There’s nothing like an all day party to help you over a bout of altitude sickness. Heading southwest from Lake Karakul, up and over a 4000m mountain pass, we arrive in the heartland of the mountain-dwelling Tajik people smack in the middle of a colourful annual festival. What good luck!
Tashkorgan تاشقورغان بازىرى was an important stop along the Silk Road from China through the mountainous Khunjerab Pass to Pakistan, about an hour away. A scant few kilometres to the southwest is Afghanistan, and directly west, along a broad front of the Pamir Mountains is Tajikistan, a country I am pretty sure I had never heard of until now. Yet here I am in in Tashkorgan, a town full of mountain Tajiks who settled here in this fertile mountain valley of the Pamir Plateau, herding sheep and growing wheat and fruit.
The celebration is in full swing when we arrive, centred around a huge grassy field north of town and the adjacent dirt racetrack. Colourfully dressed Tajik women are arriving from every direction, wearing their party best – patterned red dresses, embroidered velvet caps covered with a brightly coloured scarf for the young women, and a white scarf for the older ones. In keeping with the modesty of their Muslim faith, the women’s skirts ae all below the knee, under which are worn skin coloured leggings, and over these shiny skin-coloured stockings. High heels are permitted.
The men dress more modestly in navy blue or black, all with covered heads and many wearing flat caps. According to a Chinese Government website about China’s Tajiks,
“It would be a breach of etiquette to take off the hat while talking to others, unless an extremely grave problem is being discussed.”
The festivities, many and various centre in the broad flat field with people watching Tajik singing and dancing from behind a barricade of coloured bunting.
Starving, we give the cattle and sheep judging a miss in favour of the food tents. A long avenue of bunting is lined with food stalls on both sides, smoking from grilled kebabs. Nearby yurts have been assembled so friends can gather, drink tea, and eat lunch. The local foods are simple and hearty – mutton polo, a rice dish cooked with tasty chunks of meat, shreds of carrot and occasionaly dried fruits; breads, shallow dishes of yoghurt, and small tin bowls of fresh cream eaten with torn chunks of soft bread.
I try an interestingly texture corn bread, served with a paper cup full of lightly pickled mung beans topped with chili, all washed down with salted yak milk tea. I’m getting to quite like the stuff.
The women are very interested in a stall selling cross stitch patterns. Their red dress and tassels indicate they have been recently married, and they greatly admire the stallholder’s best work, a framed Tajik wedding portrait in cross stitch.
Before leaving Tashkorgan we visit its majestic adobe fort, some 1400 years old, sitting high above the town. It’s a magnificent end to our day here, the imposing and solid walls watching over the Tajik celebrations from afar – what history must have happened here! Battles fought, hearts of princesses won and lost, kingdoms gained. Only the ancient walls know the truth.
Travels on the Silk Road