Last year Malachy O'Neill and his girlfriend Helen spent five unforgettable weeks travelling through Central Asia in search of adventure and music. Their journey took them through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and a little bit of Western China, in a crescent-shaped itinerary sweeping from West to East. Here is an excerpt from their blog about their time spent in the Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan:
"At the start of August 2011 we crossed into Tajikistan, winding up and down through the precipitous passes of the Fan mountains. After a bumpy 12 hour ride we finally arrived at the Hotel Mercury in Dushanbe. In Dushanbe we hooked up with Said and Gulnazar, friends of friends who were to be our companions for the next fortnight. They drove us south, skirting the Panj river, roiling greenly like lava made from jade. On the far bank Afghanistan began with a few scattered houses and a steep mountain face stretching thousands of metres upwards. We were in the mighty Pamir mountains - sometimes called 'the roof of the world', or 'the feet of the sun'. To our left stood the Hindu Kush, straight ahead the Tien Shan. The Altai range not far beyond, the Himalaya close behind. In Tajikistan, you see massive mountain peaks in every direction, more of them than I ever thought possible.
The Pamir mountains are overwhelming, but the people who live there are the greatest attraction of all. Their hospitality is fabled, and their sense of humour is something you don't forget. They're for the most part Ismaili Muslims, adherents to a branch of Shia which reveres the Aga Khan. The Ismaili faith is especially strong in the Pamirs, as the entire region would have been decimated by famine, it is said, during the Tajik civil war of 1992-97, had it not been for the Aga Khan's intervention. Pamiris love music and dancing, and it seemed to me that the women are very much in charge of their households. The Ismailis of the Pamirs are a great antidote to all the unhelpful stereotypes of Islamic life that we're so often subjected to these days.
As for the music… We were treated to a father-and-son display of the rubab, a lute like instrument, and drum in a traditional Pamiri house, in the village of Yemts, in the Bartang valley, Southern Tajikistan. The lop-sided rhythm so common in Pamiri music was enchanting and hypnotic. You can watch an expert here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2wn4u8Ofn4)
If you want to find out more about Tajikistan, see Robert Middleton's excellent website. Or you could buy his new book, 'Tajikistan and the High Pamirs: A Companion and Guide.' You can read more about Malachy's adventures in music at www.livestockfestival.co.uk.
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