At the top of Upper Hunza in an area called Gojal, Zoodkhun stretches in Chapursan Valley. Staying almost at the highest limit where vegetation of mountain oasis grows up, it is a village having numerous characteristics in common with other Wakhi settlements of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and, likely, China (though, not directly observed in this last country). However, its isolation at the very end of a narrow dirt road, coming from Sost, and its altitude of 3,300 m, make it, sometimes, different in term of tradition resilience, scenery, available resources and way of life. May some readers decide to visit this interesting place, to discover its peaceful beauty, and to enjoy the cordial hospitality of its friendly inhabitants.
A high mountain oasis cared thanks to a meticulous gardening
The image presented below is dated August 5, 2018. It is taken from the highest inhabited point of Zoodkhun ( aslo spelled Zuwudkhoon), the ultimate settlement of Chapursan (Chipurson, Chipursan) Valley between the giant Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges.
This is the middle part of the diyor (village, hamlet). It is 05:30, PM. Light comes from the west (left, here). It passes over the mountains materializing the western border with the end of the Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor (same Wakhi population, same Ismaili religion and same language of a Persian branch) accessible, after Baba Ghundi mazar (shrine), via the Irshad Pass (4,979 m) which terminates the valley.
At first glance, the external viewer has the confused impression something, he is used to, is missing. The problem for him is to find what. Eventually he realizes, there are absolutely no commercial posters, no advertisings, no signs. The eye can enjoy the scenery and have a walk without being hurt. Nothing breaks the pleasant contemplation.
This is the period of the year for harvesting and haying. From the top of a trail that winds down, dry-stone walls enclose plots while delimiting paths and a road. They provide relatively flat terraces, preventing erosion and protecting crops or grasslands from livestock (with the possible exception of agile yaks and goats). Conveniently, they also serve to dry laundry as indicated by white and colored patches (bottom right of first picture). Three women work in what may be a square of potatoes. Another one (bottom left) climbs the path carrying hay on her back. Behind her, a calf is tied to a stake and grazes grass on the path shoulder. Opposite, on a desiccated ground, stays a pile of sand for probable construction works, which would be performed by the man noticeable at a house corner.
Farther downhill, there is a mowed plot. Sheaves of wheat or barley are arranged on the small yard of a house. Some are also put, with hay, on the roof. Then, going behind this building, the itinerary heads towards the new government school which is being completed (with a wood frame for roof), where the valley road is reached. Before getting there, on the left, an uncultivated space surrounds the corner of a house under construction. It serves, in particular, as a playground for young people, mainly for cricket. Here, the farmable ground and the grass are too precious to be trampled. The polo field (also used for buzkashi) is not visible, being farther away. In the distance, behind the jangal (wooded wasteland growing on floodplain alluvium), before the river and perpendicular to it, stays an arid parcel surrounded by a low wall. It’s, may be, an enclosure intended to gather cattle and horses.
A dispersed habitat like in the rest of Chapursan valley and in the Upper Hunza’s one
Houses are scattered throughout the oasis to be closer to the plots where, in addition to barley and wheat, potatoes, lentils and some vegetables are grown. Since each crop is irrigated by canals bringing water from the melting glaciers, it was not necessary to gather around a spring or a well. As a consequence agriculture and housing are closely intertwined. In Chapursan Valley, as in Upper Hunza Valley, there do not seem to be any cultures outside the hamlets.
Nazif Shahrani (“The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan”, p. 64) observed the same situation for Afghan Wakhi communities:
“Unlike settled agriculturalist communities in Badakhshan and other parts of Afghanistan, the Wakhi local communities are not larged nucleated or centralized villages. Instead, the Wakhi qarya (Nazif Shahrani does not use the word diyor) consists of a number of residential structures, khana, throughout the tiny plots of farmland dotting the narrow high valley oases.”