The largest teahouse in the world just got served.
After a one hour drive from the creepy haunted Soviet sanitorium, we arrived in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe. Formerly a small village known for its weekly Monday bazaar (the name “Dushanbe” means Monday), it gained global attention in 1920 when the emir of Bukhara fled here temporarily. Afterwards, significant railroads were laid through the area and Dushanbe was soon named Tajikistan’s capital. Within a few decades, a small village became a bustling metropolis.
Our first stop was at Chaykhona Rokhat tea house, a Soviet-era institution and a classic place to visit in Dushanbe known for its a beautiful wedding hall inside:
We then visited the surprisingly impressive National Museum Of Antiquities of Tajikistan:
This museum helpfully has their exhibits labeled in 3 languages including English, and chronicles the history of the region and Tajikistan since the discovery of a 2,000 year old skeleton of a princess buried with her 2 slaves:
Not to mention, at 13m in length, the largest Buddha in Central Asia:
Afterwards we did the obligatory visit to the local market, the Green Bazaar:
By dusk we stopped over at the city’s central park, the central hub of all political and social aspects of Dushanbe.
In the distance are a few impressive Apartment Towers:
The National Library, completed in 2012:
The Presidential Palace:
By it, Bayrak, the 2nd tallest flagpole in the world (after the one in Jeddah, and before the one in Baku)
The 2nd tallest flagpole in the world just got served.
The statue of the father of Tajikistan, Ismoil Somoni:
In front, the parliament:
Parchan, a white marble column topped with gold:
And arguably the most impressive, the Rudaki Statue underneath his blue mosaic arc:
Then it was off to dinner:
And then we capped off the night with bowling at Taj Bowling:
The next morning we woke up to a glorious breakfast spread at our hotel, Hotel Tajikmatlubot (every “basic” room you pay for is actually a full suite!).
After breakfast the group headed to the Hissar Fort 30km away from Dushanbe, a restored fort destroyed by the Russians in 1924. The original part is only the twin-towers making up the gateway; the rest are the result of recent restoration efforts.
Although Lonely Planet thumbs their noses at this place, we found it worth a visit.
Climb a hill for views over the area:
Afterwards, drive back to Dushanbe and stop by a humongous new teahouse that the President just built for the locals.
Looking like a giant watermelon, it’s still under construction at time of posting.
For example its bottom floor isn’t quite ready to serve any tea:
But its upstairs interior opens up to a giant wedding hall, already ready for…weddings
Then we visited the Gurminj Museum, a small place featuring a collection of antique musical instruments and occasionally becomes a performing space for local musicians to get together and jam.
Don’t forget to visit the World’s Biggest Teahouse, doubling as a giant movie theater inside (which was playing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 3D)
View from the teathouse
Then we waltzed around the flagpole once more, attracting a crowd of onlookers when we tried out this random carnival thing by punching a rubber mannequin for prizes.
We then commandeered 2 buggies and raced each other around the area to the music of Indiana Jones playing in the background.
Around dusk it was time for Chinese-Tajik dinner, and now it’s off to the airport for to the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek!
- At time of posting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, it was 7 °C -
Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
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.
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 -2 °C -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: light snow
Alexander The Great's northernmost Central Asian outpost just got served
After 2 days in Samarkand, the group arrived in Tashkent in the afternoon and we did a leisurely walk through Independence Park, observing some national monuments and a public fair.
Memorial and Eternal Flame to Mothers of Veterans
By the memorial to veterans, there are gold plated books listing all the names of Uzbek soldiers that have been MIA and KIA during World War II.
Afterwards we said our next round of goodbyes to Patricia, Chris, and Johnson, who were leaving for Hong Kong and Singapore today.
The next morning the group got up and began our drive to Tajikistan. After about 3 hours on the road, we reached Oybek and the first round of passport checks to depart Uzbekistan.
A couple of things to know:
Remember the customs form you had to fill out twice when you arrived in Uzbekistan? And that they took one during customs and let you keep one for yourself? I hope you didn’t lose that piece of paper! You need to present that same form when you depart Uzbekistan while also filling a new identical one here. They will compare to two to check if you’re carrying the same or less amount of foreign currency than when you first came in.
To reiterate, make sure you list the same foreign currency on the departure customs form as you did when you arrived, and with that said, make sure that amount is less than what you arrived with. Otherwise they’ll keep the difference for themselves!
After they let you through here, they’ll inspect your luggage at customs, more out of curiosity than to look for anything to particular. For example, guard was interested in asking about the medicines I was carrying; others may want to look through all your photos on your camera to make sure you didn’t take any photos of military or policemen while in Uzbekistan.
Then you line up on another line to get your passport stamped out.
After that, they set you out on foot…
…to walk across No Man’s Land…
It’s about a lonely 10 minute walk to the edge of Uzbekistan.
After the Uzbek border guards wave you goodbye, you’ll come across the green coated border guards of Tajikistan.
Don’t get too nervous as these guards are much more relaxed and friendlier than Uzbek’s border guards.
At this point you fill out two identical custom forms exactly the same, where they inspect your passport, ask if you’re carrying more than $10,000 USD, and take one copy of your customs form while you keep the other for your eventual departure.
Then you keep walking to another building where they stamp your passport into Tajikistan.
After that, a bunch of cabs will be waiting for you at the border to take you to Khojand, about a 30-45min drive away. You’re now in Tajikistan!
Khojand, formerly known as Leninabad during the days of the USSR, is famous for being the farthest point that Alexander The Great’s ever reached in his conquest of Central Asia, and where he would set up his northernmost outpost, Alexandria-Eskhate.
His settlement still exists today in the form of a modern-day military citadel, where on the southwest corner houses a small museum that acts as a basic primer on Alexander The Great and Tajikistan.
After an hour at the museum we headed to the Sheikh Massal ad-Din complex facing the Panchshanbe Bazaar.
The mosques on your left are part of a religious plaza built in 1394. The 21m minaret here was built in 1865.
The bazaar on the opposite side of the mosques is a huge hall reminiscent of the Stabroek Hall market in Guyana, although instead of a British-Guyanese mix, Panschanbe Bazaar is imposing Stalinist architecture with a subtly Arab touch.
Afterwards we drove over across the river to the 22m-tall statue of Lenin that was moved here from Moscow in 1974 when Khojand was formerly known as Leninabad. It was then moved again from overlooking the river (and replaced by a statue of Somoni, father of the Tajik nation) to a quieter location in the suburbs. We found it anyways.
For dinner one of our monsooners, Siavash, was able to arrange a local family friend to host a Tajik feast for us where “anything you want, we’ll have it.” This included live music, unlimited vodka, wine, dishes re-served with less fat (literally), and after-dinner shisha. Hospitality at its finest, to the point the group stayed for nearly 4 hours.
- At time of posting in Khojand, Tajikistan, it was 7 °C -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast and light rain