The Silk Road on a Zenit

(All pics: Margot Araujo)

By Margot Araujo

When I was living in Uzbekistan, I planned to buy a camera.

I was looking for a cheap Soviet camera from a bazaar but ta guy came up to me and told me “Don’t buy a camera here, they are all out of order, you won’t even be sure it will work and you will ruin a film for nothing. Instead I can give you mine for the price you want.”

That’s how I got my Zenit, from a former Soviet photographer who had turned to digital without any regret. My newly bought old and heavy piece of the Soviet Union was perfectly working and followed me all the way along the Silk Road where I lived for almost two years.

I am always shooting both black and white and colour films on the same trip, I just skip from one to the other when it is finished.

My first step on the Silk Road was Uzbekistan. I took the time to discover its ancient history, to visit Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva and ultimately to reach the Aral Sea.

During summer time, the heat was unbearable but surprisingly I got used to it and kept on travelling.

My next step on the Silk Road was the coldest time of my life. Kyrgyzstan is known for its high mountain range: the Tian Shan and it’s nomadic legacy. You can still stay in yurts with local herders taking their sheep or yaks high up on the mountains or spend a day horse riding without meeting anyone.

But don’t be mistaken, modern cities are flourishing in the valleys. I stayed in the capital Bishkek for six months, stuck in the snow, waiting for winter to stop. But on the other side, it gave me enough time to have all my black and white films processed there by a local guy who was been doing this before the collapse of the Soviet Union and kept on doing it after.

Meanwhile I took a detour up north through Kazakhstan to reach Uighour China (aka Xin Jiang) to visit the Taklamakan desert and the cities of Turfan and Kashgar.

As the connection between the different cultures of the Silk Road are very tied together you have to pay a close attention to feel the tiniest changes taking you from one culture to another: the changing taste of plov (pilaf rice); the shades of blue on the mosques; the different shapes of tioubetek (a local hat worn mostly by men).

Because of visa issues, I had to go back to Kyrgyzstan before taking my next step on the Silk Road. The last country on my trip was Tajikistan. Even higher than Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan feels like the most remote place on Earth.

It is most definitely well hidden and preserved. I decided to cross this country from east to west, through the Pamir and the Wakhan corridor, at the border with Afghanistan,  before arriving in the capital city of Dushanbe.

Here I need to mention that all this trip was made overlanding. This old road was designed to be travelled on foot, either yours or camels’, and it meant a lot to me to stick to the ground even if border crossings was sometimes more complicated than just hopping from place to place on a plane.

I have to admit that I did not really “walk” all this way but took many different means of transportation such as trains, mini buses and taxis. Doing so helped me get in touch with a lot of different people, old men and women, students going back home, just-married young couple and guys driving from one town to another to get a job.

Most of them were warm, nice and curious. The rest of them were just nice and silent. You don’t need to ask why one is travelling along the Silk Road, you just assume they are on the road to get somewhere else.



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