Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan



Day 10



25 August 2018

Having a full day in Dushanbe, which means staying in the same hotel for two nights as opposed to the universal one-night stands that have been the rule since leaving Osh, was a welcome relief.  Also welcome was the relatively later starting time of 9:00am after a more leisurely breakfast time of 8:00am; this helped me cope a little better with getting to bed last night at 1:15am after the late dinner, the trip to the airport, answering e-mails, the daily ritual of washing clothes, and writing my daily diary.

The itinerary for the day was also fairly relaxing, and involved visiting a number of places that I had visited when I was previously in Dushanbe (in March 2017).  Compared with that visit, today’s weather was notably hotter (reaching a maximum of 33 degrees Celsius), the skies bluer and clearer, and the lighting for photos generally better.

Our first stop for the day was Victory Park, an expansive area of green parkland on the south-eastern outskirts of Dushanbe named in honour of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 (World War II).  The park is set on a hill overlooking Dushanbe, and is one of the few places where it possible to see an expanse of the city – as it happens, between trees and through power lines. 

One of the highlights of Victory park is the vintage Soviet-era cable car that brings people up to the park.  Unfortunately, its schedule is quite infrequent – it runs only on 9th May each year – so riding the cable car was out of the question for us (hence my survival to write this page, a comment on the current state of the cable car).

Although no fighting took place on Tajik territory during the Great Patriotic War, Tajikistan was part of the USSR and so was called upon to make great sacrifices of men, gold and resources to the Soviet war effort.  Jamshed spoke feelingly of this grandfather’s experiences during the war and the hardships endured.  Each soldier was issued with a gun but only two bullets, and Jamshed’s grandfather only used one of those bullets (in a quite unexpected way).  He also spoke feelingly of his grandfather’s narrow survival and the way the was buried alive but managed to obtain some liquid in the dark to cling to life.

At the head of the memorial, the huge retaining wall holds the mass graves of many soldiers and proclaims (in Tajik and Russian gold lettering) “No-one is forgotten, and no-one forgets”.  The eternal flame surrounded by a red star formed with stones at the foot of the wall is now lit only one day each year (9th May) because of the rising cost of gas in Tajikistan.  Walking down the wide staircase from the main memorial we saw multiple memorials with photographs of Red Army heroes from Tajikistan.  All-in-all, it was a sobering experience to be reminded of the immense sacrifices made by the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany, sacrifices that arguably exceed the combined total of all the other combatants in the war.

It was only a short drive from Victory park into the centre of Dushanbe.  We stopped at Shahidan Square opposite the Majils, or Parliament House, to begin a walk through Central Park in the now bright sunshine.  We were greeted by a somewhat ostentatious statue of Ismoli Somoni, an emir who lived around 900AD and is regarded by many in post-Soviet Tajikistan as the founder of the Tajik nation.  His statue, framed by a golden arch, replaced an earlier, smaller and unarched statue of Vladimir Lenin in 1999.  Until that time, Lenin’s statue had overlooked what had been called Lenin Prospekt during Soviet times.

A short walk past the huge National Library building brought us to another arched statue, this time of the Persian poet Rudaki.  Standing under an arch of tiled mosaics, this statue was probably more tasteful and less brash than that of Somani.  Further walking took us past the world’s second highest flagpole.  With a height of 165 metres, it had been erected in 2011 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Tajikistan’s independence, and was just six metres shorter than the world’s highest flagpole in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Apparently they change the flag according to the weather and the season to make sure that the flag is likely to fly in the winds of the day and doesn’t become too heavy on days when it is raining.

Our final stop before lunch was at the Victory Monument, located in a large traffic island called Aini Square.  This Soviet-era monument to the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) featured some interesting friezes of Soviet soldiers smashing Nazi swastikas and a beautifully preserved World War II Soviet T-34 tank.

After a fairly early and over-sized lunch of delicious salad, soup, bread and plov, we drove to our first organised stop for the afternoon, a huge building that purports to be the world’s largest teahouse.  In fact, it is a conference and reception centre with incredibly grand, ostentatious interior décor.  We were shown through by a highly enthusiastic guide and advocate for the building who proudly told us that the President himself had done much of the design work, and that only Tajik tradesmen had been used in the construction.

And indeed the interiors of the building were extravagant, with different halls and rooms have different Tajik-inspired themes and construction materials – there two mirror-walled rooms, a huge hall built of aromatic carved cedar timber, another large conference room of gold, yet another conference room built entirely from precious stones (including artistic wall mosaics also formed from precious stones, of which pride of place was given to the mosaic of the President with his mother).

In concluding our tour of the teahouse, our enthusiastic guide told us that they could host a wedding reception for us up to the maximum legal number of guests for any wedding in Tajikistan (150) for the maximum length of time allowed for Tajik wedding receptions by law (three hours) for US$5,000, a sum that included food and (she proudly added) service.  The limits of guest numbers and length of weddings in Tajikistan were introduced as austerity measures to stop the pressure on families to have overly extravagant, expensive weddings.

We had one last stop before free time began (our first since the group met!).  This was a souvenir store specialising in Soviet memorabilia.  I had visited this store when I was in Dushanbe last time, but of course with no suitcase in which to store precious purchases, today’s visit had to be on a ‘looking only’ basis.  Nonetheless, the vast array of Soviet-era goods was fascinating – busts of Lenin, Stalin, Gagarin and Dzerzhinsky, banknotes, children’s toys, medals, old electrical appliances such as record players, electric fans and telephones, flag pole tops – the stock on display was fabulous and many of my fellow travellers made some astute purchases.

While some members of the group retired to a coffee shop and others took the buses back to the hotel, I decided to do a bit of walking, taking a longer route back to the hotel via the Parliament House, which looked resplendent in the afternoon sun with fountains operating and flower beds in bloom.  As things turned out, the walk was a little longer than planned because I needed to find an ATM (known as Bankomats in Dushanbe), and they are much scarcer than in most cities.  Nonetheless, I eventually found one in a new shopping plaza near the hotel known as Dushanbe Mall.

After a relaxing afternoon, dinner this evening was once again scheduled for what is, for me, a very late hour.  The group met at 8:00pm to walk to a nearby Ukrainian restaurant, a place I had eaten in (and thoroughly enjoyed) on my previous visit, but I decided to skip this evening to catch up on sleep instead.

I had planned to make an early start at 7:00am tomorrow to visit the huge Nurek Dam, about 60 kilometres south-east of Dushanbe and then return to the airport by 11:30am in time to catch my 1:30pm flight to Kazakhstan.  When I returned to the hotel, however, I received text messages and an e-mail to advise that the time of my flight’s departure had been delayed to 3:45pm.  At the time of writing this diary page, I hadn’t been able to change tomorrow’s travel arrangements; I am hoping I can arrange a later departure time to avoid having to sit around the airport for five hours waiting to check in for my flight.

Frankly, after the long days of hot, dusty travel, I’d much rather sleep in!