Instead of heading directly back to Dushanbe after visiting ancient Penjikent and the excavation crew there, I traveled with a colleague out to the seven lakes region, better know as Marguzor in Tajik. The region south of Panjikent in the Sughd province is named for the group of seven turquoise lakes nestled within the Fann mountains. The lakes are strung together by a waterway that becomes the Shing River, a tributary of the Zeravshan River. To reach the lakes, one needs to hire a car, because Marshrutkas do not run there. The first lake is about two or so hours by car from Panjikent and it takes another hour or so to reach the final seventh lake reached only by a single lane rubble road. A worker from the excavation at Panjikent volunteered to take us out to the lakes. A friend of his had a car and was already heading that direction to deliver groceries to his family’s small shop on the fifth lake. By nine o’clock we were bouncing along the rubble road under a gleaming sun. Every half an hour or so we stopped to collect water from the Shing to cool the overused engine of our transport. The mountains on either side of the road were rocky giants with green only strictly following the river’s turns. After passing a few villages, one of which included a small madrassa, we came around a turn to the first lake, called Mijgon. The turquoise color reflected under the sun was unreal, almost chemical. The like the previous thread of green highlighting the river, the crisp water stood in extreme contrast to the gray mountain faces enclosing the lake. There was not a soul around. The water stood motionless across the entire lake surface. I asked our guide Firu if anyone ever swam in the lake. He said no, not in this one. The water was much too deep and dangerous. Firu then told us that there were a few places safer to swim in the later lakes. It was so hot under the beating sun that a chance to swim in a later lake sounded like a real possibly.
As we moved to the second and then third lake the elevation began to increase and by the fifth lake where we stopped to deliver the grocery, the grey of the mountains was suddenly shifting to many shades of green. We waited in the main town by the fifth lake for some time as the groceries were unloaded. After only a few minutes, we were met by giggling village children. The kids immediately noticed my camera and wanted photos of themselves and also with us. So as I took each photo the children would pose perfectly and then following the camera’s click they were quickly all standing behind me to see the instantaneous results on my viewfinder. I christened the tiny 3 x 3 meter store by buying the first soda and we piled back into the jeep to head to the sixth lake. We arrived and the temperature was noticeably lower. At the seventh and final lake I was cold. I put on all of my spare clothing in defense of the 14C weather that was just an hour before a boiling 40C. We sat along the pebbly beach and ate our picnic of manty (a dumpling usually filled with meat) and somsa (a pastry often filled with meat and onion). The air was crisp and the water much too cool to swim. Had I brought a towel and a change of warmer clothes I would have dived in for five minutes as I once did at Lake Baikal in Siberia. However, I was certain that I would have caught a cold without them, so I opted to stay dry this time. After lunch we traced a foot trail around the west side of the lake. As we were walking thunder rolled in. The boiling sun was now completely masked by dark clouds and small pockets of rain began to fall. Firu explained that this temperamental whether was typical for the seventh lake. As soon as we would descend to lake five or four it would be hot with the sun beating above us again. We stood at a look out and threw rocks into the water waiting for them to plunk below. I talked with Firu about his family, friends and what it was like growing up in Panjikent. Likewise, I shared my story about growing up in the states and explained why I was here, more or less why I love and study ancient Central Asia.
Instead of hopping back in the car, we hiking back to the sixth lake. We pasted herders resting on the hills with the bells of their fat sheep ringing in the distance. We crossed one small bridge after another, each stretching out across a rush mountain stream. We stopped near the village mosque and I enjoyed a seat covered in lichens next to a creek. Eventually we were back on the road to Panjikent and faster than we knew it the grey clouds opened to let the sun beat down on us again.