Nomads of the Hindu Kush

We spent three nights in the modest but comfortable Bamiyan Guest House before setting off early for the important four day overland segment of this trip, following some of the ancient trading routes across the Hindu Kush and down into the Western city of Herat. Few, if any, other travel companies attempt this trip any more and, even leaving the security situation aside, it is difficult to imagine the constant stream of hippy adventurers that apparently once traversed the region on route to India and Nepal. The roads are not just bad, they are almost non-existent and nowadays completely impassable without modern suspension and four wheel drive. The only stopping places, the chiakhanas or tea houses, are disease infested hovels where travellers sleep on the carpeted floor in communal rooms, clinging to their valuables and dreading the onset of a “call of nature”.

That said (and frankly it is a lot) the sights along the way may just have been worth it. I really look forward to being able to post the photographs because looking through and sorting the amazing images was just about all that I could console myself with during the worst of the “what the hell am I doing…?” moments. Despite the dusty and bumpy conditions and our driver’s constant refrain of “Talib, Talib” whenever he didn’t want to stop, I have managed to capture a great deal: the cerulean lakes of Band-e Amir, majestic mountain ranges, wildlife, wild flowers and the occasional chain of camels driven by colourfully dressed Kuchi nomads straight out of the story books.

However, National Geographic pictures they are not. Even with a lot of cropping and a little manipulation, in most cases they can only give an indication. The refusal of our driver to let us stop and photograph the camel train was one of the great missed opportunities of this trip, especially as it later turned out that his haste was motivated by greed. He really wanted to reach the change-over destination in time to pick up another job even though the price he had already charged us was stratospheric. The Kuchi women wear beautiful, brightly coloured clothing and walk proudly ahead of their menfolk with their faces uncovered. Traditionally they recognise no borders and it is said that when they pass through the villages the locals lock their wives away in case they start getting ideas. It doesn’t take too much reflection to imagine what will happen to these people in a totally fundamentalist state and it is not a pretty thought.

The poppy field pictures are also blurred but in this case I fully concurred with the decision to press on past without even slowing down; you never know who is watching. Before arriving in Herat we made a difficult (what, even worse?) detour to the legendary Minaret of Jam and almost managed to photograph the other type of nomads, the Aimaq, distinguishable in the distance by their white tents and the women’s crown-like headgear but I’ll save that segment for another post.

Categories: Central Asia

Leave a Reply