Posts Tagged With: Pamir Mountains

Pamir Mountains, June 17-27, Part 3. Khorog Botanical Gardens

Pamir Mountains, June 17-27, Part 3. Khorog Botanical Gardens

The Lonely Planet guidebook and online sites seem to agree that the botanical gardens in Khorog are the second highest in the world at 2320 meters above sea level. But finding out what is the highest garden has been tough. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but finally, I came up with the magical search terms on Google that gave me some information. Assuming these sources are accurate, It appears that there are at least two botanical gardens at higher altitudes, making Khorog the third highest.

The highest honors seem to go to Lijiang Alpine Botanical Gardens, Yunnan Province, China, which opened in 2005. These gardens range from 2680 meters up to 4300 meters. They must cover a lot of ground and it would be hard strolling through them.

Next highest seems to go to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, Colorado, at 2500 meters.

On June 20, after a full day of meeting with teachers, journalists and students, we were only able to get to the Khorog botanical gardens about an hour before they closed. But it was a lovely stroll. Here are some photos that I took, including one that you might have seen on the previous post.

As I work on this post, it appears that it will not let me upload the last two photos I had planned on using. Not to worry, I will post them on a new post, coming up right soon.

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Pamir Mountains June 17-27, Part 2. Khorog

Pamir Mountains, Part 2 — Khorog

Khorog, Tajikistan. Capital of the GBAO region in the Pamir Mountains. A view from the botanical gardens.

Khorog is the city where I had my first ever ambulance ride. I was accompanying an American friend who, while jogging at 6 a.m., was bitten by a dog. At the hospital, a doctor cleaned the wound thoroughly (after I paid for the medicine) and prescribed her with two antibiotics, to ward off infection. Vanessa speaks Farsi, which is close enough to Tajik that she could talk to the doctors directly. They assured Vanessa that Khorog does not have “crazy dog” disease. But to be on the safe side, she found a car to drive her the 15 bone-rattling hours to Dushanbe so she could get her rabies vaccine booster within 24 hours. Back at the US embassy, she got her shot and was given new prescriptions. She is fine, but two weeks later she still has a huge bruise on her calf.

The dog, supposedly, is also fine. The woman who owned the dog was out sweeping her yard at the time of the incident, called the dog into the house and shut the door on Vanessa as she was walking up to ask for help. Normally, Tajiks are the most friendly and helpful people. Our best guess was that this situation however could easily have put the dog’s owner in personal jeopardy (oops, her dog just bit a foreigner!) and she was trying to “escape” the situation. Apparently this may have been the best coping strategy during the Soviet time.

Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO) region, has a population of about 30,000 and is at 2100 meters above sea level. The GBAO is the state’s name for the Pamir Mountain region in Tajikistan, and as the name applies, these mountain people do have some autonomy in running their region. Because of their isolation, their first language is not Tajik, but Shugani. They both share Persian roots, but as Lonely Planet says, they are as different as German and English. However, everyone we talked with spoke Shugani, Tajik, and in our case, English as well. Russian is also taught in school. When we got to Murgab, Kyrgyz was thrown into the mix as well, but more on that in another post.

Khorog is a jewel of a town, thanks to the patronage of the Aga Khan. As you probably know, he is the socialite, race-horse owning billionaire who lives in London and, through his lineage directly from Mohammed’s cousin Ali, is the head of the Muslim sect, the Shia Ismailis. The Ismailis are found in pockets in several countries, including the Pamirs of Tajikistan. The Aga Khan Foundation spends millions and millions each year on development project and supporting these communities. As a result, the city of Khorog has the most reliable electricity supply in Tajikistan. They also have a better than average (for Tajikistan) hospital, a private high school of top notch quality in a country known for its bad education system, and lots of support money for the locals who want to study abroad. They also have a Central Park. However, His Highness Prince Aga Khan cannot help the weather and hasn’t done much for the roads, so about seven months of the year, the only way to get to Khorog from the rest of the Tajikistan is by plane and the folks live mostly on potatoes and carrots and other root crops. (By the way, the Aga Khan first came to my attention as a young’un when Prince Aly Khan, son of the then Aga Khan, married Rita Hayworth. That would have been the father of the present Aga Khan. Normally Aly would have inherited the position of the Aga Khan from his father, but instead, the old Aga Khan passed the position onto his grandson, who is the Aga Khan now.)

If you are interested in the Ismailis (it is a fascinating branch of Islam), here is their official website:

Children (mostly boys) swim in the free public swimming pool in Central Park in Khorog, Tajikistan. Hot weather in Khorog is in the low 80s, while the capital city of Dushanbe swelters in about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Central Park is lovely with gardens, green spaces, and a swimming pool. The park is located next to the Gunt River, which flows through town and into the Panj River just out of town, the border with Afghanistan.

The Gunt River flows through the city of Khorog into the Panj River, the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Khorog also has one of the more interesting statues of Lenin that we have seen in Tajikistan. I love his pose. Just like in Khujand, the Lenin statue has been moved from the place of honor in the city and replaced by a statue of Ismoili Somoni, the new national, ideological, hero. However, in both towns, Lenin did find a new home, in a less auspicious place. We saw Lenin statues all over Tajikistan, unlike in Uzbekistan. There, Lenin has disappeared all together.

We stayed at the Boni Jamon (means Roof of the World). It is less than two years old and the cheapest hotel in town. For $20/person/night you get the normal hard bed, a private bathroom (a luxury at this price) with hot water shower and sit down toilet, breakfast, and as concierge, a sweet young woman who speaks English. Some rooms also comes with fleas (after the first night, David had to change bedding) or a rat (one of our traveling companions was visited in the night, but we didn’t have that problem.) We recommend it.

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Afghan market on Tajik border

Afghan market on Tajik border

After about a six-week hiatus, I am hanging out where posting on nancystan is possible. I have a lot to share, but it will not be chronological. This is the first posting on our trip to the Pamir Mountains, June 17-27. Postings on Uzbekistan will follow, plus our overland trip from Khujand to Dushanbe.

Cloudy morning in the Pamirs on our way to the Afghan market near Ishkashim. Photo by David.

We had a full day on June 23, and our first stop was at the Saturday Afghan market. There’s an island in the Panj * River, the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Because the Afghani people are mostly Tajiks in this area, it was difficult to tell the women apart. Afghan men have distinctive dress. (You all have seen it in the news.) Tajik men tend to dress in pants and shirts like Westerners, although they often sport their ethnicity-identifying caps. This is not the area of the Taliban, and I wasn’t sure if the Tajik and Afghan women dressed more or less the same, or perhaps there were no Afghan women. There were certainly no burkas or women covered any more than some of the conservative Tajik women. I did notice on the side of the Tajik road when we went through villages and also in the market itself that some women covered the lower part of their face – in the style of cowboy bandits. I wasn’t sure if it was for modesty or to protect from the sun and dust. Our Khorog contact Favzyia told us later that it was for protection from the elements, not because of religion.

Notice the range of dressing among these women. One young woman in a hoody is using a cellphone while two others have their faces covered with a scarf, bandito style.

The merchandise in the market was not all that interesting. I was hoping to score some good jewelry, or at least some handicrafts, but the jewelry was of the cheap, probably-made-in-India variety. Other wares were clothes, cloth, shoes, rugs, plastic items, some food stuffs, etc. We hadn’t seen any fresh fruit for several days, so I did buy some delicious, little, too-ripe-already bananas.

Cloth shopping

We needed our passports to get onto the island. Military posts were on both sides of the bridge, and we would not have been allowed to cross to Afghanistan. As we walked off the island, David pointed the camera in that direction and we were told by hand gestures and the phrase “no photos” that photographs were forbidden. Pretty silly, since once we were off no-man’s-land and back in Tajikistan, we could easily use the zoom lens to take the same photos. But, overall, the soldiers were friendly to us and the other foreigner tourists who had arrived for the weekly market.









Rug merchant on left.

Stereotypical face shot on right,but I couldn’t resist.

Later, as we were driving out of the Pamirs, I learned that there is an Afghan consulate in Khorog (the largest town in the Tajik side of the Pamir Mountains.) Tajiks on the Tajikistan side can get permission to cross over easily into Afghanistan to visit relatives or just visit and sight-see in that area. If I had known that, I might have tried to see how easy it would be for an American to get a day-visa, or something like that. It would feel so “naughty” to drop in that way, and likely would have not been liked at the US embassy in Dushanbe. I suspect, however, that it would not have been possible.

The market, from Tajikistan. That’s Afghanistan on the other side. David took this photo.

One of the people we met in the Pamirs was a Pamiri who works in Moscow as an electrician, but comes home every year to hike in his beloved mountains. He has a vision of a “greater Tajikistan” which would include parts of Uzbekistan (Bukhara and Samarkand, subjects of future posts on nancystan) and the northern territory of Afghanistan. As in many (most?) colonial situations, the national boundaries were drawn without taking into account where the ethnic groups actually lived.

I took most of the photos used on this post. I will credit David when they are his.

*Panj is a transliteration from Cyrillic, so it may be spelled different ways in Latin letters. The Lonely Planet guidebook spells it Pyanj. It means “five,” because five rivers come together to form it. It eventually flows into the Amu Darya (formerly known as the Oxus River), which continues to be the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan and then Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, before eventually flowing into the Aral Sea. (What’s left of it, at least, as much is siphoned off for irrigating cotton crops.)

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