Trans Eurasia travel

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About 40km north of Kulob, in a remote district with lush mountain valleys, is the small town of Khovaling. Though the town itself has little to offer, it's the stepping-off point for the Hazrati Shah Mountains and, in particular, the Childakhtaran Nature Reserve. A popular day trek will take you to the 40 Virgins Rocks; legend has it that 40 young girls prayed for deliverance from the advancing Mongol troops and were turned into stone so that their bodies would forever stay pure.

It is in the Baljuvon district, which the government wants to develop for tourism. It is sparsely populated and hilly, green in spring, but arid for the rest of the year. There are fertile places in the valleys, with orchards and streams, and flocks graze on the hills.

Khovaling is a pleasant enough town, with a reasonable museum. There is an impressive waterfall nearby. The town is seldom visited by foreigners. A visit is worth though for those interested in the flamboyant figure of Enver Pasha, who fled his native Turkey to fight alongside anti-Bolshevik partisans, the basmacbi, in the 1920s.

Enver Pasha was killed by the Bolsheviks near the village of Ob-i Garm. According to local Hukumat officials Enver Pasha was fighting under the command of Davlat Mandbai, the local basmachi leader. A truce had been called for the holy day of Eid. Davlat Mandbai allowed his followers to return to their villages. A Bolshevik informer, 'Barfi Bolo' betrayed Enver Pasha's whereabouts, and he was cornered with only a handful of followers.

Russian troops advanced from Baljuvon and attacked. Enver Pasha fought them off with his English machine gun, but was eventually shot by a Russian soldier, Sverdilov. The story goes that Davlat Mandbai, who was immensely strong and a superb horseman, galloped to the Russian lines, grabbed Sverdilov, and threw him across the horse's neck in the style of a buzkachi player and rode off. But Sverdilov still had his pistol and he shot Davlat Mandbai, mortally wounding him.

Davlat Mandbai's dying words to his followers were not to allow the bodies of Enver Pasha and himself to be captured by the Russians and displayed in Tashkent. So their remains were hidden in some rose bushes, and later taken and buried in the village of Chagan, 20km away. The two were buried by the side of the road, so that people would remember them.

In 1995, the Turkish government sent a team to Tajikistan to recover the remains of Enver Pasha. They flew his body to Turkey for a grand state funeral in Istanbul. He is buried with other Turkish heroes on the Memorial Hill in Istanbul.

To the east of Khovaling is the Childukhtaron Nature Reserve, so called from a feature of 40 rocks, reputed to be 40 virgins who fought valiantly against the troops of Genghis Khan, but realising defeat was inevitable, prayed that their virtue should be preserved and were transformed into rock pillars. There is great trekking to be had in the little visited, surrounding Hazrati Shoh range of mountains.