Tag Archives: Dushanbe

Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

In Boulder Co. there is a remarkable Tea House, built by the Artists of Dushanbe, broken down, crated and shipped to Boulder where it was reassembled in the Downtown area. It provides meals and snacks and features a ten page menu of different teas both within the Tea House and also in the relaxing gardens surrounding it. My visit to Boulder’s Dushanbe Tea House in early July felt like the start of this minor odyssey and now here I am, in Dushanbe. I read somewhere that it is a distance of some 7,000 miles. I have been looking forward to this visit as most of the Guide books suggest that there is little or nothing to do in this city of 400,000 and they are correct. After six days here I have done little but read, write a little, eat reasonably well, keep in touch with friends and family and generally kick back and recharge my batteries. A day’s outing might consist of a trip to the ATM, perhaps check out the bazaar, have a look at the Opera House, take a photo of the World’s largest free standing flag pole (seriously. It cost $32 million), wonder about the stark statuary in Rudaki Park. Really that is about it for just under a week here.

There is a most interesting form of public transportation, taxis acting as buses. There are distinct routes and the taxis have numbers on the windshield telling riders what route they are following. I walk to the end of my little street to one of the main thoroughfares, look for the correct numbered taxi, stick out my arm and it stops, I pile in joining whomever might be within, shoppers, students, businessmen, Moms with kids, pay my 3 Somoni (a nickel or 3P) and indicate when I want him to stop and drop me off. From there I can pick up another taxi going on a different route, for another three Somoni. Quite brilliant, super efficient, I have never had to wait longer than a minute and not likely to break the bank. There are other gas guzzling, fume belching real buses but I haven’t had the need to check them out, they look really really crowded and of course they don’t have AC like the taxis do.

Unusually there is a spreading ripple of excitement in town. My first indication of this was when I noticed piles of rubbish piled up on the sides of the streets, plastic bottles, black ooze, wood chips and old bags. It all came out of the open drains that line each side of the streets allowing the water to flow freely. Previously it didn’t and stagnated creating something of a pong. I enquired at reception and was told that there is a big Summit coming here in a few days, yes, Mr Putin is coming to Dushanbe. Xi Jinping of China as well as the Foreign Minister of India and the various Presidents of the other ‘Stans. Since the drain cleaning I have noticed more street sweeping ladies on duty, more tarmac laying vehicles and lots more police on duty (if that’s possible). All the hotels in town have been told not to accept reservations for the duration of the conference so that the attendees can be accommodated, even here in my little B and B. I am so glad I came when I did and am leaving tomorrow. For the news junkies the event is the 13th Annual Summit of the Heads of State of the Shanghai  Cooperation Organisation. Check your local news outlets for details!

Yesterday was pretty special being Friday, the Holy Day in the Islamic Faith so I thought I would go to the Central Mosque for noontime Prayers. Not being a follower of Mohammed I felt a little trepidation, nonetheless I walked to the main street and jumped in a #8 taxi and transferred to a #3 at the Opera House. A few blocks later I noticed huge crowds descending on an alley so got out and joined in. Walking down the alley seemed ok, no one gave me any strange looks, and we came to a gate, walked through the gate to an arch, walked under arch to the main courtyard. Very, very aware of not giving offense I kept to the periphery  and finding a bench I sat down. More and more people began to fill the courtyard until people were laying out their prayer mats at my feet. Time to move on, so I found a side exit and made my way back to the arch where I paused again. More people, more prayer mats at my feet so I retreated to the gate, where someone offered me a chair. I sat there for the next few minutes and for the first time ever witnessed the whole ritual (?). It was very inspiring, very moving, very thought provoking and I left with a certain sense of awe. I didn’t know it but Friday Prayers are a major source of fund raising for those who, shall we say are “less fortunate”. There were many, many people in need around the entrances to the Mosque, and it seemed that each one was acknowledged and received some sort of contribution. One very sad child in a pram was literally covered in bank notes. We live and learn Tim, we live and learn.

The small tea house in Dushanbe.

The small tea house in Dushanbe. (low resolution)

Tea House from the street.

Tea House from the street. (unknown resolution!)

Verrry interesting, but......

Verrry interesting, but……

You really want to see this?

You really want to see this?

The shops!

The shops near the hotel.

The courtyard of the Mosque.

The courtyard of the Mosque.

Another view of courtyard.

Another view of courtyard.

This is interesting. Everyone taking photos of it. It shows Prayer times for the month because they change. Geography I guess.

This is interesting. Everyone taking photos of it. It shows Prayer times for the month because they change. Geography I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something went whacky with a couple of these, they wouldn’t upload unless I reduced the resolution. Sorry about that.

 

 

 

 

 

Khiva to Dushanbe.

    Oliver, Katya and Austin had all left Khiva and I was confronted with the question, how to get out of here? Back in London I had paid for a visa for Tajikistan for the month of August and here it was, the 22nd. If I wanted to use that visa I had better get moving. But how was I to travel from here in Khiva to Dushanbe? My friendly travel agent had given me an estimate for travel to Dushanbe via Tashkent, Almaty in Kazakhstan and then Dushanbe. There is no direct flight, no straight through bus service, Uzbekistan vehicles are not allowed through the border control and I couldn’t rent a helicopter (I looked!). The proffered quote was for over $500.00 and would not only would take thirty six hours but did not include taxis or overnight hotel charges, I was therefore looking at about $600.00+ to go approximately 280 miles as the crow flies. This seemed ludicrous. There was an alternative, fly down from Khiva to Tashkent, have a driver meet me at the airport, drive me to the border, walk into Tajikistan, find a driver to take me to the nearest airport (Khujand) and try and get a flight from there to Dushanbe. Failing that I could find a shared taxi to take me the one hundred and ninety miles from Khujand to Dushanbe. This latter route is mentioned in all the guide books as the most economical and practical method of travelling between the two cities.

   This is what I decided to do.

   The flight from Khiva was unexpectedly short, the lady next to me prayed the entire way,  it was an Airbus instead of the usual  Ilyushin prop plane and my driver was waiting to take me to the border. There were storks with huge nests built on top of the electrical pylons on the way.  In an ok Chevy we sped the 150 kms and suddenly, without warning it was time to get out and walk. Bag on back I sallied forth. Just to leave Uzbekistan I had to pass through four checkpoints, fill in two more forms (questions in Russian only) ,had passport inspected by four different commissars. Then finally out, into no mans land. A half mile walk up a hill then the first Tajik border guard who wanted my headphones before he would give me an entry form, no, I wasn’t wearing them, they are built into my jacket. I declined. Filled in form in duplicate, went through customs, bags x-rayed, passport inspected, questions asked which I didn’t understand, “Britannia” seemed to be the right answer to most of them. Another long walk shadowed by some nasty looking Alsatians, through the last check point, and I was into Tajikistan. I felt like I was in a scene from a John le Care book. It was nearly dark by this time, which was not the plan at all so instead of trying to find a taxi to take me all the way to Dushanbe I opted for the airport 60 kms away. Negotiated down from $60 to $30 and away we went in a Mercedes.

After about an hour I was dropped off at the airport in Khujand and there was nobody there. A few night workers, the 24 hour coffee shop staff, and Police. Ok, this is bad I said to self, many times, as I walked around trying to make sense of what to do. There was a flea bag hotel which was charging $5.00 for some sort of room with no wifi. There were sundry derelicts sleeping on benches. I was stopped by the Police who made it clear that I should not be there. Nobody spoke any English whatsoever. To cut it short and many, many “ok, this is bad”s I eventually spoke to some random kid’s girlfriend on his phone. She spoke a little English and I explained I wanted a taxi to go to the hotel on the big billboard nearby. Two very scary hours behind me and there I was sitting in the back yard of the hotel with a very welcome beer and bottle of water plus incongruously, two BMWs. They had wifi so I could Skype back home, which was a comfort, and my nerves settled down.

      Slept well and headed back to airport to find there were no flights for two days. Oh no, two days here? After much gesticulating and mime I got into a taxi heading for the parking lot in Khujand where the shared taxis leave from to go over the mountains to Dushanbe. Here I found a 4by4, loaded my bag onto the roof and squeezed into the back. At least I got a window, there were no seat belts of course but I had got used to that. The next few paragraphs are what happened, as it happened:

 

     The first incline, a foothill? Yes, speed drops from 100 to 60kmph, no more melon stands, no more green, overtake very slow buses. Up and over now down again across another plain, looks somewhat like a mesa, with the mountains looming in the distance. There are clouds, anxiety starts for bag, on roof, with computer and misc electronics, and will it rain? Other cars back at the departure lot were putting plastic over their roof racks. Start climb up deep river gorge, villages with mud houses, many donkeys, honey stalls, beehives, and melon trucks grinding up the hill doing less than 5kmph, hazardous. The cops at the checkpoints are wearing mountain clothes; I thought it was getting cooler. Up and up, climbing, climbing. Ladies harvesting the grass for fodder with sickles. A stream tumbling beside the road, people are picnicking. Dushanbe 168 kms, we are about half way. A tunnel ahead……..we have now been in it for five minutes, this is some long tunnel. Out the other end after six minutes, my feeble math makes that about four kms, quite a long tunnel. Ok, now it’s getting scary, white knuckle driving, the road is carved out of the mountainside, rather a long drop to my right, I feel a bit sick. I wish our driver would stop answering the phone. Oh really, I can’t look! Actually it’s rather beautiful, but I still feel sick! The good part is that we are descending so the drop is decreasing, I hope. We are down. No more scary hairpin bends for the moment. SNOW on the distant summits. 

     We stopped three hours into the trip at a restaurant. Everyone filled their water bottles from a spigot, which I am sure was crystal clear spring water, but it did look a funny color. So I didn’t participate and searched around for 7Up or something with a seal on. No such luck until the driver beckoned me over and we indulged in tea. Nice of him to share with the dumb Westerner. Back on the road again and immediately there was a rock fall right over us, loud cries of Allahu Akbar as rocks hit the side of the 4by4. They missed the windows fortunately and on we go. Now it’s raining, I did check on my bag during the stop and there is another strapped above it, maybe it will be ok. I am trying to work out why, as we descend, there is a raging river on our left flowing the other way. The road descends and the river is definitely going the wrong way. My brain must be befuddled/addled? 

     Climbing again overtaking trucks grinding their way up, some with huge trailers. Those little villages we passed through before the climb that we can see far below  must be cut off during the winter, I wonder for how long. Uh oh, getting scary again. Higher and higher, closer too the snow line. Another tunnel, this one filled with dust, on coming traffic looks ghostly in the headlights.. Sister Sally certainly wouldn’t like this one! Oh great, there is a truck, stuck. Now down to one lane. This isn’t very nice in the pitch dark. There is road building equipment and people fixing the atrocious road surface. It’s rather like being in a movie, bouncing around in the gloom, ghostly lights all around, splashing along through a flood. We have now been down here for fifteen minutes with no end in sight. The smaller cars are having a rough time of it, swerving all over to avoid the deeper potholes. Still clouds of dust and its hotter and darker. We’re out after eighteen minutes. No more tunnels today please. 

     Oh look, there are glaciers up here, lots of them, what a thrill. We are above the snow line with a river far, far below and it’s only just a little bit scary as we descend. Lots of avalanche shelters over the road, short tunnels, or are they for rock slides? They are mining coal somewhere close. Massive coal trucks ahead of us at the roadblock. Just had a “Mister, what are you writing?” from over my shoulder, I told him and he told everyone else, so now there is much pointing going on, showing me things of interest, especially the ridiculously bad drivers. We all laugh. 

     As we roll down the mountain towards Dushanbe we have picked up another river beside us, flowing correctly, and the further we go the wider it gets, noisy too even over the traffic noise.  My over the shoulder neighbor tells me it’s the Yarzob. And now we hit the five hour mark though there are signs that Dushanbe is getting closer, there are hill chalets (dachas), interesting looking restaurants overlooking the river, hotels with swimming pools, banks, supermarkets, it’s getting green again, lush even, and it’s hot after our adventures in the snow.

I have crossed the Warzob mountains and made it to Dushanbe.

Tea. Please.

 NB. This is the expurgated version of an email I sent to family and some friends immediately after arriving at my hotel. Opinions differed! Some said intrepid or epic, others foolhardy. I received all sorts of advice. My Mother hastened to a glass of sherry! (sorry Mother). Some people apparently couldn’t read all the way to the end. Interestingly, I woke up on Sunday to find my social media feed full of news of a 6.0 earthquake back home, so ya know……….

The road ahead.

The road ahead.

More of same.

More of same.

Higher and higher.

Higher and higher.

A glacier.

A glacier forming.

The river.

The river.