The first city on my trip last year I was able to spend any time in was the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe. It wasn’t a city I had done a lot of research into before getting there, or seen a lot of images of, so it was really a bit if an unknown to me. Which is fine to be honest, it’s really not as bad a way to discover a city as you might think.
If you’re heading to somewhere like Barcelona, it pays to research before hand because you can pre-book tickets to the Sagrada Familia (for example) and avoid disappointment when you get there. But for a place which sees fewer tourists like Dushanbe, well, there is less urgency. And I did have my trusty guidebook – often lambasted by locals, but you have to start somewhere – and so as I headed that way I started to plan.
The one thing that struck me from the little research I did do was that getting a taxi from the airport into town was often a challenge, at least to get a reasonable price. It’s actually quite close to the city, but the taxis can ask a small fortune.
At the airport I was in a good frame of mind and focused on what I needed to do. I needed local currency, and changed my USD at one of two spots in the very small arrivals hall, and I wanted to get a sim card. This proved invaluable whilst in Tajikistan as I already knew the internet speeds were poor and a lot of places didn’t have wifi (including the place where I stayed – Marion Hostel). I took advice from the nice people at the exchange booth that the best taxis to take were ‘3333’ so when I exited the airport I went straight for one.
I offered him 20 Somoni, at the lower end of what people said the ride should cost, and the guy accepted without issue. It took him a couple of u-turns and a phone call to find the place, but that’s all good. I was at the station end of Rudaki Avenue, the central avenue in Dushanbe. Buses plied up and down it, and were inexpensive to say the least (it was 1 somoni I think), and for most things worth seeing you needed to go up Rudaki Avenue.
Exploring the city isn’t so hard, especially once you have a sim card and use Google Maps. I thought though, the first thing to do would be to get some advice from a tourist office. It was raining the day I arrived, it rained a lot whilst I was there which I was not expecting as all previous experiences across Central Asia were completely devoid of precipitation all together. So I headed out into the rain, walked past some statues and monoliths up Rudaki, took a right and walked further to find the place had been… demolished. You know, this happens to me more often than I’d like it to….
But what did happen is I found my way to the Tourism Development Centre, to try and gather some information primarily about the places I wanted to go. I had a couple of day trips in mind, one to Iskander Kul (Alexander Lake) and another to a hydro-electric dam. Finding this one was no piece of cake either, up on the second floor of a building, down a corridor, into a room with a few desks, pictures and maps. But as for a typical ‘tourist information centre’ which one can find in most cities tourists go to, there was nothing like that.
Having said that, I met a nice man and we all had tea, and I got a fair bit of information which allowed me to make decisions , a map and a brochure. I got a good idea of where things were and how to approach the ancient city of Hisor.
I was now able to plough right into Dushanbe, a city which appears to be coming along in leaps and bounds, and one I must say which is not unattractive. Grand buildings, museums, parks and wide avenues are the feature of Dushanbe, not unlike Tashkent or to a lesser, more unique extent in Ashgabat or Astana, but Dushanbe also had it’s own feel.
Rudaki Avenue itself has a middle section with paths, trees and decorations only for those not in vehicles. It’s really quite pretty sitting in the middle of the very leafy avenue. Little shops and the like occasionally pop up, if you’re walking a way down the main avenue, why not do it from the middle. Two lanes each was as well.
The city has a mixture of the old and new. President Emomali Rahmon has been in power since the Soviet Union broke up and has piled money into the city to make it as impressive as possible. Nothing is quite as otherworldly and grand though as the Navruz Palace, also boasting to be the ‘world’s biggest teahouse’. It’s pretty much the archetypal building built on ego rather than sense.
I saw photos of it, which drew me to go. Essentially it’s a place for state banquets and conferences, and yet has a cinema and bowling alley for the use of the general public as well. It’s chandeliers are massive, it’s made out of marble and other stone, and I you can get a tour through the place for a few Somoni which takes you from room to room.
It’s not that far away from the National Museum of Tajikistan, which I remember mostly for arriving in the middle of pouring rain on my last day in Dushanbe. It’s another impressive building, with around seven or eight levels, and for the building alone it’s worth the visit. You’ll find some interesting stuff in there, including a replica of the reclining Buddha you can see in the National Museum of Antiquities.
This museum is smaller, dustier and much older than the National Museum, but it does have the original 13-metre Buddha which is worth a look-see!
Rudaki Park is sort of around one side of the National Museum, and is impressive with statues and fountains, paths and flora. Worth a stroll indeed.
Then there is Hisor, the ancient city not too far from Dushanbe easily visited by a quick taxi ride. I had a guided tour, which is nice. They are restoring it, quite slowly, which has its plusses and minuses. To be fair without restoration and recreation there wouldn’t be much there, but there is a lot uncovered that the government prefers not to fund (its excavation) which is a pity. Instead the money is poured into recreating the place to be, presumably, a more effective tourist site.
Food-wise, there are plenty of options and a bunch of nice restaurants in the area around the Anyi Opera and Ballet Theatre, located in a Park off Rudaki. An impressive building, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a show there. I found a great Ukrainian Restaurant there but there were a number of options, including a highly rated Turkish place.
Further up Rudaki is a great sort of fast food Turkish chain with a huge selection of dishes for not much, and I must admit the Rohat Teahouse was a great place for lunch, also on Rudaki Avenue. In this area you find the Presidential Palace and other impressive buildings worth a snap or two. And I think a few more days and I would find even more. It’s a very photograph-able city!
Thanks for stopping by. Do check out my latest Vlog which covers Dushanbe and Iskanderkul – HERE.
May the Journey Never End!