One of the perks of the Eurasian Regional Language Program are the frequent excursions that take place during the weekends. I recently had my last and longest excursion of this summer. Together with the other ERLP students in Dushanbe, we went on a three-day trip to Khujand, Tajikistan’s northern capital and second-largest city. Although I had spent time in Tajikistan before and traveled extensively throughout the country’s south, I had never made it to Khujand. The five-hour drive along meandering mountain passes and through long tunnels had always seemed a bit daunting, so I was all the more happy to go on a trip there with my fellow students. Sitting comfortably in the back of an SUV, I enjoyed the view and the selection of Tajik music that our driver was playing on the car’s loudspeakers. As you exit the mountain range to the north of Dushanbe, the landscape starts to change: instead of snow-capped peaks, you see hills on the horizon, and farmlands start to appear to the left and right of the road. Khujand is considered the gate to the Fergana Valley, Central Asia’s most fertile region. Its favorable geographical location on the Syr Darya river at the far west of the valley amid two mountain ranges led to its settlement already more than 2,500 years ago, making Khujand one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and an important stop along the ancient Silk Road.
Our excursion started at the Historical Museum of Sughd Region, where artifacts from ancient Sodgiana are displayed alongside exhibits from the Soviet era, when the city bore the name Leninabad. The Soviet architectural legacy is still visible across the Khujand, although the Lenin statue (Central Asia’s largest) was moved from its central location to a more remote one in the Victory Park. Monuments predating the Soviet Union, such as the Khujand Fortress and the Sheikh Muslihiddin Mausoleum bear witness to the city’s long history, and Khujand is home to the impressive Panjshanbe Bazar, one of Central Asia’s biggest covered markets. In Tajikistan, Khujand also has the reputation of having among the best restaurants in the country. Culinary experiences were certainly a highlight of our excursion, from sizzling kabobs to – rather unexpectedly – American-style donuts, served by a waiter speaking flawless English.
About ten miles to the east of Khujand lies the Kayrakum Reservoir, an artificial lake on the Syr Darya river that is a popular destination for vacationers and locals trying to escape the summer heat. With daytime temperatures approaching 100F, we spent the better part of day two at a resort on its shore. On our way back to Dushanbe, we stopped in Istaravshan, another ancient city located on the foothills of the Turkistan mountain range that is famous for its bladesmiths and a gigantic bust of Lenin overlooking an artificial lake to the south of the city. During the long drive home we made several stops along the road to buy honey, qurut (dried yoghurt balls), and fresh melons straight from the field. Exhausted but happy, we arrived in Dushanbe at sunset.
By: Alexander Maier
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program, Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Term: Summer 2019