Archive | Tajikistan RSS feed for this section
July 27, 2013

Goodbye Tajikistan. Hello again, Uzbekistan.

October 16, 2012

Goodbye, Tajikistan. It was far too short of a visit, but I’m sure we’ll meet again someday. The rugged Pamirs are calling my name…

We were headed to Tashkent, where I had overnighted only a few days prior when I first arrived in Central Asia. The road from Khujand to the Uzbek border was new, having recently been built by the Chinese. After the usual jockeying for position at the chaotic passport control “lines”, we had finally managed to make it back into Uzbekistan. The drive through the Uzbek countryside to Tashkent took less than two hours.



Cotton fields



With a population of 2.2 million, Tashkent is the largest city among the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia. Though it still retains the hallmarks of Soviet planning (large blocks of prefab apartment buildings, wide boulevards, and well maintained parks) the city is undergoing a construction boom, with miles of new apartment and office buildings being erected along the main boulevards.

We were leaving for Samarkand the following morning, so only had an afternoon to explore (however we would be returning to Tashkent yet again later in the trip).


Martyrs’ Memorial Complex, erected to honor the victims of Russian and Soviet rule



Tashkent TV tower


Courage Memorial that commemorates the powerful earthquake that struck Tashkent on April 26, 1966, leaving over 300,000 residents homeless. Afterward, construction workers from all areas of the Soviet Union converged on Tashkent to help rebuild the city.

And then we wandered the streets of my favorite part of Tashkent, Old Town. The Old Town felt like we had entered another world; gone were the highrises and traffic clogged streets, now replaced by low mud brick houses and narrow, shaded streets.







From the Old Town we continued to Hast Imam Square, where we saw Caliph Uthman’s Koran, the oldest in the world. Completed in the year 651, its words written on pages of deer skin, it is considered the primary source of Islam. Legend has it that Uthman, a former companion of Muhammad, was reading from this Koran when he was murdered by a group of rioters, staining the pages with his blood.



Barakh-khan Madrasah


The Tellya-Sheikh Mosque



And then on to Independence Square…



Memorial to the 400,000 Uzbek soldiers killed in World War II (The Great Patriotic War)



Names of the soldiers engraved on these large plaques



We saw newlyweds nearly everyday we were in Uzbekistan. It is quite common to have wedding photos taken in front of historical monuments and buildings, so we were constantly encountering them.


A statue of Lenin once stood here. It was replaced with this globe, a monument to Uzbek independence.

July 23, 2013

On to Khujand, Tajikistan

October 15, 2012

Another early morning wake up and we were off to Tajikistan. When we arrived at the border, it was completely deserted with the exception of a few locals just hanging around. The strange thing about this particular border crossing is that Uzbek and Tajik citizens can’t use it – it is only open to foreigners. As you can imagine, this particular area of the world doesn’t have many tourists passing through, so we were the only travelers that morning. Now, with the lack of people passing through you would think that the process would go rather quickly, but you would wrong. Our passports and customs forms (and for God’s sake don’t lost it; you don’t want to find out the consequences!) were checked by three different officers, and our bags were inspected by an extremely bored looking guard. Also unusual about this border crossing, aside from the complete lack of travelers, was that I received not one, but two marriage proposals – one from the Uzbek customs officer who went through my luggage and another from the Kalashnikov toting soldier who escorted us out of Uzbekistan. Nice enough guys, but I declined. I can’t cook plov worth a damn so wouldn’t make a very good Uzbek wife. Also, I like living in Seattle.

The process on the Tajik side of the border was much quicker, and we were finally off to Khujand. Immediately crossing the border, you could tell that the Tajik villages were much poorer than their Uzbek counterparts across the border. There were no brand new, appliance filled tract homes being built by the government, as was happening in Uzbekistan.


The fall of the Soviet Union has not been kind to Tajikistan. After the disintegration of the Soviet empire, Tajikistan descended into a civil war that lasted five years and left the country politically, economically, and socially devastated. Relationships with its neighboring countries have also soured. Despite being lumped into the USSR together for over sixty years, the ‘Stans don’t play well with each other, and relations have become so fraught that over the years borders have been sown with landmines and skirmishes have erupted between border guards who only decades earlier, as schoolchildren, had sung the same Soviet anthem.

map_of_tajikistan
(From Lonely Planet)

One of the main reasons these countries spend so much time fighting each other is the same reason why countries around the world do so: natural resources. Not oil in this case, but water, which is even more valuable in this landlocked part of the world, and something that Tajikistan has in abundance. Tajikistan, energy poor and plagued by electricity shortages, wants to build more dams in order to harness hydroelectric power and become independent from its neighbors, who cut off the electricity and oil and gas supplies to Tajikistan at will. The government in Dushanbe sees hydroelectric power as the key to economic development; not only would domestic industry be assured a constant supply of cheap energy, but any extra could be sold to neighboring countries. Uzbekistan objects to the dam construction, however, because this would allow Tajikistan control over the water supply that feeds the irrigation canals lining Uzbekistan’s water hungry and wasteful cotton fields.

So Uzbekistan will block rail transit, cut off energy supplies, and close borders, which makes Tajikistan even more determined to dam these rivers and make for reasons of economic self sufficiency and security. And so it just becomes this downward spiral of economic warfare between these countries.

But enough of politics.

On the way to Khujand, we made a quick stop and unintentionally found ourselves outside the gates of an army base. A curious young soldier boarded our bus and politely asked if he could take a picture of us. Again, not many tourists in this part of the world.

TajikSoldier
The picture I took of a Tajik soldier taking a picture of us.

Two hours after departing the border, we finally arrived in Khujand, formerly known as Leninabad. With a population of 165,000, it is the second largest city in the country. Khujand has ancient roots going as far back as the 6th/5th century BC and during its history has been conquered by the forces of Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan and served as a major staging point on the northern Silk Road.




Our first stop in Khujand was the Panjshanbe market located in the city center. Not many tourists come through there, so all the locals kept asking us where we were from (“Otkuda vy?” or the simpler “Otkuda?”). When I told them the USA, they would reply “I love America!” or “George Washington!” One guy showed us the almonds he was selling and proudly told us they came from California. Of our short time in Tajikistan, this is the experience that stands out in my memory the most. I loved interacting with the locals at this market. Throughout all my travels, they were some of the friendliest and most genuine people I have ever met.


California represent!


Showing his appreciation for California almonds 🙂


Giant mounds of cream cheese!

We later visited the Sughd Historical Museum, which was an excellent museum and well worth a visit if you find yourself in this part of the country.

We ended the day with an excellent Shashlik dinner (because meat on giant skewers = awesome) and headed back to our rooms to prepare for the early morning departure back to Uzbekistan.

July 11, 2013

Photos from Central Asia (yes, finally!)

I’ve finally gotten around to uploading the nearly 2,900 photos I took on my three week trip to Central Asia. You can check them out here. Next up, my photos from Southeast Asia. And perhaps within the next 20 years or so I will find the time to actually write about these trips. Until then, here is a sample of the photos I took in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.


Earthquake monument, Tashkent, Uzbekistan


Kid’s in Tashkent’s Old Town


Meat for sale at the bazaar in Khujand, Tajikistan


Seller at the market in Khujand



Fish market in Chinoz, Uzbekistan


Melon vendors near Chinoz


Bukhara, Uzbekistan


Mirbozor, Uzbekistan






Samarkand, Uzbekistan



Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan







On the road from Shakhrisabz to Tashkent, Uzbekistan



Qashqadaryo Province, Uzbekistan




Muynak, Uzbekistan







Khiva, Uzbekistan







Termez, Uzbekistan







Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

February 5, 2013

POTD: Khujand’s Panjshanbe Market

Working on a longer write up of this trip (and boy, is it taking a while) but in the meantime here is one photo I took of the Panjshanbe Market in Khujand (formerly Leninabad), Tajikistan. The market’s name, Panjshanbe, means “Thursday” in Farsi, a leftover moniker from the Silk Route era when Khujand was a major staging point for the northern Silk Road.

These days, though, the market is open and thriving every day. Inside you can find a wide variety of foods for sale here: freshly butchered meat, naan bread, dried fruits and nuts, milk and yogurt, honey, produce, and giant mounds of cream cheese. Yes, cream cheese. The merchants here are incredibly friendly, offering samples of their products while inquiring were you are from and what you are doing in Tajikistan. As you can imagine, it is not everyday that a busload of American tourists rolls through Khujand. Tajikistan is not exactly at the top of the vacation bucket list for most Americans. Or Europeans. Or anyone, really.

This was the first market we visited on our three week tour of the Silk Route, and really my first experience interacting with the locals (as it was only my third day into the tour, the majority of which had been spent driving, driving, driving). As I mentioned, the people are incredibly friendly – probably the friendliest I’ve ever met, in fact, and I was overwhelmed by their hospitality and interest in these random foreigners visiting their country. Tajikistan is well worth a visit if you have the time and inclination to visit these types of “off the beaten path” destinations. But more on that later, of course…

October 12, 2012

Off to the ‘Stans

Just a super quick note before I head off to the airport. For the next three weeks I will be traveling around Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. So after a few years of being stuck stateside, I will finally have some new content and photos for this blog.


(Courtesy WikiTravel)