Tajikistan

Now here’s a different country.  I knew next to nothing about Tajikistan when it got ‘picked out of the hat’ as our next place to visit on our virtual tour of the world. I could perhaps have pointed vaguely to central Asia and told you Tajikistan was somewhere around there but other than that I knew absolutely nothing, not even how to spell it.

It’s been fascinating to spend some time there ‘virtually’, learning a little bit about the people, the history and the culture.  We’ve failed however to meet anyone from Tajikistan, at least as yet.  I remain forever hopeful.

When a new country is chosen for us to visit it leads to not just excitement but also an evening searching the internet for anything to do with the country in question, in particular to see if there is anything local here in Cardiff associated with that country.  In the case of Tajikistan it did lead to one good hit.  It turns out there was, until very recently, a Tajikistan expert here at Cardiff University. Unfortunately we missed Dr Flora Roberts by a matter of weeks as she recently took up a new appointment at a university in Netherlands.  She was however enormously helpful in providing pointers to us for our ‘virtual’ tour of Tajikistan in the form suggestions for reading, film and even a recipe.   We wish Flora all the very best in her new role.

Getting there

No direct flights so the next best option seemed to be via Munich and onwards with an eight hour flight with Somon Air, a private Tajiki airline. We fly into the capital city Dushanbe which means Monday in the local language.  It used to be called Stlinabad until 1961.

Tajikistan borders four countries, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.  It almost borders Pakistan too but not quite.  The Tajiki people are Sunni Muslim of Persian heritage and the country has been called the Iran of the East.  

Not all Tajiki people live in Tajikistan.  In fact more live in Afghanistan and other countries but you know what its like when trying to create countries, you invariably leave out some people in the wrong country.

Meeting someone

I don’t think I have ever met Tajiki person. I tried contacting a local Sunni mosque here in Cardiff but no luck there.  Many Tajiki people do travel to look for work but mainly to Russia. 

Clock – bit of wood

I never did get as far as completing a clock of Tajikistan.  I will it ever there is an opportunity to meet a Tajiki but until then I think I will leave it as a ‘bit of wood’.  It’s a fascinating shape.  It reminded me of a couple of pieces of bunting with an odd bit sticking out of the top.

Food

The most popular dish in Tajikistan appears to be Plov, a one-pot rice dish.  We gave it a go and were impressed.  Having a whole bulb of garlic in the centre of the baked dish was certainly different. 

Drink

Green tea is the national drink, drunk not from cups but from small bowls.  We had some as we bade farewell to our fascinating stay in this country. 

Sport

It’s Friday and the traditional day for playing one of the national sports in Tajikistan i.e. Buz Kashi.  It’s like polo but instead of using a ball they try and get a decapitated goat’s caucus into the opponents goal 🥴 . I think I’ll give that a miss.

Instead I’ll be going to see the Tajiki U20 footballers as they face Lebanon in the Asia Cup qualifiers. The game kicks off in a few hours in the Pamir Stadium in the capital Dushanbe.  I hope there’s a queue for me to join.  I’ve just got time for a plate of Plov (the national rice dish) and a cup of green tea before kickoff.  

I know what you Brits are like – you’re more interested in the what the weather is like.  So for your information it is 30 degrees, a few clouds and light winds.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Tajikistan won the 2022 King’s Cup in Thailand.  They beat Malaysia.  It was 0-0 at full time but Tajikistan won 3-0 on penalties. 

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, you probably already knew and like me were following the game on a dodgy YouTube channel.  Some of the tackles were right vicious.

How many teams took part in this great tournament?  Well, just 4 actually. It’s an annual invitation event held in Thailand.

An what was the crowd at the final?  A whopping 488.  The third place play off attracted over 12,000 but Thailand were playing in that game. The defending champions Curaçao did not participate.

Book

Not an easy country to find literature with English translations. With a bit of help I found The Sands of Oxus: Boyhood Reminiscences of Sadriddin Aini and read the novella: Ahmad the Exorcist. https://worldbooktour.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/tajikistan/

I found it a great short story about evil spirits and mysticism and a father telling his son it was all make believe and not to be worried.  I was amazed it even introduced phosphor luminescence.  Very readable considering its age and that it is a translation.     

Meddling: An OAP in Tajikistan by Stuart Burchell was an intriguing non-fiction book but not one I would necessarily recommend as a good read.  It’s the recollections of a voluntary worker in an agricultural NGO.  It gave me a reasonably good insight into the country, its people and culture. Much of the book however is about the internal politics of the myriad of organisations involved in assisting the agricultural economy of Tajikistan. The frustrations of such work becomes very evident and not a field I would have enjoyed working in.

Sovietstan by Erika Fatland is new and travel writing at its best. I just read the one section on Tajikistan and look forward to borrowing the book again from the library to read about the other Stans when they come out of the hat.

Film

Safe to say that Tajiki films aren’t that easy to find but we did find a copy of Angel of the Right. It was pretty compelling and gave a good insight into rural life in Tajikistan.  A criminal returns to his village to look after his ailing mother and try to redeem himself but isn’t me with open arms by everyone he meets.  It’s said to be based on the fable that everyone had an angel on each shoulder, a good angel and a bad angel.

Highest point

Ismoil Somoni Peak is a big one standing at 7,495m (24,590 ft) and the highest point in the former Soviet Union.  Like the capital its had a number of name changes originally called Stalin Peak and the Communism Peak.  The first ascent is believed to have been in 1933. It’s not a day trip that’s for sure.  Not being a mountaineer myself I find it hard to rate technically.

There’s a few videos on YouTube if you want to do an armchair ascent.  Here’s one or try this one.

Geocache

There are just 31  geocaches in Tajikistan and only three of them are puzzle caches.  I had a go at Ring Ring (GC9P4AH).  Not too tricky to solve I doubt I will ever get to finding the actual geocache but at least I know where it is now!

Railway

A note of optimism greets people researching railways in Tajikistan, a mountainous country where the construction of railways faces engineering challenges as well as the usual economic.  Two separate railway networks exist that are not connected to each other. On my virtual visits to countries I’m usually met with railways that used to be open but are no longer or plans for railways sometime in the distant future if funding ever arrives.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise to hear that trains between Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe and Tashkent have recently returned.

Tajik Railway Train with TE33A loco

Music

Lots of modern female musicians to listen to here it seems, Madina Aknazarova being one.   

Vlogs

A nice insight into life in the country of Tajikistan is available in various vlogs including this one.

Stamps

It surprised me how many stamps from Tajikistan were for sale. I bought a bundle featuring mainly animals of the country with a few historical ones thrown in too. 

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