June 14, 2012

Local tourists from a nearby town seemed surprised to see a visiting Westerner.
The Tajik language is mainly Persian not Turkic like the rest of Central Asia.

While I was "in the neighborhood," I wanted to get at a glimpse of Tajikistan, so I arranged a trip from Tashkent down to Tajikistan's northern province and its second largest city Khojand (aka "Khujand," pop. 150,000).

Tourists who venture into Tajikistan typically trek into its high mountains since the country lacks glimmering Silk Road cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand, although those two cities are arguably more Tajik than Uzbek. But instead of those jewels, Stalin put Khojand (which is as much or more Uzbek as Tajik) into the Tajikstan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Tajiks think they were shortchanged but in a region where, century after century, waves of various invaders often destroyed cities, murdered tens of thousands, and imposed new regimes, they seemed resigned to these borders.

After the usual paperwork and multiple steps of an Uzbekistan border crossing, followed by the effortless entry into Tajikistan, I was in my fifth 'Stan.  Khojand proved to be a pleasant town with a handsome little museum, a big market, the usual ancient eroded city wall, a few grand monuments, and a wide blue river (others rivers in Central Asia had been very brown), flanked by mountains on two sides.

Photos of this Central Asian "president for life" seemed more prominent
than in Uzbekistan but not quite as common as in Turkmenistan.

Khojand's central food market

The airplane serves as some sort of playhouse in the park for local children.

Past the city's south side is a long wall of mountains that hint at
the far higher elevations of the Pamirs in the east of Tajikistan.
One remnant of the old city wall is visible above the trees here.

Like so many places in Central Asia, folks are proud that Alexander the Great marched through this very place. But Khojand does gets some extra credit because not only did he found a city here, he later married a Tajik girl, Roxane.