RAJ Monograph 2 Eastern Tajikistan by Matt Traver

A Visual Exploration of Life in the Pamirs

A Visual Exploration of Life in the Pamirs


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<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong><br />

A Visual Exploration of Life in the Pamirs<br />

Photography & Text <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

<strong>Monograph</strong> 2

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong><br />

A Visual Exploration of Life in the Pamirs<br />

Photography & Text <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

<strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

Ripcord Adventure Journal<br />

<strong>Monograph</strong> is an Imprint of<br />

Ripcord Adventure Journal<br />

Cover image © <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The Plains of <strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> are a vast area of verdant grasslands, replete with<br />

bogs fed <strong>by</strong> underground springs fed from the near<strong>by</strong> mountains. The land here is so<br />

expansive that the sun shines upon these plains from sunrise to sunset, often creating<br />

astounding glowing, golden light.

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong><br />

A Visual Exploration of Life in the Pamirs<br />

Photography & Text <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal<br />

World Explorers Bureau, Alderwood House, Farnes, Castlemaine, Kerry, Ireland<br />

www.ripcordadventurejournal.com<br />

Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> is an imprint of Ripcord Adventure Journal<br />

and is published <strong>by</strong> World Explorers Bureau<br />

in association with Redpoint Resolutions<br />

Photos & Text © <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong>, 2016 except where indicated<br />

Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> Series Editor: Tim Lavery<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

A portrait of Orozbek<br />

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a<br />

retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or <strong>by</strong> any means, electronic,<br />

mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission<br />

of the copyright holder.<br />


Contents<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> 7<br />

Animal Husbandry 23<br />

Marmot Hunting 47<br />

Teresken Shrub 61<br />

Exploring History 69<br />

Bazar Dara 87<br />


<strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

<strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong> is a filmmaker and photographer with an<br />

interest in ethnography and adventure.<br />

This particular project resulted in the film ‘A Portrait<br />

of Orozbek’, which won an award for the Best<br />

Environmental Documentary at the 2015 Mountain<br />

Film Festival and also screened in the UK, Italy, USA<br />

and Czech Republic.<br />

For further information about visiting the region or<br />

the work of the Murghab Ecotourism Association visit:<br />

www.meta.tj<br />

www.matthewtraver.com<br />

4<br />

Image opposite: Orozbek and <strong>Matt</strong> © Jamie Maddison



<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong><br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

<strong>Tajikistan</strong>, the smallest of all the Central Asian countries, is best known for its<br />

rugged and beautiful mountainous terrain.<br />

An opportunity to meet and live with a Tajik-Kyrgyz hunter and herder named Orozbek was the main<br />

reason for <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong> and Jamie Maddison's journey to <strong>Tajikistan</strong>. Orozbek lives in the high and remote<br />

Pamir region of eastern <strong>Tajikistan</strong>, just 15km north of the Wakhan region of Afghanistan.<br />

Orozbek, like all of the inhabitants of the far eastern Pamirs is Kyrgyz, an ethnicity which comprises<br />

only 2% of <strong>Tajikistan</strong>’s total population of 8 million. Following the <strong>Eastern</strong> Pamir region declaring its<br />

independence from <strong>Tajikistan</strong> after the 1992 Civil War, various organisations such as the Murghab<br />

Ecotourism Association were set up to develop and support community-based programmes which might<br />

stimulate valuable inward tourism to this much overlooked and isolated corner of Central Asia.<br />

During their month long visit with Orozbek, <strong>Matt</strong> and Jamie documented what daily life is like, for an<br />

ordinary man and his family, living on the roof of the world.<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

A Soviet-era artillery bunker sits beside a section of the Pamir Highway in the ‘no man’s land ’ zone between the Kyrgyzstan and<br />

<strong>Tajikistan</strong> borders.<br />

In the background is the 4282m Kyzyl-Art Pass. Just over the crest of the summit is the third and final checkpoint before entering<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> (also known as the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast). It’s a lonely outpost comprising a couple of antiquated<br />

living pods for Tajik soldiers who are far from their regular homes in Dushanbe, the capital of <strong>Tajikistan</strong>, and a handful of Russian<br />

soldiers. Their main role in this region is searching for drug traffickers smuggling Afghan heroin northwards in to Russia and onward to<br />

the <strong>Eastern</strong> European gateway.<br />

This single road is also the only land route into this part of the country, either coming from Kyrgyzstan or Dushanbe.<br />



Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Close up shot of the 4282m Kyzyl-Art Pass sign.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Mountains cover 93% of <strong>Tajikistan</strong>’s landscape and 50% are above 3000m. However, in the eastern region most settlements are<br />

located from 3600m to over 4000m. This picture shows the very arid terrain and the looming shadow of a weather-front casting its<br />

mood over the Wakhan Corridor.<br />

To the left and around the corner, pathways lead into Western China and to the right, one can enter into Afghanistan’s fabled<br />

Wakhan region, not far from the shores of Lake Zorkul.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong>, similarly to much of Central Asia, had branches of the Silk Road running through it. Remnants of this distant<br />

past can still be seen today, such as this Chinese tomb just across the Alichur Plains next to Bash-Gumbez where Orozbek’s home is<br />

situated.<br />

12<br />

On the inside, the walls are still charred black from either cremating bodies or the ancient fires left behind from travellers. Just<br />

beside it and out of image is a ‘caravanserai’ where animals and their owners would have stopped to rest and recuperate during<br />

their journey along the Silk Road.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Early morning light bathes the Alichur Plains, which run alongside the Pamir Highway. Pictured here is a section of Orozbek’s<br />

farmstead, smoke billowing out from the morning tea being cooked over a wood fire. This is where we would call home for a month<br />

while we would attempt to document everyday life in the region.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek (second from left, top row) along with his wife, grandparents, cousins, three children and Jamie.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Whilst Orozbek’s location on the Alichur Plains is fixed, there are numerous nomadic families living in the area rearing yak, most<br />

will also have a solid winter base to call home in a near<strong>by</strong> village.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The region is endowed with unrivalled<br />

scenic beauty. Pictured here is a valley of<br />

untouched 5000m peaks, inhabited <strong>by</strong> one<br />

single family. Just behind the ridgeline is<br />

Lake Zorkul through which the Afghan-<br />

Tajik border runs straight through the<br />

middle. It’s a remote and sparsely<br />

populated area, watched over <strong>by</strong> a single<br />

guard post, making it relatively easy to<br />

‘accidently’ walk in to Afghanistan.<br />

Zorkul is also the source of the Amu Darya<br />

(Oxus River) which flows for 2400km into<br />

the Aral Sea of Uzbekistan. It’s an area<br />

which has been at the heart of a shifting<br />

geopolitical agenda through the centuries<br />

between the Russians, Afghans and British.<br />

The explorers Marco Polo and John Wood<br />

came through here on their respective<br />

historic travels.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

When Orozbek is not tending to his livestock, he makes an additional living maintaining a 5km stretch of the Pamir Highway running<br />

outside his house.<br />

He is a local fixture and friend to all the Tajik, Kyrgyz and Chinese truck drivers who commute along this 2000km stretch of road,<br />

serving them tea and food. Some of these truck drivers have ventured as far away as Western China, delivering goods to Dushanbe<br />

and beyond.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek’s wife and two of his daughters preparing a big batch of ‘kurt’, a common delicacy found throughout Central Asia and<br />

which is made <strong>by</strong> pressing thick soured cream that is then dried and hardened in the sun.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

One of Orozbek’s daughter’s peering curiously down the highway.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

An old Soviet listening post or observatory from the Cold War on the outskirts of Bash Gumbez. Many of these structures can still be<br />

found throughout Central Asia. Whilst they are no longer in use they make excellent hang-out spots for the local kids to race their<br />

bicycles around.<br />



Animal Husbandry<br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Animal husbandry is a primary source of income for many people in <strong>Eastern</strong><br />

<strong>Tajikistan</strong>; mainly rearing sheep and yak in addition to the collection of fodder<br />

from the Alichur Plains.<br />

One day we were fortunate to able to join Orozbek and his friends in herding yak from the Alichur<br />

Plains towards a small nomadic settlement in the near<strong>by</strong> mountains overlooking Bash-Gumbez.<br />

Yak keeping is unique to the high mountainous regions of Western Asia. The <strong>Eastern</strong> Pamirs are home<br />

to the world’s highest population of yak, which total in the region of 14,000. Pastoralists and<br />

nomads, be it the Kyrgyz in <strong>Tajikistan</strong> or Xinjiang, the Wakhis of Afghanistan or the Baltis and Astoris<br />

of Pakistan’s Karakoram and the Himalaya, all use the yak for the same purposes; for meat, to<br />

produce butter and cream, to carry loads during seasonal migrations and utilising their long and<br />

tough hair to produce rope, clothing, warm bedding and insulation for traditional yurts.<br />

Most yak herds in the Pamirs are managed <strong>by</strong> state-run enterprises or farmer associations, of which<br />

the herders like Orozbek, keep 70% of the production profits. However, economic conditions are still<br />

tough as income is low, food is sparse and with market alternatives being non-affordable, much of<br />

the region is still reliant on aid at times.<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Although it was only August, twenty yak, one hundred sheep and three donkeys to look after means constant cultivation and<br />

preparation is required to see Orozbek’s family and their livestock safely through winter, which can often come unpredictably<br />

early when living at 4000m.<br />

Pictured here is Essen, Orozbek's brother, who lives in near<strong>by</strong> Bash-Gumbez scything grass from the plains for fodder.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

26<br />

Once the grass is cut from the boggy plains it is then towed on a plastic sled to a dry patch of ground where it is dried in the sun.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek, Essen and Jamie preparing the fodder for storage in Bash-Gumbez.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

With a 500kg truck load of winter fodder saved, we rode towards Bash-Gumbez pictured in the lower left. This settlement is home<br />

to 128 Kyrgyz families, living on the foothills of the Southern Alichur Mountain range, just across from Lake Zorkul. This is where we<br />

would offload one of the many winter stock piles intended to see them through the harshest months between December to<br />

February.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Tired and satisfied after a long day’s work.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

A nomad’s settlement high in the hills above Bash Gumbez.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

32<br />

A local Kyrgyz prepares to round up a large herd of yak and take a few down the hill <strong>by</strong> vehicle to another pastureland.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

A young Kyrgyz man rounding up his herd of cattle.<br />


34<br />

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong>

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Yak do not go down without a hard fight.<br />


36<br />

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong>

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Once we loaded this one up in to the<br />

truck, it was so enraged that it smashed<br />

the thick wooden panelling apart with its<br />

horns, nearly shattering through the glass<br />

in the driver’s carriage and piercing our<br />

heads.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The Plains are a vast area of verdant grasslands, replete with bogs fed <strong>by</strong> underground springs fed from the near<strong>by</strong> mountains. The<br />

land here is so expansive that the sun shines upon these plains from sunrise to sunset, often creating astounding glowing, golden<br />

light.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The lakes, rivers and even little rivulets on the plains abound with fish.<br />

Pictured here is Orozbek (centre), his friend (left) and Jamie (right) holding the only tools necessary to fish in the region; a<br />

handmade seine net and circular net made with scraps of wood and wire. Fish is an excellent supplement to the typical diet of<br />

mutton, kurt and soup.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Jamie wandering on the shores of a lake located at 4400m searching out a good fishing spot.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek’s primary method for fishing is to wander long the banks, stamping his feet and beating the ground with a stick to rile up a<br />

school of fish. Once a group is agitated they’re easily spotted and corralled to a deeper section <strong>by</strong> continual foot stomping and a<br />

long basket-net is plunged into the water to scoop them up.<br />

Fishing with two people proved most effective, as one can blockade a tight section of the creek with the net, whilst the other<br />

chases the fish along the bank.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

44<br />

Orozbek and Jamie pleased with their large catch. It was not uncommon to gather two 40 litre bags of fish in a couple hours.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Happy days for Orozbek.<br />



Marmot Hunting<br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Any spare moment Orozbek could find away from his agricultural and road<br />

maintenance work would be spent laying snare traps over marmot holes.<br />

Handmade classic foothold traps or snares made from salvaged wire attached to bicycle wheels, bits<br />

of animal bone and sheep horn would be strung up to act as a stopper over the animal's entrance.<br />

It is speculated that it was the marmots from Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk Kul that started the Black<br />

Death in the 14th Century, with the illness having been carried along the Silk Road <strong>by</strong> traders and<br />

merchants. Even though the risk still exists today, marmot hunting for the consumption of its meat is<br />

common practice in the mountainous regions of Central Asia.<br />

After nearly ten days of setting traps we had finally caught ourselves a marmot. We at first assumed<br />

he was simply trapping the animal for its meat and skin, but were told that it was the oil he was<br />

after, which is locked up in the marmot’s fatty tissue throughout its body. By allowing it to leach out<br />

over 24 hours in the sun, he could fill half an empty vodka bottle and sell it for upwards of 10 US<br />

dollars to the numerous Tajik and Chinese truck drivers that pass <strong>by</strong> on the Pamir Highway, just<br />

beside his home.<br />

It’s believed that marmot oil is good for the immune system and has curative properties. With the<br />

average annual wage being 200 US dollars per household, every bottle sold amounts to a significant<br />

income boost for Orozbek and his family.<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek demonstrates to Jamie how to prepare a wire snare trap to snag marmots.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Preparing a spring loaded foot hold trap. Setting it requires great care as a small homemade wooden peg must be inserted to<br />

engage the trap, so it’s easy to get your fingers caught. A piece of animal fur is placed within the centre of the trap to help disguise<br />

it from the sharp-witted marmot.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek gives a solid tug of the spring to engage the trap.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek gingerly places the trap inside the marmot hole. Although these rodents are no larger than the size of a large house cat,<br />

they work and burrow furiously through hard packed earth. Around him is the extensive debris piles created <strong>by</strong> them, one of<br />

dozens, most likely interconnected over an area of 500 hectares.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek and Jamie prepare to pull out a marmot which has been snared (an old bicycle rim has been used as a jammer for the<br />

snare). It took nearly 4 days of work over 3 hour stints to catch one marmot.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

54<br />

A successful marmot catch, hung over Argali sheep horns which were used as a snare wire blocker over the hole.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Skinning the marmot and collecting the fat.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

<strong>Matt</strong> looks on curiously, holding the snare wire still bound around the marmot’s hind leg. Laid out on a plastic sheet, the first<br />

incision is made lengthways on the abdomen and vertical slits are made on the legs. Afterwards the fur is pulled off revealing<br />

globules of fat.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The marmot fat is the most precious and profitable part, so it is extracted from the flesh and squeezed and poked in to an empty<br />

glass bottle. Afterwards, it is left to hang in the sun, to allow the oil to leach out from the fat.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

58<br />

Orozbek’s dog dutifully watches over the marmot carcass.



Teresken Shrub<br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

One of the biggest problems faced <strong>by</strong> remote communities in the Pamirs is the<br />

intensive use of the teresken shrub which is required as fuel to cook and heat<br />

homes.<br />

During the Soviet era <strong>Tajikistan</strong> was dependent on subsidised fuel from other regions of the Soviet<br />

Union, such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. However, with the Soviet collapse and <strong>Tajikistan</strong>'s<br />

resulting independence, this led to no alternative fuel sources for the local population.<br />

With long winters on the plateau, primarily desert soils and an annual average precipitation of less<br />

than 100mm, many people are forced to lead semi-nomadic lives, seeking out adequate grazing for<br />

their livestock on lands that are suffering from desertification because of the excessive harvesting<br />

of Teresken.<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The humble energy supplying teresken shrub (Krascheninnikovia ceratoides, a.k.a. Pamirian Winterfat) ekes out a life in the dry<br />

and rocky soils. The plant itself is slightly spikey to touch, possesses a small amount of red and yellow flowers and grows in a<br />

cluster.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Extracting the tightly rooted shrub from the ground requires using a waist high rod which is plunged at a 45° angle on one side at<br />

multiple points to break the earth. Once the ground and root system is sufficiently broken the shrub is the leveraged out with the<br />

rod. It might sound fair easily, but it requires skill and stamina.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek shakes the dirt off the roots.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

66<br />

Sorting the teresken shrub in order of size.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Once the teresken shrub is collected it is bundled in to a tight pile and yak hair rope is secured around it to form a makeshift<br />

carry system.<br />



Exploring History<br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

While documenting and learning about the various aspects of daily life in this<br />

region was engrossing, exploring the massif and neighbouring peaks of Orozbek’s<br />

landscape also enabled us to make some intriguing discoveries.<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Overlooking Orozbek’s home is a large 4800m high limestone range which we nicknamed the Orozbek Massif. This massif is an<br />

unexplored realm, even for Orozbek who has lived beside these cliffs all his life yet has rarely visited any of these caves or gone<br />

deep in to the rubble-strewn gullys which run beneath the 500m high cliffs.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Pictured here is a breakdown chamber with Jamie pictured beneath a shallow entry rift, for scale. We tried to crawl and tunnel our<br />

way in to the main chamber from below, but were unsuccessful – we were hoping to find a continuation of the cave system from<br />

within or evidence of animal remains on the ledge.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Another breakdown chamber with Jamie, Orozbek and his dog pictured beneath it.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

A view looking out from the entrance of the breakdown chamber.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Jamie high-up inside a chamber with the pin straight Pamir Highway cutting a line through the plateau. Although the road looks<br />

close, the vastness of the landscape skews perspective and it is in fact about one hours walk distant.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

In one particular cave we scrambled up the side of a cliff and in to a cleft.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

In the far side of the cave we came across a blackened wall which we presumed to be an old fire pit. Together with Orozbek, we<br />

dug 50cm deep in to the soil and dirt and began to uncover the fragments of animals; ribs, jaw bones, possibly dried skin as well as<br />

petrified faeces, wood and fur.<br />

Whilst we are unsure of how old this could be, Orozbek said he’s never known of anyone in his family history to have been up in this<br />

area and given the aridity of the environment and the depth in which these were buried it’s quite possible some of these remains<br />

could be hundreds of years old.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Notice the old charcoal smearing Jamie’s hand, as well as the tooth of a large mammal. Orozbek speculated that over the<br />

centuries this cave may have been used <strong>by</strong> ancient hunters seeking out Argali sheep and also <strong>by</strong> snow leopards using it as a den.<br />

Uncovering these instilled a sense of wonder in all of us at the possibility of what else might remain to be discovered in the caves<br />

and mountains throughout the high regions of Central Asia.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The only reliable way to get around in this part of the country is on foot or <strong>by</strong> bicycle. On this particular occasion we ventured<br />

in to a valley seeking out an obscure hole in the side of a cliff.<br />

The sign warns of a radioactive truck which crashed 1.5km to our right. Orozbek told us very clearly to stay away from it as it<br />

may have once been carrying uranium from the mine which existed deeper in the valley.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Once in the valley we spotted a hole on the mountainside and headed towards it. In this case we came across a 19th Century<br />

Russian tin mine, approximately 15m deep.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Looking out from the entrance of the 19th Century Russian tin mine which is located at 4500m.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

In the far end of this mine we came across a remarkable discovery, piles of hardened balls, the size of pepper corns. They littered<br />

the floor, growing in hardened clusters from the wall and in separate loose piles. Initially we thought maybe they were rodent<br />

faeces, but when crushed in your fingertips they turned in to a granular rocky powder.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

We took a few samples back to show Orozbek who was at home and immediately he said with surprise “it’s mumya!” We had no<br />

idea what this was, but over time we could figure out that this is a naturally occurring substance with medicinal properties.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

After the mumya find, we continued to search the neighbouring mountains with Orozbek in search of more. Mumya it seems, comes<br />

not only in ball form, as shown previously, but also as a thick, sticky tar-like substance secreted on the rocks practically leaching<br />

out from the walls.<br />

Also known as Shilajit, this little-known substance in the West has been used within traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and<br />

throughout Central Asia. It is supposedly a natural painkiller containing 85 different minerals. Orozbek told us that locals have used<br />

this for centuries to treat all types of ailments. Ingesting the substance can be done <strong>by</strong> chewing/swallowing, as well as licking the<br />

rocks directly.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Searching for more mumya in the hills. Orozbek’s friend can be seen with a pair of binoculars searching out the endangered Argali<br />

sheep roaming high on a ridgeline which along with Ibex also seek out the substance to heal themselves when they are sick or<br />

injured. This could also explain why these animals roam at such high altitudes, in addition to predator avoidance.<br />



Bazar Dara<br />


Ripcord Adventure Journal <strong>Monograph</strong> 2<br />

<strong>Eastern</strong> <strong>Tajikistan</strong> <strong>by</strong> <strong>Matt</strong> <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Bazar Dara (Cliff Market) is a rarely visited 11th Century caravanserai, which at<br />

one point was home to over three hundred workers and their animals who worked<br />

in the silver mines high on the mountainside.<br />

Whilst it has been over a century since anyone last lived here, remnants of a once busy past can still<br />

be seen, including a purpose cut track for accessing the mines, crumbling alleyways leading between<br />

various homes and old fire pits in the centre of communal living spaces.<br />

Photo opposite © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

The UAZ vehicle descends through the Northern Alichursky range towards Bazar Dara. The UAZ is one of Russia’s most iconic allterrain<br />

vehicles, produced in various forms since 1941 and fondly nicknamed the ‘breadloaf’, it is found throughout Russia and the<br />

former Soviet Union.<br />



Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Orozbek, his friend and Jamie peer deep in to a tributary valley which runs in to the Murghab River. We were told that this<br />

uninhabited valley and many others in this area have bears and wolves. This journey to Bazar Dara was as much of an adventure for<br />

Orozbek and his friend as it was for us.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Another shot of the tributary valley and river feeding in to the Murghab River which flows in to Sarez Lake to the west. The lake is<br />

in fact a natural landslide dam which formed in 1911 after an earthquake, creating a 567m high barrier - the highest dam in the<br />

world. Although it’s an intriguing and isolated oddity on the landscape, there’s great concern from geologists and seismologists<br />

about the integrity of this natural structure.<br />

Given the seismic activity of the area, some say that all it would take to break this dam would be another high magnitude<br />

earthquake. If that were to happen 16 cubic kilometres of water would flood down the valleys, estimated to create a wall of water<br />

800ft high and enveloping four Central Asian nations – an event researchers have named ‘The Sword of Damocles’ should it ever<br />

occur.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

92<br />

After 3 hours of rough-riding over the Northern Alichursky range we arrived at the ancient ruins of Bazar Dara.

Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

A look at one of the remains of the homes within the ancient settlement. In the centre of the image, on the raised platform, an<br />

old fire pit can be seen.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

Uniquely, lying below the escarpment of the ancient settlement, the Ak-Jylga petroglyphs can be found etched in to a giant lump of<br />

graphite rock and reputed to be some of the highest in the world at 3800m. On it are depictions of ibex, chariots and archers on<br />

horseback left behind <strong>by</strong> visitors to the region more than one thousand years ago.<br />


Photo © M. <strong>Traver</strong><br />

This particular petroglyph shows a small dog barking at an Ibex.<br />


96<br />

<strong>Monograph</strong> 2

Published <strong>by</strong> World Explorers Bureau & Redpoint Resolutions

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