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Archive for the ‘Photo Introduction’ Category

The buzkashi riders post (“a character study of the chapandaz”) may happen later today, but it may have to wait for the weekend.  In the meantime, and since I’ll be laying the hash trail with Fla5her, No-Name Susannah, and Shag Hooker on Saturday morning (DH3 Run № 281), I wanted to share a view of the hilly countryside surrounding Dushanbe as seen from a trail we set a couple of weeks ago.

Looking to the east of Dushanbe towards Varzob

This is a very typical Tajik semi-rural scene, with the unterraced hillside fields, boxy houses, and towering mountains in the background.  Are you glad I share these things with you?  How else would you all be able to enjoy an early spring landscape in Tajikistan?

Thanks to the Dushanbe hash visitor Bang her & hash who took this photo at the hash flash overlook.  I swiped this from her Facebook page!

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I have one more full-length buzkashi-in-Gharm post waiting to be written, but probably not today.  So, in the meantime, a photo of me with one of the buzkashi riders, called a chapandaz.

Culture clash much?

Yes, I wore an orange baseball cap to buzkashi.  I was going to say that it made sense at the time, but no, it never made much sense.  Of course, the chapandaz is wearing a plastic bag over his tuppi hat, so there was bad haberdashery all around.

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Although this is not what Dionne Warwick had in mind, I don’t think.  Tajik kids are weirdly photogenic, especially when they refuse to smile.  Allow me to present some of the children of Gharm as seen during my trip up there for buzkashi.  If I was even more pretentious than usual, I’d call this “A Photoessay of Gharmese Youth”.

Such a look of consternation from such a young child

Sporting the style of the typical Tajik male

Kids at buzkashi, learning and growing

Wishing they could join us on the flatbed trucks to watch the match

There's a smile! An impish one at that.

Holding hands, holding their breath

Okay, so this is A.Banana and not a Tajik child (with Bakhtiyor our driver in the background), but we'll throw it in anyway.

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When Tajikistan became independent in 1991, it had no history as a nation state.  Before being overrun by the Tsar’s armies in the nineteenth century, the area that now comprises Tajikistan belonged to a variety of emirates and principalities.  Most prominently, the Emirate of Bukhara vied for control of the region with the King of Afghanistan and the Khan of Kokand.  Of course, none of those places were based in the current territory of Tajikistan, whose crazy-quilt borders, along with those of the neighboring states, were drawn to deliberately destabilize Central Asia by Stalin in the 1920’s.  Along with the jigsaw shape of the country, Stalin’s machinations insured that Tajikistan and the Tajiks therein had no common heritage or heroes upon its independence, as the historic seats of Tajik power and culture were outside of the new nation’s borders.  Enter Ismoil Somoni:

The Ismoil Somoni statute in downtown Dushanbe

The Ismoil Somoni statute in downtown Dushanbe

Ismoil Somoni was an emir who unified a goodly chunk of Central Asia around 900 A.D., and was the first local ruler in the region to be de facto independent of the Arab caliphate, in this case from the Abbasids in Baghdad. Upon Tajikistan’s independence, while groping for a unifying figure, the Tajik leadership seized upon Somoni. Somoni was refashioned by the Tajik political class, changing from an obscure leader from a millennium ago, known mainly by scholars, to the proud ruler of a proto-Tajikistan, free from outside control. Part of this nationalistic transformation of Somoni included the construction of the enormous Somoni statue in downtown Dushanbe.

Close up of the Somoni statute, notice the symbols of independent Tajikistan held by the old ruler

Close up of the Somoni statute, notice the symbols of independent Tajikistan held by the old ruler

According to one journalist,

The Somoni monument, which cost $20m, was inaugurated in 1999, when the state budget was $250m. Symbols are highly valued in central Asia, and the cult of this long-lost dynasty is taken seriously in Tajikistan and beyond.

Signs of Somoni are everywhere in Tajikistan, as the national currency is named after him and he appears on its largest bill, the 100 somoni denomination (which is worth about $23).  One of Dushanbe’s main streets, and the one on which the U.S. Embassy is located, is now Avenue Ismoil Somoni.  Restaurants, shops, you name it, are now called Somoni.  Even my credit card from Orienbank features the iconic Somoni statute.

The Visa Classic from Orienbank

The Visa Classic from Orienbank

Has all this nation building by creating a national mythology worked?  That’s hard for me to gauge not speaking the language and being so new to the country.  Maybe to an extent it has worked, the country has been relatively peaceful for over a decade.  But when I see Lenin statues throughout the countryside and hear taxi drivers wax nostalgia for Soviet times, I wonder.

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Lower Rudaki Avenue on a beautiful June day

Lower Rudaki Avenue on a beautiful June day

One of the beautiful June days we had here in Dushanbe, looking to the north on Rudaki with my back to Rudaki Park.  This is about halfway in between the Hotel Tojikiston (sometimes the name of the country in transliterated from Tajik Cyrillic with an “o” rather than an “a”) and the Ismoil Somoni statue.  I have some decent Somoni statue pix on my hard drive, so I’ll share one of those soon.

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This was taken by my predecessor in Dushanbe, so there’s not as much snow on the mountains now as there was then, but, you get the idea.

The view out of my office window

The view out of my office window

Pretty sweet, huh?

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This reminds me of where 95 goes from Attleboro into Pawtucket:

Tajik road along the border

Tajik road along the border

Riiiight.

So is everyone getting the idea that Tajikistan has some pretty impressive mountain scenery?  Thanks to Sophie who suggested in a comment elsewhere on here that I check out the gallery on the website for the Roof of the World Rally, which I did and on which I found this cool photo.

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The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

I’ve always wondered about the “sister cities” phenomena.  Why does it exist?  What does it do?  What is the point?

I supposed I could’ve looked at Wikipedia long ago and gotten all the answers, but it wasn’t that important.  It wasn’t an itch that I particular needed to scratch.

When I started looking into what Tajik information and resources were on the web, however, I kept coming back to the Boulder-Dushanbe sister city connection.  I may be that the Boulder-Dushanbe link pops up a lot because there is a dearth of Tajik-related websites in English, so if you’re searching for “Tajikistan” or “Dushanbe” then you’re bound to run across that sister city connection sooner or later.  According to the website, the connection is a real one that dates back to the Cold War and 1982, but the interaction between the cities has grown since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

For a long time the most visible manifestion of the unexpected Boulder-Dushanbe connection was the traditional Tajik teahouse (or choihona) in Boulder that was a gift from the City of Dushanbe in 1998.  Recently, Boulder’s return gift to Dushanbe was completed: a full-service cybercafe in Dushanbe.

At least I know I’ll be able to check Sox scores somewhere when I’m over there.  More than that, it’s heartening to know that some Americans somewhere know something about Dushanbe and Tajikistan.  It’s an obscure place to go off to, but in this great, big, diverse country of ours, there is something for everyone, and it seems that Dushanbe is that thing for at least some folks in Boulder.  And maybe that’s the point of sister cities: to connect with people from somewhere very different.

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One part of Tajikistan I definitely want to explore at some point in the next year is the Pamirs.  Those are the mountains that span almost the whole of eastern Tajikistan along its borders with Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan.  The old Persians called the Pamirs “the roof of the world,” and they are stunning and stark.  The cyclists’ blogs I highlighted before all have amazing shots of the mountains (particularly on A Long Ride Home), as does Tajik.info, which is a web gallery of Tajikistan photos.  Here’s a few samples of the Pamirs from Tajik.info:

A public park in Khorog on the edge of the Pamirs, which are in the background

A public park in Khorog on the edge of the Pamirs, which are in the background

The Pamirs from the air

The Pamirs from the air

There’s lots more spectacular photography from Mikhail Romanyuk on Tajik.info and you should definitely check it out.

Edited on 2 April 2010 to remove dead photo link and resize Pamirs mountain photo to fit the column width.

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Apparently, lots of people like cycling through Tajikistan, or at least it seems that way because I’ve run across a bunch of websites dedicated to cyclists’ trips across the country.  First I read about the guy who biked from Japan to England over the course of three years, now I’ve found the Barneses.  Tim Barnes took the photo below after arriving in Dushanbe in 2006.  He and his wife ended up cycling 3,500 km across Central Asia that summer.

That’s Rudaki Avenue, and it’s my understanding that it is the main street through the center of the capital, flanked on either side by government buildings, embassies, and monuments.  It used to be called Lenin Street, natch, and was renamed after independence for the ninth-century Persian poet Rudaki.  He’s widely regarded to be one of the most influential and beautiful poets in Central Asian history.  There’s a lot of his poetry in translation available on the web, and below is an excerpt from a poem of his talking about the Oxus River, which flows through Tajikistan and is now called the Amu Darya:

The sands of Oxus, toilsome though they be,
Beneath my feet were soft as silk to me.
Glad at the friend’s return, the Oxus deep
Up to our girths in laughing waves shall leap.

Not sure that the over wide Soviet road populated by brokedown Ladas and flash Land Cruisers does the guy justice.

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