ride horses and wander the picturesque mountain slopes. Local Kyrgyz people have a very vague idea of Kyrgyzstan, and almost none of them knows the name of the capital of their historical homeland.

The capital of the Chinese Pamiri town of Tashkurgan (in Uighur “stone hill”). In the past, the centre of one of the Pamir principalities. The main attraction is the ancient fortress age, according to some estimates, in two thousand years. That in the middle of the Great silk road is a stone tower, wrote to Claudius Ptolemy. The antiquity of the village is evidenced by the preserved ruins of a Zoroastrian temple.



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Lake Karakul in the Chinese Pamirs



Unlike the towns of the Tajik Pamirs, Tashkurgan is perceived as relatively “civilized place”. There is quite a decent hotel with hot water (unthinkable luxury for Tajik Badakhshan), a decent restaurant with European cuisine and a bar with good whiskies, cognac and wine. Town’s travel agencies arrange tours to the homes of local residents for a small fee can be arranged on the evenings of the show Pamir dances for numerous tourists from all over the world.

In General, if the USSR the Tajik Pamirs was much the Chinese, but today the situation has changed dramatically. In the Chinese Pamirs built magnificent roads with smooth road and bus routes. In towns and villages, comfortable hotels and restaurants. The region is visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world, and at the former our Pamir practically the only foreign guests — journalists and employees of humanitarian organizations.

At the same time, the “savagery” of the Tajik Pamirs has its own charm. Here you can watch real life, not spoiled by the tourism industry and, therefore, greed. Still in the Tajik Pamirs can be sure that the locals are glad it is you and not the money in your wallet.

Ideally, it is good to combine a visit of the Tajik and Chinese Pamirs. First, to observe real life, and then explore its tourism, but a much more comfortable option. In the Afghan Badakhshan is still better not to meddle.

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