A Trip to Iskanderkul

Bouncing along the winding unpaved mountain roads at speeds that made even the bravest of us grip the car handlebars for dear life – this may not seem like it would be a fond memory that I would hold onto for years to come, but the grassy green hills, speckled with the distant shepherd boy and his flock looked like chocolate sprinkles on my favorite pistachio ice cream. The snowcapped mountains, topped off with the vast skies, went on for miles making us all stare in awe of the sheer magnitude of nature. Indeed, despite the white-knuckle ride, I will never forget this.

Friday after class a diverse group of seven oddballs carrying varying amounts of luggage marched along the quiet street near the American Councils office grabbing the attention of the locals. They were on their way to meet the manliest man that there ever was to exist, who could drink his weight in vodka, speed race through the dodgy roads of Tajikistan while simultaneously talking on the phone and popping pinches of nos (strong Tajik chewing tobacco) under his tongue. He is known as Zafar, the man the legend, doctor by training and a weekend chauffeur for adventurous travelers.

After one hell of a ride, necks sore from the endless potholes on the careening mountainside road, the frazzled group stumbled out from the “luxury” 4×4 onto quickly darkening campground. In a zombie-like state, they made their way to the edge of a pristine blue lake that rippled with the reflection of the dark shadows of the far off rugged mountains. Iskanderkul, named for Alexander the Great, appeared as an immense and mildly intimidating black presence as the group hurriedly prepared their camp. After sharing in some less than delicious hot dogs and libations in the form of vodka, the group retired to what would be an exceedingly chilly night.

The sun crawled up the mountain’s rugged back replacing the star speckled backdrop to a beautiful orange hue. Peeking from under their blankets like flowers opening up to greet the sun, the few that braved the frigid night forgot what difficulties they endured throughout the night and were thankful they could wake up to such beauty. The day progressed with an itinerary of equally beautiful sites as the group hiked along the river through a trail of fluttering butterflies of all colors, weaving their way along the various wildflowers. The path found its end at a waterfall, which created a perpetual rainbow that the group feasted their hungry eyes on. The peaceful sound of the water rushing and spraying off the ledge allowed for a reflection of the previous month spent in Tajikistan.

While I silently sat cross-legged on the ledge of the cliff overlooking the rushing waterfall, I took the moment to remove myself from all my distractions – friends, homework, and language learning goals – and simply allowed myself to exist. Just as the ride to Iskanderkul proved to be simultaneously terrifying, challenging, and mesmerizing, the blissful beauty and serenity of the final destination made it all worthwhile. My journey in Tajikistan hasn’t ended quite yet, but my ride through the ups and downs of language learning and living in a different country will undoubtedly end just as our hike did with memorable beauty and achievements.

By: Mitra Namiranian

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program

Term: Summer 2015

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