Trekking Tajikistan

Adventure travelers enjoy a great trek, and will go to the ends of the Earth, sometimes quite literally, to find one. The more remote, desolate, and free from other people, the better. Over the past few years, some of the classic treks of the world have become increasingly crowded, which is why some of the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have become hot spots for adventure travelers looking to discover new places to hike.

Tajikistan is a perfect example of this. The former Soviet satellite, which borders Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, has a landscape that is dominated by mountains, and remains mostly cut off from the modern world. In fact more than 50% of the country sits above 10,000 feet in altitude, which gives you an indication of the terrain that visitors can expect when they visit the country.

Visit Tajikistan is exactly what travel writer Tiffany Kary did for an article that she wrote on the experience. The author found that once she left Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, her only options for finding a place to stay, were either in the home of locals or her own tent. Just to get out to those regions, trekkers will need letters of invitation and special permits allowing them to travel the countryside, but Kary promises it is all worth it, thanks to the nearly unspoiled scenery and unique cultural attractions that mix Buddhism, Islam, and even Zoroastrianism.

Exploring Tajikistan is a rather inexpensive endeavor, at least once you get there. A few hundred dollars will get you a multi-day trek that includes meals and lodging. Best of all, you’re unlikely to come across any other tourists the entire time.

Dining in Dushanbe: Delhi Darbar

I’ve saved one of the best for last my foodie friends. After dining at Delhi Darbar about six times during my stay in Tajikistan I discovered one absolutely fantastic thing about the place and that one thing is this: there isn’t a single bad dish on the menu. Anything you order is guaranteed to be savory, scrumptious and gratifying. While I enjoyed sampling the local flavor and having a Tajik dinner or two, the traditional foods were just filled with too much oil. On the flipside the Indian fare felt healthier and can we say just about zero grease is used in preparation. Astonishing!

My favorite item of all was the vegetarian thali (right). Included in the meal is a spicy cauliflower, lentils, rice, a cole slaw with dill, yoghurt, and a sugary doughy dessert in syrup. Other good selections include the chicken tikka, lemon rice with garlic naan. If you’re looking for something sweet to sip try the pineapple lassi. Seriously, everything is good.

Outside the gateway to Indo-Fusion doesn’t look like much, but indoors it’s well lit with India inspired wall murals and Bollywood and Uzbek humming from the television above the buffet. The staff is all nice and always seem to wear very welcoming smiles.

Located at Rudaki 88 in Dushanbe, the chain also has locations in Khujand as well as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Volunteer Vacation Day Seven: Last Day of Building

This was it – the end of the Global Village road. The final day of building had reached. When we pulled up that morning in the van we were greeted by several smiling Tajik children who extended their tiny hands for the shaking. As we walked away from our new friends to the house we saw a huge dump truck filled with dirt blocking our way. As you might guess now this dirt was dumped right in front of the gate. Ignited, we most definitely were, but also curious as to why the dirt couldn’t have shown up two days prior? No matter, we had work! Lots of it! We would go out with a volunteer bang on our last day building!

The mound of dirt was to be shoveled, placed in buckets and moved to the front porch area of the house. At the the time there was clutter filling the hole and once the clutter was removed we started on the task. I did some parts of the bucket line, but also got deeply engrossed with shoveling the dirt. Shoveling is not my strong suit. I have about zero upper body strength, so it takes a lot to really dig into the dirt, yet I was determined. As fast as the dirt had appeared, I wanted it to vanish. I started shoveling like a mad woman, quicker and quicker. Moving dirt wasn’t the only thing happening on this last day either. One volunteer was needed to make a cement paste for brick lying and there were two working on laying bricks in the window frame. I was seriously curious why none of this was thought of the first two days? It could have been they were waiting on materials, but everything we needed with the exception of the dirt appeared to have been there all along.

I wasn’t sure whether we would finish the work in half day’s time, but we did so with flying colors and as a special treat the women of the household made Kurutob! Now one of the other volunteers and me had been searching for this uniquely Dushanbe dish which is mentioned in the Lonely Plant guide in some restaurant we were never able to locate so we were thrilled the women decided to make it for us! I was so excited I’d asked if I could photograph this special occasion and gladly they let me snap away. After my photo session they rushed the large serving down to the worksite table were everyone was waiting to sample the dish. Overall, I believe it is safe to say all enjoyed the dish and I myself especially loved it!

But as I mentioned earlier this was it – the end of the Global Village road. We would return later only to provide the homeowner with gifts and say our final farewell in cleaner attire, but our manual labor was a wrap. Was our mission accomplished? Yes and no. Most of us always believe we can do more, that everyone can do more to help not just in the city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, but in communities all over the world where there is a need for decent housing. For Dushanbe this was the first time a Global Village team had worked in the city and there is still a lot to learn for the affliiate and most certainly for any future volunteer who decides to embark on over to this incredible country.

Dining in Dushanbe: Kand

Kand wouldn’t be the first place I’d recommend if you’re hoping to dine the way most Tajiks do. While the quiet open outdoor dining is fabulous for couples looking to be left alone however, groups seeking cultural experiences will be disappointed. We ate at Kand on two occasions and both times it felt as if we were the only party eating at their establishment. Also regarding the restaurant environment there appeared be some renovations to the stage where I’m told performances (ballet and such) normally take place. We weren’t lucky enough to see any ballet, but there was a man on a keyboard accompanied by a singer one night.

Now the food is great IMO. I had trout the first time and a beef kebab the second and both were seasoned and flavored for perfection. Service was okay. I actually can’t recall what the wait staff was like. There was little personality, but considering how appetizing the meals were I can let lack of personality slide. Great place to go to eat and get out, but don’t look for an overly live atmosphere.

Prices range from 5TJS-35TJS.

Volunteer Vacation Day Six: Every Hand on a Bucket

Sometime early in the trip I made the rule: Every hand on a bucket. If you were one of the players in one of the many bucket lines this was important. Again, the task could have easily been a huge snore, but with all hands and eyes watching a bucket no one should have been completely bored with the bucket line duties. Everyone was to be included. Most of the time this was for me as I hated it when an empty bucket somehow cruised passed me while I was trying to pass a freshly filled bucket. For our second day on the worksite our construction supervisor managed to get it together and give us some real work to do for the day. Okay, so it mostly bucket detail again, but this time there was a lot of mud to transfer.

The mud was to head in two directions. One was behind the house on the back outer wall where there was a lot of spreading to be done and the construction worker back there was very helpful and friendly. The second destination was a room in the front of the house. The entire interior with the exception of the ceiling was to be covered in mud and the construction worker in this room was the complete opposite. All of the volunteers thought of him as some sort of madman. Grunting, slopping mud everywhere, and working quite furiously. No one was certain why this particular Tajik gentleman acted in such manner. We had our guesses though. Too many hands in his pot? Too many women on the worksite? Maybe he just had a few loose screws? The three volunteers that went in to work with him came out a mess. Mud on the hands, face, legs, lips, hair, you name it and mud was there. It was a sight to be seen.

In terms of highlights on day six that was really it. The workload was far too light for us at this site, but we continued wearing smiles and doing what was asked of us. Tomorrow would be the last day of building and a half day. I was a bit sad that there hadn’t been more hard work days and a little relieved. I had to remember the first two were on the back-breaking side.