An Azan is being called, breaking dawn in the small town of Baharak. The chaikhana’s guests all follow the summoning to the nearby mosque for their first of 5 daily worships leaving me all alone to do a bit of worshiping myself… Getting a good sleep! Now half dosing, One by one they filter back in sitting up cross-legged waiting for breakfast to be served. Some have brought back French fries and fruit from the bazaar but most only afford the 30 Afghani’s ($0.60) for a jug of tea and a freshly baked Nan. As they can now all see that I am clearly not a Muslim having not followed the call. A few ask questions over breakfast and even though I say I am neither a Muslim or Christian their hospitality and respect not once wavers.
Two men who I had not noticed before come and sit down close to me, They sit just close enough to make it uncomfortable; they look to be in their late 40’s with hardened faces and un kept beards. They introduce themselves as “We are from Vaduj!” my heart skips a beat, knowing that this area has a very large Taliban populous. They ask me through simple hand movements and the few words known between us if I am going to Vaduj, I respond “Vaduj? Neh neh, Vaduj Taliban... problem” They agree Vaduj has many Taliban and is a problem for me; by now I was thinking to myself are these guys Taliban? They definitely carried themselves differently to the other guests and had a real presence when they spoke. (They then proceeded to make me recite from the first pillar of Islam)… “La Elah Ela ALLAH Muhammad Rasool ALLAH
” “There is no god but god and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God"
Time and time again and then a few more times for good measure after that. A younger man approaches and basically from what I gather from his tone of voice and arm actions, he tells them to piss off and stop their preaching to the Tourist. He speaks very good English as it turns out and is studying in Kabul. The 2 preachers standup and as they do they tell me one last thing, that is now translated word for word. “If you can recite what you have leant to the Taliban, You will have no problem. If you can’t…”
they then make a gesture with their hands cutting across their throat. The other guests see this and are yelling and arguing with the 2, they retreat back to their far corner now having made my stay feel just a little awkward.
I take an extra breath and pack my bags before heading off to the police station for the Ural. I thank the police with a box of cigarettes that I was carrying for when I planned to cross back over the border. Won’t be needing them anymore. Bags on and I ride down to fuel up, the Ural is running roughly with a poor idle. I ride back through the bazaar and spot a truck yard. I ride in and find a quiet spot to work on the bike. By the time I have my tools out ready to remove the points cover I have my audience once again looking over my shoulder. It is the point’s that has loosened from the rough riding the previous day I gather and go about starting the engine and slowly rotating it around until I find a sweet spot, turning off the engine before tightening as best as possible and a recheck once more after that.
I thought I had found a quiet spot where I could work alone on the Ural.
Riding down to Faizabad the road follows the Kokcha river passing through many rural villages on the way. There’s a bit of traffic now on the road, creating a lot of dust for me as they overtake before making emergency braking maneuvers’ to avoid the next pot holes that inevitably come up. The valley narrows the closer I come to Faizabad with locals trout fishing the rapids with just a long supple branch with some line tied to the end of it. The trout caught being offered for sale on the roadside, they look good, perhaps 1.5kg (3.5-4lb).
Nice morning ride to Faizabad.
On arrival in to Faizabad I ride through the “old” town bazaar, its very busy with traffic, pedestrians and animals. First impressions are not what I had imagined either. It’s a largely Tajik town so I had envisioned something similar to Khorog but of course without the Beer but instead it was hot, dirty and very loud & busy. I follow the heavy traffic across the bridge still not having seen one guesthouse, Now completely passing through the “new” town without still seeing anything I turn around and decide to ride through the new towns neighborhood. I spot a Stencil painted “Kokcha” on a wall down the street… Kokcha was the name of a hotel I was told to stay at from when I was back in Eshkashem. I follow the signs through the new district to find the hotel on the banks of the Kokcha river. It’s a secure hotel meaning they have a heavy steel gate with armed guards; razor wire and security camera’s top the high walls. I knock on the heavy steel gate and hearing footsteps scuffling on the other side a latch is pulled aside at eye level to see who’s knocking. A few words of Farsi are spoken to me, I give them my own reply in English, the latch is closed and the scuffles disappear. They reappear minutes later with another, the latch once again is slid across the eyes different from before sizing me up then I am asked in English what I’m doing here and what I want. The large gate is slid open allowing me to enter.
The young manager, Jamshed is dressed all in a fine white traditional dress in what I assume to be a very expensive cotton. He tells me it is 70$/ night. I had heard contractors Guesthouses were expensive but I wasn’t quite ready for that one. I open up my wallet and I count, I have $80 with a bunch of Afghanis left. I’m still a few days to my destination 2-3 but was wishing to stay a couple of nights here to check out the place. I figured, I would at least need 60$ just for fuel. I mention I need to go to the atm that’s located here, He informs me there is no atm in Faizabad that takes Visa, He calls a contact to confirm this. He sees that I can’t afford his hotel but goes on to tell me that I am a guest in his country and so I should not worry about money and I am helped to my 5* room once my bags are checked by the guards. He apologizes for the delay in opening the gate as his security guard thought I was trouble being covered in dirt and looking as rough as a local. It’s the first western style hot shower I have had since Khorog and I use it to wash most of my clothes too, hanging them up on the window and door frames to dry while I sleep the afternoon away.
An explosion wakes me up, it vibrates through the hotel and I run to my 3rd
story open window half expecting to see some kind of smoke at least… Nothing, not one siren or scream either, it’s a bit of a mystery really and so I quickly forget about it. It’s getting late in the day now so I decide on going for a short walk around the hill slums to get a better picture of how people live here before its too late. Winding up through the slums, kites are dancing in the sky, their young pilots equally dancing about on the rooftops of their home. Most kites are made from old plastic bags and light sticks with strong cotton to control them. The highest kite flying is king, many below are tangled in power lines that droop from one home to the next.
Walking out back down the hill to the bazaar for dinner I walk past an armored wall with fortified turrets and a large boom gate at the entrance, I gather it’s the police station but I keep on walking, A policeman begins to follow me and shouts out at me shortly after. I am taken to the entrance where they look at every page in my passport and question every visa, which they get the same answer for each…”Tourist” Still not being satisfied that I am in fact just a tourist they escort me back down the hill to Kokcha Hotel with everyone in the street looking on, Jamshed is there to confirm what I have told them and goes on to tell the police man my story. Being satisfied he relaxes and lets me leave for a dinner of Manti and lime juice in the bazaar.