VeshabAugust 12, 2018 in Tajikistan ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C
Such a tiny little town you weren't even on our trusty Maps.me. Both our guide books (Central Asia Lonely Planet and Tajikistan Bradt) had a single little paragraph on Veshab, but just enough to entice us.
These few lines in the guide book said Veshab was 47km away from Ayni, the central transport hub. Who knew 47km meant 2 hours! I guess we should have known, having seen the road conditions on the Pamir Highway, but silly us - we thought this would be a quick little jump over to a small town before finishing our journey in 2 larger cities. FYI - we paid 50 sumoni each for this ride, which I actually think was slightly over priced, which translate to roughly 6.90$CAD, for 2 hours of a ridiculously bumpy ride (confirmed by hotel owner - this ride should have cost 15-30 sumoni,ouch!).
After we communicated to our taxi driver that we want to be dropped off at the tea house (using "chai" as the Tajik word for tea, followed by putting our hands together to form some kind of roof), we were brought to "downtown" Veshab - which consisted of one closed tea house, a single shop, and then houses. All along the mountains were these picturesque mud houses, surrounded by greenery, with the sounds of a spring making it's way through town. Green is always a welcomed sight in Tajikistan, considering how dry and rocky their mountains usually are.
As our guide book only had two suggestions for sleep - either a home stay (usually organized from the tourist agencies in larger cities, which we obviously didn't do) or staying in the back of the tea room (which is apparently closed), we needed to improvise so we wandered into the shop and hoped for the best. We asked the man and young boy behind the counter "Mex-ma-hona?" (guesthouse) in our best Tajik with our hands in the air as if to say "where?". They both nod their heads no. We ask again. The nod no. We aimlessly point towards the town then laid our heads on our hands asking where in town can we sleep? And they point to the closed tea room across the street. We may have needed to organize this ahead of time. But low and behold! Another man pops in and says "hotel?" "Yes!" "yes, yes, here" he replies. Wait a minute - your two side kicks sent us away, and you're saying this is a hotel? Sure enough, he signals us over to a side gate, we follow in, he shows us 2 large rooms, one of which was mostly empty except for the usual pile of floor mattresses in the corner, and the other of which had a ridiculously elaborate buffet of food laid out. After we agreed on a price, which was 15$USD for both of us, for two nights, he invited us to sit at the buffet table.
There were at least 20 plates laid out in front of us; fruits, nuts, candy, mini chocolate bars, even bottles of pop. He brought out bread and tea, and as we filled ourselves up with everything in front of us (big mistake), his wife brings in a potato and beef dish with a full bowl of their soured milk / yogourt thing. Do these people not know how little I usually eat!? Wanting to be polite, I forced myself to eat almost to the point of being sick, and when I signaled I was done - I was told to keep eating.
The lovely wife of the hotel and shop keeper asked us if we wanted to go see some dancing (basically pointing to us, pointing to her eyes, then shaking her hands like dancers here do). We could hear some music from where we were sitting but didn't know why. So naturally, we followed, despite being exhausted from a long day of transport and hiking (2.5 hours of hiking in the morning, 6 hours of transport), likely not looking or smelling our best.
A short walk brought us to a wedding celebration which seemed like the entire town was in attendence. We quickly saw the segration of men and women, and stuck with our hotel lady who stood in the crowd of women surrounding a grassy patch of land which I can only imagine will become the dance floor. That is until a women popped by and grabbed Jack and I by the arm and motioned to follow her. A quick look at our hotel lady for the approval to follow and we were whisked away to a table of seated women. A VIP table it seemed (which we were later told the tables were for out of town guests with invitations). Of course we were served bread and tea and later a full plate of food despite my many attempts to say we quite litteraly just ate at the hotel. So again, I make an effort to eat out of politeness, almost starting to resent this forceful eating.
After a few speeches, the music starts, and dancers emerge from the crowds. Women at one end, men at the other. It's refreshing to see that not all men (seemingly heterosexual considering the strong Muslim beliefs) in the world act like it would be the death of them to show affection to one another, and dance together. Two men approached us with an introduction that sounded like "hello. How are you? I speak English if you need help". It was clear they both wanted to practice their English, which we welcomed. They helped us understand why the bride and groom, who were in a booth like elevated box, were continuously bowing up and down for what seemed like an hour - they were showing respect to their family members by doing so. They looked so incredibly bored compared to the rest of the crowd now either dancing or joyfully looking at the people dancing. One of the English speaking men, who runs a guesthouse in town through a tourist agency, even decided to take the microphone and say a speech on our behalf, in English, thanking the 2 Canadians for attending these festivities and welcoming us to their town. I both felt nauseous from the amount of people looking at me (social anxiety to the max at this point), and felt warmed that he would go to such lengths to make us feel welcomed. It was an amazing experience and one that, despite our dirty clothes, was memorable.
The next day in Veshab consisted of walking through residential alleyways, constantly saying "Salam" with a hand on our heart to everyone who passed, we were guided around town at first by one of the shop keeper's boys - brought into his school, shown a poster with "English speaking countries" which included Canada (only 5 were displayed, which surprised me that Canada was part of it), he mostly would yell out English words that he remembered from school which we would then try to figure out considering the poor pronunciation.
This being a relax day, we spent an hour in our room expecting to quietly read our books but I ended up spending this hour with this same boy, his friend, and their English learning school book reading English words, with me trying to show them correct pronunciations while miming the word so they know what it means. It was a tough game of charades and English class mixed together.
All in all, small town with lots of character. A must stop in Tajikistan, if you ask me.Read more