Trans Eurasia travel

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A visit to any of Tajikistan's museums will demonstrate the skilled craftsmanship of ancient metalworkers, woodcarvers, potters, painters and weavers. Whilst many of these skills have been lost, in large part due to the industrialisation of the 20th century and ongoing reliance on the import of cheap consumer goods first from Russia and now from China, a few workshops do continue to produce beautiful handicrafts in traditional ways, and their methods are being recorded and their goods promoted with the assistance of various NGOs.

Woodwork is probably the best preserved of Tajikistan's ancient crafts, largely because it has a practical, domestic application. The roofs and interiors of Pamiri houses are often richly carved, as are the doors of mosques and many of Tajikistan's other ancient buildings. There is a constant need for repairs and replacement timbers, and this has kept skilled carpenters in work. The best workshops are in Istaravshan and Isfara, though there are often individual craftsmen in smaller villages who are delighted to show off their skills.

Tajik women are traditionally the creators of textiles, and their work includes everything from hand-rolled felt and woven yak-hair carpets, to colourful knitwear and fine embroidery. The Murghab Eco Tourism Association (META)-sponsored Yak House and De Pamiri Handicrafts both support women in remote communities and encourage them to produce well-made pieces for the tourist market. The garishly striped Pamiri socks are a particular favourite amongst our friends.

Tajikistan is rich in minerals, including precious stones, and historically a huge amount of jewellery was produced. Though gold is still popular (you only have to look at the shiny gold teeth), it is prohibitively expensive for most people, and so the jewellery produced for sale locally now tends to be made from silver and/or brightly coloured beads. Big earrings and necklaces make popular souvenirs; rings are a little less common.

HANDICRAFTS by Robert Middleton

The handicrafts of Gorno-Badakhshan are being revived today by projects sponsored by the Murghab Ecotourism Association (META), a project of the French NGO ACTED, in the Eastern Pamirs (for Kyrgyz crafts) and by the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), a project ol the Aga Khan Foundation, in the Western Pamirs (mainly for crafts of the Western Pamirs). Funding for these projects has been provided by several far-sighted donor agencies, including Aid to Artisans, The Christensen Fund, the Open Society Institute, UNESCO, the Canadian, Japanese, Swiss and US governments and the Dutch development agency novib. The projects aim to create additional sources of income for artisans and promote and protect local culture.

In 2001, the Murghab Ecotourism Association opened The Yak House in Murghab for training and sales; outlets now exist in Khorog, Dushanbe (Bactria Cultural Centre) and Bishkek. The skills supported by The Yak House are weaving and embroidery (carpets, wall hangings, table runners, cushion covers, handbags, purses) using traditional techniques and designs.

In the Western Pamirs, a local organisation, De Pamiri Handicrafts was created in 2004 and is training its partner artisans to increase the quality of their products and to sell them through the De Pamiri shop in Khorog and partner shops in Dushanbe.
De Pamiri sponsored handicrafts include: felt crafts (carpets, toys, slippers); knitted crafts (socks, skull caps, scarves and other items); embroidery (wall hanging, skull caps, purses); woven carpets (from sheep wool and goat or yak hair); traditional musical instruments; wood carvings; woven baskets; hats; and toys.

Outlets for De Pamiri handicrafts:

Khorog: "Guarant" office, 77, Lenin street. Tel: 00992-35220-3796, 00992-35220-5804, 00992-35220-4475 E-mail:
Dushanbe: Silk road shop, 32, Shotimur Street; Bactria Cultural Center, 22 Mirzo Rizo. Eel: 227 02 57 / 227 03 69 / 95 I 31 42 05

Antiques are hard to find in the Pamirs. Until a few years ago it was still possible to find old coral and silver jewellery from the Western Pamirs and embroidered headdresses with silver decorations, for ceremonial occasions, from the Eastern Pamirs.