All about the Kalash people of Pakistan

All about the Kalash people of Pakistan

All about the Kalash people of Pakistan

So in the previous post I’ve introduced you to the Kalash people of Pakistan. I’ve written about the differences with other Pakistani and how beautifully and coloured their clothes are.

The Kalash, an introduction

The Kalash live in the secluded Kalash valley, alongside the Bamboret river. Quite the challenging road leads to green lush valley surrounded by high mountains. The Kalash live here self sufficiently. They grow corn, tomatoes and other veggies. Fruit they get from the trees, delicious apples they pick and from walnuts they make delicious bread. The only thing they import is rice. Which they eat every day. Together with either chicken or daal (a local (delicious) dish with chickpeas). They don’t eat much meat, most is veggies. 

Mostly women work on the farmland and men have other jobs like: being a shipowner, construction work or are in the hospitality business. And the children go to school. Boys and girls. They learn all the basics and even some English. The boys are dressed in the same clothes all the Pakistani men are wearing while the girls wear the traditional colourful dresses. Also to school or while working on the land. The most beautiful school uniform we have seen. Actually the women never wear anything else. And the dresses, head decoration and necklaces they make themselves. It’s not just clothes, it’s art. 

The Kalash people

The Kalash an Indo-Aryan indigenous people residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The Kalash population in Pakistan numbers only in a few thousands, making them one of the smallest ethnic minorities in Pakistan. The Kalash people are animists, nature worshippers but also known as kafir (non-believers).

The Kalash people live in three isolated valleys and it is said they have descended from soldiers of the army of Alexander the Great who travelled this way in 324 BCE. However, their origin has remained a mystery and research is still on at various levels to identify their historical and biological ancestry.

Spending time with the Kalash

After one night at the Marakar inn, delicious food and a good night sleep, it’s time to explore the valley. The manager of the inn will come with us to guide us and translate as we will learn more about this amazing tribe. It’s a privilege to be here and meet this interesting tribe. And to actually talk to the women and photograph them, who are a lot less shy then their Muslim counterparts. 

So after a delicious breakfast (walnut bread – a local delight) we left with Abdul our guide to the village. As soon as we turned off the road the Kalash appeared everywhere around us. The women with colourful dresses and the shoshoot (head dress) on their head. The skin as light as a Northern European and a variety of eye colours. From cristal clear blue to greenish and beautiful dark brown (my favourite eye colour). Young girls entered a school where boys were playing cricket so of course we followed them. We got to see their classroom which isn’t much but good enough. It has benches, a chalk board and closets where books are stacked. The kids were learning English and proudly show their books. The girls wearing their school dress which is black and the colourful shoshoot. The boys also wear a black uniform and they wear a green cap saying Pakistan. 

We continued our journey and visited the ladies doing the laundry at the qanat (water way). Whether they work on the land, go to school or do the laundry, the women and girls are wearing beautiful dresses. Their hair always in braids and the shutout always loose on their head. I’m intrigued as for me I’m so used to wearing pants that I only wear skirts or dresses at special occasions. And I can’t do anything in it, except for cycling and walking and all that. But doing my job in a skirt? No way. I need my legs to move freely. So respect for these women. Abdul explains that some women do the laundry in the old traditional way (meaning by hand) but some have a washing machine as well nowadays. Even though the Kalash live in the deserted valley modern technology has made an entrance. 

A levies Kalash (who works at the frontier – the Afghan border is very close, we can almost walk to it) invites us for a cold drink at his house. Of course we can’t deny this invitation and sit down with him. He tells us he really likes his job, he gets paid well and works in a beautiful environment. All his brothers have good jobs, one is a chemist and the other works for the wildlife preservation. However not all Kalash have such jobs. Most are working in the village as hotel or restaurant owners. Then there are teachers and shop owners. And, as written before, the women work on the farmlands. 

Kalash converting to Islam

In a restaurant we meet Iqbal, a Kalash who is a teacher and after school he works as a cook in a restaurant. And he tells us – in good English – that not only modern technology has found a way to the valley, also other religions. Almost everyone in his family converted to the Islam. His father and mother did when he was young so his grandparents took him in. Nonetheless he is one of the few of his family that is still Kalash. 

People are changing religion because of preaching in the area and the more people convert the more others follow. But the Kalash get protection from government now. The government is helping to preserve this ancient and beautiful culture. “It starts at school”, Iqbal tells me. “Most of the classes were focused on the Islam. Now we are also providing Kalash classes so they learn more about their own culture and stay Kalashi”. The language in the schools now is also different (they speak Urdu or Pashtun instead of Kalashi) and the books they teach from are Islamic oriented. This adds to the declining of the Kalash culture. But the government and the Kalashi are working to separate Muslim and Kalash schools. Like in The Netherlands Christian-, Muslim- and schools free of religion are separated. Not sure if that’s the right thing to do but if it helps to preserve the culture of the Kalash it’s alright to give it a try. 

This was actually my field of study; preserving cultures amidst the changing world. I did my thesis on this in Cappadocia, Turkey and have researched it ever since in different places like the Sami in Lapland, the Gaucho’s in Patagonia and the koromojon in Uganda. Preserving a culture while technology is opening the world to people, it’s hard but necessary. And there are different ways. One would be adding a special Kalash subject to schools, specific about the culture, language, history. To speak Kalashi language in schools – and make language classes of Urdu or Pashtun as we do with English and German. And attract a different kind of tourism. No more curiosity tourists or locals who just come to watch women but move towards cultural heritage tourism. And avoid mass tourism. We’ve seen so many hotels and guesthouses that I wonder where the people live. International food is offered while local food should be good enough. The area is quite secluded and it’s not easy to get here (the road is a challenge) which is helping to preserve a culture. However, the government is working on the road which means more and more people are able to get here. At the moment busses cannot enter the valley (overhanging rocks are a natural barrier) which is great! 

Separation of schools

But lots has changed already. In the museum we see how the people dressed in 1925 and on the street we see how they dress now. Things change and cultures develop, that’s alright. But it’s important to preserve the culture as long as we can. Iqbal seems to be determined to preserve the culture of the Kalash. His whole family converted to Islam but not him. And he will not. He works as a teacher and there he teaches the children all about the local culture and history. And he talks to tourists about the issues they have. He is fired up when we get to talk about the school system. “It’s destroying the local culture as it is now so I’m very happy that the government is helping us to divide the schools.”

According to our guide Abdul this isn’t a good thing to do. “People live together in peace here. Muslims, Christians, Kalash. Dividing maybe changes that.” I agree with both. I remember when I was young to have an Islamic school and our ‘free of religion’ school in one building. The division was so clear that we immediately had prejudices towards each other. Not necessary but you’re a kid, what do you know? It’s the same in neighbourhoods. White privileged neighbourhoods, Islamic neighbourhoods, poor neighbourhoods. The division is adding to the prejudices we have about each other and the racism and discrimination towards one another. But I’m here not long enough to really understand the issue and draw up an conclusion. The children seem to be happy to go to class together. Maybe adding some extra Kalash classes wouldn’t be a bad idea. Instead of citing out of the Koran, Kalashi kids can learn about their own history. 

The museum in the town is made by Greek people and gives an insight in the Kalashi culture and it’s history. I read the word “goddess” when I learn about the maternity and period homes. So when girls and women have their period they have to stay in a special house. This house (and the women and girls) can’t be touched. They cannot leave the house and the food they get has to be placed at the entrance so no one touches or talks to them. When I lived in Uganda girls weren’t allowed to go to school for a week when they had their periods. They had to stay in a small hut somewhere in the wild. Me and my good Ugandan friend Josephine went to the often far away villages to talk with the elders and explain to them that it’s important that these girls need to keep going to school. Often when the girls menstruate for the first time they do not get back to school. Instead they marry. Luckily the Kalash women are different.

The Kalash women and believing in a Goddess

They do have to stay in this Bashali Dur but they choose themselves who to marry. So why this period house? The concept of pure and impure is an important part of the Kalashi culture and faith. The women are considered impure when they menstruate and after giving birth (10 days from giving birth). The isolation, though embedded because of their impurity, is also an opportunity for the women to rest and take a break from their household responsibilities. Maybe I’m going to introduce this in The Netherlands. Every month a couple of days on a period break. Sounds good to me. 

Back to the museum where the term ‘goddess’ gets my interest. Do the Kalash believe in a Goddess? “No”, says Iqbal “that’s a mistake and it’s annoying. They didn’t write the right word. We also have a God, not Goddess.” A minor disappointment for me. But what their religion and believe entales isn’t really clear to me. The Kalash don’t pray every week, they don’t have a special day like the three big religions. “We use the temple at festivals, and whenever we need to pray, we just pray.” 

Temples are used during festivals: summer festival 1 – 21 August, winter festival: 9 – 22 December and the most famous ‘spring festival’: 7- 15 may.

And that I like. I never understood the concept of devoting one day to praying. One day of doing absolutely nothing (not even switching on lights or cooking) but reading from the Torah or going to church twice and sitting on these wooden benches listening to a preacher. I don’t get it. If you need to talk to your God why don’t you just do it when you need to? Why need a day? Why need a building? Why need rules and regulations? Believe and do that in your own time, on your own terms and however you want to. But, it’s easy for me to say, I’m an Atheist, believing in the power of planet Earth and nothing above or below us except for the big black universe. 

Getting to know the Kalash

We walk through the tiny streets of the last Kalash village of the valley. The further you get in the valley the closer to Afghanistan’s there live the Red Kifar, another tribe that kind of is extinct. They all converted to the Islam, by pressure. And then there is the border with Nuristan, where once the Kalash lived in abundance. But the Taliban made them leave or convert so no Kalash will be found in Afghanistan anymore. Only in the three valleys where we are now: Bamboret, Birir and Rumbur. Bamboret Valley has the most Kalash still living (about 3 to 5.000). 

We get to talk to so many of the Kalash. From young girls to old ladies and boys to men. In a shop I buy a little souvenir (a bracelet – as I do everywhere) and while I walk out an old lady comes to me and gives me a big hug, she then takes me hand and leads me to her shop where she puts a shushut (a band of handwoven woollen cloth that fits over the head with a wide decorative streamer hanging down the back) on top of my head. Her eyes smile at the sight of it. It feels heavy and the ‘tail’ a bit annoying when turning my head. But I’m surprised at the fact that it doesn’t fall off easily, actually it’s situated quite well on my head. 

Abdul is really a great guide. He not only answers all or questions and translates everything, he also gets us to meet the people as he knows many himself. Through him we get to meet many Kalash, talk to them and photograph them. We learn so much from conversing with him. And of course him showing us all around the villages. We get to see the temples, the graveyard (the Kalash used to burry their death above the ground, so we see some bones and a jaw), the bashali homes. We visit shops, drink tea at several places and visit the farm lands. We meet the postman, the levies and even the frontier army force. We have a fabulous day and learned so much about the Kalash. I wish we could stay here a lot longer so I could do some field research on the preservation of this beautiful tribe.

But we don’t have much time. The high peaks of Pakistan are calling and if we ever want to reach Skandur and Hunza valley before our visa expires we need to move. We have 20 more days. So the next day, after breakfast and sitting and relaxing in the sun while looking at the magnificent mountains that surround the valley we move towards Chitral. Which is only 25km but will take about 2.5 hours to reach. A long day ahead. 

We hoped you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about the Kalash. If you have any questions please do ask us! 

Love, Milene & Yuri

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The crossing from Iran into Pakistan

The crossing from Iran into Pakistan

The crossing; from Iran into Pakistan

I’m sitting in Alexine while I feel someone stares at me. It’s the Afghan man who has been imprisoned for no reason clear to me and I dare not to ask. His hands hold the bars while his beard tastes the freedom behind his jail cell. 

Signing our lives over to the Levies of Pakistan

We are at the Pakistan levies of Taftan. We have just signed over our lives to the levies who are supposed to safely guide us through Baluchistan and out of Baluchistan as quick as possible. The area is marked red on every map our government has made of the area. Tribal issues, kidnappings and human trafficking. And to make sure tourists are reaching the rest of Pakistan safely the government has given the levies the task of guarding them. 

With a Kalashnikov around his shoulder he walks over the compound, looking quite content with the situation. He laughs and his big yellow ring on his finger blings eventhough the sun has disappeared. Which is a blessing for us. Even though it’s still too hot. It’s mainly the humidity that makes life here unbearable. But not for the levies that is keeping us safe, guarding the Afghan man and talks to his wife on loudspeaker at the same time. I’m intrigued with these people. Who are they? Why are they levies? What is a Levie anyway? 

The Levies of Pakistan

The Levies force was established in 1859 in the Malakand area during British rule, and later expanded to Dir, Bajaur and Orakzai agencies.

The Pakistan Levies, also called the Federal Levies, are paramilitary law enforcement organizations in Pakistan that have a primary mission of providing law enforcement, providing assistance to the police in maintaining law and order, and conducting internal security operations below the federal level.

Do you have kids? Why not? Problem?

He is also curious. Asking if we have kids. Shocked at our answer. He tells us he has seven. Had I must write, because three have died. 

The Afghan guy shouts and gets out of his cell. He has to pray he says. And so he gets out of his cell and starts praying. The levies are joking, I only hear the word Taliban. Their laughing shows he’s no real danger but still. Is it already funny what’s happening at neighbouring Afghanistan to laugh about this? I took off my headscarf the moment I got in this compound but the women in Afghanistan cannot. They have to wear burqas in this heat. They aren’t allowed to go to school, to work, to be human. There is no time to joke. And it makes me wonder even more why this guy is in jail here. Here, where tourists should be protected from the dangers of Baluchistan. I just signed over my life to these men and it doesn’t seem they take it that serious. So maybe I shouldn’t either. I just go with the flow and hand out cookies instead. Like I did at the musical in primary school. I didn’t like the singing or being the center of attention so instead I handed out cookies on stage. My best friend Nena, was the same but handed out needles instead 😉  (the musical was about a hospital so the needles were legit).

Back to the compound where we’re at. We’re not allowed to go out, no bazar to visit or local food from the neighbouring cafe. Instead, sweating and making friends with this curious group of Levies. 

Women are for reproduction

Alexine is surrounded by cars not even half her age but in quite the bad condition. That’ll be fun tomorrow. We will drive in columns to a city called Dalbadin. It’s not too far but will take about six hours anyway. Mainly because we have so many stops along the way. The next day we’ll drive to Quetta. Again, not the farthest we’ve ever driven but they say it takes up to 12 hours. So we have to get ready to a couple of loooong days. Meaning I’m checking the engine of Alexine. Luckily I do it now because I find her oil level is a bit low. Time to add some. Besides some things were losen because of the bumpy Iranian roads. I love it, working on Alexine. And in an environment like this it feels a bit surreal. 

Men with turbans, beards and perahan tunban (clothing), some having a gun hanging over their shoulder and me, a woman from the Netherlands in clothes way to colourful for the occasion with her hands dirty in the engine of her car. These worlds couldn’t be farther apart from each other, yet they cross. It’s good that they see women can do stuff too. Whether it’s cooking, giving birth or fixing the engine of a car. The whole border crossing people talked to Yuri, not to me. When they talked to me they only asked if I was his wife and if we have children. Ugh. But okay, I’m in a different world now where women are downgraded to reproduction machines. And yeah, not all women. There are incredibly strong and brave women fighting for equality and actually showing it is possible. I salute those women and will share some of their stories along the way because we are going to meet some of them! 

We are in Pakistan! 

It’s getting more crowded at the compound. More beards walk around speaking loud and quick. Some pay the Afghan man a visit in his jail cell. I’m not sure why exactly. Do they know him or is it because they don’t often catch a guy like him. Anyway, he’s still there and there seems to be no hatred between the levies and the prisoner.

One of the levies is cleaning veggies. Not sure if they cook for us, this is a whole unknowing adventure. We honestly and absolutely have no idea what we’re up for. I didn’t read too much about it because I don’t often find blogs a good source. How ironic right? 😉 No that’s actually why we never write as if we know it all, we just share our experience through a journal. But that means that sometimes we have no clue what we got ourselves into. Like now. We are in Pakistan. Not part of the plan. And we didn’t even plan that much anyway. The only thing we know is that we want to get out of the heat as soon as possible and into the mountains as quickly as we can. So we drive north, to the Himalaya. Never thought Alexine would see those giants, but she will! And we will 😍 

But first we have to go through days of escort through Baluchistan. Getting used to a new language, money and customs. Oh and food, but we are eager to taste Pakistani food. We were a bit disappointed by Iranian / Persian cuisine so hope it’ll be better here. Writing about food, I haven’t eaten anything today yet. Just drinking water, and sweating. That’s what the heat does to you. 

The Afghan man is not the only one staring at me. The levies as well and I wonder if I took off my headscarf too early. But it’s just too freaking hot. I ignore them and continue working on Alexine. And while I say that the Afghan man gets chocolate and water and smiles as if he’s a little kid. This man can’t be Taliban right? Well if he is I hope we won’t find out. We leave in only 12 hours and I’m too tired for anything to happen. I’m sure we’re gonna be okay. Everyone seems relaxed and so are we! 

Love, Milene & Yuri

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Stuck at the border

Stuck at the border

Stuck at the border

While I’m sitting in the airconditioned hall of the Iranian border Yuri walks towards the other side and finds himself in no man’s land. What seemed to be going so easily yesterday has been the longest border crossing ever. Mainly due to our own fault. Instead of applying for two visums we applied for one with me, Milene, as Yuri’s spouse. Can say a lot about that and I hope later we can laugh it off but at the moment I’m just angry. 

Crossing borders should be so much easier.

Angry because I didn’t check the application. Angry because we applied one month ago and only got the refusal today – on the day we want to cross. Angry because these things always happen to us and we don’t learn anything. But then again, I can be angry only at myself. The customs are clear and if we did everything right we would’ve crossed into Pakistan by now. Which is a privilege we are well aware of. But still.

Crossing borders should be so much easier. It should be accessible to all and visums? Really? If it wasn’t for the barbed wire, the military with machine guns in high towers and the huge country flags waving proudly in the wind I wouldn’t even know Iran ended and Pakistan began here. There is no line drawn in the earth saying one persons belongs here and the other there. The only walls the earth knows are the mountains which are almost impossible to climb. The only borders nature has are that of wild rivers, deep seas and impenetrable forests. And they ask for courage not visums to cross them. 

Men with guns

The police officers walking around here are kind and helpful yet they love their power. At Beluchi’s crossing the border they don’t show the kindness they show me. Instead their smile turns into a serious face and their gentle voice into a strong somewhat screaming one. The military officer who waved at us, telling our van looks great, is now showing off how to use his Ak 47. Safety off, pointing in the far distance and checking out if we’re looking at him. I’m not, not really. I think he is pathetic. Any man with a gun is pathetic.

The idea that we need guns to kill, to protect, to show power is in my eyes as ridiculous as these made up borders. I understand very well in what kind of world we live and sometimes I wished I had a gun with me (to protect of course). But if none of us had guns wouldn’t a fight be more equal? Israeli and Turkish drones show up above Armenian soldiers who can’t do anything about it but hide and wait for it to hit. Russian warplanes drop bombs on Syrian villages because of a war they don’t want. Black people are killed by police officers because black people look scary and police officers have guns. Children walk into schools, malls and where not killing tens of people because they have mental health issues.

I got a gun to my head once and I will never forget that moment. I wasn’t scared, wasn’t even trembling. But I was shocked. The boy in front of me was younger and smaller than me. I could pick a fight with him and might be able to win. But this gun, this dangerous piece of metal between us, changes my possibilities dramatically. It makes me the definite loser of an unequal fight. I’m on the wrong side of it and can’t win a fight like this. De boeren in South Africa know. They killed thousands of Zulu and are proud of it. “We were outnumbered with 2.000 people” they told me. But it was the boeren who had the guns and the Zulus who had but courage. With courage you win over a heart but not a war. Bloedrivier was the outcome, a river normally as orange as the ground now turned red of Zulu blood. Proud of killing people. It’s foreign to me and hopefully will always be. 

We have two options

But back to the border of Iran/Pakistan. So, while I was sitting in the coolness of the building Yuri heard that our visa got declined and we have to apply again. Within two hours you’ll have a reply from us, the man on the phone explained to Yuri. Or, we go back to Zahedan (45 minutes drive), arrange our visum at the consulate and try again. So, I situated myself contemplating about gun violence and abuse while Yuri is applying for our visa again. Let’s hope it works this time. In the meantime I’m checking out life at the border. 

A lot is being renovated here. Trucks come and go although from Pakistan to Iran it’s busy. From Iran to Pakistan only a few trucks make it through. No idea why because yesterday afternoon it was insanely busy. Workers are walking around, passengers on foot make their way through the terminal with their homes stuck inside heavy suitcases. It’s 35 degrees but feels like 45 due to the high humidity. Not a great place to carry your home on your shoulder. Or to run. Some people are actually running around. Men dresses in wide trousers with wide hemd over it. It looks comfy but still too hot to run. The only thing that distinguishes the men from one another is the colour of their eyes and clothes. Brown, blue, black, grey, white. Like happy colours are banned from the wardrobe of men. And while the women dress in the most colourful clothes I’ve seen in a while they cover it up with full black hijabs. The colour of their pants only be seen around their ankles. A pity because these dresses scream to be shown. As do the hair of the women but that’s another story I guess. I’m wearing my hijab in a somewhat African way. Up! Which means the hot wind can touch my neck and cool me down through the sweat that’s dripping everywhere. Even without doing anything we sweat. And without having had a shower for days you can imagine how we feel. But hey, who cares right? Nature smells. 

The privilege of whining about crossing borders

Not here btw. This place is concrete. Smells are mainly of the new placed tarmac, the waste everywhere and the dogs who run around like a pack of wolves. They even howl at night. Oh the night here was insane. So hot that after 5 minutes we felt like sleeping in a water bed. We had to get out of the van every 40 minutes to cool down. Opened up whatever could be open. But of course because we are in an Islamic country I had to either cover myself or we had to cover the van. So we covered the van because after suffering one heatstroke I’m not desiring another. It was a tough night. Hot and noisy. And for what? Because we can’t enter Pakistan today either. This is definitely our hottest and longest border crossing every. But again, entirely our own fault.

And now we have to deal with the consequences; stress, heat, waiting, patience. Besides all that we are still not in good shape. I haven’t eaten anything yet and even the amount of water I drink is not nearly enough but it’s all I can manage right now. Feeling a bit faint and without energy is making this all a tad more difficult. But we’ll get there. We are from The Netherlands travelling in a 45 year old Volkswagen van so everyone is kind and happy. And that’s a privilege only a few are able to experience. So yeah, I’m whining about things I shouldn’t be whining about actually. Especially because I know so many people with horrible border crossing stories.

From running from shooting Turkish border patrol to being beaten by Croatian police officers. From tossing babies over a wired fence to almost drowning while a boat collapsed on the Mediterranean Sea. All people who sought safety elsewhere because their home became uninhabited. I’m just a traveller, no need to cross borders but pure out of free will and fun. But the way I look, the country I’m born, the emblem on my passport open gates to me that stay closed for those who really need to cross. And while I’m stuck in limbo on a border where everyone is kind to me and I’m sure I’ll be leaving behind me within days, they are stuck in limbo for months, years even. So what am I complaining about right? 

More and more Pakistani travellers with beautiful coloured clothes (the women – without hijab) are entering the passenger terminal. It makes me wonder more and more about the country that lies in front of me. Of which for now I can only see the flag and the gate that keeps us out. Inshallah it opens up soon, for us the way into another world. One without obliged hijab but with a police escort of 2 days. Another adventure we can’t wait to head into.

We’ll enter there were our insurance doesn’t work anymore, where our government says one really shouldn’t go and that same government won’t help us if anything happens. Not our first time, and probably not our last. Life is full of dangers, sometimes it’s crossing a part of land owned by a violent tribe, other times it’s across the street from the home you grew up in. Danger is everywhere and it makes life a lot more excited. Just like death. Without it, life would just be a loop of the same things everyday. Without death there wouldn’t be life, like there wouldn’t be happiness without sadness and no peace without war. Is that why we have guns? So we can have peace as well? Food for thought. 

See you on the other side, hopefully. 

Love, Milene & Yuri

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The way to Fairy Meadows

Probably one of the most touristy spots of Pakistan, normally we would ignore places like this and skip them. However, friends told us it’s definitely worth it so here we are, sitting in a jeep on a steep mountain waiting for people to clear a landslide. It just...

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On our way to Pakistan

On our way to Pakistan

On our way to Pakistan

I’ve been away to Brazil and coming back to Iran means adjusting. And that adjusting isn’t going so well. The heat is impossible to bear at the moment so I soon fall ill to a heatstroke, or something like that. Without much energy but the need to leave Iran we say our goodbyes to Isfahan and hit the road again. In a few days we will be travelling from Isfahan to the Taftan border via some oasis to take a rest. And that rest is very much needed as we soon find out. 

Goodbye Isfahan!

I have to adjust. From wearing short sleeves and feeling my hair dance in the wind to a headscarf that keeps all the heat on my head. And that’s a problem because it is so hot. But everything gets used to. And driving Alexine through these mars like landscapes is one of those things I can never and always get used to at the same time. But today, more than on any other day, I realise I won’t see these landscapes again. The coloured mountains, the sand playing in the wind, the heat dancing at the tarmac. A sight soon only visible in my memories. We’re driving East again. After working in Brazil I, Milene, came back with a new hunger of exploring. Feeling more alive than ever, revival! We left Isfahan for good, with tears in our hearts for saying goodbye to new made friends. But all good things come to an end and Iran is one of those things.

Tired and a little sick in Naeen

Though it hasn’t all be wonderful overhere. Like the food. Yuri got food poisoning on our last night in Isfahan. Resulting in staying another night. But then it really was time to go. And now we find ourselves again in an oasis. The desert landscape that we drove through seems endless. The sanddunes and Rocky Mountains never ending. And while Yuri tried to sleep in the back of the van I tried to stay awake while singing the longs out of my body. An expression that probably doesn’t mean anything in English but sounds right. 

We were in Naeen last night and it was a fabulous time. Very short but memorable as well. We met a young man who showed us around. From the ancient city walls to the pistachio gardens and from the biggest water reservoir to the old bazar. We also got to enter a shrine with more mirrors than I’ve ever seen in my life, so much for vanity. And we ended with a saffron camel milk ice cream of €1.5 each. Way to expensive but very tasty nonetheless. However great the city, our night sleep was taken to the test with youngsters showing off on motorbikes, children betting on how long they could stay awake, screaming, and cars turning up and leaving for no apparent reason. We were parked near the mosque at the dead end of a street. Well, those Iranians don’t only create the creative lane but they also create lanes at dead end streets. I’ve got no idea how, but however I often marvel the things they create in ancient Persia, this isn’t one of them.

On the road again..

So with just a few minutes (that’s how we feel today) of sleep we hit the road in the direction of Tabaz. We did visit an underground weaver before leaving. A very nice and cool place where men loom beautiful carpets. But our enegerylevel was low and it was hard to have a conversation so we left the loomer to work and continued our trip.

 I had so much energy that I skipped the gas station and drove 75km’s on a somewhat empty tank. While normally I panic a bit when this happens this time I just continued driving a steady 80km/h. We made it though. 

And after refuelling Alexine, I felt I had refuelled myself a bit as well. Yuri still coping with the food poisoning aftermath wasn’t so lucky. Though he was lucky to listen to me singing with James Hetfield (Metallica) and Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation). My mood at the moment. 

After three hours of yawning and singing – still can’t manage them at the same time though, we arrived at the oasis. Palmtrees surrounded by sandy coloured mountains and a qanat where we parked Alexine and went for a foot bath. To be eaten up by fish the moment our feet touched the water. A habit we are growing to be font of. 

Just now a lone jackal past us, looking interested in his snack for tonight. But that means it won’t be silence tonight as well, though I prefer the sound of jackal to those motorcycles. Tomorrow we will move to another oasis and then it’s two days of endless roads and hopefully a quick border crossing cause we are heading to Pakistan!! 

Ciao for now. 

Love, Milene & Yuri

ps. unfortunately for us the next days we started feeling worse. The only thing we could do was sleep and drink water. But we had to move to the border so as tired as we were and as horrible as we felt we had to continue. While Yuri regained his appetite at some point I was still living on water alone for a week. The heat became unbearable. We made it though.

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The way to Fairy Meadows

The way to Fairy Meadows

Probably one of the most touristy spots of Pakistan, normally we would ignore places like this and skip them. However, friends told us it’s definitely worth it so here we are, sitting in a jeep on a steep mountain waiting for people to clear a landslide. It just...

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It has been a bit quiet lately…

It has been a bit quiet lately…

It's been a bit quiet lately...

It has been a bit quiet here but it’s not that we haven’t done anything spectacular. 

 

But where I often have too many words I can’t seem to find any now. Maybe it helps if I dip my feet in ice cold water because it’s so hot here. It’s almost 6 o’clock and still 44 degrees Celcius. But it’s alright, the wind is blowing and we are near the water. So yeah, let’s head back to, wow, many weeks ago. 

Ancient explorings

Alexine was fixed in Shiraz so it was time for us to get into exploring mode again. This we did by visiting an ancient site that I have dreamt about since I was a young girl dying to become an explorer. I saw myself in the shoes of Livingstone and Darwin exploring ancient sites and discovering new biological systems. Or, mostly I saw myself as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, finding and protecting ancient artefacts while saving the planet from a wrath the earth has never seen. Many of those adventures took place in the Middle East where most of ancient civilisations buried their treasures.

One of those places was of course the capital of New Years; Persepolis! And I would finally meet my imagination, see what I’ve only seen in dreams and walk through where many of my stories took place. And above all that we would do this with 3D glasses(!!). We took a guide with us: Yashin, so we would learn more about the place than we would by reading … well nothing because however important the site, they forgot good English information bulletins. 

Persepolis

I’m not sure if I should really explain what Persepolis is all about, there are plenty of sites that can inform you about this amazing site. The site where you’ll find many Zoroastrian signs, where cultures came together as friends not enemies and where everyone celebrated Nowruz (New Year).

A day in amazement, in happiness, in awe. I saw stories come to life and wow was it cool to see it all through 3D glasses. They show the place as it used to be, in colour and grandeur. Amazing! 

Staying with the nomads

So yeah, that was it. That was Shiraz. Time to head into the mountains where the Nomads are. Cause when you follow the nomads you’re sure to be in the right place. Hot but with a breeze in the day and refreshing at night. So we headed into the mountains where waterfalls became our showers, green a normal scenery and nomads roamed as if there are no settlements. We met a couple of amazing families. One being a goat shepherd and the other a beekeeping family. Of course we got ourselves some delicious goat cheese and honey! Great combo as well. Although communication is challenging we did have a lovely time. Shared some nice moments and photos. Even Instagram 😁 I love semi modern nomads. They pick the best of both worlds.

Anyway, after staying with the nomads for a while we moved deeper into the mountains. Had Alexine wander through amazing scenery. The mountains kept coming. From incredibly bare and dry to green and lush. We slept at the top of a gorge overlooking the valley with water as blue as Alexine is, and at a hill while having the horizon filled with the same hills until a mountain stopped the waving scenery. Colours merged into eachother like a silk carpet from Kashan. 

The hanging gardens of Babylon

We didn’t only drive, we also stayed near what looked like the hanging gardens of Babylon but instead were the Koolchap waterfalls. An incredible place where I felt comfortable enough to bathe in bikini. Something that is illegal here but this place was abandoned so I took a shot. It wasn’t as abandoned as we thought it was. Fish came nibbling at our feet the moment we jumped in it. Craps moved away wherever we stepped and we even saw a snake bathing. Nothing to be worried about and none of these animals would call in the police so I had some wonderful chilling days here. Finally some good old nature bathing. 

Being in nature we understood we needed this so much. Iran is a great country to explore and it’s huge! But sometimes it feels like you’re travelling from city to city with some nice stops in between but that’s about it. We do love cities and the culture and architecture it shows us. But, in nature we relax, in nature we thrive. And our battery recharges. And this was much needed.

Recharching …

Just like now. While I’m sitting with my feet in the qanat watching palmtrees moving in the wind and Yuri sleeping in his chair. Recharging is as much part of our journey as is exploring. And that we do in nature. 

So we felt almost reborn when we entered Isfahan again. Our round trip through Iran had come to an end. I would soon fly to Brazil for a job and Yuri would stay behind. Little did we know that this week would be so heavy on both of us. For Yuri it was mainly staying in Isfahan for a whole week, meeting people, fixing the roof rack of Alexine and getting our Pakistan visum. For me it was the change of culture and temperature in Brazil and of course working. 

But, we are on the road again. That will be for another blog. Let’s first look at the past weeks shall we? 

Love, Milene & Yuri

Some photos

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The heart of Pakistan

The heart of Pakistan

We end our beautiful Pakistan trip in the heart of the country. Let’s expLahore the city of culture, spicy food and history.

The way to Fairy Meadows

The way to Fairy Meadows

Probably one of the most touristy spots of Pakistan, normally we would ignore places like this and skip them. However, friends told us it’s definitely worth it so here we are, sitting in a jeep on a steep mountain waiting for people to clear a landslide. It just...

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Alexine’s heartbreaking story

Alexine’s heartbreaking story

Alexine's heartbreaking story

We left the islands, and the humidity behind and moved along the beautiful coast and later over high mountains inland again. 

Mosquitos and a pink lake

While staying at the Persian Gulf the monstrous insects, also known as mosquitos, couldn’t find our blood through the sweat that was dripping down. I’m sure the landing on our bodies was very slippery. This night they made up for it. From sweating in the humid climate of the Persian Gulf to be eaten alive at the Iranian Pink lake. You can imagine it was a loooong night and tiresome night. 

Pink lake!

But before going to bed and having the buzzing destroy or otherwise peaceful night we did have a good stroll on the pink lake of Iran. A huge lake that is actually a salt lake, thus white, and only for a couple of months it turns pink. Just like Tuz Golu in Turkey and many other lakes this lake turns pink due to algae. Algae that flamingos like to eat and giving them their pink colour. We did see a pink lake, maybe not as pink as we liked but it definitely was pink. And we saw flamingos, hundreds of them. Flying away from us. Unfortunately for us we couldn’t get close because however pink the lake looked, underneath the surface it was dark black mud that made its appearance when a Yuri stepped through. 

So far our pink lake adventure because we had an appointment with Volkswagenlover Razul. Who not only is a lover of Volkswagen but also has five of them himself and a workshop! 

Alexine, Volkswagen T2

Alexine was built in 1976 in Germany. Milene bought her in 2015 from a Frenchman who had used the van as a surferbus travelling from the Netherlands to France and back. 

Before the big journey we travelled around Europe in Alexine, never going really far. Before the trip we refurbished her inside and had her painted into the beautiful colour she is today. As her engine was fine we didn’t really do anything to her engine. Her tires seemed fine too and well, we thought we were ready for the big trip. 

Being overly organised is boring right? 

Shiraz Volkswagen Club

We arrived at Razul and were immediately impressed by the vans he owns. Besides a beautiful T2 he also owns an amazing T1! If anyone could check upon Alexine this was our man! A maintenance check every now and then is a necessity, especially when you’re driving an oldtimer. 

So, after saying hello, drinking a tea and checking out all the gems of his workshop we started to check on Alexine. Soon enough we found things that needed fixing – of course. Nothing special, just adding some lubricant, some grease to the suspension and new screws to the cv joints that we’ve changed a couple of times already. The rest of Alexine’s bottom looked quite good, which made us some proud parents, uhh owners!

But the same as with humans, it’s the heart that matters most. And the kindest and strongest of hearts can break once you get to a certain age. And unfortunately, for us, that’s where Alexine showed some really worrying cracks. Despite all the love and care we’ve given her, her heart was broken… She never had a thorough check before the journey and all the adventure, the challenging roads, scorching heat and long drives gave her a heart infarct. So it’s time to take care of her, and with that we mean really.

Thus, as a surgeon Razul went to work. Taking her heart apart piece by piece. And of course we helped. Like little kids we kept asking Razul “What’s this?” “Why are you doing this?” “Why is that broken?” And Razul answered every question with the patience of a caring father. Together we opened her heart, checked every bit and cleaned it all. Besides Razul also his son Reza helped out. A young eager to learn man who learns English and wants to become an electrician. He loves series such as Game of Thrones and has some chicks he takes care of in his room. Whenever he is not studying he is helping his dad fixing Volkswagens. He himself drives a VW gulf, to the disappointment of his father. And then there is Azam, the mother of Reza and wife of Razul. Azam is an incredible cook, caring woman and incredible seamstress. She sews the interiors of Volkswagens that Razul refurbishes and teaches sewing in school. 

For a while this home became our home. We shared meals, sweat and worry. Laughed, worked and almost cried together. Yeah, not all went well. Alexine showed some really troublesome heart injuries. Two cylinders need to be replaced, crankshaft bearings are worn and valve heads were broken. These three major problems could cause major problems for our journey. Luckily we were just in time, unlucky for us it takes time to fix these things. 

So we were put up to the question of sending our broken parts to Isfahan for a fix or use parts of an old engine from a Volkswagen T2 that hasn’t been on the road of years and won’t anytime soon anyway. We decided to check the other engine and take things we need from that engine. But, the costs… now our hearts started to hurt, and our wallet. The engine belonged to an American who wanted the top prize. Lost in translation and not really sure what other option we would have (having it fixed in Isfahan would cost the same they said) we decided to buy the engine. Whatever we need to do to fix Alexine, she’s worth anything. 

Heart surgery

So there we were, in a VW workshop in between Shiraz and the pink lake ready to undergo a heart surgery. Well, Alexine was, Razul being the surgeon and we being the assistants. The good thing about this all is that we learned so much from Alexine, we now know exactly what the engine looks like in and outside. We know what can happen, how to resolve it and the names of every part. But of course, once you find something you keep finding other stuff. So we kept changing rubbers, caskets, cables.

After a couple of days of working – with the occasional visit of some of Razul friends who were curious about the Dutch that almost destroyed their van, we fixed the engine. Alexine had a new heart, well knew… kind of like the monster – or beauty – of Frankenstein. We fixed the alarm lights, changed the break fluid and repaired one of the breaks. We even had time to install an extra oil carter in the hope that she would stay cool a little longer. And FINALLY(!!) we’re able to fix the oil leak. Three days of working in the workshop and Alexine was ready to hit the road. Which we did, to Shiraz, to change her tires.

15 years of loyal service

The tires we’ve been driving on since The Netherlands are already 15 years old. That’s a bit too old for tires. It’s like walking on the same shoes (every time you walk) for 15 years without ever fixing them. Quite a long time right? So we needed new ones. Our precious tires were 175 but the shop didn’t have those. He did have 205. A bit wider than we had, but that only sounded good to us. The wider, the more grip. We said goodbye to our loyal and awesome tires and welcomed our new tires. New tires ready for some crazy adventures.

After the tire change Razul took us to one of his friends who kept a small museum of old knickknacks above his car workshop. From everything related to cars to ancient guns, cameras and music instruments.

And that, our dear readers, was the end of fixing Alexine! It feels like Alexine had been in a huge accident, but this accident took 7 months and many kilometers. But she’s fixed now. Still some little bruises that we can’t fix now and need to check regularly but for the most part she is fixed. This time to explore Shiraz and Persepolis! But that’s for another blog 😘

Love, Milene & Yuri

Check our latest blogs

The heart of Pakistan

The heart of Pakistan

We end our beautiful Pakistan trip in the heart of the country. Let’s expLahore the city of culture, spicy food and history.

The way to Fairy Meadows

The way to Fairy Meadows

Probably one of the most touristy spots of Pakistan, normally we would ignore places like this and skip them. However, friends told us it’s definitely worth it so here we are, sitting in a jeep on a steep mountain waiting for people to clear a landslide. It just...

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