Silk Roads of Tajikistan Land of Mountains

Yep.  I was able to secure a visa and go to the off the radar and relatively unknown (to the west) land of Tajikistan.  If you have the opportunity to go, you should too.  My trip was really a quick one, but what was expected to be a day trip to Khujand, what I expected to be an uneventful city near the border, was nothing like that.  WIkitravel even had a line that made it seem like a yawn.  Not so.  It was really cool, and well worth the excursion that we did on our trek across Central Asia.  Visiting Khujand was a relatively inexpensive and very easy day trip from Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

On this trip across Central Asia following old silk road trade routes we visited Merv, Turkmenistan, Mountains and Valleys of Kyrgyzstan, Mazar-e-Sharif Afghanistan.

In my quest to visit all the countries of the world, I was really pleasantly surprised by Tajik.  It was really cool, and the taxi guy we met at the border was very reasonable and treated us well.  Not only is Khujand not simply a border town, it is the second largest city in Tajikistan, a land with mostly mountains.  Khujand was formerly known as Khodjend or Khodzhent until 1936 and also named Leninabad until 1991.  Apparently there is a large lenin statue somewhere, but I didn’t find it. I’ve seen Lenin himself still resting in Moscow and his birthplace and statue in Slovenia, so I wasn’t disappointed.  On the contrary, it was a fanstastic visit.  It has over 150,000 people and has an amazing square, vibrant city center, and a lot of history that is visible.

Panchshanbe Bazaar and Fountain

Panchshanbe Bazaar and Fountain– This is the ornate old soviet era bazaar.  Filled with spices, meats, and hustle and bustle, but stop and watch a game of chess or a card game out by the fountain. 

Panchshanbe Bazaar

The faces of these Tajiks capture my experience… yes a diamond in the rough.  A peacock amongst guinea fowl.  This bright smile was one that asked me to take her picture.  When was the last time you had someone really stop you in a market and ask you to take a picture??? In my travels, that’s a very rare thing.  She wasn’t looking for money, she wanted to share her smile with the world, and I’m happy that I was able to bring this happy Tajik smile to you.

Khujand Tajikistan Market and Bazaar

Our visit to the central markets of Khujand was really an opportunity to be indudated with color.  The women wear fabulous colors while most wear colorful head scarves as well.  A day earlier I was in Afghanistan, a world where colors were much more muted with the burkas.  There was a positive vibe and the colors worn in this market really helped bring out that spirit.

Masjidi Jami mosque and medrese Tajik New Mosque

Masjidi Jami mosque and medrese These roses were growing near this mosque which is still under construction.

Tajikistan Lunch

You can eat well and for very cheap in Tajikistan.  The cup of fresh natural apricot nectar is about 40-50 cents (USD) each, and the meat skewers or Shishka or Kabob are only $1.

Tajikistan breads

This amazing looking bread was extremly cheap, but is the staple of life.  You get bread like this with every meal, but the designs do vary across the cultures.

Khujand Market

The Market and bazaar is filled with nuts, breads, spices, and bustling people selling and buying.

Khujand Market

Minaret outside the old mosque

Soviet memorial in Khujand Tajikistan

At a park across the street from the bazaar is this monument. There are a few reminders of the old soviet times.

Sughd Museum in the old citidel

The Old Citidel and fortress has been restored and turned into a museum and contains a historical museum of the Sughd region.  While there are very many forts in the area that are more impressive, the door itself up close is quite ornate and worth visiting for that alone.  The lions and stars are incredible.

Amazing Tajikistan door

Amazing door to the fortress and citadel.

Ismail Somoni monument

Ismail Somoni monument – Surrounded by Lions and the Tajik flag, this majestic king looks over the city and valley with the strength of the mountains to his back. Popular statue and fountain.  Amazing landscape view of the city & valley.

Tajikistan Lions

The power of the lion is a common symbol in Tajikistan.

I had an amazing time in Tajikistan.  After having such an amazing day, I’d love to come back to spend my time with my gracious hosts.  They friendly people who refilled my apricot juice about 6 times, and the ladies in the market selling us nuts and letting us try and sample as much as we wanted.  Thanks to the smiles and the nods and the long looks that made me feel like I was a stranger in an amazing strange, and mysterious land.

While I didn’t feel at Risk, and I made some great friends, I point at this travel forum on Tajikistan Lonely planet safety for anyone considering travel there.  I think Tajikistan was amazing.  In my mind it’s about being smart just as it is in most countries around the world.  Avoiding Police and Military makes sense and connecting with locals makes a lot of sense for Tajik travel…

There are other travel references on Tajik travel to Khujand including Virtual Tourist Khujand, and Khujand on Wikitravel.  The wikitravel page made me think it was worth skipping.  I totally disagree.  It was definitely worth the day trip from the Uzbek capital and the taxi on both sides really was a bargain.

Traveling Marvelous Minsk Belarus

It started with a tweet from a would be friend and an invite to speak in Minsk.  Would I?  Oh wow.  Minsk conjures up ideas of the old communist soviet world.  Now while still very iconic in communism I have found it very charming, and a mix of old and new.  The soviet symbols are very alive in Minsk where in many capital cities of the old soviet empire they have been removed.

I met with several Belarussians a couple of times before my visit to Minsk.  They were all very intelligent, Belarus on the map of Europeconsiderate and faithful friends.  One friend helped work out all the logistics for a friend and I to meet him at the border, and we’d meet up with other friends at the airport.  Minsk should not be underestimated as a very important country in Eastern Europe with nearly 9 million citizens.

Minsk Library

I see a bright future ahead in the area of IT for sure.  The people I met have very bright minds and a hope for bridging gaps to join Russia or the EU.  Soviet BuildingBelarus appears to have lingering thoughts on the heydays of the former empire and has held onto memories more than many of it’s neighbors.  Many of the soviet style communist buildings old and new rise high in the city of Minsk.  A city of industry and power, it is a fascinating place to visit.  The western world appears to have little knowledge of the fascinating place that Minsk is and how important it has been in history.

The hammer and sickle appear on many government buildings and even in the tube.

hammer and sickle

Across the street from our hotel was the famous KGB building.  It reminds me of days past where CIA vs. KGB and MI6 was something from a James Bond Movie.  While those days of distrust may be mostly behind us. I have found great friendship and hope that we can move past that and continue to progress toward an open and peaceful world.  The development community in Belarus is a powerhouse.  In my experience they are very well versed in the IT field and as well are great partners.

I believe a lot of this distrust comes from misunderstanding and something that politicians and diplomats have yet to fully bridge.  Wandering the streets of Minsk you’ll be sure to see the symbols of a powerful working class.  You can’t blame them for wanting to take care of the poor and removing class, but the power in the hands of the wrong people creates corruption.  I had the opportunity to drive across a few hundred miles of the lush and green Belarussian countryside.  It’s beautiful.  Minsk is up and coming.  Beautiful shopping centers, tall apartment buildings, and it offers a lot to its people, with hopefully more freedoms and global diplomacy to come.Victory Square Minsk

Today most non belarussian folks… westerners especially, require a Belarussian visa that expires within 90 days or a year.  There’s still some distrust, but I believe the rising generation is very interested in connecting and bridging the old ways and looking at new ways to move things forward.  Belarus has a lot of history and pride and it doesn’t like to be told what to do.  It will require a lot of patience, but I pray it’s coming around.

We would do good to try to understand that history, and continue to create friendships and bridge our world.

For me, I spent the evening in a banya (spa) in Minsk…creating friendships that will last a lifetime.  I have a better appreciation for the Belarussian people, and a strong desire to return.  Thanks for the amazing tour of your beautiful country.