Thursday, April 2, 2015

Khujand. Arbob Palace.

Ceiling detail.  A fusion of traditional Tajik and Russian design elements.

Zarif stopped the van and we got out. In the distance - past a series of water fountains, was a large building.  A yellow colored building with a green roof.

A domed shaped fountain, with a garland of stars atop, now stands where a statue of Lenin once stood.



The building reminded me of a large European palace. But I didn't think there was ever any European royalty in Tajikistan so what's the scoop behind Arbob Palace?

The palace itself was built largely on the initiative of a single person, Urukhojaev, the very large mustachioed president of the local kolkhoz (collective farm).  He was a Tajik who also loved everything Soviet.  When it came time to building the headquarters for the collective, he decided to model the building after the Peterhof Palace, fountains and all, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The building was constructed between 1951 and 1957. So, it never housed royalty, it was essentially an administration building....a very grand and elegant administration building!

For Tajiks the building holds special historic significance for it was here that a congress gathered to formally put together the constitution and establish a Tajik state in November 1992; a year after teh country declared independence from the Soviet Union. It was also the site of the negotiations that ended the Tajik Civil War in 1997.

We walked towards the building, passing fountains and flower beds filled with rose plants, along the way.

The fountains weren't operating yet which was a shame because it took a bit away from the grandeur of the place.


From atop the steps leading to the palace's front door, we had a nice view of Khujand and the mountains beyond.


The palace is now a shade of mustard yellow but Kai told us that not so long ago, the building was pink and white.  Whoever decided to repaint it yellow made the right call!  Pink is not really a good color for a palace.  No.


Hanging outside the front portico were two portraits.  I'm guessing one is of the current president of Tajikistan and the other is of their legendary hero, Timur Malik.


It was unusual to see Arabic script adorn a building that looks and feels utterly European.



Although we had been in Tajikistan for less than 8 hours, I had already come to the conclusion that Pat and I were the only two tourists in all of Khujand.  We had yet to see anyone else whom we would peg as a foreigner in Tajikistan.  The empty palace grounds reaffirmed my conclusion.  In fact, the only other people around were groundskeepers preparing the flower beds and water fountains for what I presume would be the summer tourist season. 


The palace doors were locked but Kai eventually found a person with the key.  We stepped inside and ornately decorated greeting hall.

As we ogled the elegant looking room, Kai told us that he and his bride (he recently got married) came here to have their wedding photos taken.  What a magnificent place to have wedding photos taken in!



We headed upstairs.  I fell in love with the ceilings!  They are stunning examples of traditional Tajik designs.  It's incredible that even though Urukhojaev admired Soviet architecture, he also treasured Tajik design.


We had a quick glimpse in to the auditorium which is large enough to seat 700 people.  It's a beautiful room.


Did I tell you I loved the ceilings.  I decided to play around with them.  I found this one that when I looked straight up, through the crystal chandelier, a spectacular pattern came through my camera lens.  Did the designers intend for this to happen?


One look down the hallway and all I could do was say, "WOW!" Yes, this unique fusion of Tajik design and color and classic European architecture is truly elegant.  I'm now thinking that European palaces, which often look so staid, could do with a punch of Tajik design and color to brighten them up!


From the second floor we made our way to the wing of the building that houses the museum.  We passed a corridor that is a work in progress.


Off the corridor was a room that looked like it was going to be decorated to simulate a Tajik country home - complete with a trellis fashioned from tree limbs and draped with an artificial grape vine.  I don't quite understand what they're attempting to do.  My gut reaction was that this display ought to be in the ethnographic museum at the citadel.


We followed Kai to the museum section which was filled with treasures of Tajikistan’s history, particularly the Soviet past.  Every corner, every hallway of the museum wing of the palace was impressive!  I couldn't help but look up and admire the ceilings in each of the exhibition rooms - they were all unique! I particularly loved the wood beam ones which were all wonderfully painted.  On the contrary, I had absolutely no interest in an of the exhibits - my brain was too tired to read and digest any information.



The last room we went into was Urukhojaev's office - a very grand looking office if I might say so myself.  There were portraits of the man - a very rotund, mustachioed man along with furniture and other items that used to be in his office.


On our way out of the palace, we met up with a man that Kai introduced as the caretaker of the palace.  He was apparently there to oversee the work that was being done on the gardens and the fountains.  As was the case with the plants in the park, the annuals that had recently been planted had also been covered with plastic to prevent them from frost.  Men were hard at work removing the plastic sheets.  

Next, Kai asked us if we wanted to visit the tea house that is situated on the palace's grounds.  Of course, we said yes.


When someone says *tea house*, I think of a small place with tables and chairs with people chatting, sipping tea and perhaps munching on some snacks.  Maybe the people are even playing some table games.  That's what I was expecting.  Since this was the palace tea house, I was expecting an old structure.

We followed Kai down the dirt path - the short cut :-)

As we walked towards the doors, I realized this building is so brand spanking new, it might as well have been built yesterday.


The front doors were locked and so were the side ones. Kai knocked and eventually someone came to let us in.  One step inside the large room and what I saw was dramatically different from what I had in mind. This was no small space with people sitting around chatting and sipping tea.  Instead, ornately carved wood columns and a wood beamed ceiling filled a very large room.  Kai had one set of lights turned on so we could have a better look at the space.  It was over the top!


This was a banquet hall.  Indeed, this is where Kai held his bachelor party which apparently, in Tajikistan means inviting several hundred of your male friends over for a meal of plov.  I told Kai I don't even know several hundred people to invite over for a meal of any sort!


Looking up at a section of the ceiling.

After the tea house, I was ready to call it day.  I don't know if we had seen everything on our Advantour itinerary or not but I didn't care.  I was tired.

Kai and Zarif dropped us off at the hotel at about 5p.  Kai got us checked in and Pat and I headed up to the room to rest.  We were suppose to meet up with Kai at 7p but neither of us was hungry and both of us quite tired. Poor Pat, she actually fell asleep sitting up.  We decided to skip dinner.

 Just before 7p, Pat suggested we head downstairs to wait for Kai. By the time we got to the lobby, he was already there waiting for us. Turned out, he had spent his time waiting at the internet cafe next door and had just arrived at the hotel himself. We told him the news and he while he was okay with us not going out to dinner because we were tired, he was concerned we would be hungry. He kept asking if he could get us some food. We insisted we were fine and told him we would meet up with him at 8a tomorrow as had been agreed upon earlier. We bid him goodnight and headed back up to the room.

A short while later, there was a knock at the door. It was Kai. He had a bag in his hand. He had bought some fruit and juice for us. It was a lot of fruit - 4 apples, 2 Asian pears, two bananas and a container of juice. I was so surprised at his thoughtfulness. I thanked him but told him it was much too much. He insisted we eat what we can tonight and we can have the rest on our road trip tomorrow. I took the bag from him and thanked him. What a nice guy! I decided we have to return his kindness so in addition to giving him a tip, we're giving him one of the four t-shirts we bought in NYC. Pat munched on an apple and I ate a banana. I think we both got a bit of sugar hit.

I am really, really excited for tomorrow! I'll finally get to see the majestic mountains of Tajikistan!

Goodnight from Khujand!