A Quran dating back centuries. Mirzosho unpacking his wonderful collection of unusual objects from the past, reviving aspects of Tajik culture sometimes smothered by the weight of Soviet heritage. In his sitting room that resembles a museum, he tells of his ancestors’ lives through jewellery, monies, clogs, teapots, wall-hangings, books...
The warden of the Chorkuh mosque’s son prays in what could be the last wooden-sculptured mausoleum in Central Asia.
Buzkachi – or «catch the goat» – is probably the most brutal of equestrian sports. The riders, sporting helmets from the Soviet army, must lift a decapitated goat carcass and ride across the playing field to set it down at the other end. This game, halfway between rugby and polo, is widespread throughout most of Central Asia.
In the small town of Istaravshan, the tradition of knife-making has for centuries been passed down from generation to generation. I met in this workshop a family of knife-makers in 2011 and 2014.
Arriving in the capital from a remote village, an elder sings in a forgotten language. A passing schoolchild turns around and starts to dance.
Jonboz is a figure for #Pamiri music. He played with the internationally known #Badakhshan Ensemble. Today he is too old to travel, he lives in #Bartang valley. I was lucky enough to meet him by chance and record him during one his rare apparition in #Dushanbe, in the Musical instruments Museum #Gurminj.
At the beginning of the thaw, the water level at the Nurek hydroelectric dam is at its lowest. With its landscape almost entirely made up of mountains and its large number of glaciers, Tajikistan is Central Asia’s water reservoir.
Like a million other Tajiks, these brothers used to be immigrant workers in Russia so as to feed their family in Tajikistan. Quitting the ordeal of living in Russian cities, they now prefer to stay close to their families and live off their daily fishing.
Pamiri houses are built around a wide «sitting room» held up by five wooden pillars. These are interpreted today as the five pillars of Islam. They once represented the gods of the ancestral religion of Zoroastrianism. The four levels of the opening in the ceiling represent the four elements; from top to bottom: fire, air, water and earth. (Yamg Museum, Wakhan corridor)
At 4,200 metres above sea level, two young shepherds play with a football, their sole pastime on these summer grazing grounds. The balaclava protects them from dust and sun. After playing a few minutes, they drop to the ground, exhausted and out of breath caused by the lack of oxygen. I tell them that on this very day, July 13th 2014, the final of the football World Cup is being played on the other side of the world. Amused, they get back up and start playing again!
Summer pastures above Shidz village. Rashid cuts the grass that will feed his cows and sheep all through the winter.
Poaching is still endangering the Marco Polo sheep species (Ovis ammon polii). One sheep can weigh up to 120 kilos.
This former Soviet republic has been independent since 1991. Nearly all its infrastructure was built when the USSR decided to “civilise“ its most remote regions. A lorry driver washes his Zil – a soviet-designed lorry – in front of a tunnel sign saying “Have a Good Trip“ in Russian.
At over 4,000 metres above sea level, on the long and uncertain Pamir Highway, a mini-bus stops in the middle of nowhere for a break. Music is blasting and the Pamiri quite naturally start dancing. This reflects the Pamiri sunny disposition, characteristic of the unfailing spirit of this people. The Pamiri people live in one of the most remote mountainous regions on earth: Badakhshan, divided between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. They speak ancient Indo-European languages and practice a moderate form of Islam, Ismailism.
A salt lake on Alichur plateau, 3,820 metres above sea level. At the crossroads of Himalayas and Hindu Kush, Pamir is also called the Roof of the World. Its very high altitudes, low rainfall and great differences in temperature make it one of the most remote and extreme regions on the planet. Winter never seems to end with its temperatures of near -40°C.
Above Langar village, an elder points to the place where the Silk Road caravans branched off. Straight on, they travelled to the mountains of Northern Pakistan. Turning left, they could continue their voyage towards Kashgar, that has been a merchant city for 2,000 years.
Here, Bibi Fatima spring, known for improving female fertility. Water plays a large part in the life of Tajiks and Pamiris. In villages, the gardens and kitchens are supplied by a clever network of small canals. Covered terraces are built over mountain rivers, providing cool shade during the hot summers. Thermal springs are very popular. Half science and half folk wisdom, their healing powers even attract Moscovites.
The river Panj marks the Afghan border along hundreds of kilometres. It then becomes the Amu Darya river, irrigating the cotton fields, and dries up before it reaches the Aral Sea. (aerial pictures)
Somewhere in the Bartang valley, several generations of Pamiri musicians gather for an improvised concert.
Each year in Khorog, the capital of Pamir, musicians from the region and from all over Central Asia come together for the Roof of the World Festival.
A Pamiri wedding is being prepared in Murghab. Women from the whole neighbourhood come to help with the preparations: fresh and dried fruit platters, vast quantities of green tea...
Accompanied by women from her close family, the bride symbolically leaves her parents’ home. After crossing town to a frenzy of honking car horns, the bride is welcomed to the sound of dafs.
Hundreds of guests will have a taste of traditional plov (rice pilaf). This dish from Central Asia is prepared from rice, carrots and mutton.
Pshart Valley. Five Kyrgyz families spend the three summer months close to the pasture their herds of yacks and sheep graze on.
Following tradition the groom, with his friends and cousins, comes to pick up his bride at her parents’ home. The women cut them off, and after some hard bartering, they let the men come in.