From death tunnels to haunted hotels, the last 2 days were straight out of a setup for a horror movie. To begin, we first set off at 8am from Khojand to Dushanbe, driving towards the Fan Mountains.
We first stopped over at Istaravshan, formerly known as Kir (by the Parthians), Cyropol (by Alexander The Great), or Ura-Tyube (by the Soviets), and first driving up to Mug Teppe, a former fortress-on-a-hill that was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC and the Arabs in 772 AD.
The views of the town from here:
Nearby is Abdullatif Sultan Medressa, which we climbed like we did at The Registan:
Then it was into the Fan Mountains, a series of 4-5 hours of curving roadways gazing into the mountain ranges that stretch as part of the Turkestan and Zerafshan Mountains.
We eventually approached the infamous Anzob Tunnel aka the “Death Tunnel”, known for being a 5-6km deep cavern through a mountain with no lights to guide you. Through nearly 10 to 20 minutes (depending on construction in the tunnels and some traffic) of driving in complete darkness, this tunnel of death has become a natural site of numerous crashes, asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning (for older cars with poor ventilation), and frequent flooding from the snowmelt.
Thanks to our more modernly equipped vehicles with great working headlights, we made it out fine.
Within an hour we reached Khoja Obi Garm, a former Soviet sanitorium for their working class that was turned into a health spa for the Tajik elite. If I could be as accurate as possible, imagine a mountainside hydroelectric power plant converted into a military installation, then disguised as a Soviet hotel that James Bond (Pierce Brosnan-era) would infiltrate in “Goldeneye.” In other words: I have no f*king clue how to describe this place.
Despite its sterile rooms, soulless dining halls, infinitely long cold corridors, elevators that lead to pitch-black floors, unmarked doors, and stairwells that lead to dead ends, we decided to spend overnight here, which felt the same as deciding to stay in the haunted hotel from “The Shining.”
Other than a quick dip in a decent hot pool and steam room a 3 minute drive away from the complex, we ended up spending the good part of the night spelunking these forbidding places, finding few reminders of its Soviet past. We then stayed up drinking and telling (true) horror stories to add to the ambiance.
The next morning we had breakfast with the rest of the people staying at this hotel, which were members of a trade union attending some sort of seasonal retreat. Suffice to say, we were the only foreigners here.
After breakfast, we tried the morning services offered here, including a head & feet massage (10 somonis), mudbath (included with stay), body massages (10 somonis for 20 min, 20 somonis for full body), and steam room (included with stay).
For the mudbath, they lie you down on a slab of semi-hard hot mud and wrap in you in blankets. There you stay flat for 15-20 minutes as you’re essentially getting the natural Soviet variation of the Icy-Hot back treatment.
Afterwards I tried the “kingdom massage” where they place an electronically powered pneumatic headpiece around your cranium, and wrap your legs in similarly electric compression stockings.
For 15 minutes, to what sounds like the rhythm of Philip Glass, you’re treated to a surprisingly effective head and leg massage.
Finally, I finished up with the standard whole body massage, where they made me awkwardly sit in a chair right in front of another client being massaged before it was my turn. I’ll spare you photos.
Although the massage itself probably rubbed off the first layer of my skin, it was actually quite therapeutic. The group then returned to wash up in their rooms and got in our vehicles for the 1 hour drive to Dushanbe.
– At time of posting in Khoja Obi Garm, it was 28.4 °F – Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: light snow