Central Asia Travel Diary

We had another fairly leisurely start this morning, with breakfast at 9 am and departure at 9:45 am.  David was feeling unwell this morning, so Andy and I set off with Oleg to Nokhur village, 11 kilometres away.

The Nohkuri people who populate this remote mountain village are quite different to other Turkmen tribes.  They live in a handful of villages in the mountainous border area spanning Turkmenistan and Iran.  Nokhur is the largest village with just a thousand or maybe two thousand people.

The village itself fills a small depression valley in the mountains of the Kopet Dag Range, and the houses are  built with local boulders cemented with mud.  Apart from the main street through the middle of the town, the streets are so narrow that they only just fit a car between the high stone retaining walls on each side.

We stopped at an abandoned adobe home to see its distinctive features (separate room for parents, room for married couple, summer verandah in the middle, goat horn shaped carved tops to the supporting pillars etc) before also seeing an old abandoned yurt-making area.

From the home we drove up the steep eastern side of the town to the cemetery.  This was a remarkable sight, with each grave marked by a wooden square pole, carved with steps plus "X" marks that are said to derive from the Star of David, topped with goat's horns.  The Nokhuri people traditionally consider that the goats' horns offer protection, even though they are also quite devout Moslems, and Nokhuri cemeteries are unique in having graves topped with goats' horns.

We then headed back to Chandybil for lunch, taking a 4WD deviation on the way to visit the Khur-Khuri waterfall.  The view of the waterfall required a walk along the face of an unstable scree slope, but we were rewarded with a good view of the modest waterfall in quiet, tranquil surroundings.

We had lunch at about 1:15 pm at Chandybil, an unnecessarily large meal ordered by Oleg without asking us first, but paid for by us nonetheless – a pity as neither of us was really very hungry.  Following lunch, we went for a walk to get some exercise, climbing the two hills on either side of the Chandybil valley for some great views over the valley as well as some great fun climbing up and down the steep slopes of unconsolidated sediment.  After a final short walk out the front of Chandybil to watch some goats grazing (action entertainment being scare in this area!), we returned in time for our planned 3:15 pm departure.  In fact, we didn't leave until a little after 3:30 pm as david was recovering and had belatedly decided to join us.

Our destination was the alpine summer pastures and houses of the Nokhuri people, which involved a steep, winding climb along a rough dirt road through steep, rugged valleys and ridges, devoid of all but a handful of scrubby bushes at this high altitude.  We reached the summer pastures (1650 metres altitude) at 4 pm as planned, in time to watch the afternoon lamb milking.  Unfortunately for us, the lambs had been milked an hour early that afternoon, so we went for a stroll instead to the edge of the plateau, from which we enjoyed quite spectacular views north across the irrigated plain and the Karakum Desert to the north.  At closer range, we even managed a close-up view of a white scorpion.

Upon returning to the farmhouse, we were warmly welcomed by the owner who poured cool water over our hands from a metal jug; then we were invited inside for some traditional Nokhuri hospitality.  We removed our shoes and sat on mats on the floor around a central plastic mat which served as an area to set out the food.  The meal was huge, and included tea, bread, potatoes with egg, milk with salt, lamb cheese, tomatoes, biscuits, preserved grapes and sweets.  The hospitality was remarkable from this simple family in a house with no electricity, where the people rise and go to bed with the sun, and who are totally dependent on the annual rains for their livelihood – a problem, as the rains failed to come this year.

After dinner in the farmer's home, we had a short walk around the farmhouses, where the poultry and animals were grazing in the late afternoon sun and women were making butter from lamb's milk in the traditional way – outside, pounding a sack of milk suspended by an overhead tripod with a pumping stick.  Both Andy and I were offered the opportunity to try, and we both found it was solid work indeed for these not-so-young women.

We returned to Chandybil well-fed and happy, and after another short stroll to watch some goats being herded, had a rest in our room while we waited for the water (and for some time also, the electricity) to be turned on again.  We waited, and we waited, and still we waited…

Saturday 15 July 2006

Around Nokhur

Nokhur cemetery
Khur-Khuri Waterfall
Nokhuri woman making butter