Sunday, June 14, 2015

Day Tripping out of Dushanbe: June 9 - 13, 2015

Sarvinoz and Olim gave us a gift of a book called Travel Through Tajikistan by Dmitry Melnichkov. In leafing through it on Tuesday morning, we decided to contact a tour company to arrange some day trips. We hired the first company that answered the phone. Later in the day, we discovered that the guy we hired was author of the book (

Dima met us at our hotel and we walked together to the location where the driver and car were parked. Just near the car is a small walled space where cherries are washed, pitted, and juiced. Dima pushed open the door so we could get a better look. Most of the women didn't want to have their photo taken, but I found one lovely young woman who consented. The women even gave us a glass of juice to try.

At that point, I knew Dima was going to be a perfect guide for us. We met our driver, Umar, and we were on our way to Hissor Fortress.

Although there has been a fortress at this site since the time of Cyrus and Alexander, the current Hissor gate dates back to the 16th century. The fortress has been destroyed 21 times. The main gate has been recently re-restored.

The fortress walls have melted down to hills of clay. As part of this newest renovation, portions of a new wall have been built and merchant shops re-imagined.

After a lunch at the adjacent National Tea House, Dima took us to his dacha located between Hissor and Dushanbe. The dacha (summer home) was built in the 1960s by Dima's grandfather. Dima's grandfather ran a newspaper printing shop in Dushanbe. In fact, some of the reparations Germany made to the Soviet Union included printing presses that were installed in the printing shop run by Dima's grandfather. For the walls of the dacha, the grandfather used the readily available and free tubes that were inside the rolls of paper. The paper tubes were then covered with plaster, and his grandfather painted fanciful scenes on the exterior walls. The lot size is 1/20th of a hectare and provides enough space to grow raspberries, fruit trees, and escape from Dushanbe.

While Hissor was sun-parched, Dima's dacha was peaceful and shady. Dima's neighbor, a criminal law professor, invited us next door for tea.

Two days later, we again met Dima and Umar and headed to Anzob village for a short hike. On the way north, huge flocks of sheep and goats were being moved along the road from southern grazing land to northern grazing land. The distance the shepherds and their flocks will travel is about 600km/370 mi and take several weeks.

Near Anzob, we came upon a group of three or four families who have made a temporary camp. The men were out grazing the sheep and cattle. The women were making butter and chakka.

 Their campsite and kitchen along the trail

First the milk, a mixture of cow and sheep milk, is pasteurized over low heat. Then it is churned by a team of two women. The churning takes about one hour.

The butter is skimmed off and the remaining product is put into cloth bags weighted with rocks to strain out the liquid.

 Lastly, the strained yogurt (chakka) is dried.

They will be at this location next to the river about 3-4 weeks before they need to move the flocks on for more grazing.

On our last day of hiking, we went to Ojuk Gorge for a 14 km/8.7 mi round trip hike and an elevation gain of about 1000 feet. It was very sunny and hot.

Along the way we saw lots of donkeys loaded with firewood or grass for animals coming down the trail.

This man has a partridge in a cage. He was on his way to do some partridge hunting. He said he will tie a string to the partridge's leg and put it in the field near the river. The partridge, a "Judas" bird, will lure in unsuspecting wild partridges that the man will trap with a net. The caught partridges will then be sold at the bird market in Dushanbe.

The trail crosses the Ojuk River several times before arriving at the waterfall of our final destination.

Along the way, we picked mulberries to supplement our meager water supply.

Left: The waterfall
Right: Umar and wildflowers he picked for his wife.

The hot, dry walk back was mostly downhill, but it still took two hours to get back to the car and more water.

These three hikes were very interesting and a good way to work off all the calories we consumed on the non-hiking days.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Re-Visiting Dushanbe, Tajikistan: June 10-13, 2015

The Tajik word, Dushanbe, means Monday. When Dushanbe was only a village, Monday was the day of the weekly market so it was called Dushanbe. From 1929 to 1961 the city was known as Stalinabad, but in 1961 the city was re-christened "Dushanbe." Dushanbe has several daily markets (except for the mandatory once a week closure to sanitize the market), but my favorite has always been the Zeleny Bazaar (Green Bazaar).

Rhubarb grows wild on the mountain sides surrounding Dushanbe

 The Herbalist (above) mixing medicinal potions

 Chopping kilos of carrots into matchsticks for plov

 Dillaruz, my former bread lady who always saved me the best, freshest bread

Sadly, Zeleny Bazaar may soon move several kilometers away leaving the surrounding residents without a local market. Perhaps a friend of the President wants to develop the land that the bazaar occupies.

We visited several of the buildings surrounding Rudaki Park. We went to the new National Museum and took a photo of the reproduction of the 13-meter reclining Buddha (in Nirvana pose) that is housed there. When the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban, this Buddha became the largest in Central Asia. It is sculpted out of clay. The original resides several blocks away in the Antiquities Museum. Apparently, they refused to give up their Buddha.

 The National Library (above) and National Guesthouse (below)

Avicena bust with Tajik Flag in distance

The giant flag pole and flag that four years ago was the tallest/biggest in the world. Since Tajikistan was only guaranteed to hold the record for 2 years, the record probably belongs to some other country now. While some things have or are changing, some haven't. It is still possible to see city buses being pushed along the road.

And, the guard at the Ismail Somoni monument motioned for us to come up the steps and then tried to extort us for 1 somoni. One somoni is worth 16 cents.