Lessons from a remote Mountain Community

by Aug 15, 2018Central Asia, Communities, Off the grid, Reflections, Stories, Tajikistan, Techniques

On this journey we take the roads less travelled to find an answer to the question: How do we want to live our life? Is a life closer to nature and to people something for us? A great reason to stay a little longer at places where people do so. In Tajikistan we hiked into a remote mountain valley where a few families live in a community, close to nature. It was amazing to see and experience how they have a real self sufficient system together. Read the full story!

We are in the far and remote Pamir mountains in the East of Tajikistan: a forgotten region in Central Asia, far from modern day society. When travelling here, you don’t meet many people: the region is 1,5 times bigger than The Netherlands and has just a little over 200.000 inhabitants. We take a side valley and then we start our hike to the small village of Jizev, that can only be reached by foot. From the valley steep rocky mountains rise up: it is dry and arid and not much seems to grow here. How would life be up there? We stayed a couple of days to experience it by ourselves.

From the land

Slowly we make our way up and after about eight kilometer the landscape suddenly becomes green: the river made a vertile oasis in this otherwise uninhabitable place. We see the first plots of green farm land and every now and then some tools that are left behind: it seems it is harvesting time. After that we see the typical Pamir houses, made out of clay and wood. A man is picking apricots from a tree and on the roof of the house is full of them drying in the sun. He invites us for tea. A few moments later his son arrives: Nasarcho (25) appears to speak very good English. Tea never comes unaccompanied in Central Asia: they serve us a big piece of bread, with fresh homemade butter and delicious apricot jam. “The dried mulberries are a natural sweetener of the tea”, Nasarcho explains. And what we thought were almonds, are the dried pits of the apricot. Everything comes from their own land, everything is used.

Harvesting together

Nasarcho and his family just returned from a week in the high mountains. The goats, sheep and cows of the eight families  are grazing at the high pastures during summer. “A great time”, Nararcho says while smiling. “That is really living in nature. We take care of the animals with my whol family: we milk them, make butter and yoghurt”. The eight families take shifts in taking care of the animals in the high mountains. Depending on how many anymals the family has, they calculate how long they are up in the mountains. The schedule is set in the community consultation that takes place on a regular basis.

That afternoon it cools down fast and the villagers get out to the fields to harvest the grass. Since the animals are high up in the mountains, they save the grass surrounding the village for the colder months of the year. Every family harvests his part of the fields to have enough grass to feed their own cattle during the cold and harsh winter months. We join them and try to use the small scythe to cut the grass as fast is they are doing. But what seems so easy, appears to be quite difficult. Bit by bit the stack of grass in our hands is getting bigger. After that heaps of grass are drying in the sun for a few days. The dry grass we tie together into bales of hay. But after two hours of work in the evening we’re done: we shouldn’t work too hard. “Two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening is enough: than the temperature is nice and cool”, Nasarcho explains. And whenever they are finished with their own piece of land, they help their neighbours to finish theirs.



Power of the community

The village is more or less self reliant and most of the things that we delegated to a government or public organisation in our Western societies, they still take care of themselves. The food is coming from the land, they take care of their animals together, the electricity is generated by the power of the river, water comes from the small irrigation canals they digged themselves and the grain is made into flour by their own water powered mill. Even when one of the villagers get sick, they organize a financial security by themselves. “We don’t have health insurance, but when one of us has to go to the hospital, every member of the community participates to gather the money needed for the operation”, Nasarcho explains.  

Inspiring our future

That evening we sleep under the star filled sky. We feel very inspired by the way these families are working and living together. We learned so much from them about being independent from the system and living with nature. We would love to implement some of their habits and techniques into our plans for the nearby future. But since we can’t build on generations of knowledge and experience, one thing would be very important to us: having access to internet. In that way we can at least find out ourselves how to build a beautiful Pamir house from local materials.