After an eventful week in Uzbekistan, I moved on to Tajikistan also known as “Roof of the World”. Tajikistan is the smallest of the Stans in Central Asia and also the poorest with over 90% of the land mountainous. I have to say Tajikistan is my least favorite of the 4 Stans I visited this trip. There is not much to see and the people are not as friendly as in Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan. Tajikistan has been ruled by many empires such as the Achaemenid Empire, Mongol Empire, Timurid dynasty, and eventually the Soviet Union. It gained independence in 1991 when Soviet Union disintegrated and suffered a civil war from 1992 to 1997. Like its fellow Central Asian countries, the government here is of the authoritarian kind with little freedom of speech and religion. I took an hour long flight from Tashkent in Uzbekistan to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Now they have an e-visa program which is quite easy to apply online. If you will also be traveling to the Pamir region, make sure you apply for the GBAO (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) permit online at the same time. As I have mentioned before in my previous posts, I have very often been mistaken for one of the locals during this trip through Central Asia. It is true in the other 3 Stans (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan) but not here in Tajikistan. The people here look more Middle Eastern than Central Asian/Mongolian probably because it is situated right above Afghanistan and Pakistan. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency on the grounds of the City Park next to Lake Komsomol in the center of Dushanbe. The hotel is relatively new and modern and the rooms quite large but the service is not that great. Upon entering my hotel room, there was already crap inside the toilet bowl. I immediately complained and changed rooms. After the room change, I thought I would grab a cold drink from the minibar. I opened the cabinet meant for the minibar but there was no refrigerator there other than a broken electric cord still plugged into the socket. Weird. I can’t be bothered to change rooms again. Another complaint was the wifi maybe worked 10% of the time in the room. After calling reception perhaps 4 times, they finally brought a router for the room. Wifi worked for maybe a few hours and then became sporadic again. And don’t get me started on the hotel restaurant. Anyways, conclusion is hotel may be newish but the local staff really are not well trained and do not understand hospitality and proper service at all.
Dushanbe means Monday in Tajik and the name came from the fact that it used to be a small village known for its popular market on Mondays. The city is mostly rebuilt after the end of the civil war with wide boulevards lined with poplar trees, modern apartment buildings, and new electric, gas, and water infrastructure. The city is a garden city with many parks and small canals. It is generally a relaxing place where most tourists use as a breather from trips to the lesser developed areas of the country mainly to hike. Here in the city, you can still see old men in traditional clothing with their beards and women in conservative clothing with their hair covered. They are a stark contrast to the locals in modern clothing like high heels, short skirts, and business suits. There are not all that many sights here in Dushanbe for tourists. In Ozodi (which means “freedom”) Square or Friendship Square stands the 25-meter high monument of Isomoil Somoni commemorating the 1100 anniversary of the state of the Samanids. You can tell the importance of Somoni because even the currency is named after him. He is the 10th century founder of the Samanid dynasty. His art-deco statue is covered in gold and has become a popular meeting point in the city.
Another park frequented by locals is Rudaki Park where there are many fountains and flower gardens. There is a giant flagpole here as well as the Rudaki statue standing underneath an arch of stars. Rudaki was also known as “Adam of Poets” and regarded as the first great literary genius of the modern Persian language. Apparently, other than the Quaran, a book of poems by Rukaki can be found in most people’s home across the country.
If you are interested in ancient history, then the Museum of National Antiquities is not to be missed. Because of its location on the Silk Road, Tajikistan has a blend of ancient cultures developing in its territory over the centuries such as the Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hellenistic, Islamic, and Pamir cultures. Before the Museum of Antiquities was a formal museum with its own building, the objects were kept mainly in the basement of the Institute of History and access was generally restricted to scholars and students. The Museum of National Antiquities opened in 1996 and moved to its own two-storey building in 2001 displaying discoveries from archaeological sites of Sarazen, Ajina Teppe, Tahti-Sangin, Khujand, Istaravshan, etc. The highlight here is no doubt the 13 meter long reclining Buddha lying on his right side discovered in 1966 in Ajina Teppe. The buddha weights over 5.5 tonnes and is one of the largest Buddha monuments in the world.
Next to the Hyatt Regency is the Navruz Palace, originally meant to be a tea house but whoever commissioned it or built it went completely overboard and it became a palace! There are 12 halls each decorated differently. There is a banquet hall, lounge, VIP rooms, art room, etc. Only one of the halls are available for rent and the other ones are all used by the government for meetings and banquets.
About half an hour west of Dushanbe is the Hissar Fortress which was the former palace of the Bukahara Emirate beks. The fortress had 1 meter thick walls and were heavily guarded with holes for guns and cannons. The fortress was mostly destroyed by the Soviets in 1924 except the monumental twin-towered gateway made of burnt bricks. It has an arrow-shaped arch between the two towers which was how most of the gates looked like in the 18th and 19th centuries. This 18th century fort is considered an important part of Tajikistan history and pictured on the 20TJS banknote. Legend has it that Caliph Ali came here on his horse Duhl Duhl to preach Islam and was recognized and captured. His horse came to the rescue with the sword of Zulfikar with which he killed the malicious wizard and his army who lived in the fortress at the time. Opposite the entrance to the fortress is the 17th century Kukhna Madrasa for up to 150 students at the time. Similar to other madrasas, there is a courtyard surrounded by hujrs (cells), aivans, lecture halls, and a mosque. Next to the Kukhna Madrasa was the Khisthin caravanserai built in 1808 and completely destroyed. Khisthin means “made of brick” and that is what the building is made of which is quite unusual because during those days burnt bricks were used to build palaces, madrasas, and mosques but not caravanserais.
Overall, I was not at all impressed by the things to see in Dushanbe. It was actually quite boring and I am glad I am only spending a few days here. I am not much of a hiker so I decided to drive out to Iskander Lake to take a look. Stay tuned!
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