Mashhad – The Empty Border

The dusty border Two years ago, when I came to Iran for the first time through the Islam Qala border, I was astonished by the scene of hundreds of wild Afghan men fighting to pass the border line, to quit their homeland and reach hope in rich Iran. But now, it’s not anymore the scene. The Afghan-Iranian border in Islam Qala is quite empty. Iran has tightened up the visa approval for Afghans. Land crossing is no more permitted for ordinary Afghans. The Iranian visa from Kabul is mostly stamped “For Air Travel Only”, putting them to obtain roundtrip ticket only with Iranian airlines. In some cases, visa applicants need to spend at least 1000 dollars just to get the entry visa. Indeed, one’s passport determines his or her fate. I arrived in Afghan immigration hall after 100 meter walk. People are sitting idly to wait for the officers come back from their lunch break. There are three officers behind the table. One is examining the passports, one is stamping, and the last one is noting down t he data before distributing the passports. All Afghans have to pay 10.000 Rial or 40 Afghani to the man who stamped the [...]

June 9, 2009 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Welcome to Ariana Flight

The boarding room of Kabul International Airport. Everybody is ready to fly … The first encounter with Ariana – the Afghan national carrier – is not always thrilling. It might be a unique experience from the Afghan land. In last several months I have been working as a consultant for UN. This, more or less, has changed my preference in traveling. Probably I got spoiled already with those amenities, facilities, and luxuries. Today, the first day of me turning back to be a backpacker again, I feel a sudden shock. Usually I prefer to take overland trip, but this time, on my way going to Iran for a short holiday to change the routine in Kabul, I chose to fly Ariana. The Kabul – Herat’s 1000 kilometer distance can be reached through three different routes. The northern route, through Mazar-e-Sharif, takes at least four days, killing unpaved road full of dust of the desert Dasht-e-Laila at the end of its leg. I have experienced this in 2006 and am not so keen to try again. The second option is the Central Route, through Bamiyan, Ghour, and Heart provinces. Most of the roads are unpaved, hitchhiking is required, and in my [...]

June 9, 2008 // 3 Comments

Shakhimardan – An Uzbek Island Surrounded by Kyrgyz Mountains

Shakhimardan, an Uzbek “island” surrounded by Kyrgyzstan As artificial as any other thing in Central Asia was the border lines between the countries. The nations created by the Soviet rulers now had to be provided their homeland. Stalin might say, land populated by most Uzbek should be Uzbekistan, those inhabited by mostly Mongoloid Kyrgyz then became Kazakhstan (the Kazakh was called as Kyrgyz) and Kyrgyzstan (of which people was called as Black Kyrgyz). But the matter was not simple in the Ferghana Valley. Ferghana Valley was always a boiling pot in Central Asia. The people were renowned as deeply religious Muslim, if not fundamentalist. It was more than necessary for the Russian to divide this huge mass with the highest population density all over Central Asia. Then, besides the division of ethnics (who were Uzbek, who were Kyrgyz, and who were Tajik), there was a clever intrigue by dividing the border lands to divide the people. Then, the identity in Ferghana Valley was not single ‘Islam’ anymore, but new artificial entities of Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik. But this was not something special if it was just borderlines. Borderlines created by Stalin were so complicated, zigzagging, and nobody understood the reason. [...]

April 7, 2007 // 1 Comment

Ashgabat – The Golden Man

“The 21th century is the Golden Age of the Turkmens” – A poster in Ashgabat “The Great Leader is Eternal” Mashhad bus terminal was as busy as the Southern Terminal (Terminal e Jonub) of Tehran. The closer the day to the Persian New Year (Nooruz in Iran, Navruz in Central Asia), the more difficult and expensive transport would be to come by. I was told that the bus ticket was already booked until the next 20 days. I was indeed lucky to get the yesterday’s ticket one day before departure, after struggling around Tehran’s various bus terminals. Nooruz might not be the best time to travel in Iran. The 15 hour bus journey to Mashhad cost 95,000 Rial, was still a good price for holiday season like this. I sat next to a Persian boy, Javad, from Zahedan who was living in Karaj as a student. His hometown, Zahedan, near the Pakistan border at the far south point of Iran, is home to the Balluchis. The Balluchi men wear shalwar kameez dress, just similar to the Pakistanis and Afghans. Javad wore western clothes though. “I am a Persian,” said him, the 20 year old boy, in Farsi, “not a Balluchi. [...]

March 16, 2007 // 2 Comments

Tehran – Turkmen Visa (4)

Finally… the Turkmen visa. Only for five days though. Among the transports that somehow had become my routine in Tehran due to the Turkmen embassy visits, the shared taxi trip today might be the most interesting trip. In Tehran, shared taxi is much more common compared to the usual taxi we have in Indonesia. Shared taxi is a taxi which travel on same routes all time and may take up to 4 passengers. By this way, people travel comfortably with cheap price. Unlike most chances in traveling in the Islamic Republics, in a shared taxi a woman can sit next to a male passenger. I often got interesting stories from other passengers. In Iran, compared to Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is much more space of freedom of communication between men and women. I flagged down a taxi. There were three female passengers in the taxi. All were middle aged. The woman sat on the front seat was surprised that I spoke Farsi. She asked where I learned Farsi. I said I used to live in Afghanistan. Suddenly the woman sitting next to me hugged me and kissed me. “Seriously??? You lived in Afghanistan?” That is my homeland. O Afghanistan, my [...]

March 13, 2007 // 2 Comments

Tehran – Turkmen Visa (3)

The beautiful Turkmen flag on a stamp. They have given up Russian Cyrillic and only use Latin With full of worry of not being able to get Turkmen visa, I visited the beloved Turkmen embassy again. It was more than a week since they received my photocopy of passport, and if it was approved, I should have got my Turkmen visa. I arrived at 9:15. There were already some Iranians waiting in front of a small window. The window was shut down. Many of the men, the visa applicants, were drivers applying for 6 month multiple entry visa, which with the invitation altogether cost 300 dollars. Some other men were businessmen who were applying for 1 month visa (91 dollar, plus the 100$ invitation). Turkmen visa was always bureaucratic and expensive. Even for 5 day transit I had to wait for 10 days, with repeated visit to the embassy and without certainty of getting the visa. Not before 10:45 the consul came. The Iranian applicants were quite annoyed by the consul being late. Iranians, unlike other people from Middle East, are somehow quite punctual people. The consul said my visa application was OK. I paid 31$ fee and submitted application [...]

March 12, 2007 // 0 Comments

Tehran – Turkmen Visa (2)

The beautiful Turkmenistan visa…. Give one to me, please… I returned back to the Turkmen embassy. It was always a long journey here. A metro to Mirdamad (750R) continued by a bus to Nobonyod (200 R), then a 1 kilometer walk to the junction of Dr. Lavasani street, a shared taxi to Vatanpoor Street (2000 R), and at last, a short walk to the embassy. A journey to hell. A couple of a German guy and a French girl from the same hotel simply took a taxi from Mirdamad. They also brought flower and chocolate to be presented to the consul, who might help for the visa. When it came to my turn, the consul said, “Nothing can be done.” The photocopy of passport was already sufficient for the visa application. Nothing else. The application was forwarded to Ashgabat, waiting for approval. If the answer was positive, after 7 to 10 days a visa would be issued. The application form given to me yesterday was to be submitted when my visa was already approved. Now what I could do was only waiting. I also visited the Afghan embassy. It was crowded, full of Afghans. The visa section also closed as [...]

March 5, 2007 // 0 Comments

Tehran – Flying West

March 1, 2007 The Iran Air midnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tehran was surprisingly crowded. The Iranian passengers came with loads of their luggage – seemed to be enormous number of shopping goods during their holiday in Malaysia – queued in font of the check-in counters in Kuala Lumpur’s new, modern international airport. Iranians were always as what I have knew before, curious and friendly as usual. It was not hard for me to start conversations with other passengers. First there was a woman who just finished her shopping holiday. Then there was another man who had to open his carry-in luggage (as the police saw him bringing too many powders in his suitcase but it seemed that the man was too obsessed in buying milk powder, instant coffee, instant juice, and all other powder drinks – strange things to buy from a country as far away as Malaysia). While waiting in the crowded, messy lounge (somehow didn’t match the modernity of KL International Airport), I chatted with Omid, a 30 year-old-man who had been working for more than 7 years in Malaysia but spoke only a few Malays sentences. We chatted in English and Farsi. “This plane is [...]

March 1, 2007 // 1 Comment

Tashkent – Flying Home

The Uzbek Airways flight HY553 flight of Uzbek Airways left Tashkent airport at 11:30 exact heading to Kuala Lumpur. I was among the few passengers on that plane. Kuala Lumpur, compared to New Delhi, Lahore, and Bangkok, is a dry destination from this country in the central of Central Asia. This morning there were several flights to Asia, and all were full of passengers, but less than 20 people boarding from Tashkent to Kuala Lumpur. This morning started very messy. It seemed I was not prepared yet to leave Central Asia this sudden. The notorious Uzbekistan immigration officer was not that bad though. My embassy has prepared me with magic letter so that if they tried to find trouble I still have a way out. During my two month stay in the country, I had never registered myself to the OVIR office (Passport and Immigration office), thus my stay was illegal. Luckily the immigration officer was too happy to speak Tajik language with me, chatting about the luck of living in a Muslim country like Indonesia (?) and forgot checking my registration dockets. I was lucky. I think he was also lucky, not every day he met Indonesian speaking Tajik [...]

February 7, 2007 // 6 Comments

Tashkent – Iran Visa

The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Tashkent is notorious to be very reluctant to issue visa. My Iran visa struggle has started long before since I was in Kyrgyzstan. The Tashkent Iran embassy said that they wouldn’t issue any visas for Indonesian passport holders because now Indonesians don’t need visa to go to Iran. It was strange reason anyway, because visa free for Indonesians is only for 2 weeks and difficult to extend. But my friends in Indonesian embassy in Tashkent were trying their best to help me. A staff said, “Let’s try to call them on different day. Maybe different staff will give different answer.” She was right. Another day the Indonesian embassy phoned the Iranian embassy, and it was another man who answered the call (I have never seen any women working in Iranian embassies that I have ever visited). The man said it was possible to apply with a letter from our embassy and we had to wait for 2 weeks for the result. On 12 January 2007 I have heard that the visa was ready and I could pick up. It was almost 1 month since we applied for it. I went to [...]

January 22, 2007 // 3 Comments

Bishkek – Kazakhstan Visa

Visa of the Republic of Kazakhstan Getting Kazakhstan visa in Bishkek was not difficult, but as for any countries in Central Asia, Indonesian passport holders need to be ‘consulted’. The visa application should be approved by central government by the respected countries. Only for Tajikistan we recently got exemption for Letter of Invitation (LOI) and entitled for visa-on-arrival at Dushanbe airport. Getting a LOI meant you have to get a pre-arranged invitation approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This can be arranged through a travel agency (30-80$). Many nationalities, included Malaysians, don need this invitation letter stuff and they could directly apply for visas in any Kazakh embassies. The Kazakhstan embassies were well-known all over the world for their cold service. And for this cool winter in Bishkek, the staff faces were even much colder. The embassy had moved to a new location recently, south part of the city. I came early but there were already many people queuing. Most of them were Kazakh and Turkish. Other Central Asian nations are exempted for visa to enter Kazakhstan. Armed by the invitation letter that was approved already by Almaty, I was given an application form and asked to make payment [...]

November 27, 2006 // 0 Comments

Bishkek – Uzbekistan Visa

Another bureaucratic thing to do in Bishkek For Indonesian passport holders, Uzbekistan visa requires Letter of Invitation. Recently getting Uzbekistan visa is more difficult then before, since the Andijan massacre in 2005. Before the American passport holders were granted multiple entry visa, but since the Karimov president kicked all the American soldiers out, the visa is now only for one month, single entry, same for anybody else. Only the Japanese passport holders still enjoy the privilege of no LOI, no visa fee (they only pay 15$ for the visa). I got my invitation from the Embassy of Republic of Indonesia in Tashkent. It is a personal invitation from one of the diplomats there, Mrs Sunarti Ichwanto. It is also a 1-month, single entry visa. But they said that the visa can be extended. The Uzbekistan embassy requires invitation per telephone for people who apply for visa, and as interview will be conducted, everybody either should speak Russian or bring a Russian translator. I came very early today. The snow just started. It was very cold to wait outside the embassy. I got the first turn to enter, as I called 3 days earlier. The application form was completely in Russian. [...]

November 22, 2006 // 0 Comments

Osh – Goodbye Tajikistan

Finally… the truck. And a new country Maybe it was because of the falling stars. When I woke up very early, about 7, as I couldn’t sleep at all the whole night, I saw two trucks were having custom check in Khurshid’s border post. These were trucks owned by Kyrgyz drivers from Kyrgyzstan. My Kyrgyz host helped me with a negotiation (‘chakchak’ in Tajik) with the drivers, and they agreed to take me as far as Sary Tash for 20 Somoni. Sary Tash would be the first Kyrgyzstan city to be approached from here. I was not the only passengers of the trucks. There was already an old Kyrgyz man with his family. The trucks were taking sheep and yaks. The drivers didn’t have document to transport these animals to Kyrgyzstan, so the numerous checkpoints along the road had to be really fuelled by money to smooth up the way. This is the way the business done. Tajikistan’s Pamir region is famous of its animal products, raised by the Kyrgyz and Pamiri Tajik herders. Animals are brought from the mountain areas in GBAO to the bazaar city of Osh in south Kyrgyzstan, where they may gain profit. Then to return [...]

November 4, 2006 // 0 Comments

Karakul – the Giant Death Lake

The giant death lake of Kara Kul. Karakul in Kyrgyz language means ‘black lake’. The lake itself is not black. In fact, this huge water body was deep blue when the sky is friendly, and turns to be grey when the sun chooses to hide behind the clouds. But the life is as dark as its name. There is no life at all in this huge lake. The lake has high concentration of salt. But despite of the salt, the lake also freezes in winter. The village next to the lake, bears the same name, is a Kyrgyz settlement with only one Tajik man inhabitant – a policeman. I was supposed to stay with the Tajik policeman, as it’s the only chance for me to communicate with my Persian knowledge. But when I arrived there, the Tajik man had left to Khorog. I stayed with a Kyrgyz family, an Acted-arranged guest house. They don’t speak Tajik, but the husband know little bit and can sing the national anthem proudly, “Zindabosh e vatan Tajikistan e azadi man (Long Live o Fatherland, My Free Tajikistan!)” He didn’t understand the meaning of the proud anthem though. Tildahan, the wife, is a young woman, [...]

November 2, 2006 // 0 Comments

Karakul – Out of Murghab

A new day, and a new month, starts in Murghab The new month has just started, and I have only 4 days left on my visa. I met these two guys in the bazaar of Murghab, one with visa expiring today (November 1). The guys were from America and Israel, and they have been waiting for onward travel to Kyrgyzstan. They were there in the bazaar yesterday but failed to depart. Today is the second day (and supposed to be the last day) attempt. Murghab is somehow a depressing place to wait for transport. As now the oil price has skyrocketed, one’s a month salary is only enough to cover the distance from Murghab to Osh or to Khorog in a public transport for one time. People don’t travel anywhere. There are many drivers but not passengers. The drivers hang around the bazaar the whole day to get passengers, and except the two travelers, and me, there is nobody else to share the cost. Some drivers even didn’t have petrol for their vehicles. The cost is always calculated in terms of liters of oil, with 3.40 Somoni/liter standard in Murghab. In Langar I even saw a driver asked the passengers [...]

November 1, 2006 // 0 Comments

Vrang – Life in Vrang

Green, peaceful, and lazy … Vrang Travelling in Tajikistan side of the Wakhan Corridor was as difficult as in Afghanistan side. Public transport was rare, the oil price got higher as the altitude got higher. It was 3.50 Somoni per liter of petrol here. No one was sure when the coming transport would come. And even when it came, it was often full, no space to share. It was indeed luck to be able to travel according to what one has planned. I was patient enough even though I worried about my short visa. Dr Akhmed was a doctor in Tughoz. I was waiting for transport to Vrang, 5 km away from tughoz, in his hospital. As the main doctor in this village, he earned only 50 Somoni per month. You would go nowhere with that amount of money in Tajikistan. But everybody was optimistic with his life. Working with little income was still better rather than begging on the streets. I have heard beggars in Jakarta could earn at least 60 dollars per month, about 280 Somoni, or 4 times higher than Dr Akhmed’s income. You need a lot of money and bunch of patience to travel in Tajikistan. [...]

October 25, 2006 // 0 Comments

Khorog – The Journey to GBAO

One of the two brothers, fellow passengers on the journey to Khorog, GBAO, Tajikistan GBAO, the Gorno Badakhshanskaya Avtonomnaya Oblast (Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) is my main reason to come to Tajikistan. It is dominated by the minority Ismaili Badakhshani Tajiks and Sunni Kyrgyz. It has majestic mountain architectures. But the main reason I want to go to this restricted area was its history. The province was supporting rebel side in the civil war of Tajikistan. The province suffered a lot from the blockade of the central government. Going to Tajikistan is already something strange for my Indonesian friends in Kabul. “Why going to Tajikistan? It is a poor country.” Going to GBAO is another thing to be objected by my Tajik friends in Dushanbe. “Why going to GBAO? It is so far and poor…” Even the Tajik diplomat in Kabul raised his eyebrows when my embassy staff insisted to get a Tajik visa together with GBAO permit. “Is he really a tourist???” For the ‘GBAO’ four letters to be added on my visa I had to pay a painful 100 dollar fee. It is a bureaucratic country, and my embassy told me to follow the rules, as for this [...]

October 18, 2006 // 0 Comments

Dushanbe – The Kyrgyz Visa … Finally

The Kyrgyz visa, finally It has been about ten days I am stuck in Dushanbe (and with side-trip to Istaravshan), due to the Kyrgyz visa application. I will post the comment of Istaravshan and Dushanbe later when I get proper Internet connection. Now, if you dont mind, let me share the struggle to get the Kyrgyz visa. As an Indonesian passport holder, I need an invitation to get the Kyrgyz visa, and the invitation should be approved by the ministry of foreign affairs in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. I applied through the Indonesian embassy in Tashkent. The Indonesian embassy contacted the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they said that my visa was approved, I just needed to go to the Kyrgyz embassy in Dushanbe to pick up the visa. Monday, October 9th I went to the Kyrgyz embassy. It was well hidden in an alley near Insititute of Teby. The embassy only accepts visa application one day in a week, that is on Tuesdays. Not wanting to repeat my tragical Tajikistan visa (which cost me 250 dollars for the red tape), I called my embassy in Tashkent to ask for confirmation about the approved invitation. They called by [...]

October 17, 2006 // 5 Comments

Dushanbe – Back to Dushanbe

The dangerous journey through the mountains, back to Dushanbe After bad weather in last two days in Istaravshan, I decided to go back earlier to Dushanbe to sort out my Kyrgyz visa application. I took a taxi from the bazaar. Actually it was not a proper taxi. There were two men originally from Kurgan Teppa at the south, going back to their town. As there were only two of them (one was the driver), the back seat was empty. Rather than letting it empty, they decided to grab a passenger or two to lessen the burden of the oil price. And without I realizing earlier, I was the only passenger in this car, and they were two completely stranger men. I felt quite insecure when leaving Istaravshan, but I just believed at my luck. The driver, Muhammad Rasul, was not fasting, but his friend was. Despite of having fast, his friend always tickled all young girls we met on road, made me wonder whether he knows the meaning of fasting rather than only not eating and drinking during the days. The man just smiled naughtily, showing his ugly golden teeth. The rain in Istaravshan turned to be snow on the [...]

October 15, 2006 // 0 Comments

Dushanbe – A Night in Student Dormitory

Rainbow in Tajikistan I went early to the Kyrgyz embassy just to find that the embassy only opened one day in a week, that is on Tuesdays. The embassy itself is well hidden in the alley, long way from the city center. It is next to a medicalcampus of the university Teby. When I was asking direction here and there, I met this boy. His name is Alyourov Bakhriddin. He is a medical student in the second year. He is an Uzbek boy from the northern town of Istaravshan, about 200 km away from Dushanbe. Bakhriddin has a Russified Islamic name. The names of Uzbek and Tajik were following the same pattern as those of the same ethnics in Afghanistan, but since the Russian occupation, the names of the people also consist of 3 parts: imya (name), otchestva (fatherly name) and familia (family name). The father’s name (otchestva) has ending –ovich for males and –ovicha for females, and the family name or grandfatherly name has ending –ov for men and –ova for women. Thus the Tajik president, Imamali Rakhmanov Sharifovich, hasname Imamali, is the son of Sharif and grandson of Rakhman. The Russians follow the pattern: imya – ochestva – [...]

October 9, 2006 // 0 Comments

1 2