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Published: April 14th 2016
Old PenjikentDay 81 Friday 8th April 2016 – Dushanbe to Penjikent
Mud brick ruins
Moving day and we have nothing booked so asked reception for some advice on getting to the city of Penjikent. The hotel has its own driver who could take us to the shared taxi rank and negotiate our fare, we paid him more than a normal taxi but he sure did earn his money. All the shared taxis leave from an area called the “cement factory” (because it is next to one) and it is located about 15 minutes from the centre of town. As soon as we stopped the car we were besieged by dozens of men trying to get our fare. The driver indicated for us to stay in the car as he battled, fought and screamed at them all, before calling the hotel for us to get a translation. We agreed on a price and were driven into the car park to be transferred to a 4 wheel drive, our taxi driver would not leave us till we were safely in the other car and telling the new driver we were like family and he must ring the hotel when we arrived
The President of Tajik is everywhere
at Penjikent so they knew we had got there. Half the trip was heading back towards Khojand before doing a left hand turn and driving along a new road to Penjikent. This road used to be one of the worst roads in the country but is now a beautiful pothole free masterpiece. We have read how Tajikistan has improved this road as it leads to a point close to the Uzbekistan border near the tourist Mecca of Samarkand. The story goes that Tajik was hoping they would get an overflow of tourist from this site but the Uzbek government didn’t want a bar of it and closed the border in 2012. The border is still closed and to emphasize that it will never open we have heard they have built a wall across the road.
The road travels down a wide valley and along the way we stopped to drop off the plastic surround for a bathtub, the actual bath was on top of another jeep that left a few minutes before us but could not fit everything in. The other day on the way to Osh our driver was given a wedding ring by a policeman
This is what two Ambaroy look like
to take to a small village so everything is passed around via the taxis, we have not had any live chickens yet like South America.
Half way there it started to rain and by the time we go to Penjikent it was heavy and we were not sure where we were being dropped off, but no need to worry the driver passed us his phone and it was the hotel from Dushanbe checking on us and letting us know the driver will show us all the hotels in town - should let you know there are only 3 in town and 2 are opposite each other. We chose the brand new Maqsud Hotel that had started as a guest house but has expanded and now offer huge rooms with modern bathrooms.
Now we have accommodation sorted we need to get money, we keep trying the ATMs with both Visa and Mastercards and can’t get any money out, not sure what is going on but it is getting annoying as we will have to go to a money exchange again to change US dollars. This town is small with a population of about 50,000 so
Penjikent to Khujand
Shahriston tunnel entrances
limited options in banks, restaurants etc. We found a strange cluttered rundown café, the side booths have curtains so you can close yourselves off from the other diners. We were led to another room with more booth seating but no curtains not that it mattered as we were the only people here. Had a huge meal that was chosen by pointing at pictures that really could have been anything as they were so blurry but it turned out to be pretty good.
The rain was still coming down so grabbed some supplies and went back to our room. Day 82 Saturday 9th April 2016 – Penjikent
The rain had cleared and we were greeted by another sunny day perfect for our visit to ancient Penjikent which was a thriving Sogdian trading city from the 5th
Century on the Silk Road. Today all that remains of this ancient city are the foundations and small part of walls that look like they have melted in the sun. We got a taxi to the site and were dropped off at the small museum that contains
Nothing much is left
original artefacts and copies of the frescoes that were found on the walls, we saw some of the originals in Dushanbe but the rest are in St Petersburg. In one of the frescoes Shiva is depicted and apparently Shaivism was popular in the city during this time. The woman at the Museum was great although she only spoke a few words of English she ensured we saw everything and understood their meaning as best as she could. The city was attacked in 722 by the Arabs and only charred remains can be seen in the museums of the columns carved with dancing girls from the palace.
Walking through the site you will need your imagination but on a sunny day you get a beautiful backdrop of the mountains surrounding the city and the Zaravshan River on the other side of the modern town. After a look around we walked down the hill and back into the new town to the bazaar for a quick look.
For dinner we returned to the café across the road and was directed into yet another back room where they could close us off from everyone else- I know
my eating habits are bad but I didn’t think they were that bad. Once again we had a menu full of blurry pictures to choose from but poor Michele is just a bit over eating mutton and wanted something different. I truly wished I had filmed her chicken performance as it would have deserved an Oscar. Shelley really wanted a salad but knew that she just couldn’t successfully pantomime lettuce, tomato and carrot – I don’t think Tajikistan has ever won a gold medal in the Pantomime Olympics. The markets in Tajik are full of veg but we just don’t seem to see it on the menus, I guess that is the problem with not speaking the language. Day 83 Sunday 10th April 2016 – Penjikent to Khujand
The bed in our room is the second hardest bed ever in our travels and only comes a very close second to the bed in Sur Oman- possibly the same mattress. Michele’s shoulder has been giving her a bit of grief and she contemplated laying on the floor as she thought it would be softer. The room is almost brand
new and has a great clean bathroom, it is such a shame the bed is so hard. Breakfast again wasn’t much but while we played with the food we got talking to Jason, a fellow traveler from Canada and it was good hearing of his travels. We have been banging on heaps about the mountain scenery and it was good to hear we haven’t been exaggerating as he said that despite being surrounded by mountains in Canada, the scenery in Tajikistan is great.
Moving on today so it was packing the bags and checking out. Yesterday we got the owner of the hotel to ring the guy who had dropped us off here and organise for him to drive us back to Khujand, and as usual he haggled him down on the price. When we came out of our room our driver was waiting and we were given a farewell from the hotel as if we were family. We have only been here two days but spoken/pantomimed a fair bit with them and as we left we got heaps of hugs and handshakes to see us off. I (Scott) don’t hug men very often but the ones
Whats left of the Citadel
I got seemed genuine and heartfelt.
Our driver couldn’t speak English and so we didn’t speak much on the trip but he played music all the way and it was great hearing a variety of local tunes. Today’s journey was basically backtracking the road we have already travelled, and it was great to be once again traversing it. The only difference on this journey was that when we got to the 5.2km long Shahriston tunnel we got to go through the larger second tunnel rather than the single lane tunnel. It is just a complete smog haze inside the tunnel and around the half way mark we came across heaps of roadworks with guys working in there with next to no lights and no breathing apparatus. Later on I read how the tunnel was badly damaged in an earthquake and they are at present trying to patch it up.
Reached Khujand at 2 in the afternoon and our driver dropped us at the door step of our hotel where we had stayed last time. He had got us here without any hassle so we gave him a tip. Had thought of doing the Australian
Streets around the bazaar
thing and taking him across to the bar and buying him a beer but potentially he was driving back to Penjikent and filling him with beer wouldn’t have been the wisest of choices. Once again we are arriving on a Sunday and once again only the non-English speaking staff are on hand. Despite emailing the owner and arranging our arrival and been promised a better room we were shoved down into the same room we had before. The room is okay so it isn’t a big problem but it took a lot of effort to get it.
After this we got a late lunch of a pizza down at the corner restaurant and then went across to the bar across the road. Was sitting there having our first beer when all of a sudden we felt our chairs shake followed by half a minute of slight undulation and realised we had just sat through another earthquake. The staff at the bar were alarmed and they were checking out their flimsy thatch roofed bar for damage. Completely undermined my Engineering credentials as I figured a shaken martini would have bought the whole thing down. Thankfully the Earthquake was
The main street
a long way from us so its strength was mild and no beer was spilt. Discovered later that a 6.7 earthquake had hit on the border with Afghanistan - sure glad we were not in that tunnel.
After a few beers we headed home for an early night in a bed that was infinitely softer than last nights. Day 84 Monday 11th April 2016 – Khujand
First thing this morning we handed over a huge bag of laundry to the staff at the hotel to wash, as they do it for free we thought we would take advantage of it before we move on. Spoke to the owner Zebunniso and paid our bill before we wandered down the road for a coffee. Wanted a cappuccino but got something that barely resembled coffee, and whilst we sipped it we watched a bunch of young Tajik girls taking selfies of themselves on their new phones in front of a mirror in the cafe.
Today was planned as a bit of a slow day to get some things sorted and to take a bit of a breather so we
Looking over the roofs
headed across the bridge into town for a long stroll. Ended up down at the bazaar at lunchtime so went looking for an “Ambaroy” which Zebunniso said was a specialty of the town. Thankfully she had written the name down in Tajik so we kept asking people where we could find it and eventually we ended up at a small open air restaurant tucked down an alley next to the bazaar. We had expected that an Ambaroy was a small meat filled pastry similar to others we had seen around but what we got was something altogether different. Imagine a cornish pasty or a samosa on steroids, fill it with lamb/mutton and mutton fat and take out anything that resemble vegetables. Vegetarians or nutritionist need not apply and even I (Scott) struggled with it but in the spirit of Homer Simpson I managed to get through it. Shelley has been struggling with all the mutton meals in this country and is just about ready to sell her soul for a decent salad so she only succeeded to eat a few mouthfuls. She felt a bit embarrassed about leaving it and asked for and got a plastic bag, as we walked
Old town and mountains
across the plaza a young girl came up and asked for it and Shelley was only too happy to pass it on.
On the long walk back to our hotel we took a detour through a park and got talking to a student who wanted to practice his English and as we had a slow day we had a conversion while wandering through the park, although we seemed to do most of the talking and prompting.
For our final night in Tajikistan we went across to the Chelsea Bar for a few beers and the waiters there met us like long lost friends. We cannot over emphasize how friendly the people of Tajikistan are, Iranians are always regarded as the friendliest people in the world and they would be except Tajikistanis are even better. Stayed for perhaps one beer too many and then waddled across the road to our home. Leaving Tajikistan tomorrow and really wished we weren’t, this country doesn’t have a lot of wow factors beyond its mountains but the people sure do make up for it. If there was more to see here we would have stayed a lot longer, but
Mud walls and mountains
I guess that gives us an excuse to return again in the summer and enjoy more of the mountains and the great Tajikistani hospitality.
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