Tuesday, 23 October 2007
An Excerpt From a different part of our Strange World.
ENTER THE PAMIRS: We woke up this morning (last friday) pissed off at our driver for being incompetent and ready to bolt in general. Instead we haggled him down to a pittance for continued travel costs, and decided to spend the day going into the pamirs, the huge mountain range in eastern tajikistan which supplied the USSR with all of its moutains worth boasting about, which still include Peak Lenin and Peak Karl-Marxa. we were bound for a pass at 4000 km where we thought there'd be some good views.a note about pamiri people: they are all ismailis, which is the minority branch of shiism which produced the assassins, built cairo, once stole the black rock from the Ka'aba and presented it to a messianic zoroastrian priest, and were generally the coolest heretics in world history. they were also pretty much wiped out by the Horde in the 1250s when Hulegu reduced Alamut. the survivors fled to remote regions, most notably lebanon, yemen, kashmir, and the pamirs. these people mixed with the native zoroastrians to produce a religion which is about as muslim as porkchops: they have a living prophet in the form of the Agha Khan, and the Agha Khan, direct descendant of the Old Man of the Mountain, runs Badakhshan through his massive humanitarian NGO. ethnically the pamiri peoples are an absolute cipher. the first thing one notices is that they are hawt. the second is that they have stereotypically acquilline feature( hooked hawk-like nose) but also bright bright blue and green eyes. even more awesomely, some people have colors i've never seen in caucasian (yeah, in the eugenic sense) eyes, including a dark blue that straddles the line somewhere between Ashara Dayne and a Guild Navigator. I'm sorry I won't have any pictures of this to show, but I don't believe in making local people pose for my entertainment, so I don't have any straight on shots of these noble spice-eaters. so the first place our driver took us was to a small village on the pamir highway. we walked past a couple of women painting a house with no men in sight who waved at us and proudly displayed their very fetching pet calf. we walked into the hills for about ten minutes, until we came to a small series of waterfalls straight out of a japanese garden. at the top of these falls was a small cave (2x2) that the spring ran out of, along with a brass bowl. apparently this teeny tiny grotto was an ancient zoroastrian shrine, then one day the father of shiite law, Imam Ja'afar as-Sadeq, rode by on his horse. to prove his divine powers he jumped into the hole on horseback, then jumped out again. this made the water holy, and to this day it is the only ground water i've drunk in tajikistan. it was also perhaps the best water of my life. I mean this was really, really bomb-ass water.down the hill from this shrine was a small ismaili temple, outside of which was a ruined black altar with the faintest sign of inscriptions: a zoroastrian fire platform. pretty cool, but to the lay observer it would look a lot like a modest sized pile of rock. onto the pass: at fifteen thousand feet the world is a moonscape. no trees, no animals, a couple purple flowers, but a plateau as far as the eye can see, punctuated only by even higher peaks, merging with the clouds.there were three guys in a broken down watermelon truck at the summit. they didn't want a ride, they didn't need food. they only asked us if we had anything that could help them pass the time. in a highly undemocratic fashion my travel mate closest to the car bartered away our only bottle of vodka for a watermelon, the cur. inside the cab of their truck, the watermelon trasporters immediately whipped out another large melon, cut off the top, and proceeded to pour in the vodka, drinking tajikistan's finest 2-buck vintage from a sculpted bowl of fruit. one can only imagine what this did to them at fifteen thousand feet.that night we slept at our driver's parents' place in a pamiri village, next to a holy river. behind us a single mountain had three waterfalls coming off of it. our driver's brother also spoke excellent english, and explained that he used to have a dog, but it was torn about by wolves the previous winter, which is the season when the packs come out of the high meadows and roam the village streets at night looking for livestock. he also said that snow leopards do the same, as well as tigers.NB: i made sure that there was no linguistic ambiguity surrounding the word "tiger:" in this part of the world, the only possible candidate for a fricking tiger would be the Caspian Tiger, presumed extinct for most of the 20th century. based on the remoteness of this location, as well as the bored matter-of-fact truthiness of the interlocutor, this is a proposition our local scientistas should look into. the remoteness of this location bears more discussion: in this part of the world all of the villages are on the pamir highway, but almost every village is also situated on river which comes out of the hills. several kilometers back, hidden away from view, exist what people describe as the *real* villages, or as the lands of the anscestors. the people who live here have probably gone undisturbed since the time of alexander. one can only imagine what's going on back there, or what crazy cultural coelocanths have remained undisturbed.thought of the day: Ismailism in its pamiri form is the noblest religion i've had the privelege to experience. our driver and his family explained that to be a good ismaili means being a good christian, jew, and muslim. it also means respecting all religions and seeking to erase differences predicated on intolerance and ignorance. to this end the pamiris, the poorest people in the poorest region of the poorest component of the USSR, almost universally (at least as they put it) speak four languages each, of which one is definitely russian and another is almost certainly english. these hillfolk put the tajiks to shame with their fluency in english, and another of our guides described that the reason pamiri people learn english is because life is only worth living if one cultivates an international, universalist view of humanity. this is not hippie woo-woo or some fad like Bahai'i (no offense to any here, but c'mon, the religion started in the 1800s). this is a thousand year old faith consciously founded on a combination of abrahamic morality combined with neo-platonist existentialism, building on a zoroastrian cosmology which did not divide the world into good and evil, but into truth and lies. the pamiris I saw were able to work this sophisticated sense of worldly duty and metaphysical complexity into lives that still involved painting houses, driving cars, and drinking vodka. more power to them.