Tusiyon, Shokh Dara Valley

For the first time in my 10 days in Tajikistan, I was travelling alone. I left Khorog midmorning on a zigzag route around the city trying to find a marshrutka that would take me to the Shokh Dara Valley to the town of Tusiyon.

After a bumpy half hour in the vehicle, the driver got out and knocked on my window, telling me this was my stop. I paid a fare of 3 somoni ($0.50 CAD), walked across a bridge, and followed a dusty, hairpin road under an unrelenting sun up to the town. There were no marked homestays so I asked around for a name listed by the regional tourism organization. A young woman named Umeda, embarrassed that she thought she couldn’t speak good English, walked me over to a home where people were having tea. I asked if this was a homestay, and after some confusion (I didn’t speak Pamiri/Tajik/Russian, nor did they speak English) told me welcomingly to sit down. A few minutes later, they recruited a man from town who popped into the home and translated for us. Sasha spoke great English and stayed for the 2-hour long tea session, putting his English-language skills to good use in particular when translating an old man’s inquisitive questions about me, my Filipino background and my life in Canada. Besides that, they conversed in Pamiri and even though I couldn’t understand them, it was nice to be seated with them and observe the tea culture, snacking on non and sweets as well.

Eventually, the tea wasn’t replenished and we continued on with our day. I was showed to my room where I left some things before exploring the town. There were no sights per se, but walking along the streets, people greeting me at every turn, I made my way up a zigzagging slope to a fantastic viewpoint of the valley. I could see the picturesque town below, smallscale farms and apple trees providing plenty of green tones to contrast with the reddish brown mountains.

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I headed back down, wanting to go up another slope and see the region from a different angle. I ran into Sasha again, and he suggested we walk up to a route to a place where goes to relax. We took a dusty, winding road away from the town, views becoming spectacular with each foot forward, and he showed me some of the local plants, picking some beans and wildberries for me to sample. And we talked about life – life there in the Pamirs, life in Canada; two people with different backgrounds, paths converging at a common intersection in time and place, learning about each other. It’s interactions like these that motivate me to travel. I love seeing nature’s beauty and our attempts to match it with jaw-dropping architecture, but talking to people from different backgrounds is always a privilege. I know I’ve written it before, but there’s a common humanity that links and unites us all despite all the perceived differences which we think separate us.

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After close to an hour, we arrived at a flat pasture surrounded by mountains all around, and relaxed for awhile. I learned that Sasha had been working in Dushanbe for the past two years so hadn’t seen this site since then. There was a herd of cows grazing under the gaze of a shepherd who was a childhood friend of Sasha’s. He seemed to know everyone in town, except for the new generation of kids. There’s something nice about growing up in small towns and knowing everyone which contrasts with the anonymity of urban life in the West. Even when I’m travelling and I stay somewhere for a few days and realize that people recognize me, it’s a nice feeling.

On our way back down, we ran into his uncle who wanted to invite us to his home for a snack. Sasha kindly refused, saying we had to get back, but a minute later we ran into his aunt and he couldn’t say no to her, so we went into their house. She served us a fresh, salty cheese served with non (obviously!), and a bowl of sour milk with chunks of this cheese, to be mixed with sugar before drinking. I’m usually a bit iffy about dairy when travelling, but it was quite delicious so I ate quite a bit. Sated, we left and continued down into town where we received more offers for home visits and food, but we politely declined. Women and girls were walking the opposite way with buckets in their hands, heading to higher pastures to milk the cows. At the entrance to my homestay, I thanked Sasha profusely for showing me around and providing local insight about his hometown.

Even though I had just eaten, it was almost time for dinner. Dzamira laid set up the “table” for me on a mat in my room, and soon served me fried potatoes and more non (of course!). I was surprised to have a companion for the meal – 3-year old Amir, full of untameable energy as most boys that age tend to be, but it made for a fun and amusing dinner. Many towns in the Pamirs generally only have electricity for a few hours in the evening, so a battery-powered lamp illuminated our meal. I played with Amir for awhile and talked to the grandfather, the owner of the homestay, before retiring for the night.

The next day, I had a simple but tasty breakfast of non, eggs, and mystery meat before saying goodbye to my host family and walking down to the road to flag down a car to Khorog. Though my stay was short, I felt grateful and fortunate to have had the experience I had. It’s another addition to an ever-growing collection of stories and memories I manage effortlessly to treasure. Tajikistan is quickly becoming one of my favourite countries I’ve visited…

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Leaving Myanmar

During my travels in Asia this year, everyone I met that had gone to Myanmar only had rave reviews, and it quickly became a “must-visit” country for me on this trip, ahead of other countries in Southeast Asia. Although I had hyped up coming here so much, I actually made no concrete plans and I had no guidebook (take that Lonely Planet!), instead relying on the recommendations and advice from other travellers I’d meet and whatever I could find online through very spotty internet connections.

In my 25 days in Myanmar, I’ve scraped my knee falling off a motorbike, fell into a moat, explored mystifying, historic ruins, went on some beautiful treks and slept on thin mattresses on floors of modest homes in hill tribe villages whose names I’d never heard of and already don’t remember, and as always, interacted with so many beautiful people.

kids in hilltribe village on trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake

kids in hilltribe village on trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake

It’s been a great time to experience Myanmar during low season and at its current course in history. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to visit this country of amazingly friendly people, and can only hope that if I get the opportunity to return here one distant day, the generosity and sincerity of Myanmar won’t be forsaken in the name of tourism and development.

Monks at U Bein Bridge, Amarapura

Monks at U Bein Bridge, Amarapura

And now I’m back in Bangkok for a few days, enjoying a few days of rest and relaxation before exploring another country in Southeast Asia…