The Ismailis of Badakhshan Through My Lens by Muslim Harji
The First Part in a Special Series on Badakhshan and Central Asia
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MUSLIM HARJI
(Special to Simerg and Simergphotos)
An eighteen hour ride from Dushanbe to Khorog needs a well maintained 4 wheel drive. This drive is not for weak at heart, but a dream ride for an intrepid traveller. The rough road ( I would call it a path) is barely wide enough for one car, but the drivers are skilled enough to squeeze in two cars with both drivers on mobiles, and often texting!
The Pamirs are a mountainous area located in Gorno-Badakhshan with a reputation for having some of the world’s most inaccessible mountains, unparalleled beauty and a kindness so warm and inviting from the inhabitants that even the harshest winters seem not too bad. The majority of the inhabitants of this area are Ismailis, followers of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. I visited this absolutely beautiful part of the world with my wife, Nevin, recently – twenty years after Mawlana Hazar Imam made his first historic visit to Tajikistan in May 1995. This was a thrilling visit — the best journey I’ve ever undertaken in my life — and I am delighted to share the photos I captured with readers of Simerg and Simergphotos. This is the first in a special series on Badakhshan and Central Asia that the two blogs will be featuring in the coming weeks.
Amazing – the drive from Dushanbe to Khorog, Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
I wish to record my sincere thanks to our gracious hosts Dr. Ali Rajput, Shireenjan, Said Aziz, Zuibeda and family. They made our stay most enjoyable and made it possible for us to see parts of Badakhshan that we would have otherwise not seen. We shall always be grateful to them for their kindness.
Upon arriving at the village of Rushan, we were greeted by children singing the welcome song “Khushamudin”. We were then escorted into the home of the Ismaili village elder. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
KHOROG AND THE FUTURE SITE OF THE ISMAILI CENTRE
Khorog has one of the best educated populations of any town in Central Asia. English seems much more widely spoken here than in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. The open space in the image is the future site of “The Ismaili Centre Khorog,” next to the beautiful botanical garden built my Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
THE MOUNTAINS OF BADAKHSHAN AND THE MYSTERY OF MOUNT NASIR KHUSRAW?
The Mountains leading in and out of Khorog. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
As told by Alice Hunsberger
Nasir Khusraw holds a special place in the hearts of the Tajiks, not only because they consider him a Tajik poet, since Tajik is the name of their language, which is really Persian. But also because he spent his last years there, in exile mostly in the eastern region called Badakhshan.
Today, Badakhshan (which straddles both Tajikistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan) nearly completely professes the Ismaili faith, a fact the Badakhshanis reverentially attribute to Nasir Khusraw’s beautiful preaching and poetry.
The story is this: During Soviet times, when Tajikistan was one of the republics, an officer came from Moscow to Tajikistan to make an inspection. He was shown around the schools, hospitals, power plants and other places that would display progress in general. One of the things sagaciously pointed out were the soaring mountain peaks: Mount Lenin, Mount Communism, Mount Fifth of May, and so on.
This fellow from Moscow, who was not only sensitive but informed of local enthusiasms, said:
“Aren’t you upset that there is no Mount Nasir Khusraw?”
To which his Tajik host replied:
“There is no mountain high enough.”
KHOROG’S MULTI-PURPOSE HOME
Dr. Ali M. Rajput of Birmingham, England, has made Khorog his place of residence during the summer months. He has made this place available for people to come to socialize and also pray. Now in his Ninety’s, Dr. Rajput serves the jamat in his own capacity and is deeply loved by the people of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Members of the Khorog jamat are seen practicing for the annual “Noor Day Celebration” which commemorates Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Badakhshan on May 25th, 1995. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Young Volunteers distributing Tasbhis (prayer beads) before prayers. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Muslim Harji and Dr. Ali Rajput, at far right corner, breaking bread with the village elders of Rushan. Photo: Muslim Harji.
The jamat meets, greets and socializes. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Enjoying Pamiri hospitality: Our host Shireenjan, Zubeida and family. Almost everyone we met along the way happily invited us to their place for tea and other Tajik delights. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Meeting Ismailis in the mountainous region of Rushan, Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
THE ISMAILIS OF THE WAKHAN CORRIDOR
The Wakhan Corridor is the narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. The corridor, wedged between the Pamirs to the north and the Karakoram range to the south, is about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13–65 kilometres (8.1–40.4 mi) wide (Wikipedia excerpt).
Little Suranoor having breakfast before getting ready for school in the village of Namadgut. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright
Geema tending to family animals after coming home from school.
Ismaili schoolgirls amidst a fantastic setting in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright
Young girls helping out with household chores. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Young Ismaili boy helping sow seeds on the family farm after school. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Incredible beauty, where eagles fly over the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
“ALLAH IS SMILING UPON YOU”
“The Qur’an refers very often to nature as a reflection of Allah’s power of creation, and it says, look at the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, as evidence of Allah’s love for the people whom He has created. Today, I look at the environment and I say to you, I believe Allah is smiling upon you, and may His smile always be upon you.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, Badakhshan, May 27, 1995.
The joy of being a grandfather….in the Village of Namadgut. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
and equally…the joy of being a grandfather….in the Village of Namadgut. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Nevin’s roadside lunch break with our Ismaili driver Zakir. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Ismaili boys at the family barn. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Young Ismaili Girl tending to village cattle after school. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright
An Ismaili Herder in the Wakhan Valley. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
A close up of the Ismaili herder. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Our host Aga Yodgar in Langar, Wakhan Valley, entertains us with rubaab after dinner. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
A communal tandoor in an Ismaili village, where the entire village gets its bread baked. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Date posted: Friday, June 12, 2015.
Last updated: Saturday, June 13, 2015.
Copyright: Muslim Harji. Montreal. 2015.
Before departing this page please take a moment to visit Table of Contents for links to superb photo essays.
Profile of Muslim Harji at Contributors.
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Ya Ali Madad Muslim Harji, I just got the opportunity to view your trip photos of Central Asia and was very impressed with the beauty of the region and our Ismaili brothers and sisters. It has been my dream to visit this part of the world and if possible can you guide me the best way to arrange the trip and any local contacts if possible.
What a journey and experience. You are so lucky to see all this. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.
Amazing pictures. I feel like visiting there once in my life time, Inshallah.
Just feels happy to see it!
Excellent photos, thank you very much.
These pics are indeed very beautiful.
Wonderful experience indeed. Please do organize a presentation like you did on your South East Asia visit.
With many thanks for these photos. You reminded me of those very beautiful views and people in Badakhshan. I’ve been there, and I’ll remember it forever.
The photographs & articles are worth reading. It’s great to note that we have our Ismaili brothers and sisters living in such a beautiful natural landscape.
Inshallah will visit this part of the continent.
Ya Ali Madad and well done. I must congratulate you for your trip to Badakhshan and Khorog, and all the details you have provided.
How many Ismailis are living in the Wakhan Corridor?
Fabulous pictures, Muslim – equal to if not superior to National Geographic! So much beauty and harshness in their lives but only contentment on their faces – long live that!
Having visited Tajikistan many years ago, these photographs memories for me are reminders of the time I spent in Khorog and the surrounding areas. Beautiful photos and concise texts make it so interesting and leave the rest to imagination, and as many people above say, “specially for the bucket list”.
It is truly a story of survival of the fittest. These Tajik brothers are an inspiration to all the rest of us. Upholding the Ismaili tradition in the most harsh climatic and treacherous mountain Terran of our world. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us.
Thank you Muslim for the photos and description. Tajikistan and Central Asia is on my bucketlist! Inshallah, one day. Shemina Adatia.
Absolutely beautiful! I would love to go there one day.
Thank you so much for sharing the the photos and comments of those great people. Makes me proud to being a small part of our global family. I nearly made it there once but my educational trip was cancelled due to a sudden illness. My best wishes to Muslim for the lovely story with words and beautiful pictures.
(a retired Headteacher from London)
Thanks for posting this photo series, with such rich explanations. Love the anecdote one of my great Tajik students at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London told me.
Thank you Muslim for great photos and an inspiring write-up.
Muslim, great pictures that bring families, Ismaili family closer. Thank you and keep clicking!
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Awesome photos. Thank you so much for such a vital contribution.
Award winning photos! Bravo Muslim bhai and Nevin bahen for sharing your adventure and enlightening us about our Ismaili brothers and sisters of Central Asia.
Good photos, lovely people. There is so much in common with Chitral, both the culture and the scenery. Last time I visited the area was in 1992 and things seem improved. Wishing the people the very best.
Thank you so much, Mr.Muslim Harji, for sharing with us all the beauties of this heavenly earth.
Great work Harji. One should visit this beautiful and peaceful part of the world. I was there last June and it was a fantastic experience. Good to see Yodgor from Langar, as well he is great guy.
Hello my lovely family,
Beautiful pictures and so much to see and learn. Thank you for sharing them with us.
Incredible photos and story, as well as great quotes by Dr. Hunsberger and His Highness. Delightful and superb contribution, Muslim.
Beautiful….thanks for sharing 🙂
Not only are your photos exceptionally beautiful Harji but by sharing them with us, with the world!, you allow us to travel, to dream, to wonder and to admire these beautiful people and places that are off the beaten travelers’ path. You continue to inspire us with your and Nevin’s travels Harji, your love of people, your love of music, your love of life. Thank you Harji.
As per your question on simerg…
We are very low key grass root travellers, who prefer to travel by local transport (bus, trains, shared taxis, etc) , stay at B&B, guest houses, Musafir khannas, and mostly eat where the local eat, thus enjoying the ambiance of the place, meeting the locals and enjoying the local delicacies etc etc. For this mode of travel I would recommend you get the latest version of Lonely planet travel book (Lonely planet Central Asia for Tajikistan). In Khorog we stayed and enjoyed the hospitality of Said Aziz at “Pamir Lodge” who can also help you with local travel.
If you prefer pre-organized package, try Shagarf Sherzad ……….At .Shagarf specializes in the Pamir region. I would highly recommend that you drive one way (from Dushanbe to Khorog ) with a stop over in Kalai Khumb for the night, and return by plane if you get a flight and a seat. A drive through the Wakhan corridor is a must (from Khorog to Langar and further).
This is fantastic. I have been up to Hunza Valley and it was really peaceful and picturesque.
Muslim beautiful pictures. Waiting to read the rest.
I hope you will post how you booked your travel plans also so it is easier for others to follow.
Excellent photos & article. What an incredible journey and experience. Once in a lifetime type of an experience that I am vicariously living and enjoying. Thank you!