Ishkashim is the gateway to the Wahkan Corridor in Tajikistan. From the Wahkan a person in Tajikistan can see both Afghanistan and Pakistan; it’s a place with overlapping geography and cultures. Other than its remote location, it’s an ideal place to have a market.
The Ishkashim Market is located on an island in the middle of the River Panj between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. To get to the market we left our passports at a folding table that the Tajik military manned and walked across a bridge to the island. From Khorog it costs 60 Somoni ($13) round trip to travel to this market. It’s a high price people are willing to pay because the goods are cheap and unique, and can be resold at higher prices. The market is a place where people come to do business, tourists are less common. We were novelties and attracted a lot of attention; we were both people watching and being watched.
Goods being sold included: rugs, clothing, opium, spices, soap, makeup, handmade and second hand shoes, juice boxes in bulk, cheap (really cheap) Chinese goods, fruit, baskets, and many other things that I’m either forgetting or aren’t worth listing. No market in Tajikistan has the same abundance of second hand western clothing, digging through piles familiar labels jumped out at me: Old Navy, Gap, Levi, and Patagonia. The second hand boots had soles that were worn past any I’ve ever seen before, it was clear many marathon distances had been walked on tough terrain by the previous owner(s).
The Afghans at the market had a few striking traits that distinguished them from their Tajik neighbors. Their skin was more weathered, their sense of style more conservative, and their eyes a variety of colors- piercing greens and blues among the most distinctive. Mikey found that many people were eager to have their photo taken, and a few of his wonderful pictures can be seen in the new slide show.
When we were ready to return to Khorog, we walked back across the bridge, retrieved our passports with ease, and looked for our driver. While we were enjoying the uniqueness of the market, our driver had driven into the Wahkan and loaded his Tengen (mini-van like vehicle) with soap from Pakistan. He returned to the market where large Kamaz trucks were waiting to be filled with his soap and other goods to take to other markets through out Tajikistan.
Over mountains, rivers, and borders, it was interesting to see some of the more extreme terrain goods pass over on their way to markets. It felt like I was witnessing a beginning stage of the entrepreneurial process, but in reality it was far along. We left the market with some cinnamon, pomegranates, a noodle maker (for Mino, see previous blog post Women in Barcheed 12/2010), and photos as souvenirs. It was a good day!