Accomodation in the Pamir Mountains is in people’s homes, which comes witha few challenges for the comfort-loving Western traveler, but also with a bonus
We always knew that accommodation in the Pamirs was going to be limited, after all, there is not yet much of a mass tourist industry developed here. Especially in the smaller villages, and most are, hotels and guesthouses don’t exist, and the only option is Homestay, which means as much as staying with a local family, in their house, and eat what they eat. In much of the world this is touted as an excellent way to get acquainted with the local culture, but I have shared my own views on this on an earlier occasion: nice to see how they live, but due to the inevitable language barrier, there is not much in terms of communication, and thus not much in terms of mutual understanding. Highly overrated.
Yet, homestay it is going to be, for the next few days. And of course it is interesting to have a look inside people’s homes. In the bleak Pamirs, people have decorated their houses really colourfully, inside, with lots of carpets and felts on the floor and on the wall, lots of sitting mats and pillows around, too. But homestay here means a bit of discomfort for us Westerners, too; in line with local culture, sleeping is on the floor, on a couple of thin mats, sitting is on the floor, too, and eating is from a sheet, or a low table, cross-legged, all pretty tiring after a while. Even the toilet brings no relief, because mostly these are squat toilets, just a hole in the floor.
These toilets are outside the house, in the yard, or sometimes across the street. Which means, at close to 4000 m altitude, that if you need to use them, in the middle of the night, you will first have to put all your cloths on again. And find your shoes back at the door, where you have left them, like every other person in the house. Luckily ours are quite big!
Food is hit and miss, sometimes we get excellent meals, often soup with lots of vegetables – especially veggies is a bonus in a nomad’s culture. But we have also had lunch on bread and yogurt, nothing else; well, tea, of course, green or black, accompanies everything, and is always plenty available. And as a general rule variety is not the strongest point of the Pamir kitchen.
Electricity is another issue, these villages have no electricity, except for the occasional solar panel. The homestays have often invested in a generator, which is switched on for two hours in the evening, after dark – but providing such irregular power, judging from the light getting stronger and weaker all the time, that I don’t dare charging my computer on it.
And then the heating: in the rooms are stoves, most of the day ‘switched off’, but towards the evening – and to our taste it is then already uncomfortably cold – these are being stuffed with some fire wood, and for the rest yak dung, and go full blast, not only creating a lot of warmth, but also a rather stuffy atmosphere. Just before sleeping – which is around 9 or 10, no later -, they are once more filled to the hilt, which then during the night peters out again, and by the time you need to use the toilet, all the warmth has gone.
And yet, all of this is part of the game: if you want to see the more adventurous places in the world, be adventurous. And the bonus is that, even though we cannot communicate much, most of the people who run their homestays do everything possible to make us as comfortable as possible. Which is a warming experience, in itself.