Dushanbe is the capital and largest city in Tajikistan. Originally, this city was only a small village made famous by its Monday Market that has been in operation since the late 17th century. Afterall, the name, Dushanbe, is derived from the Tajik word for Monday. Following the Red Army’s victory in Central Asia, the village was upgraded to a town in 1925 and made the capital of the newly created Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Tadjik ASSR). After the transformation of the Tajik ASSR to the Tadjik Soviet Socialist Republic (Tajik SSR) in 1929, Dushanbe was renamed Stalinabad, after Joseph Stalin. As part of Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization initiative, the city was renamed, Dushanbe, in 1961. The Soviets transformed the area into a centre of cotton and silk production and relocated tens of thousands of people to the city from around the Soviet Union. Tajikistan was established as an independent state in 1991. In 1992 -1997 the city was badly damaged as a result of the Civil War in Tajikistan that started shortly after its independence. However, during the past decade, the city has been resurrected and is now more prosperous and beautiful than ever.
How to get there
Out of all the Central Asian republics, Tajikistan is perhaps the most inaccessible. Whereas there are direct flights to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan from the UK, there are no direct flights to Tajikistan from the UK. However, there are several ways to travel from the UK to Tajikistan by air. Air Baltic has two flights per week, via Riga, on Monday and Friday. Turkish Airlines operates two flights per week, via Istanbul, on Wednesday and Sunday. There are daily flights from Moscow operated by Tajik Air. Another possibility is to travel via Almaty where you can catch flights to Dushanbe, again operated by Tajik Air. The duration of the flight from London is approximately 8 hours. You can search for the cheapest flights on the search engines like Kayak.co.uk or Skyscanner.net where return fares start from just £378 p/p if you book well in advance. Dushanbe Airport is 2 km south of the city. Buses and trains run to the city centre throughout the day (journey time – 20 minutes). Taxis are also available (journey time- 5 minutes).
Where to stay
High End – Hyatt Regency Dushanbe 5* (Prospekt Ismoili Somoni 26/1) – located in the city centre within walking distance of major parliament and government offices. It is the premier choice for business or leisure accommodation. The hotel offers 202 luxury rooms and suites. Rooms have tea and coffee making facilities, robes and hairdryers, high speed internet access, minibar facilities, marble bath and many other luxuries. Luxury rooms start from £140 per night. For more details visit www.dushanbe.regency.hyatt.com
Mid range – Mercury Hotel 3* (9, Lev Tolstoy str) – located in the city centre on a quiet street, 15 min drive from the airport and a 5 minute walk to the Botanical Gardens. All rooms have air-conditioning/heating, sound proof windows, minibar, fridge and internet connection. Standard double rooms start from £70 per night. For more details visit http://www.hotel-mercury.tj
Budget – Sino Hotel 2* (75-26 Shevchenko str) – located in the quiet part of the city. Hotel offers 12 elegant guest rooms. All rooms are equipped with hair dryers, bathrobes, slippers, cosmetic sets, fridge, satellite TV, internet connection and air-conditioning. Standard double rooms start from £50 per night. For more details visit: http://www.sinohotel.tj
Where to eat
Traditional Tajik meals start with sweet dishes such as Halwa and tea and then progress to soups and meat before finishing with plov. National specialities are: plov, shashlyk (skewered chunks of mutton grilled over charcoal), manty (large meat filled noodle sacks), chiburekki (deep fried dough cakes), shorpur (meat and vegetable soup), laghman (noodles). There are no restaurants operating late in the evenings, except for the one in the Hotel Oktyabrskaya, which shuts at 22.00. Restaurant Elite located in Chapaev street offers local Tajik and European food. This is probably the most expensive restaurant in Dushanbe. Bar-Restaurant Polonaise is a small but very well known restaurant in Bohtar Street. This restaurant is quite popular among the locals as well as tourists. Cuisine includes both Tajik and European dishes. Restaurant Continent is situated on Buhoro Street. It serves some of the best continental dishes. The menu includes popular Tajik dishes. The bar serves a number of Moldovan, Bulgarian, French and Italian wines. Bar Manhattan is an excellent bar located on Shotemur Street. The collection of drinks is large and the food is delicious.
What to see
The main points of interest in Dushanbe are on the Prospect Rudaki: the principal mosque, a synagogue that dates back to the late 19th century, a Russian church and a columned opera house. Other features in the city include the Tajikistan Unified Museum and the Ethnographic Museum. 16km west of Dushanbe, there is the Hissar Fort. This site was built between the 16th-19th centuries and contains a ruined citadel, two madrassahs, a caravanserai and mausoleum. You can get there using a shared taxi service from the market for a few dollars. Further west, at Pendjikent on the Uzbek border, there are the remains of a Sogdian fort that are being excavated. To the south of Pendjikent there are the Muragazor Lakes, a system of seven lakes whose colours change as the light alters. The main highlight for travellers along the Silk Road in Tajikistan is its stunning natural scenery set against the Pamir and Fan mountains. Trekking trips are best arranged from Samarkand, but there are a number of reliable tourist agencies in Dushanbe. Contact details can often be found at your hotel.
The official currency is the Somoni (TJS), which comes in a variety of notes and coins. The preferred hard currency is the US Dollar. All bills are normally settled in cash and tourists must pay in hard currency for accommodation in hotels, although these are normally included in the price of organised tours. International banking services are not available. All money should be changed at the official bureaux de change and the receipts should be kept. Credit/Debit cards are not accepted. Traveller’s Cheques have a limited acceptance. Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1700. Exchange rate indicators (these rates are a guide only and are subject to change):
1 GBP – 6.63 TJS
1 USD – 4.46 TJS
1 EUR – 5.53 TJS
UK citizens require a visa to travel to Tajikistan and are no longer able to obtain Tajik visas on arrival at Dushanbe Airport. They must apply at an embassy in person. An invitation is no longer necessary to apply for a tourist visas. Special visas must be obtained by those wishing to visit the Gorno-Babakhshan region (the Pamir Mountains). Some other areas, such as the Nurek Hydroelectric Power Station or Lake Zorkul also require special permission to visit. It is no longer necessary for tourists staying more than 30 days to register with the authorities within 72 hours of arrival. An HIV test is required by all foreigners planning to stay longer than 90 days. Foreign tests may be acceptable. The cost of a visa depends on the type of visa and duration of stay: up to 14 days: single £60, double £65, multiple £70. Please visit the website of the Tajikistan Embassy in London for further information on visa requirements: http://www.tajembassy.org.uk