To Khujand at Last!
After a couple of brief days back in Dushanbe, it was finally time for me to travel to my final destination: Khujand. When this whole thing started, I thought I would be in Dushanbe for two weeks before taking my place as a respectable working man in Tajikistan’s second-largest city. Two weeks turned into a month and a half of vagabond-hood, but that’s been totally ok with me. I got extra language lessons and a couple of weeks in Khorog out of the deal so it’s all good.
So last Tuesday my friend Viraf (who had research contacts to make in Khujand) and I made our way to the edge of Dushanbe, boarded the back seat of an SUV which we shared with 5 other people and headed North.
The road to Khujand is actually quite good by Tajikistan standards, which means that it’s paved until you get to the mountains. When you get to the mountains you get two choices: the Tunnel of Death and the Pass of Terror (as they are dubbed by the ex-pats here). In former times the only option was the Pass of Terror, but thanks to a project begun by the Iranians and finished by the Chinese, the Tunnel of Death offers a quicker, but darker, danker, wetter, and funnier-smelling alternative. So naturally we took the Tunnel. This time of year there is actually little chance of Death, though once you pass the Tunnel and follow the winding road through the mountains pictured above you may experience some Terror if you happen to look down while your driver veers close to the edge of the dirt road. But no worries. Compared to the road through the Pamirs, it’s peanuts.
After the mountains, the view opens up into the broad expanse of Sugd Province, Tajikistan’s little slice of the valuable Ferghana Valley, where 2/3 of the country’s GDP is produced. Khujand itself is the capital of the region. Formerly named Leninobod, it boasts the largest remaining Lenin statue in Central Asia, a boast made possible by attrition, since the others have been torn down. Here a sheep hustles to catch up with the flock, unconcerned by the stern visage of Comrade Lenin behind it.
Notice the sheep’s enormous rump. That is the source of a serious hunk of fat which any self-respecting osh-maker (oshpaz) will toss into the mix for a good shot of concentrated animal protein.
Khujand also has the biggest bazaar in Tajikistan, the Panjshanbe (Thursday) Bazaar. It’s a crazy place to shop. You can get nearly everything, but you have to find it first.
I have settled in to a homestay with a welcoming family in a neighborhood called Pulchikur, which is known for producing most of the rock candy and ice cream for Khujand. My host father makes a traditional rock candy called Navot:
Here we are in front of the family home. It’s a really nice place. I am glad to have finally settled in. More about my work and life later.