I would imagine that it’s rare to find Dushanbe, Tajikistan on most folks bucket list of travel destinations. However, if you’ve ever wanted to travel the famous Silk Road route or explore the unspoiled beauty of the Pamir Mountain Range then you may just find Dushanbe on your itinerary. You’re lucky for it, too. Dushanbe, albeit not a bustling metropolis, has some great places to visit and a cuisine worth exploring. Let me show you…
Experience local flavors…
I’ve written this article from my experience in Tajikistan’s small capital city so that fellow travelers will have a bit of local knowledge of things to see and great places to eat. This is not a one-stop guide for all that Dushanbe has to offer. This “guide” to Dushanbe is meant to give you some of the highlights of the city so that you have an enjoyable experience during your limited time there.
That being said, if you’re living in Dushanbe for any reason you might still be interested in the places I recommend to eat–they are good. I’m confident you’ll enjoy them if you haven’t already.
But let’s work up an appetite and see a few things first!
Things to See in Dushanbe!
#1: The Mekhrgon (Green Market/Bazaar)
Looks truly can be deceiving. From the outside, the new Green Market building looks like a train station. In front of the entrance are several vendors selling their goods in the open.
Fun fact: Dushanbe gets its name from “Dushanbe Bozor” literally translated from the Tajik Language “Monday Market”! What was once a small village with a popular market is now a capital city.
Here you can view butchers hacking away cuts of meat with axes on large wooden chopping blocks and stands selling huge bags of veggies. Onions seem to be VERY popular. It’s a bit chaotic and you’re left wondering what it’s going to look like once you get inside the building.
It’s not what you’d expect.
It’s a bit strange to walk in and find massive decorated columns, chandeliers, and modern escalators leading to the various floors. It is as you would imagine if a farmers market took over a high end shopping mall. And that’s just what happened.
At one time this building was Dushanbe’s swankiest shopping mall. But due to an economic collapse it was repurposed to provide local farmers a place to set up vendor stalls and sell their goods.
For any foodie this market is a real treat. It’s a sneak peak at the dinner table of your average Tajik family. Spices, sausages, nuts, fruits (fresh and dried), cheeses, breads, and just about anything else you can imagine can be found and purchased here. The vendors are also very friendly, and delighted to welcome visitors (especially if shopping is on your mind).
If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to visit the second floor and let the friendly woman with the large metal canisters of various fresh honey give you a sampling of her offerings! You’ll be glad you did.
This market is a must see place to visit and the below Google Map will help you get there!
#2: Rudaki Park
The easiest and most efficient way to experience Dushanbe’s most significant monuments is to take a leisurely stroll through Rudaki Park. The park is densely packed with statues and monuments dedicated to Tajikistan’s rich history.
A historical badass…
At the front of the park you’ll find the monument dedicated to Amir Ismail Samani. Born in the year 849, he’s known in Tajikistan as a historical badass. In fact, the Somoni currency of Tajikistan is named after him.
Behind the statue and to the left is a large map of the kingdom that Tajikistan once belonged to including the famous Silk Road routes.
Further left is Tajikistan’s National Library. Newly built in 2011, this 45,000 square meter building houses over 3 million books. It is the largest library in Central Asia. But if books aren’t your thing, keep strolling through the park.
Behind the Amir Ismail Samani monument to the right is a small rose garden which will lead you to the Statue of Rudaki, the park’s namesake.
The “Adam of Poets”…
Born in the year 858, Rudaki would have been considered a Renaissance man had he not been born over 400 years before the beginning of the Renaissance period. He is recognized as being the first person to combine different roles that were at the time completely unique vocations in the 9th century royal court: musician, poet and declaimer/reciter, and copyist. He did them all.
Rudaki is also known as the “Adam of Poets” as he is considered the founder of classical Persian literature with over 1.3 million verses attributed to him.
Continuing through the park, at the back is a very large and proud Stele crowned with the symbol of Tajikistan. Towering above everything around, it’s a testament to the pride that the people of Tajikistan feel for their country.
If still have any doubt about how serious Tajikistan feels about broadcasting their sense of national pride, take a look to the right where you’ll witness a billowing Tajikistan flag from a flag pole 163 meters high. It is the second tallest flagpole in the world (Jeddah holds the record). To give you an idea of how big it is, the national flag it flies is 30 m × 60 m (98 ft × 197 ft) and weighs a whopping 700 kilograms (1,540 pounds)!
The “White House”…
At the back of the Rudaki Park to the right is the official residence of the President of Tajikistan, the Palace of Nations. Because of its resident it’s also known as the “White House”. It’s surrounded by tall fences so don’t expect any tours. However, the beautiful rose gardens nearby in the park are certainly worth exploring.
#3: Navruz Palace
Here is an example of “building big or going home”. When construction began of the Navruz Palace or Kokhi Navruz it was meant to be a “tea room” but it turned out to be a palace. The palace contains 12 unusual halls, each of which are built in a unique style. The complex has an art room, a banquet hall, a lounge room with carved stone trim, a plaster room decorated with mirrors, and two VIP rooms. For 25 Somoni you can take a tour of the palace.
But the grounds and gardens outside of the palace are free to explore and worth visiting for its lush gardens and ornately decorated rotund art.
#4: Hit the road!
As far as capitals go, Dushanbe is pretty small. What’s great about that is that it’s easy to get away and see some amazing landscapes. If your plan is to see the Pamir Mountain Range you’ll certainly get your fill. But any direction you take to hit the road you’re certain to view some amazing natural beauty. We took a road trip for an overland crossing to Samarkand, Uzbekistan (article to be written!).
The scenery changes quickly and dramatically once you leave the Dushanbe. As you climb your way through fertile green valleys, you’ll witness amazing snowcapped peaks, tiny mud brick villages, and rushing rivers.
You’ll also experience a different kind of traffic. It’s not uncommon to turn a corner and see a large flock of sheep crowding the entire highway.
The “Tunnel of Death”
Located 80 km from Dushanbe, the 5,040 meter (3.13 mile) Anzob Tunnel connects Dushanbe to Tajikistan’s second largest city, Khujand. The tunnel was meant to shave off 4 hours of commute time, save drivers from having to pass through Uzbekistan (which had a habit of impeding traveler access due to diplomatic rows with Tajikistan), and avoid the threat of avalanches.
Sounds good, right? Why the dark nickname? When the tunnel originally opened to traffic in 2006 there were complaints about the lack of ventilation (surely needed for such a long tunnel), absence of lighting, constant flooding, falling rocks, and large blind potholes. After many construction and repair projects it was officially inaugurated in August, 2017. It’s still quite dark in the tunnel, and very smoggy. However, it’s now fully paved and much more easy to traverse. Maybe they should change the name to “Tunnel of Wear Your Facemask”?
Places to Eat in Dushanbe!
Let me level with you. If you’re a vegetarian you will survive in Dushanbe. But I wouldn’t call it living. Sure there’s plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to be had, and the bread is divine, but the really amazing dishes include skewers of amazing grilled chicken and lamb.
During my time in Dushanbe I ate plenty. But for this article I want to highlight 2 places that really should be visited. The food is delicious, and so are the places.
#1: Stolovaya “Khochiyon”
For delicious homemade Tajik cuisine in a very comfortable atmosphere I highly recommend Stolovaya “Khochiyon”.
Their meats are grilled to perfection. The meals are also accompanied with loaves of fresh bread and a nice mix of veggies. But for a real treat, and a staple Tajik soup, order the Lagman.
This is a must try soup when you visit Dushanbe. The noodles are made with unleavened dough which is cut into thin long noodles. The noodles are then boiled in salted water. The hearty soup is made with cube-cut meat, potatoes, carrots, Bulgarian pepper, fresh cabbage, onions, tomatoes, chopped garlic, and greens. Yum!
#2: Kohi Malaka Resort
The food here is delicious but what is amazing about the Kohi Malika Resort is the location and the atmosphere.
The resort itself is located about a 25 minute drive outside of Dushanbe so it’s an easy retreat from the city.
The dining is meant for families and friends. Each table room has an open front facing the nearby rushing river. It’s an excellent place to escape the hustle and bustle of Dushanbe and enjoy platters of grilled meats and too many beers and bottles of wine!
Final thoughts of Dushanbe…
Dushanbe wasn’t a place that was high on my list of travel destinations. It wasn’t even on my list actually. Honestly, had I not had friends living there I probably wouldn’t have visited. That would have been my loss. We had an epic combined trip of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan which created some amazing memories and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to visit Dushanbe.
Tajikistan has been described as Central Asia’s poorest nation based on their per capital GDP of 2,800 USD. Because of this I went there with a preconceived notion that I would be witnessing a lot of poverty. That was not the case.
I didn’t witness sprawling slums of hopelessness, nor was I ever approached by beggars, or hassled by shop keeps to buy things. Coming into the city I did see a lot of young adults along the highway hawking bouquets of flowers, some of them charging near suicidally at the oncoming traffic. But that’s it.
What I discovered during my time in Dushanbe was a population hard at work recovering from an economic crisis, and a people fiercely proud of their country, and history. They were genuinely enthusiastic to have “tourists” visiting. Kids were eager and shy to practice their English skills–often a throng of children would run up to yell “Hello!” then dart off quickly giggling.
I’m glad I went. I’d welcome the opportunity to return and check out the Pamir Mountains someday. I’m told it’s amazingly beautiful, desolate, and absolutely worth the effort to go.
If you have visited Dushanbe, or would like to and have any questions about visiting, please feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment in the section below!