Dushanbe, Tajikistan: Dushanbe Two Bob Bits

Trip Start Jul 28, 2013
Trip End Feb 06, 2014

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Flag of Tajikistan  , Districts of Republican Subord,
Sunday, November 3, 2013

The wisest thing we did today was invest in the whole back seat of a shared taxi rather than having someone squished in the middle. It did come at a premium of US$100 for the privilege though. Expensive yes, but it was from Samarkand to the border town of Denau, some 360km away.

When haggling with the drivers Sam was approached by a couple of gypsy's asking for money. When he said no one of them waved a pot of burning leaves at him. Let's hope she hasn't put some weird gypo curse on us.

Despite being told the front seat was filled, it wasn't, so whilst waiting for our driver to find someone we watched him load the trunk with plastic wrapped slabs of money. Quite impressive, just a shame each note is only worth US$0.37!

Eventually a tall lanky man came along and filled the front seat so we were able to go. The drive was beautiful, if you ignored the two front seat passengers constantly opening the doors to spit their tobacco out. We passed rolling hills dotted with small villages and flame trees. Boys riding donkeys, skinny cows covered in dust and people herding turkeys along the hard shoulder. We even spotted a couple of goats peering out of car backseat windows.

The rolling hills soon gave way to snowcapped mountains, plateaus and fields of cabbage, corn and cotton. Closer to the border were orchards of apples, lemons and limes.

We passed through a few police check points but only had to get out of the car to walk to an office once. I've noticed a lot of empty buildings along the way, both old and new. When you see some of the villages its hard to understand why some nice buildings are left empty when less favourable ones are used for homes. There are also an awful lot of closed gas stations and the ones which are open have a queue a mile long.

We stopped along the way for shotgun guy to grab some food and unhinge his knees from around his ears. As soon as the car stopped no less than five people pounced on the car trying to sell sunflower seeds. With us being no good for business we watched them battle each other for the next car.

Overall the roads were pretty bad. A mix of tarmac, dirt and gravel stretches. With just two of us in the backseat it was more than bearable, especially with the stunning scenery. Both our minds were playing on the fact we were cutting it very fine with money. Having not found an ATM in Samarkand we thought we had more than enough to get to Dushanbe but with the taxi costing US$100 we now weren't sure. Worse still if we had to stay another night in Uzbekistan we certainly did not have enough money for a hotel. What Sam didn't know was that I was pretty sure I had stashed US$200 somewhere. I just had to find it before telling him so as not to raise false hope. At least we didn't have to worry about food. Since being away we've drunk no water and generally dine on a Snickers or Mars Bar for breakfast, sometimes for dinner too, so made sure we had ample supply.

When we arrived at the border, some 7 hours later, I checked my secret pocket and yup, sure enough there was US$200 sitting nicely inside by Aussie tenner (which is what I had been thinking about trading before remembering I had put the US with it). Sam just shook his head and didn't seem to believe me when I said it was tactical placement.

The border was simple enough. Being tourists we were brought straight to the front of the queue. On getting out of Uzbekistan there was a short walk through no mans land to Tajikistan. Getting to the office we couldn't find anyone so had to go outside to interrupt them playing with a puppy, which then took great delight in nipping at our ankles. The next office was no better, once again having to go in search of the official who was outside chatting on the phone. Talk about relaxed!

A man had introduced himself to us somewhere along the line. Nice guy who spoke excellent english with American accent so we were very surprised to hear he was Tajik. On getting across the border to Tursanzade he helped us barter with a taxi driver to take us on the 60km / 2 hour journey to Dushanbe. With no buses, taxi was the only option and with very limited drivers i.e. one, we didn't really have a choice. A heated discussion took place and the disgruntled driver finally agreed a price of TJS 150 (US$30). He was obviously very annoyed for the man intervening as I'm sure he could have easily taken us for another TJS 100.

The driver turned out to be a man child who longed to be either dead or an F1 racer. He was by far the worst driver we've had. The road was pretty bad (reason for taking 2 hrs to drive 60km) with small sections of tarmac and large sections of rock and dirt. I began to look forward to the rocky bits just so he had to slow down. Once on tarmac he was a man possessed. At one stage he even reclined his chair and put his arm across his head. Oi nobhead, eyes front. It was about that stage he swerved a car, went down a drop from new road to old and ended up playing chicken with an oncoming car. Not impressed.

On arriving in Dushanbe unscathed he then tried to get another TJS 50 (US$10) off us by saying our hotel was not in the centre. You can drive around the block as many times as you want mate but we have a map that says it is so you can stick your 50 cause you're not getting it. Seeing neither myself or Sam, who was a lot bigger than him, were going to cave he shrugged, took the agreed sum and got in his car to try kill someone else. I later learned that there are no less than three fatal car accidents PER DAY in and around Dushanbe which I can totally believe. Thank goodness we weren't a statistic.

The hotel was ok. Weird but ok. The kind of place that would make a good set for a horror film but it was warm, spacious and had a private bathroom. US$50 a night though which we thought was pretty steep. Breakfast was included for one person but not two. Go figure. Our door looked like it had been bashed in by the KGB once upon a time. When Sam mentioned it to our floor manager she just shrugged "It ok". We then noticed that most doors on the floor were like that. Guess we'll be taking all our valuables with us then.

Dushanbe is a pretty city. Wide tree lined avenues, pastel soviet buildings, manicured gardens and water fountains. The Palace of Nations is an impressive building. I guess it should be when it allegedly cost more to build than the country's annual health budget. The outside bazaar was a lovely mix of vibrancy and smells. Sam bought a jacket (£16) for our cooler travels to come and I some delicious sugared almonds.

We discovered a pub which served cold beer, good food and had wifi so that became somewhat of a home away from hotel. We spent an evening chatting with two Swedes who had just done the Pamir Highway and two Tajik guys. They all knew each other as one of the Swedes was living in Dushanbe doing medical research. Nice group of guys and it was interesting to get all their different views on things.

Walking through the city it is incredibly hard to believe that in 1992 people found in Dushanbe with an ID card from another part of the country where shot on the spot. During the civil war that ensued after independence more than 60,000 people were killed and half a million became refugees. The thoughts of those we spoke to was that it was still on a knife edge.

We're definitely noticing more Asian features compared to Uzbekistan which still had a strong Russian influence. One of the greatest things about travelling overland is being able to see the slow transformation between countries and cultures.

We met our driver, Ergash, who will be taking us over the Pamir Highway and through the Wakhan Valley. Seems nice enough if slightly bitter about Sam negotiating him down from US$1300 to US$900 for the 7 day trip. To save us faffing about with trying to get our Pamir permits he came with us. We then went for coffee and cake to discuss our plans for the trip which we are both very much looking forward to. We just hope the weather clears as it has been cloudy every day since we arrived.


Taxi: Hotel to share taxi rank UZS 10,000 (US$5)
Share taxi: Samarkand to Denau dep 0800 arr 1500. 3 back seats for US$100
Taxi: Tursanzade to Dushanbe 2 hrs bad roads TJS 150 (US$30)
Hotel: Hotel Dushanbe US$50 pn dbl w private bathroom, good heating and location.
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