Off to the Pamirs

In September 2013 I travelled with British writer Jamie Maddison to produce a film, in conjunction with the Murghab Ecotourism Association, about a Kyrgyzstani-Tajik hunter and herder named Orozbek, who lives in a small settlement just off the beautiful Pamir Highway and overlooking the verdant Alichur Plains of eastern Tajikistan. During the month we spent with Orozbek we had a rare and unforeseen opportunity to explore the surrounding region, which neighbours Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the south.

Our journey toward Eastern Tajikistan began with a two-day overland hitchhike and taxi share from Almaty, Kazakhstan, where we had been resting up after completing a two-month crossing of Kazakhstan on horseback. Our first day in Tajikistan saw us bumping and grinding our way down the Pamir Highway in a decrepit Lada driven by two young soldiers from Dushanbe. Peering out the tinted windows, I watched the Chinese border fence cut an arbitrary line through the expansive wilderness. Amid the pristine, snow-capped peaks and uninhabited plateau, our little car was an absurd microcosm of the modern world as the stench of tobacco smoke and stale breath slowly mixed with ear-splitting Uzbek techno and the soldier’s conversations about missing family in the capital.

The somewhat surreal journey turned memorably ludicrous when the axle of the Lada snapped in half coming down from Ak-Baital Pass (4,655m), resulting in four screaming men fruitlessly clutching the dashboard, seats, hair, and each other in the irrational hope it might stop our car from rolling over in a ditch. Eventually, after an overnight car nap in the middle of the highway, and with the axle repaired with salvaged wire and zip ties, we spluttered in to Orozbek’s farmstead and yurt, approximately 5km north of the Kyrgyz settlement of Bash-Gumbez.

Over the weeks that followed Jamie and I were able to document the Kyrgyz communities of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast resulting in the completion of an ethnographic documentary film on the life of Orozbek and his family titled ‘A Portrait of Orozbek’, which is due for public release this summer. Many of the factual themes observed in the film, such as the agricultural practices, foraging for wild tea, marmot hunting, regional geography and exploring the little known archaeological sites such as Bazar-Dara in the nearby North Alichursky Mountains have been published in to a new photography booked titled Eastern Tajikistan: A Visual Exploration of Life in the Pamirs. It is available in hardback and to view in digital version via
www.ripcordadventurejournal.com.

By Mattew Traver

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