Saturday, April 4, 2015

Last Views of Tajikistan.

Hissar Fortress.

I felt great this morning! I woke up bright and early at 6:30a. After days of not sleeping well, I finally got a good night's rest. Last night, I caved in and took a nightime flu medicine pill. It worked!


View of Dushanbe from our hotel room balcony.  You can see the snow capped peaks in the far distance.

For those of you who think I stay in dives simply because I'm a budget traveler, thing again.  This is nice room!

Pat and I went down for breakfast at 7a and then met with Kai and Zarif at 8a. We piled our luggage into the back of the van and hit the road!


I can't believe it but today, we're leaving Tajikistan, heading back to Uzbekistan. I feel like I've just arrived.

It was a beautiful morning in Dushanbe.  We snaked along, in the rush hour traffic.  I so do not miss being a commuter! 

It was picture perfect spring morning in Dushanbe.  Pat was seated in the front and Kai was in the back next to me.  He immediately sprung into tour guide mode.  By now though, we had passed by several landmarks enough times to recognize them....like the monument dedicated to Ismail Somoni, who is the father of the nation and the National Library, the largest in the country.  We also drove by the flag of Tajikistan.....not just any flag but the largest in the world.  Today, as was the case last night, the flag was limp....there was no wind for it to fly.

That pole, to the right of the white building.....that's the large flag of Tajikistan.

The streets in Dushanbe are really wide.

I think this is a museum building of some sort but I can't remember exactly what.


This building, with the colorful blue dome is known as "Throne of Nowruz" - it's the largest
cultural and entertainment center in Central Asia.

Unique looking building.  Can't remember what its home to.

The minivans are privately owned buses.  They are a key component of the public transportation system in Dushanbe.

Soviets employed a lot of roundabouts in their urban design.

More Soviet era buildings. They look the same no matter which former Soviet republic you're in.

Once we left the city limits, it was back to the flat agricultural landscape that greeted us when we arrived two days ago.

To break the monotony, it was a good time as any to ask Kai for his email address as we wanted to send him some of the photos we had taken on our visit to Iskander Kul.  It was now that I finally got his first name - Kayhusrav.  So, rightfully, I should be referring to him as "Kay" in this posting but I've been using "Kai" for so long now, I will just stick with it.  Kai also gave us Zarif's email so I will send him the photos I took of him.


The drive was quickly becoming monotonous.

More of the top pruned trees.  Am I back in Uzbekistan?

Green and flat - fields of winter wheat.

About half hour's drive outside of Dushanbe, we arrived into the small city of Hissar.  The place was packed with people and cars.  It was Sunday today; folks were out shopping at the bazaar.  It was a bumpy ride through town.  Streets are not all that good in Tajikistan - at least in places outside the larger cities.



We were in Hissar to visit the fortress which is actually a complex comprised of the following structures:
  • The fortress itself which has now been partially reconstructed.
  • The Registan which is the square located in front of the fortress.
  • The Old madrassah which was built in the 16th century and now functions as a museum.
  • The New madrassah which was built between the 17th and 18 centuries.
  • A caravanserai built in 1808.
  • A mosque
  • A mausoleum of Mahdumi Abzam which was also built in the 16th century.
The ark was originally constructed as the residence of a deputy of an Bukharan emir.  The fortress walls were 1 meter thick and had gun slots for rifles and cannons. Inside of the fort was garden and water pool. Stairs and brick terraces lead to the main entrance but unfortunately they were lost with time as well as the palace building. The only part that remains today is the monumental gate that is flanked with two towers separated by a lancet arch.


Grass now covers the original fortifcation walls.

We followed Kai inside the fortress where he bought our entry tickets.


Kai going over a map of the complex.  It's not big at all.

Looking back out through the entry doors.

On one section of original wall, you can see the bricks that were used in its construction.

I was surprised to see what greeted me once we entered the fortress grounds.  From the ticket booth there was a stone path flanked by several small buildings.  These were all newly built structures that I presume were constructed in an attempt to recreate what the fortress originally looked like.  I have mixed feelings about complete reconstructions.  I understand why its done but it somehow takes away from the antiquity of it all.  I'm one of those people that prefers to have ruins left as is and then have model that I can look at to see what the place looked like in its heyday.



The path ended at the top of a hill.  From there, we had a view of some mountains and more importantly, sections of the original fortress walls....now covered over with dirt and grass.


Below was a field that archaeologists believe was used to hold sporting events - perhaps even a hippodrome of sorts.  Excavations are still ongoing.


From here, we turned around....


....and climbed a short set of steps that took us up to the top of the reconstructed wall, near one of the towers flanking the entry gate.



Looking down at the two rows of newly constructed buildings.  They all looked like mausoleums to me.

We had a nice view of the complex from there.

On the left are the caravanserai, Old Madrasah and mosque and on the right is the New Madrasah.

Local towns people busy cleaning up the garden out front.

It was mainly women doing the work - a lot of weeding!

Next, we headed off to see the rest of the complex.

View of the ark from near the entrance of the Old Madrasah.

We started with a quick look at the caravanserai which was built in the 17th century.  By the 20th century,  the only thing that remained of the caravanserai were only remnants of the  foundation and some wall sections.  Only a single photo, taken in 1913, existed of the caravanserai; it was used to help restore the structure.


If I remember correctly, this section were the animal stalls.

The Old Madrasah as viewed from the Registan.  The mosque is located adjacent to it.

From the caravanserai, we went to visit the museum, located inside the Old Madrasah.

Old Madrasah on left, new madrasah in the background.

Not helpful when you take a photo of a sign that's in a language you can't read!

The courtyard and rooms of the Old Madrasah.

We started our visit of the museum with a look at a topographical map of Tajikistan.  It really makes the point of just how mountainous the country is!  We're presently somewhere in the southern part of the country!  Geographer, I am not!


As you might expect, the exhibition halls are located in the rooms of the former madrasah. The museum and has a few artifacts.  There is not a whole lot to see, history wise, in Tajikistan.


We started in the room with the pottery and pottery shards.  It seems like a lot of museums, around the world, start off this way.  Okay, that's a generalization but it seems like there's a lot of pottery shards in many a museum....it all starts to look the same!


From this main exhibition room, we did a quick walk through of the other open rooms, to see some more artifacts as well some items of traditional applied arts in Tajikistan.

Farm implements.

Old coins.

Traditional Tajik textiles.

I loved this pair of old wooden shoes.  Cute but probably very uncomfortable to wear.

An old loom.

The mosque, New Madrasah and mausoleum were all closed so after our visit to the museum, it was back to the van.


Even if the other places had been open, I already had enough of the historic sights and was read to leave.  As it turned out, we were in a bit of a rush to hit the road because we had to be at the Tajikistan Uzbekistan border at Bratso-Sariosiyo by 11a as our Uzbek driver and guide would be waiting on the other side for us.  It was all coordinated already.

Back in the car, it took us a while to actually get out of the town of Hissar.  I just took a couple of photos - not sure why I took these, to be honest.


Women dress very conservatively here but that doesn't mean drab colors!

The downtown area, which we had to pass through was packed with Sunday shoppers.  Traffic was at a snail's pace. It didn't help that road construction was also happening though workers were not out today.



Once we left the city limits, it was back to farmland for the landscape.  Pretty boring.   We had about an hour's drive to reach the border crossing.

En route to the border, Kai pointed out the huge aluminium factory, the world’s third largest, which allegedly sucks up three-quarters of the nation’s entire electricity supply. 

We arrived at the border crossing around 11a.  We got out of the van and said our thank-you's and goodbye's to Kai and Zarif.  We also discretely gave them their tips except for when I handed the NYC t-shirt over to Kai.  I wished him well with his upcoming interview in Kazakhstan.  With luck, he will soon be on his way to the US!

As we walked, a few men approached us asking if we needed any Uzbek som.  Of course, we already have plenty.  But, it did make me realize that for the other countries, a similar black market for currency, likely exists. No need to have to go looking for an ATM - we can just exchange the USD bills we brought along with us.

The Tajik side of the border was a series of buildings. We kept walking from one building to the next until we found someone. We came to one that had a sign indicating Customs Control. There was no official looking booth or anything. My approach is to keep on walking until someone stops me and in this case, a woman stopped me. she didn't have on any sort of a uniform so didn't know if she was the customs agent or but she waved me towards here. Clearing Tajikistan customs was a breeze - the woman just recorded some information from our passports and customs forms and asked us how much money we had. Pat wrote down the number of Uzbek soms she had and the woman took that information and recorded it so I did the same.

Next, we had to find passport control. So again, we walked from one building to the next til we found someone that looked like an immigration officer. Inside one building, I saw just such an officer and a man standing in front. I saw the officer with passport in hand so I decided that this was most likely passport control. When the man left, the officer waved us in so I sent Pat in first. A few minutes later she was out and it was my turn. I gave the officer my passport and stepped back outside til he waved me back in to pick up my passport. He looked at me and asked, "Tajikistan good?" I stuck a thumb up and replied back, "Yes, Tajikistan very good?" He then replied, "Welome to Tajikistan".  English not so good.  I said thank you and left.

We've now officially exited Tajikistan and it was on to entering Uzbekistan. We dreaded it as we both knew it would be difficult. The first building we entered was border control of some sort - there were offices pointing to quarantine, veterinary control, plant control etc. There was a person in the first office. He looked official so we handed our passports over to him. He said he was the doctor and his name was Babur(?). I smiled and nodded back. What do you say? He simply took some info from our passport and let us go on. Although he had medical instruments in front of him, he didn't do any sort of check on us. I guess maybe he took one good look at us and saw we were okay so he let us on.

We left the border control building and walked towards the next building. This time, there was an arrow, painted on the ground directing us which way to go. We entered the building and there was an officer sitting in a booth. Pat walked up first and a few minutes later was ready to move on to customs control. My turn next. I stood patiently in front of the booth. The officer looked up at me and asked, "Married?" I replied, "No". He went back to typing on his keyboard. A few seconds later, he looked up at me and asked, "Children?" I replied, "No." He went back to typing on his keyboard. A few seconds later and he looked up at me again. This time he pointed to his ring finger and again asked, "Married?" I held up my ring finger to show him there was no ring on it and then replied back, "No." He then asked me if Pat and I were together. I don't know what, if anything he was trying to imply about the relationship between Pat and I but I simply replied, "Friend". He then handed my passport which I took and gladly left him behind. He was beginning to irk me with his seemingly pointless questions.

By the time I met up with Pat in customs control, she had already gotten copies of the form we needed to fill out. By now, we had completed enough of them that we could do them in our sleep. We each had one English copy of the form, that we had gotten when we arrived into Tashkent. We filled that form last night. Lucky that we had the completed form because today, the only forms that they had were in Uzbek. Then, we had to wait. The room we were in only had the kiosks where you could stand to fill in your forms. There were a few seats along one wall and a low bench along the other. The room was separated from the actual customs room by a glass wall and door. Inside, there was a small group of women from Tajikistan - their passports gave them away. They were all dressed in traditional Tajik costumes with their heads covered. They were each lugging large plastic bags. There was a young Uzbek woman in the room who spoke very good English. She and Pat struck up a conversation. Thanks to her, we also found out that there was something about a change in shift with the officers and because of that, we would have to wait a bit. Of course, we had no idea how long we would have to wait so we just took a seat and waited for when someone official would appear at the door and tell us what to do.

While we waited we chatted with the young woman and got to know her a little better. Apparently, she learned her English while studying in the US for two years. During that time, she lived in DC, NYC, Californian and Florida. She loved her stay in the US. She's currently married to a Tajik and she has a two year old son. Being married to a Tajik has been a challenge. She says her in-laws, who appear to be strict Muslims, do not approve of her. Looking at her, you can tell she is a modern Uzbek woman - she wears Western style clothing and her head was not covered. And.....she has a job outside the home. Her in-laws would prefer she adopt the more conservative, Islamic Tajik life. For her, living in Tajikistan is a misery and she was returning to Uzbekistan for a break and to see her son whom she had left in the care of her aunt. I can only guess that she left her son behind because if she had brought him over to Tajikistan, her in-laws might have insisted that he stay there and be brought up in their conservative life. When I asked her what her son's name was, she said it and then said it was given to him by his grandfather aka her father in-law. I felt very sad for her. I asked why she and her husband do not live in Uzbekistan and she said that he does not want to live in Uzbekistan. So, understandably, the only way for their marriage to survive is for them to live abroad. They would love to live in the US and are trying to return as students.

As we were chatting an officer appeared at the door. I noticed everyone else handing him their passports and so we did the same. He said something to Pat which she obviously did not understand. The young woman kindly translated for us. Apparently, Pat incorrectly filled in of the date fields and she scratched over the error and wrote the correct date above. He wanted her to fill in a new form. I don't know what the Uzbek woman said to him but he left with Pat's passport and two declaration forms. If there was truly a problem, he would return and he never did.

We continued to wait and wait and wait. Then, the officer appeared again at the door and signaled for Pat to enter the room. Though the group of Tajik women had arrived before us, the officer decided process us first. I was grateful for that. I watched Pat as she emptied her backpack for the customs office to check. At one point, the officer called the young Uzbek woman in to translate. I think there was some question about whether or not Pat had any drugs. I then watch Pat hoist her suitcase up to the table and unlock it. I noticed the officer rummaging through it. I then saw Pat opening up her handbag and having it inspected. All the while this was going on, I was dreading what it would be like for me. I have so much more crap in my backpack and suitcase than Pat has in hers. I knew I would be next and sure enough, I was waved in and directed to another table. Since I had watched Pat go through the process, I knew exactly what to do without instruction. I hoisted up my suitcase and unlocked and unzipped it. I put my backpack on the table as well. Perhaps it was because I did have so much crap in my two bags that the same female customs officer who gave Pat the once over could barely be bothered to lift a finger to check out my stuff. The only thing she looked at was a couple of items inside the zippered compartment of my suitcase. That was it. After that, she handed me my passport which was my signal that I could zip up and go.

Before we left the building, Pat went to get more copies of the declaration form for us. We had decided that filling in the form beforehand is the easiest way to go. She went to the officer's desk and grabbed a few copies off the pile. They were in Uzbek but I told Pat that I had taken a photo of one of the forms I completed earlier so we have something to reference. The office though insisted on getting copies of the English form for us so we stood and waited and watched him go from one office to the next and from one desk to the next trying to find the forms. He even asked some old man to get the forms for us. Pat and I had had enough of being in the place so we just decided to leave the place. Time to get out of Dodge, as the saying goes.

We had to show one last guard our passports before we were free to go! Then, it was on to finding our guide and driver. As we passed by a row of parked trucks, we were met by men asking if we needed soms, taxi, etc. We just kept saying, "No" and shaking our heads. Then, a man approached us. He was our driver! We were relieved to see him! His name is Shevkat or something that sound like that and he would be taking us to Termez. Until I figure out the exact spelling of his name, Iwill simply refer to him as Shevkat.

So, while Shevkat went to get the car, we had to go through one last round of some sort of check. I didn't even question if it was an official check or not. The guy was sitting in a standalone booth and he was typing on a computer keyboard. There was no signage on the booth and the guy was not dressed in any sort of a uniform. But, in this part of the world, I have come to accept the fact that you don't have to be uniformed to be an official. The guy leaned out of the booth and with his hand held out, said, "Passport". So, I handed the passport to him but kept the customs declaration form. A few minutes later, I got it back and then it was Pat's turn.

Just about the time Pat finished up, Shevkat pulled up with the car. Two other men helped with getting our luggage into the trunk. I have no idea why they were doing that as Shevkat was more than able to get our two suitcases into the trunk all by himself. Very strange, I thought.

In any event, it was time to get on the road. Pat got in the back seat and I sat in the front.

It feels good to be back in Uzbekistan.  It somehow feels very familiar! Our roadtrip to Termez now begins!