Visas in hand for Tajikistan and Gorno Badakhshan (ye-ha!), it was on with the show, the reality show. After arriving in Tajikistan and checking into Marian’s Guesthouse, I was ready to explore this less-ventured country and I started things off in the capital city, Dushanbe. Dushanbe translates as “Monday” and is a booming city with a lot of modern recent developments making the city shine out and a real unexpected treat for any tourist here. Get your camera ready. Your wandering heart will not cease to be inspired with every step you take in this city. On a cold (and predicted to be dull) winter day, as oxymoronic as you like, Dushanbe shines in the morning sun. Clouds ridiculously dispersing themselves either side of the National Monument as if to point down and say “this is the spot, lads.”
Dushanbe, named “Monday” due to the fact that this was a trading area for markets on the famous Silk Road, on…Mondays, the city has a crazy history to get to grips with. The city was even known as Stalinabad from 1929 to 1961. The Stalin era came and went. the Soviet era also came and went and modern Dushanbe sits pretty in the winter sunshine as I backpack my way through the sights.
But ex-Soviet Union states are my latest craze. I buzz off their historical beauty and influence. I’m intrigued by that history and I’m enveloped by the present, and I wanted to understand this place properly. It becomes too commonplace to go to a city, tick off a textbook top 5 sights and move on. Step in Tajikistan’s oldest tour company, Travel in Tajikistan who also run the Pamir Tour Service. I got in touch with these guys, and Alisher arranged my tour, in English of the capital city, Dushanbe. Fittingly then, I did my guided tour of Dushanbe (Monday) on a Monday! While Alisher runs the company, my guide was a really knowledgeable and passionate Tajik guy called Said. Said lives and breathes Dushanbe’s forgotten charms. I’d recommend booking the tour in advance of your visit, you can contact Said and Alisher here:
Rather than spoil the entire tour for you, I’ll give you a quick breakdown of some of the sights I saw and some of the knowledge I gained. If you want to experience the rest, head to Dushanbe and book the tour, you’ll learn a lot and your experience in Tajikistan will be richer for it.
Said drives me up to the splendid Victory Park. The grounds of this leafy park are beautiful and the views of Dushanbe are brilliant. Then we walk up the steps and you know what’s coming.
Yes, let’s not forget the reason for this park. People from Tajikistan fought and died during Soviet Union times, significantly between 1941 – 1945 during World War II. A sombre memorial and oddly reminiscent of similar memorials I have witnessed in Belarus and North Korea. Memorial aside, those three countries have less in common. It’s well maintained and army parades are held here on relevant days.
2.World’s Tallest Flagpole
So I backpacked through Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and North Korea in recent times and they have massive flagpoles erected in their capital cities, but which one is the tallest? Which one is the biggest? Again it’s up for debate, but Tajikistan’s is surely the highest as Dushanbe sits at an elevation of 800 metres above sea level, and the pole is 165metres high, meaning this flag pole is almost 1 kilometre above sea level.
Oh and apparently either UAE or Saudi Arabia have now overtaken Tajikistan in this “league” but still it’s a key sight and Said tells me the meaning and history of the flag. Independence for Tajikistan was 1991. I flew my Northern Ireland flag here (the Ulster Banner). It’s my dream someday that my home country of Northern Ireland will embrace ONE flag, hoist it high in Belfast City and not debate over Irish or British – we’re both of them, my friends. We’re on the island of Ireland and we’re also historically, religiously and politically tied to Britain in our eclectic six counties. This is my dream, tell me yours. I’m a Northern Irish Nationalist (yes, read it again). Green and White Army!
3.Rudaki Park and Statue
When I landed in Tajikistan, I’ll admit I didn’t know exactly who Rudaki was. Yes I knew he played a major part in Persian history and recall his name mentioned when I backpacked in Iran in 2013, but now I was in his homeland. Rudaki is considered a founder of Persian classical literature, a real hero to many here in Tajikistan. Not only is there a statue for him (numerous statues in fact) but Rudaki Park is a somewhat calm and fitting tribute to the man himself.
You know it’s cool when even the locals turn up on a Monday to take selfies with the big man. Spot the Northern Irish tourist? Easy!
4.Isma’il Somoni Monument
Standing proudly, elegantly and in pristine condition, this monument is as fitting as you will see to Isma’il Somoni himself. Who is Somoni? He is many things to Tajikistan people.
In this country, they use the Somoni as currency. It’s Isma’il Somoni’s banknote, his legacy lives on day to day. In this country you can actually say “GIMME SOMONI (some money)” and it rings true!
The highest mountain in the country is named after Somoni and there is still a huge political problem sadly between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over Somoni’s history and impact in the region. While he was born and died in the current land mass known as Uzbekistan, it’s all rather odd the way they worked the borders during Soviet times and following the Berlin Wall’s aftermath. Tajiks cling to Somoni and are disheartened in the fact that Uzbekistan is the modern country where Samarkand sits. Somoni is as much a Tajik hero as an Uzbek one, depending on who you speak to and here, moreso the former of course.
I’ll compile a Top sights of Dushanbe article sometime, in the meantime my last sight on this tour that I will mention has some historic relevance and satisfies my fascination in Soviet-era communism. A well maintained and respected Soviet-era building still stands and will not be destroyed. The Parliament Building.
Amid a flurry of trolley buses and speeding cars, Said and I find time to admire the red and white USSR-era building. Its significant history for the country of Tajikistan is not lost or forgotten and the “square” that sits in front of it remains a textbook spot for military parades. Said continues to enlighten me on more Tajik and Soviet history as we continue our walk around the city.
As well as touring Dushanbe in some detail, I have also visited Hisor and Kulob in the main part of Tajikistan and I spent 4 days in the Gorno Badakhshan region, staying at Pamir Lodge, meeting up with a Pamir Volunteer Group and sightseeing in Khorog. Stay tuned for more and more articles on these places as my journey continues. Thanks to Alisher and Said for a very insightful tour of their capital city, Dushanbe, on a Monday too – that was a coincidence!
Thanks go to Silk Road Explore.com for their co-operation in organising this tour by the way – they are a pleasure to work with and they also helped me get my Uzbekistan Visa, tour Ala Archa and tour Samarkand. You can contact them here:
28 Minbulakskiy Lane, 720042, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic
+996 550 914 408
I have lots of cool videos from the day tour but due to internet restrictions here, I cannot upload them just yet, I will do so as soon as I can.