China's Tribal HeartlandsExplore China's stunningly diverse regions of Upper Yunnan and Guizhou.
Heaven is a 5 hour journey into the Nuratau mountains north from Bukhara. The way is a bit convoluted, as any path to paradise should be. It must have seemed that back in the day way when people sought out isolated spots like this to get away from the tyranny of marauding hordes. Asraf village would have been a prime location back then because it hasn’t lost any of its appeal over the centuries since this valley was first settled. I get a sense that we are in for a unique experience as our bus climbs the steep gravel track towards a cluster of stone houses sheltering amongst swaying poplar and walnut trees in the head of the valley.
The people here are Ari – an ancient Persian community who have lived in this valley forever. I’m impressed but really shouldn’t be because in this part of the world people can actually trace their roots back several thousand years. Ari have their own language and have not intermarried with the local Uzbeks. Our host family are subsistence farmers – fruit and walnut trees and a few cows, goats, and poultry. Although a relatively recent enterprise in these communities Eco tourism is a big help and nowadays 90% of their income comes from the homestay. There are three generations living in this house – Yachshigul the hostess and her daugher-in-law prepare the food a- with a little help from our group members!
The father and son look after the animals. The children are still quite young. There is a small school close by for children from aged 7 to 11, from 12 to 16 years old they go to school 4 km down the valley, and for high school, its 20km into town where the children stay in a hostel. In the winter the village is covered by a metre of snow – transport is by donkey! Yep, donkeys are much more useful that smart phones and tablets in this neck of the woods and that gets me thinking that perhaps Paradise really is a place free from the distractions of electronic wizardry. This revelation comes as I’m preparing to post my blog and send photographs of sleepy Asraf halfway around the world.