“Hi, guys!” I turned around to see two men pulling up to the curb in Vorukh in their motorbike with sidecar, one of whom spoke some basic English. “Where you from? Where you going? You need taxi? Russki?”
I was quite surprised to hear English in such a small village as Vorukh, a Tajik autonomous region in Kyrgyzstan. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a photo in the man’s sidecar though we politely declined a lift.
I was accompanied by my mother who fueled my passion for Central Asia, and our Tajik guide, Maina from the Asia Discovery tour company that her mother runs. Also with us was our safe and reliable driver, Ilhom.
Before going, we made sure we asked the authorities from both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan what the visa requirements were. For us Australians, all we needed was our standard e-visa with the GBAO permit (allowing us access into border regions) which we already had.
Getting to Vorukh was relatively easy and can be done as a day trip from Hujand. Whilst we didn’t get stopped at any police checkpoints, there was a definite police presence. This was likely due to the conflict that arose in 2014 between the Kyrgyz and the Tajiks. Typically they lived side by side harmoniously but due to border interference, there were disputes about who owned the land which they both needed to feed their large flocks for the winter. Currently, it’s very peaceful hence most likely the lack of checks.
It was interesting to see Kyrgyz communities on one side of the road and Tajik on the other and cars with Kyrgyz and Tajik number plates on the same road. The road we took to Vorukh went through a semi-arid desert with large dumps of sand or rocks on the road, previously designed to block the way. Now paths have been made over or around the sand and rocks.
Before reaching the village’s ‘Vorukh’ signage, we came to a border post with Russian and Kyrgyz writing saying ‘on the border’. Then patriotism kicked in with many Tajik flags and the President’s image as you’d commonly find throughout the rest of the country.
Fortunately, we arrived on market day, Wednesday, where the village was abuzz with activity. Maina was pleased to see this as the only other time she’d been to Vorukh was in 2014 as a journalist to cover the tensions and the mood was understandably somber.
The main form of transport did appear to be motorcycle and sidecar, and we even saw one local using this side car to carry his bread oven.
Maina managed to get a local to show us around and she translated for us. He took us to a 400-year-old mosque in dire need of repair. Old building materials lay in the original section, hiding some of its beauty. The new section nearby was the focus of construction efforts instead to cater for their growing population. It’s a mosque that takes its fire safety very seriously.
Maina asked our guide about Guri-Mur, an old Zoroastrian cemetery located in Vorukh. Unfortunately, he said nothing was left of the site after it was excavated and they’ve since sold the land back to the locals. Nonetheless, we saw a cemetery with the typical Zoroastrian sheep’s horns on display coming into Vorukh, which may have been similar, albeit more recent.
If we had more time in Vorukh perhaps we could have discovered more of its secrets. What will you find there?