The Pamir Lodge has five guest rooms, each with a sleeping bench and mats, and there is a another bench outside which forms a verandah, where you can eat, read, or nap in the shade. Gregg had said it was restful place, and he was right, except for the first evening when there was the loud bleating of a black sheep tied up in the garden. The next morning was truly quiet, though, and Blackie was being butchered into chops and sausage meat. Such is rural life in Central Asia.
We spent time sleeping, eating, and going to the internet cafe. We were very, very tired, and realized we needed time off the bikes to truly let our bodies and psyches recover. My muscles reacted strangely; for the first few days of not cycling they were glad of the rest, and a few days later I began to get strong cramps and spasms in various parts (thighs, low back) that I guess were unused to the inactivity. I also think our bodies were a bit rundown from several weeks of travel at high altitude on a less than well-rounded diet. Riding 10,000km in five and a half months at age 56 may have had something to do with the tiredness, too. We had already realized it was time for a break from pedalling when Chris got food poisoning and spent a day alternating sleep with running to the loo.
Gregg describes the cumulative tiredness of the long term traveller as being the result of the effort required to constantly adapt to the surrounding culture. Associating with other western travellers gave us a welcome break from that effort. We chatted with other guests as they came and went: Gunther and Cecilia, a German couple in their 60s who were travelling on motorbikes; Brits Sam and Vicki; Viviane, the French lady who had travelled with the donkey. Cecilia and I shared a similar critical view of local gender roles; Sam and Vicki made their own very English breakfasts on the verandah, and even had a toast-making gadget for their stove; Viviane described how her donkey would lie down, still fully loaded, in the middle of the road when she (the donkey, female) had had enough. It was a homey scene.
In town, we met a very talented young Vancouverite, Aliaa, who was staying in a village near Ishkashim for a year with a family that had all but adopted her, and was gathering material for her Ph.D. in anthropology. She was Ismaili, and she filled us in on bits of local culture and recent history which helped us interpret what we had seen over the past weeks. She also invited us along as she went to visit a friend of her host family, and we were invited to pepper our hostess, a librarian, with questions while Aliaa translated at speed. Aliaa had managed to learn Tajik in her first month here, already knowing English, French, Spanish and an Indian dialect.
The day after meeting Aliaa, and just as a ride to Dushanbe had been expediently arranged for us, we had the honour of meeting 86 year-old Dr. Ali Mohammad Rajput, a retired professor of mathematics from Birmingham (UK) who spends four months of the year in Khorog. Not only is he the venerable patriarch of the Pamir Lodge, but he played a key role in the recent history of Gorno Badahkshan Autonomous Oblast as we had just learned it from Aliaa. He was one of the three key people who came to GBAO to assess the situation in the early 1990s after the civil war, when president (for life?) Rahmon Imonali had blockaded both ends of the Pamir highway and was deliberately starving the dissident region. He reported to the Aga Khan (with whom he had connections having started his academic career on an AK scholarship from Pakistan) and a decade of food aid and much more began. Aga Khan projects can now be seen everywhere in GBAO, and there is an AK Foundation office in Khorog. There are cynical stories of other aid programmes that have been mismanaged, with vast sums spent and no improvement in the lives of locals, but the Aga Khan Foundation has made and continues to make a huge difference here.
If I lived here, I ‘d be proud to have his photo on my wall, too.