Varzob River – The Siyoma Valley
“If you can imagine a hidden place, tucked safely away from the world, concealed by walls of high, snow-capped mountains, a place rich with all the strange beauty of your nighttime dreams, then you know where I am.”
Tajikistan, nestled between the Pamir mountains to the south, the Alay to the northwest, and the Tien Shan to the northeast, is home to breathtaking mountain views, and vast valleys untouched by human settlement. 93% of the country is mountainous, and this week I had the first chance to get out of the city and into the mountains.
The Varzob river runs from the hills into Dushanbe, where it is little more than a muddy trickle, but at its source it is a rushing, cascading, ice-cold torrent of water, fed and encouraged by hundreds of small tributaries that run from the glaciers into the valley.
To cross the river, we go four at a time over a hand-pulled cable car.
Once on the other side, we walk through high foliage until we come to a small cottage nestled in the trees at the meeting point of two stunning valleys.
A well-maintained vegetable garden promises fresh tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, while several grilling pits are set up for making tea and dinner.
It is the house of Ivan, a Siberian hermit with a passion for photography. Inside, black and white photographs adorn the walls and climbing equipment hangs in the corner. The house is open to any traveler for any length of time, and there is an honor system of take-and-leave, ensuring the next travelers have food and supplies.
This was told to me by the current occupant, a young Uzbek guy named Rustam from Dushanbe who explained that Ivan had gotten sick recently and was in a hospital in the capital. Rustam told me he had been there 2 days, but comes several times a month and often hikes up the valley to the glacier, where the air is cooler and “constantly spring.”
On the way back, we walk over glaciers that span the river, and wade through one of the tributaries that feed the river, and along the side of the mountain until we are back to the road.
Near the road, a mobile bee-keeper’s trailer and stock hums with bees while jars of honey in various sizes sit on display in a stall by the road.