Hike Tajikistan is an expat-oriented group that organizes hikes on the weekends. Our little group joined them for the 70km, 1.5-hour drive (you can check me on the GPS track) to the village of Romit, where we hiked a few miles up a valley / riverbed. Everywhere in sight there are terrific views.
One of our vehicles was a Red Cross Land Cruiser. It had to stop along the way with an engine problem before continuing. The other, a Hyundai minivan, did just fine, but without the diplomatic license plates, got pulled over to pay bribes a couple of times.
Other than go out to the home of some more friendly foreigners, as well as meet a group of American military men who are here training the Tajik army to keep people and supplies from flowing illegally into Afghanistan, what I did on the night of day 37 (Sunday, July 6) was to get very sick. Suffice it to say that it was miserable, was probably due to some contaminated water (I’ve been filtering my water but it’s hard to account for everything), that it accounts for the absence of activity on the following two days, and that it put us two days behind on our plans to leave Dushanbe.
The Dushanbe area contains approximately one “resort” destination: a series of riverside swimming pools / restaurants along the river Varzob, half an hour north of the city. Tell anyone you went to Varzob, and they know what you mean.
We (now an impromptu group of four friends) set out from the taxi stand by Vodanasos market at the northern end of the city. I call it a taxi stand for lack of a better term, but it is really an extended chaotic moving parking lot of marshutkas waiting for passengers, sitting parked, or being repaired.
The neighboring marketplace had plenty of activity too.
After a marshrutka drive past a cement factory that looked like it hadn’t been repaired since Stalin, we stopped at an arbitrary riverside pool resort and proceeded to spend the day there, alternately swimming, sipping tea, and discussing how we felt like colonial rulers. (That’s one of the effects of prices that are a fifth or less of what they would be at home.)
Crossing the river was a rickety bridge leading, so the sign said, to a television and radio something (ministry?). Existence Doubtful, as it would say on a nautical chart. We crossed anyway, and found the houses that these people must have been going to, but not much else.
The hardest place to get in all of Dushanbe must be the U.S. Embassy. Not only is it located far in the outskirts, but no one gets in without an appointment or with any cell phones, cameras, or other electronics. Nevertheless, we had an appointment that evening: the Fourth of July party (on the fifth of July).
It turns out to be hard to contact someone who has your tickets while they’re inside a compound where there are no phones. Luckily, we got in anyway.
No pictures (obviously) but try to imagine the gathering of a 100-person town in Idaho, complete with amateur music and cliched speeches. It was fun for one evening.
On the Fourth of July, on what was supposed to be our last weekday in Dushanbe, Anna and I went to OVIR. I wish I could say that this made me feel like a patriotic American, that the mess that is registration with an ex-Soviet government would never happen at home, but my experience with the post office in New Haven proves otherwise. But I digress.
We weren’t the only ones there, as a whole mob of Tajiks was also waiting to register with OVIR, presumably to change their residence.
The idea was to get two things: a special document stapled into our passports saying that we had “registered our visas” and that might be asked for by police, despite its being officially not necessary; and GBAO permits, allowing travel to the Pamir region. We showed up with Anna’s host father, who acted as interpreter and as the requisite Tajik sponsor. The GBAO permits, we were told, were not possible given the current situation. (A researcher was recently arrested and tortured for asking the wrong questions there…) The visa registration wasn’t necessary for Anna, who has a one-month visa, but after a lot of confusion seemed like it might be necessary for me, with my (uselessly) longer 42-day visa. After filling out some forms and being told to go pay 140 somoni ($30) at a bank, our sponsor called a friend at the Ministry of Foreign affairs, and got cold feet about registering me (since he doesn’t know me and it would make him responsible), so we just quit and are hoping it won’t matter.
After that escapade we relaxed by going to the Green Bazaar, one of the city’s markets.
One thing that Dushanbe seems to do well is parks. Two of the major tourist attractions are the National Flag Park (which houses the tallest flagpole in the world) and the Botanical Gardens, neither of which I had a chance to see, but I’m not bothered – I was having (at least some type of) authentic experience here instead.
We spent the rest of the day, and, seemingly, the rest of the weekend, doing what all hundred of the English-speaking expats do to pass the time: chatting in the various pubs that dot the city.
That evening, I was told, there would be a white people’s party. And indeed there was, though that’s a bit unfair as what was really meant was a non-locals’ party, at a nightclub. I gather you haven’t experienced the expat life in Dushanbe until you’ve gone to a tiny nightclub containing half the Western population, half of whom are NGO workers and really not the clubbing sort.
GPS track: I mentioned about the one street, right? The odd bits (random climbs to 10000 meters and jumps in location) are errors.