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Photographer's Note

I dedicate this upload to Piotr, as he loves mountains and posts wonderful landscape photos on TE.

This is one of the last photos I took in Eshkashim, on my first evening in Afghanistan. It shows the magnificent Hindu Kush mountain range lit up by the setting sun.

I’ve written a lot about the border crossing (https://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/Afghanistan/photo1578302.htm) and I mentioned a little bit about the daily life and the attitude of the local people to tourists (including single female travellers). Now it’s time to say a few words about the tourist accommodation. Against what, I suspect, most people think, tourist infrastructure in Afghanistan does exist. It certainly thrives in Wakhan, with the number of accommodation options exceeding demand and new guesthouses constantly being built. The conditions are very basic though. I’m sure nobody would expect en-suite rooms and tiled bathrooms… In fact, you do get tiled (shared) bathrooms, complete with ceramic toilets and washbasins. These are often designed using help of and sponsored by the Aga Khan Foundation. But many of those luxury facilities seem to serve purely for decoration. A tap with running water is hard to come by, so is a working tank to flush the toilet. Toilets are often located outside, and sometimes a short walk away, the building where your room is.

The only heating was a stove placed, occasionally, in the dining room. The temperature in the rooms (it being October at high altitudes) was barely higher than it would have been in a tent. In some places it’s not possible to recharge the batteries as there are no sockets in the rooms or they are not working. In some others the electricity, including light, is switched off in the evening and on again in the morning, when you are ready to go out with your camera with the battery not having been charged. And of course you have to forget the mobile signal and the internet. As soon as we drove away from the border river Panj my Tajik sim card died. It sounds like a minor inconvenience until you realise that the options for calling help if you get ill or have an accident become limited. The nearest medical facility is in Eshkashim, days’ drive away. And I do mean ANY medical facility, any doctors at all. I brought a GPS positioning beacon with me but would anyone send a helicopter to Wakhan to save a tourist dying of appendicitis? Where from? Kabul? I told my guide: “If I start feeling unwell, drive me to the Tajik border, drag me through the river and live me on the road”. In case of a real emergency, that would have given me the best chance of survival.

You really need your own sleeping bag or at least a sleeping bag liner to feel comfortable under unwashed blankets. Worst of all, something you can’t avoid is close encounters with very poor food hygiene (caused by, among all, the aforementioned lack of running water). As in many countries, refusing food lovingly prepared for you will offend your hosts.

Now, bearing all that in mind, I don’t regret a single thing. Not even the fact that I came back to Eshkashim, after just a week, feeling very ill and it took several days before I could eat again. What I saw in Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir was different and unique, an incredible experience. And that, in hindsight, is the only thing that matters now.

That first evening, as I was looking at the Hindu Kush painted with the orange hues of the sunset, it was a promise of an adventure that was to come during the journey that would start the following day – a long drive in the Wakhan Corridor towards the distant Pamir.

Also, metaphorically… let this be a ray of hope that the lockdown will end eventually and we will be able to travel again one day.

I will post two photos in WS:

1. A stove in the bathroom in the Marco Polo guesthouse in Eshkashim. It was the last time I had warm water to wash.

2. The garden in Marco Polo. Many guesthouses are located in walled compounds, like the one described in the book Walls of Maimana by a certain Gert Holmertz. There, you will see local women without burkas, just covering their heads with a scarf.

Burkas disappeared completely as soon as we entered the Wakhan Corridor.

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Additional Photos by Kasia Nowak (kasianowak) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1446 W: 7 N: 2818] (15276)
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