If I had one more day left on Earth, I’d choose to spend it in this heaven. The Wakhan Valley is precious, untouched and devastatingly beautiful if not ravaged from a turbulent past. The Hindu Kush beckoned and I was finally fit enough to embark on travelling through one of the most remote places on Earth. I knew I was tacking on a mammoth task through this tumultuous and hardy valley which is shared with Afghanistan. I didn’t know I would be starring Afghanistan in the evil eye and getting a glimpse into this fascinating world en route. I was fully aware of the risks at hand, rock fall ridden roads where mudslides often occur mark the journey pretty treacherous. I had no idea that there are still landmines and army tanks littered along the Pyanj River. It’s a crude reminder of how this area and her inhabitants were toyed with by The Great Game played out between the British and Russian Empires. Our drivers often liked to point out where crazy tourists had been killed on motorbikes as they attempted to drive through these valleys.
It’s a thrill knowing that Marco Polo traversed this valley around 1271 and it is believed that Alexander the Great traveled along this way as well. Kame and I set off to take in this remote splendor in our own time. The Pyanj river is a stunning turquoise and her banks were adorned in autumn attire. I sat and starred at the Afghan side of the river trying to get a peak of life over there. We took a shared minivan to Anderob and walked up to the gorgeous Garam Chasma. Garam Chasma is famed for its hot springs which boast healing powers. We stayed at the sanatorium which was pretty comfy and cushy with good grub. I always laugh when I say I stayed in a “sanatorium”, these are health resorts rather than mental asylums. The toilets there are horrific though. Outside wooden squatters line up under a tin roof which leaks, it’s apparent that like most toilets in the area are shared with the goats and livestock. The stench was incredible and after being so violently ill in Khorog, I was aghast. Speaking of bad smells, the big pool carved in the deposits of calcium carbonate had a pretty healthy sulfur stench to it. All this chemistry and geothermal activity reminded me of school science (and now it reminds me of Pamukkale in Turkey). There are time slots allocated during the day (that no one seems to follow or respect) when men and women are allowed to bath. Most of the time it seemed like men were the ones wallowing instead of the women. There are watchers who stay alert and make sure no one accidently walks in on the other sex steaming it up. Despite being told the times to go, every time I went a man came running up to me and mentioned it was “man time”. I was redirected to the small pools in the wooden cabins where I relaxed with my female counterparts. I finally managed to catch the big pool for “ladies time” and loved wallowing in the warm water.
Garam Chasma lies in the sub-valley of Lotkoh and we loved roaming about the gorgeous village. We were stopped all the time and friendly locals who demanded we come over for chai and food. It was absolutely bizarre to meet an old man who hobbled up to us and spoke FRENCH. I speak French and was astounded to be speaking la lingo in this extremely isolated part of the world. Another local girl stopped us and she spoke a smattering if English to make herself understood. We were followed around by some little kids who wanted to laugh and be laughed at.
It was purely delightful, there is something so honest and natural in their hospitality.
An old babushka beckoned us in for lunch and what a gorgeous family she had. We met virtually everyone in the household and were treated to a lovely lunch. She kept on giving us apples and chai ! And put out a proud and colorful display for us. We met her precious grandchild and cooed all afternoon and how cute it was. She was such a delight and her eyes spoke of courage and hardship. We we bid her adieu she waved us off with a blessing from her warm abode.
We stayed two nights in this pretty and comfortable place and I reveled in bathing twice a day in natural rejuvenating hot springs. The women I met with were friendly and lovely to chat to in the warm waters. It’s always striking to meet locals in the region with the most striking blue and green eyes and others had red or blonde hair. Some put it to Alexander the Great and his merry men spreading their genes around town, who knows. The older ladies had interesting tattoos on their wrists, faces and chins. All very new and interesting to me.