Looking for some change in scenery from Dushanbe, Robb and I joined our new St. Petersburg friend, Alexander, to Iskanderkul, located 134 km west of the Tajik capital. We also managed to bring along a Belgium/Flemish-American couple who were also staying at the hostel.
Since we were driven by Zarif, our hostel host in Dushanbe, he allowed us to make stops along the way to the lake.
We made our way up the M34 road and again through the “tunnel of death” before we turned to a small, unpaved road. About 20 minutes on this offshoot, Zarif hit a rock and it hit back hard. We stopped and found that oil was leaking badly.
Zarif flagged down a passing Jeep and this was when chaos started. Everyone quickly transferred their belongings to the new car. Zarif asked us to pay for the ride to Iskanderkul (even though we were still 30 km out) so he could pay these new guys to drive us.
With Robb in the trunk and four of us squished on the backseat, we were off again. We got to entrance and had to pay 16.95TJS ($2.00) per person per day we were going to spend there. Calculating the math for 5 people with different time periods of stay was a little too much for the guy in charge.
Iskanderkul, or Alexander Lake, is named after Alexander the Great. It’s 2,195 m (7,201 ft) up and nestled in the Fann Mountains.
The Jeep dropped us off the first location that looked like housing and said our goodbyes to the Belgium-American couple.
Our 3-person room was cramped but it had a heater and hot water. It also had an amazing location, right next to the lake. And they were nice enough to give us a hot water kettle and a tea pot. We were also the first tourists of 2017 for the campsite.
We hiked up to the waterfall, a 30 minute jaunt up, passing massive boulders, several rock-slide aftermaths and unusual vegetation.
The viewing platform built for the waterfall was a welded network of now rusted metal rods which was counterbalanced by heavy boulders. Scary to stand on? Very! Beautiful waterfall, nonetheless.
After the hike, we went in search for food. Our campsite laughed when we asked for food options, then told us to go next door to the next hostel.
We saw a grandmotherly lady working and asked if food was available. Since she didn’t know understand, she went for help. And that was when I met my Tajik ‘son’.
This nameless boy was probably 3-4 years old and left with some family in Iskanderkul. He was quiet and observant. And always with a light blue pompom hat and a red jacket.
As the grandmotherly lady cooked us soup, the boy watched us play table tennis. He sat with us while we were eating, but said nothing.
The blackout cut dinner short. And we were in bed by 20:00. At least we could see the stars!
The next morning, the sky was absolutely clear and the mountains reflected onto the lake. It was just breathtaking.
After some final instructions from Uncle Alex, a man who lived in the hostel next door, I walked with the guys to the spring that feeds the lake. It was only a 8km walk around a winding dirt road.
I walked back as the guys continued onto Saratag, the village closest to Iskanderkul. It was quite nice to be alone with nature. I leisurely walked back, waved hi to the one, lone minivan that drove past me and occasionally stopping to stare at the lake.
A few hours later, the guys returned from their walk and we headed to the other hostel to hang about. Uncle Alex was there and was really excited to show off his collection of mementos to us. He called it a museum, and indeed, it was. Uncle Alex had calendars dating back to the 1980’s hanging on the walls. Dusty books, Marco Polo sheep horns and tourist maps line the floors and walls of his study.
Back in the dining hall, as Alex waited for his warm soup, my Tajik son sat next to us. I showed him the selfie part of my smartphone and he was thoroughly amused. Robb and I later taught him how to ‘high 5’ which he enjoyed.
When we had breakfast at the other hostel, we only had bread, homemade plum jam and two servings of porridge. We were charged a whopping 40TJS ($5.00) for the meal. To revolt, Robb and I resorted to eating canned beans, corn and tuna to which we called a salad. In turn, the manager gave us some more homemade plum jam for free.
We bid farewell to Alexander the next day as he wanted to stay in the mountain village longer. He had helped us arrange a taxi with the hostel next door. When we got to the car, my Tajik son was in the front seat.
An hour of traversing through a flock of sheep and some rough roads brought us to Sarvoda, the closest village on the Khujand-Dushanbe road.
We got out of the car and asked about the price of the shared taxi to Dushanbe. When our bags were loaded on top of the car, I found my Tajik son also in the car to Dushanbe. The manager who drove us from Iskanderkul was long gone.
And within 10 minutes, we were on the road, just me, Robb in the front seat, an older man with a live chicken between his legs, a mother with her little daughter, my Tajik son and me in the back seat.
For the longest time, my Tajik son was standing but slowly was falling asleep. I tried to gesture him to sit down but he was putting up a fight. Eventually, he gave in. And so, he was sleeping on my lap.
My Tajik son slept for almost two hours on my lap before being awaken to get out of the car for a car wash.
We arrived in Dushanbe and there was nobody to pick up my Tajik son. The taxi driver was on the phone hopefully talking to the person who will get him. Robb and I tried to say goodbye to him, but his response was exactly the same as when we first met him, stoic.
Iskanderkul was beautiful and peaceful, but what I will remember most was for a few days, I somehow adopted a Tajik boy.