In central Tajikistan, where the Panj River changes its course, is the Vanj Valley, an attractive space that sprawls out beneath the Pamir Mountains. In the spring time, the river is bloated and angry with melt water, and there are still banks of snow reaching down to the water’s edge. This means, however, that when summer finally arrives, the vegetation is lush and green, and the riverside orchards are overflowing with fruits to eat.
The Vanj Valley, which overlooks Afghanistan, was a key location in the 19th century Great Game, the spying match between the Russian Empire and British India. More than a century on, the Tajik villages developed with the arrival of electricity and passing trade, but those on the Afghan bank of the river appear to be caught in a time warp. It is a fascinating case study in development.