Quiet and Peaceful Dushanbe

Our appartment in Dushanbe was such a luxury, we cooked dinner most nights in our own kitchen. After a night alone in the appartment, the second room became occupied by Myriam and Mathieu, two Parisians living in Uzbekistan, vacationing in Tajikistan. They quickly introduced us to the Central Asian vodka consumption habits. The city markets were full of fresh local produce, 1kg of tomatoes sold for about 30 cents, so we made huge pots of spaghetti a few times. Other market favourites included red pepper, eggplant, pistacchios, red basil, homemade cheese and gigantic egg-shaped cantaloupes. Dushanbe's city centre is very pleasant, with tree-lined streets, functioning fountains and colonial architecture. Our appartment was down the street from the Presidential Palace on a six-laned boulevard, ready for Soviet style military parades but occupied only by a handful of taxis and trolley buses. There isn't much evidence of the civil war, that ended less than a decade ago and saw Dushanbe controlled by armed street gangs. It is only in 2002 that the dawn-to dusk curfew was lifted in the city. There is a heavy police presence on the streets, hundreds of militsia standing around, stopping cars and blatantly taking money from drivers, it's a strange sight, but one that locals seem to have accepted as part of daily life (our landlady told us explictly not to let militsia into the appartment no matter what they say).

We had a week waiting for our Chinese visas and honestly there isn't too much to do in Dushanbe. We of course visited the Museum of National Antiquities (to see Central Asia's largest Buddha, miniscule in comparaison to its South East Asian counterparts) and the Bekhzod National Museum with a fine collection of stuffed animals and formaldehyde suspended creatures. Not to mention an entire floor dedicated to the greatness of President Rakhman(ov) (he removed the 'ov' to de-Russify his name). We spent a morning in Hissar village, the site of a ruined fort, some 30km from Dushanbe. When we arrived in Hissar, a passenger in our minibus wouldn't leave our side. I made the symbol of an arch (I knew there was one at the site of the ruins), and he immediately flagged down a taxi, paid the driver and waved us goodbye. We were dropped off at the ruins on the outskirts of town. Actually they aren't so much ruins as a big pile of rocks on a hill, but the reconstructed arch is picturesque as are the two nearby medressahs across from it, and the attendants seemed happy to collect our 30 cent entrance fees. After a couple of days in Dushanbe, we ran into Lee, a Korean man looking to stay in the same appartment as we were. We told him that it was already full and we tried to direct him to a cheap hotel that we knew of, but he seemed utterly dejected that he wouldn't have a kitchen where he could cook his Korean noodles (he mentioned these noodles many times during our brief encounter). In sympathy, we made a deal with him that he could sleep on the floor of the bedroom in exchange for a Korean dinner, he was overjoyed and referred to me as his 'angel' for the rest of the week. Lee ended up cooking for us more than once, and buying us lots of beer and snacks. We exchanged life stories, his a bit more interesting than ours. He was a retired dentist who had quit his job in his thirties and had been travelling for 13 years with only a few month breaks in Korea in between voyages.

Myriam and Mathieu were the first to leave the comfort of the appartment, heading east into the mountains. Yann and I were heading to the same place, but were still waiting for our visas, we hoped they would be able to send us an e-mail describing the 24 hour journey, but knew that this was highly unlikely. Two days later, we hadn't heard from them, we set our alarms for 4 a.m. so that we could get to the bus station and bargain for a ride east, we didn't have much information to go on, we just knew it wasn't going to be a particularly pleasant journey.

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