Sunday, October 27, 2019

Panjakent, Tajikistan

After breakfast it was into the old Russian car driven by a little old man for our journey to the border – a trip of less than an hour.  


The border crossing was again so easy, with a scan of the bags, show the passports, and we were out of Uzbekistan. A short walk across paved no-man’s land and the same process plus presenting a copy of our e-Visa, and it was welcome to Tajikistan.  



Past the gates we met a taxi driver who helped us change money and quoted a decent price to the nearby town of Panjakent.  We said we just wanted to buy a SIM card from the porta-cabin office at the border.  Just buying a sim took 40 long minutes to do.  Issuing a sim to foreigners is relatively new in Tajikistan, but should it really have taken this long? 

While this was happening we talked more to Rohan the taxi driver, and we agreed on a plan to drive to 7 Lakes, Iskanderkul and on to Dushanbe. Tajikistan logistics were planned in a booth beside the border, that was a good use of our waiting time. 

Arriving at our hotel in Panjakent the 1st thing the receptionist said was “we need to cancel your website booking”.  OK, the 2nd booking change today, as our lady in Samarkand also wanted to cancel our booking and both gave us discounts.  They were obviously avoiding paying commissions...but this one suited us perfectly because we had booked for 2 nights and with our new driving plan we only wanted to stay one... so no cancellation fee for us.  

While Panjakent is only 100km or so from Samarkand, it had a different feel to it than anywhere we had been in Uzbekistan.  This is also a little unusual as high percentages of the people in Uzbekistan are ethnically Tajik.  Due to political reasons the Panjakent border had been closed for many years and only in late 2018 had it reopened following the death of the old Uzbek president. 

Anyway, Panjakent had a small city feel.  People wanted to say hello ...all. the. time.  They were all keen to try out their English.  We saw a few tourists in town, but not high numbers. 

We eventually found a great restaurant for lunch after the recommended 1st options in the Lonely Planet wasn’t open.  The cafe opposite the Rudakai museum was a very good alternative.  They had no English, we had no Tajik, but we managed to get bread and beers which were quickly followed by meat skewers- about $4 total.  It turned out to the a quite busy restaurant, but didn’t look it because everyone was in private dining rooms.  They edged the courtyard and everyone else was in those, while we sat out int covered courtyard. 

Tummys full, we walked across to the museum where we were made to put plastic shoe covers over our sandals, to walk on the carpet. The locals just took off their shoes, which we would have done if we had realised that was an option.  IT was a low key museum, but they had made an effort to include English description on displays, and it was a nice collection of local items.  


Educated we then walked down to the other end of town to visit the market, which was quite large and still bustling at mid-afternoon.  At one point, in the potato aisle, we were asked where we were from and then New Zealand was shouted up and down the line.  One group were very keen to have their picture taken with Andrew.

After the market we navigated our way out of town and up a hill to look at the nearby archeological ruins.  It was a hot and dusty walk, and we decided not to go the full distance and instead just enjoyed the views from the hills we had climbed.  

In the evening we found the Cafe Safina, not where google said it was, but a little further up the street on the opposite side.  A couple of guys wanted us to come and sit with them but we politely declined.  It would have long meal as we couldn’t communicate and they were quite well fueled on their alcoholic drinks – but we had some friendly banter across the courtyard during the meal.  At the end we made farewells to them and Andrew spent a few minutes admiring the large marrows/pumpkins they had bought in town.  And the meal was good, the place was popular with a lot of locals going into the inside dining room.


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