Saturday, June 3, 2017

[DUSHANBE] The Big Dushe

I could've saved money had I just flown directly from Dubai to Bishkek, but where’s the fun in that? Do you really think I’d let this chance to up my country count pass me by? In any case, to those who are wondering how you can reach Central Asia WITHOUT transiting in Russia or the Chinese far west, you can always hop on a FlyDubai plane to many cities in the tan-tans. I think only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are not covered by their flight network.

In my case, I flew from Dubai to Dushanbe via FlyDubai. Most flights to this region are after midnight. I landed in Tajikistan at around three in the morning. This means you are going to have to talk to your Airbnb or hotel if they allow super early check-in. Most of the time, they will just ask you to pay for an additional night starting the evening before your arrival. If you are staying near the Sheraton area, you can walk all the way from the airport. 30 minutes max, but not recommended if you have heavy luggage.

Tajikistan is probably in contention with Kyrgyzstan as having the most liberal visa regime in Central Asia. Tajikistan’s advantage is you can apply for an eVisa, which helps prevent some airport hassles. Print your visa and bring it with you. They stamp the paper and your passport at the airport. I no longer had the hard copy of the visa, the immigration officer collected it on my way out. Do not lose that piece of paper to avoid problems.

There isn’t much to see in the Big Dushe. As appears to be the norm in the region, you have to go to the provinces to see the natural wonders such as lakes and mountains. The capitals are mostly boring, but they do give you a glimpse of the bygone Soviet era which has been preserved in the architecture and layout of the city proper. As for safety, I walked from the airport to my Airbnb place at three in the morning and nothing bad happened to me. Luggage and all. As such, I consider the city safe.

The city relies on a network of marshrutkas and ancient trolley buses for you to get around. Given how Rudaki Park seems to be the only area of interest here, the only route numbers you should keep in mind are 10, 8, and 3A. Payment is a meager TJS1 (~PHP8) which you give to the guy collecting the fare upon boarding. They do give change but it would be easier for if you just keep some TJS1 or TJS3 bills. By the way, you’ll also see cars waving a number card at you. Those are collective taxis, not kidnappers.

Rudaki Avenue is lined with trees and offers a good opportunity for a stroll despite the blazing sun. Those trees provide much needed shade! I saw an interesting building or two there and they say that there are restaurants and bars as well. I guess I’ll never know because I didn’t bother to take a stroll. After having late lunch at Segafredo, I then crossed the street to Rudaki Park, which served as the city’s main attraction for me. Hey, this is just a one-day transit. We make do of the time that we have.

The first building that caught my attention looked grand and had a flag so I suppose that was a government institution or something. The bystanders also discouraged me from taking a photo which further fueled my speculation that it is indeed a government building. I went ahead and crossed another street towards another building that piqued my curiosity. This one has some sort of a flat dome jutting from the roof like the one they use at Gotham to call Batman when they need him. This is a museum.

I think they call it the National Museum of Antiquities. I saw photos of the interior later on thanks to Google images. Looks legit. Too bad I didn't go in. Why the heck did I not go in? Oops, I forgot we’re allergic to entrance fees. But I guess the admission ticket won’t be that expensive. In any case, you know how I’m already satisfied taking photos of the façade. I’m already happy with that. The whole area of the park is huge and green complete with its own lake which makes everything feel so chill. Did I mention the roses? Roses! Roses everywhere!

The flag pole is on the other edge, on the other side of the lake and the Tajik flag is waving there in all its glory. I’m not sure if it’s any bigger than the Mexican flag at CDMX’s zocalo, but suffice it to say that both don’t fail to impress. There were students getting out of the museum when I was taking a stroll. I imagined the place to be livelier and with more people, but I guess this happens more in the evening when the sun is not stark raving mad and toasting everyone in sight. I think I got an instant tan!

Rudaki Park itself is right across the government building I was talking about. Here you will find a statue with its own arc. This is NOT the giant Somoni statue, which is across yet another street. It’s not easy to miss because the golden crown, which is rumored to be 10 kg of gold, just glitters under the sun. The national library also commands attention in the background. Getting a front view photo of Somoni’s statue was impossible because the sun was on the other side. Every attempt resulted in a big silhouette.

The independence monument is on the other side of the plaza. It would be nice to take a stroll there in the evening. The sun was such an attention whore when I was there, shining so brightly that I wanted to join the locals having fun getting wet at the fountains. I actually regret not joining them because I assume my wet clothes would have instantly dried afterwards anyway because of that heat. Behind the Independence Monument is a large terrace overlooking the valley below, right next to the river.

Overall, I liked what I saw in Dushanbe, in terms of the good mix of grandiose buildings and the snowcapped mountains that stalked them from afar. Even so, I don’t think it’s wise to spend money to go to Tajikistan JUST to see Dushanbe, unless you are also just collecting countries. You won’t be disappointed, but you’ll feel like you could get a lot more for what you spent to get there. As such, I suggest a week or two so you can also explore what natural wonders the country has to offer far from the capital.

[DUSHANBE] The Big Dushe

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