We left Khujand early in the morning to start out journey to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Thanks to our hostel who drove us to the vozkol (Старый автовокзал Пахтакор on Maps.me), we got a ride for 80TJS ($9.53) per person.
We crammed ourselves to the back of a 6 seat car with a Tajik soldier, four indistinguishable guys and the driver who reminded me of the actor, Laurence Fishbourne.
The 301km drive took about five hours and traversed through amazing scenery. Tajikistan’s snow-capped mountains looked pristine. There were certain sections of the drive where we could see an avalanche that had happened. The snow wall was about 3 meters high, and this was a sunny day in spring. I can’t even imagine it when it acts happened.
We also survived the Anzob tunnel or “the tunnel of death”, a 5km poorly-lit, unventilated, pothole-ridden tunnel built by the Iranians.
Once we got to the outskirts of Dushanbe, the driver stopped the car and told us the ride was finished. We were still far from our hostel, so a taxi driver agreed to take us for 30TJS ($3.57) after a chat with the hostel owner on the phone.
Somewhere closer to the hostel, the taxi driver suddenly stopped the car. He called again. Five minutes later, a minivan pulled up. The hostel owner said hi and explained that the taxi driver didn’t want to drive us anymore.
Once we got to the hostel, we asked our hosts about getting money out from the ATM. He said, “Let’s go now.” And we did. We drove to about 5 different ATMs, all failed to give us money.
At the last bank, the employees looked at our cards and told us to try Kazkom bank (Казкоммерцбанк Таджикистан). As he drove, under his breath, he kept repeating “Kazkom bank”. We returned to the hostel. “I go ask my brother,” he said. Five minutes of chatting in Tajik suddenly translated to “Ok, you go take minibus #2 now. Let’s go.” Confused, we asked for some internet before heading out. He gave us one minute. He flagged down the minibus and we got on. The driver nodded that we were looking for Kazkom bank. And we drove. The minibus driver stopped at a bank, not Kazkom, and we got off. Luckily, 30 minutes of walking finally led us to a Kazkom ATM. And it gave us money! I nearly cried!
The ATM was near the National Flag Park (парк национального флага), a very appropriate name as it flies one of the largest flags in the world. There were also lots of statues of Somoni, the founder of Tajikistan.
We eventually returned to the area near the hostel and ate dinner at a local restaurant. Robb ordered plov and I got Tajikistan’s national dish, qurutob (қурутоб). This dish of a dried yogurt base and mixed with vegetables and toasted bread was interesting. I didn’t really love it, but I didn’t hate it either. However, when I was about to sleep, let’s just say my stomach wanted to get rid of the qurutob the best way it knew how.
After a few days of nonstop moving, we took it slow in Dushanbe. We walked around the neighborhood and found a couple of random bazaars (hardware and car parts).
While relaxing back at the hostel, the host and our new friend, St. Petersburg based Alexander, asked us if we were interested in fresh lamb for dinner. And we could pick the lamb. So together, along with a Scotsman named Sean who was also at the hostel walked to the marketplace.
We went to the back where the lambs were kept. It was pretty sad to see because they were all stuck in a small place. At the end, Robb and I opted out because there was no way we could eat 3 kgs of meat for dinner. Instead, we got some ingredients to make a stew.
Once back,the guys were busy drinking their homebrew beer as I helped Grandma cut the vegetables. Well, at least I tried to help Grandma. I failed to impress her with my potato peeling abilities as well as my knife skills. (She likes hacking things.)
Two hours of cooking gave us a ridiculous amount of food. The meat sweats… Alexander was the first to give up, followed by me and Robb. We went to sleep with our organs well-lubercated with oil.
We followed Alexander to the clothing market (МоЛхои Рузгор) the next day to find some traditional Tajik clothes. It took a while, but eventually Alexander was sporting some nice duds.
We headed back downtown to Rudaki Park to see a big monument to Somani (молхои рузгор) and the Tajik Nation Emblem before calling it a day.
We ended the night finally deciding to go to Iskanderkul instead of the Pamirs (temporarily) so the weather could clear up.
So Dushanbe will be continued…
- Accommodations: Hostel Latifa is a homestay a bit far from the city center. But what it lacks in location, the family makes up for. Great value for money and downtown is only a bus ride away.
- Coffee: Republic Coffee offers freshly brewed coffee for a reasonable price. Located near the National Flag Park, it had outdoor seating and cakes to go with the coffee.