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Welcome to the Afghan village of Shughnan in north eastern Afghanistan.
Shughnan is a town and a district in Badakhshan Province in the mountainous northeast of Afghanistan and also a district in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in Tajikistan. The administrative center of the Shighnan District of Afghanistan is called Qaleh Barpanjeh (قلعه برپنجه). The administrative center of the Shughnon District of Tajikistan is called Khorogh.
In ancient times the area was known for its ruby mines, which are mentioned in the writings of Marco Polo
In modern times Shughnan and its vassal Roshan were states whose native rulers, the mirs of Shighnan, claimed descent from Alexander the Great.
The people residing in the Shughnan district, both the Tajik side and Afghan side of the border, speak their own language called Shughni (Khughnani).
While Afghanistan is a vast country blessed with beautiful mountains and ancient villages, much of the country is still too dangerous for most travellers. However, currently some pockets in the northern areas including the Wakhan Corridor have been declared safe enough for travel.
Cross the small bridge across the Panj River near the Tajik town of Khorog and explore the little mountain village of Shughnan.
The relatively safe north eastern region of Afghanistan is best approached from the border crossings at either Khorog, Tajikistan or further south at Ishkoshim, Tajikistan.
Get a tourist visa at the Afghan consulate in Khorog and head for the closest border crossing. A short taxi ride from the centre of Khorog drops the lone adventurer off at a narrow bridge across the Panj River to the Afghan side. Here both the Tajik and Afghan immigration officials are friendly and will be most surprised to see a tourist crossing.
The formalities will include several friendly questions about your life, marriage, children, and “why you want to cross the border.” You may even be invited to lunch on the floor of the immigration office before the officials will stamp your passport.
Once stamped on the Tajik side, walk across the short, narrow bridge to the Afghan side where you will go through similar procedures. The Afghan officials will soon wave you off with a “welcome to Afghanistan and be careful” in their broken English.
The nearby village of Shughnan is about a five kilometre walk from the border crossing all along the Panj River.
While there reputedly is a small guesthouse in the village, at the time of visit on September 11, 2013, the residents at the guesthouse spoke no English and indicated that it was not possible to stay for the night.
No worries. Another option is available. Right across the small bazaar in the village is a hotel, or rather a hostel, or best described as a travellers inn. It is basic, extremely basic.
As you open the doors of this travellers inn, which directly spills out onto the small street, a large sleeping area is available on the floor. However, the sight of many old men sitting around, suggested that the inn was quite full. A single room might be available if you are brave enough to walk in and inspect it.
Lets rather move to the third option: with almost no English spoken in the village, show by putting your hands to the side of your head that you are looking for a place to sleep. Most people will shake their heads indicating that they have no idea where you can sleep and that they are amazed about what a tourist would do in a place like this. Don’t despair. Sooner or later someone, most likely a younger person who studies some English at school, will come up to you and ask: “you want sleep?” You immediately will start to profusely smile and say “yes, do you know where I can sleep tonight?”
Hopefully the good Samaritan won’t point you back to the travellers inn, but will lead you down to green pastures where a local family will be overly excited to offer you a bed on the floor. Take it with a smile. This is your lucky day.
Good idea to ask one of your new friends to lead you back to the bazaar to buy a few items for dinner.
Don’t expect to find any restaurants in the village as people only eat at home. As you wander around the bazaar looking for something edible, you will find several reasons to immediately become a vegetarian. You certainly would not want to stop by the butcher’s shop.
Continue on to buy a few veggies such as tomatoes and onions and maybe potatoes and bread. As little is grown in this mountain village, the condition of fresh vegetables and fruits is quite dismal.
Back at your new guesthouse your hosts will be glad to take your offerings and prepare a nice dinner consisting of your tomato and onion salad, Afghan bread (naan-e Afghani), rice, yogurt and milk-tea. As there are no better options, you should just as well enjoy the lovely meal with a smile.
After dinner sit around on the floor with people of your gender as it is unlikely that people of the opposite gender will socialize with a stranger in their home. Watch television as the national Afghan team hopefully beats Pakistan.
By around 10pm you will be in pain from sitting so long on the floor, at which time you should suggest its time for you to get in your bed, prepared on the floor. With just a few blankets between your body and the floor, you hopefully will get a good night’s rest and wake up the next morning with breakfast served right in your bedroom.
As you most likely had to share the room with several other people of your gender, together you will enjoy breakfast consisting once again of naan-e Afghani, rice, yogurt and milk-tea, as the tomato and onion salad sadly was finished last night. Once again enjoy the meal and head out the door after warmly thanking your hosts with a nice tip in the hand.
It’s your second day in Afghanistan and there is much to explore. People are generally very friendly and overwhelmingly surprised to see a foreigner in their midst.
Enjoy your time in Afghanistan.
When it is time to leave, you will look back on this visit as one of the highlights of your travelling life
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