If there is one thing I learned about traveling in Tajikistan, it is to always add two hours to the estimated travel time. The road to Panjakent follows the Zaravshan River through a narrow gorge dotted with tiny villages colored copper and gold by the changing leaves of the apricot groves and crisscrossing the river on old one-lane cable suspension bridges. After nearly five hours bouncing along occasionally paved road and detouring through a village (where a young boy exclaimed in surprise “A woman driver!”) to get past a section of the road that is closed for construction. We arrived at our guest house above the fourth lake just in time for dinner.
Each of the seven Marguzor lakes has it’s own character. Some are long and narrow, set in the nearly perpetual shadow cast by the cliffs that rise from their waters. Others are wide and shine bright green in the sunshine. Sometimes one lake has many characters – once blue and mysterious, once black and ominous, once a cheerful green, and always different.
We stayed in a village just beyond the fourth lake. Our guest house was of traditional four-bedroom mud construction complete with hand embroidered wall hangings, wood (or coal) burning pichka stoves for heat, and outhouse style facilities. After the frigid cabin at Iskanderkul, the smokey warmth of the pichka was very welcome.
The next morning after breakfasting on a traditional Tajik porridge, we drove around the fifth and sixth lakes and then hiked up the too-rough-to-drive road to the seventh, final lake. There we picnicked on the pebble beach, walked along the donkey path used mostly to haul hay down from the alpine meadows, tried to spin wool into yarn using a traditional spinner, and listened to our guide tell stories of the treks he’s guided through these mountains.
On our way back down the hill to the car we stopped in the village to try and find the school. The children of the village were more than happy to talk to us and to guide us to the neat little building perched on a steep hillside high above the valley. The school master even let us look around inside the newly finished building with the capacity to serve over 200 children. As we walked down the hill from the school, we stopped to talk with an old woman carrying an enormous piece of bread. She explained how the bread was baked under a rock and even gave us a huge piece to try. After saying farewell to the village children we drove back to our homestay to clean up before dinner.