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Dushanbe Travel Blog

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The view from our the Vaksh Hotel window

People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sigrid (Belgium), David (Canada), Wouter (Holland)

Dushanbe is a city that i will gladly never return to, and I'd advise other travellers to give it a wide berth, for sanity's sake! Never have i come across so many people who make it their daily task to lie, cheat and behave like complete morons. Dushanbe takes my vote as the worst value for money place that I've ever had the displeasure of encountering! The following blog lists the reasons why i have made that conclusion.

On our first day in the city, Sasha kindly drove us to Hotel Vaksh, which was our first choice for accommodation.

Firdausi National Library
The Lousy Planet listed it as having rooms for $10 per person, but  when we asked the receptionist, she informed us that she had worked there for 14 years and the price had never been what LP was claiming. The cost was now 100 Somani ($29) per room and we were told that there were no single rooms. This was no good, as Sigrid needed a single room, because David was heading up to another hotel in the North of the town.

Next stop was the megalithic Hotel Dushanbe, which from the outside looked quite presentable. Once Sasha had dropped us here, we bade farewell to him. I must say he was a really decent guy and i was pleased that we had made the journey from Khorog with him.
Maydani Azadi
Inside the hotel there was a large group of tourists who had just had their flight to Khorog cancelled and thus were returning to the hotel to book back in again. Supposedly there was already one tour group with a reservation for that day and now the receptionist informed us that there would be no way possible that any rooms would be vacant.

Julia and I made a move for the Bactria Centre, which Lousy Planet so wisely informed us could arrange cheap home stays. It took quite some time to find the road, as not for the first time the map was completely inaccurate. Surprisingly none of the locals had heard of the street we were looking for, even though they worked and lived only 50m from it! Finally we stumbled across it, rang the bell and waited for an answer.
Statue of Ismail Samani
Eventually a man appeared to inform us that the centre was shut for the summer, something you would imagine a guidebook would inform people of, as most people travel at this time of year!

Back at Hotel Dushanbe, we agreed that our best option was to book into Hotel Vaksh for the first night and then reassess the situation in the morning. The hostel that David had headed to in the north of town wasn't in a great location and we didn't want to head to the outskirts, only to find there was no room. Lousy Planet said it was necessary to make bookings as it was normally full in July and August, but had proceeded to list an incorrect email and phone number for them! Very handy. David informs me that Adventurers Inn was a real gem, even if it did cost $30 for a double, so this should be where you head if you do find yourself stuck here!

In Hotel Vaksh we pushed the receptionist further on single room prices, until she buckled and admitted it was only 50 Somani a person, but if someone else arrived, she would put them into the twin room as well.
Maydani Azadi
Julia then questioned the receptionist that they had hot showers, which they laughed at, of course they did we were assured! It was also reassuring to know that they had a foreigner price and a local price, it always feels great to know you are paying double for exactly the same thing as the person in the room next door! The hotel had been home to the mujaheddin during the civil war, but when i checked under the bed i couldn't find an arms catchment, so i felt slightly better.

Once inside the room i turned the TV on, to find two fuzzy channels and the rest was static. Julia went to take the first shower and came out with a horrified look on her face. “No hot water?” i inquired, to which she replied that she was more bothered about the colour of the water than the temperature.
Presidential Palace
I thought it couldn't be as bad as she was making out, so i told her to stop been a big baby and that i would go first.

Turning the shower on made me cringe, as a brown muck came flowing out. Having not showered in two days and been sat in a hot car for endless hours, the thought of not having a shower was depressing. Sod it, surely it can't be as bad as it looks, i thought as i stuck my head under the water. After a few seconds the water had gone cold and i was battling with the soap to clean myself faster than the water was making me dirty. Five minutes later i emerged, feeling far worse than when i went in. My skin felt sticky and had a vile aroma, welcome to Dushanbe!

Leaving the hotel we asked about the water and the lady on reception told us that it goes this colour in the summer, due to water in the river collecting mud from the mountains.
Writers Union Building
Hmm, great excuse, so the river in winter doesn't travel along the same muddy shoreline, whatever. Surely there must be some kind of filtration system for the water too, but maybe Hotel Vaksh prefers to get dirty river water.

Sigrid, Julia and I decided to go out and explore the city and find somewhere to eat. Walking up Rudaki, which is the main road in town, we passed several interesting buildings including Ayni Opera and Ballet Theatre, Statue of Ismail Samani and the Presidential Palace. After thirty minutes we stopped off at Kellers pub, but the prices were much higher than the ones quoted in our trusted guidebook, so we continued on to Cafe Merve, a popular Turkish eatery.

A thoroughly miserable waiter came to serve us once we were seated.
Outdoor dining area
He couldn't even tell us the correct price for some french fries and rather than go off and find out, he just stood looking at us, with the expression of 'Hows this my problem'. After prompting him that he should go along and ask someone, he came back and said they were 1 somani ($0.30), so we each ordered a portion of these with a cheese burger. When the food was served, there were three sorry looking chips dangling from inside the burger, what a bargain.

Walking back down Rudaki, we stopped off at an internet cafe where we stayed for about an hour, which was just enough time to load a couple of pages on their incredibly slow connection. Julia paid her bill first, but the guy had no change, so she said that when i paid, he could take the money from the change.
Bekhzod National Museum, seen from Hotel Dushanbe
This was way too taxing for the poor lad, who just couldn't fathom out how to add two bills together and hand over the change. In the end we worked it out for him and he gave us a bemused look as we left. He's still probably sat there trying to calculate 2 + 2.50.

Just outside the Ayni Opera and Ballet Theatre was a fountain that was surrounded by a nice seating area, where we decided to sit down and enjoy a drink. We ordered 2 beers and 1 sprite, which shouldn't have been too taxing for them to calculate, but they still somehow managed to add another 10% on top of the 10% service charge that they were already charging. What really pisses me off is that they even use a calculator, so its not like they cant count, they just outright cheat you by charging you incorrect prices.
A view from Hotel Dushanbe


For Dinner we went to a really nice outdoor seating area that was located near to where we had been drinking and enjoyed an assorted pizza. Some crappy music was been pumped out that we did our best to sit away from, so as we could hear each other speak. It was therefore baffling that our bill came with an additional 6 Somani 'music charge', which then had a 10% service charge added on to it! Classic.

The next day was scheduled to be a lazy one, as there really isn't anything to do in Dushanbe, but i had to wait for my Uzbekistan letter of invitation (LOI) from stantours. We left Hotel Vaksh in the morning and went back to Hotel Dushanbe to check in there, but got told that Julia and I couldn't share a room as we weren't married! We watched as she then checked in a Tajik couple who weren't married.
Statue of Ismail Samani
After letting the man pay for a lux double room, she then said the woman could not sleep with him and not only could she not be in the same room, but she must even stay on a different floor! She warned they would have the floor staff monitoring them and if they tried to sneak to each others room, then there would be trouble! Once again, we were privileged foreign guests and as a result had the honour of paying double. $20 got us a bed each in separate dorms, but at least Julia got to share with Sigrid, whilst i was stuck with a Tajik guy.

Once we hat shifted hotels, we wandered around Rudaki for a bit, used the internet and generally did nothing. I did receive my LOI in the afternoon, which was when i had been promised it, so i was happy with the service stantours had given.
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
The internet connections in the city seemed to be pretty dreadful, as the server constantly crashed, so it became a little frustrating to upload my photos to travbuddy. We tried 5 places in total, and all but one not only had poor service, but also thoroughly incompetent staff.

This afternoon i sat for 20 minutes waiting for the man to get me back online amidst his constant promises he was doing something. In the end we decided to leave as it was completely hopeless, but when i asked if he was going to knock off the last 20 minutes off the bill, as my computer had been frozen, he said he already had. The truth was he not only hadn't knocked the time off, but he'd added even more! Trying to reason with these people is a waste of time and energy. They get angry with you, so as to try and embarrass you into backing down, even though they know they are cheating you.
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Its an underhanded tactic, but one that they know works.

In the evening we went to Cafe Georgia, which was probably the best place that we ate in during our stay. The food was good, the service was normal and to my utter surprise, the bill was correct. To celebrate we had a couple of beers outside the Theatre, which were of course overcharged, before retiring to our Hotel.

It was only 22.45 when we got back to Hotel Dushanbe and when i asked the floor lady for my key, i was told that the other person was already in the room and to just knock on the door. I tried this for 5 minutes, but there was no answer. I went back to ask for her help, so she came and knocked on the door for a bit too, then went off. 10 minutes later she returned and did the same thing, but still no answer.
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
In the end she just gave up and left!

Julia came down to reception to tell them i was locked out and asked what they were going to do. At first they thought they would move me to a different room, which wasn't ideal, but better than nothing, then they realised they were fully booked! They couldn't understand why i was upset, after all, I'd only been stuck out of my room for 45 minutes, what could possibly be wrong! Although they had claimed not to have a spare key, finally the floor woman miraculously pulled out a tub of keys and let me into my own room to go to bed! At $10 per bed, it was another fantastic value for money establishment!

The next morning i enjoyed trying to take a shower, as the nozzle didn't actually work, so you had to try and squat under the tap and wash in the cold water. So what if they did promise hot water, they can provide whatever shitty service they want and they know you can't do anything about it.

Our task for the day was to go and collect my Uzbekistan visa at the embassy, but first i needed to print my LOI off at the internet. I paid for 10 minutes, sat down, loaded my yahoo page and the computer subsequently crashed. The man in charge came over, fiddled around for the remainder of my time, solved nothing and that was my time expired. As he had been sat there with me and couldn't make the computer work, i was sure that he would have the common sense and decency to restart my 10 minutes on another computer. When i suggested this to him, he told me i needed to pay again! Seems fair.

After visiting another internet cafe and getting the relevant document printed, we arrived at the embassy just after 11.30. There were lots of people queuing and i feared i wouldn't make the midday deadline. Amongst the people was Wouter and David, the latter had a miserable look on his face. Wouter had been stuck in Khorog awaiting a flight for three days, only for every one to be cancelled. In the end he had made the journey by car and after a 20 hour ordeal was now been denied his Uzbekistan visa, as he didn't have a LOI. As luck would have it, i made it through the embassy door at 11.55 and by 12.20 i had the visa in my passport for the cost of $62. Now thats service for you, Tajiks take note!

Leaving the embassy and walking to Cafe Merve for lunch, an old hunched Muslim guy was waking the other way. Suddenly out of nowhere he threw out an arm and grabbed Julia's breast. The old git must have been touching eighty, but still had the energy to sexually harass Julia. The worst thing is if you give a filthy old pervert a clip around the ear in these countries, you will end up with a lynch mob after you. There's two reasons for this, firstly because you would be touching a Muslim and secondly because they don't think there is anything wrong with such behaviour.

The waiter we got today in Cafe Merve was far better and had a smile on his face and spring to his step. He spoke a few words of English and even charged us the right bill. Simple things like this shouldn't need to be written about, but it was such a rarity in Dushanbe that it became a highlight of my stay here! Using the internet after, we managed to organise a LOI for Wouter, by calling Arostr Travel directly, the company who stantours use for the LOI. Incredibly they agreed to get the LOI in 3 days, in comparison to the two and a half weeks that i had to wait. Wouter seems to have a real lucky streak when it comes to visa issues.

In the evening we met Wouter, David and Sigrid by the fountain for a pre Dinner drink. Amusingly the bill came to 30 Somani, but when we asked to pay separately the cost was 6.5 + 20. Wow, i can understand how that complex bill was miscounted. We went back to the area where we had eaten the pizza on the first night, but sat at a different restaurant, which did not have any abysmal music on. Julia and I ordered one pizza and one portion of french fries, a very simple task for the waiter.

When the fries came out, i was impressed by the portion, but had grown cynical that they would probably try and charge us for more than one serving. Julia therefore asked how may portions it was and the waiter replied “one”. She then asked how much they cost and the waiter replied “2.2“. Fine, there could be no mix ups now, so we ate what was served.

When adding up the bill thirty minutes later the waiter calculated 19.20 for the pizza, plus 4.4 for the fries, plus 10%. Hang on a minute, 4.4 doesn't sound right does it! When questioned on the matter, he said we had a double portion. Woah woah woah, not only did we ask if it was one portion, but we also re-confirmed the price. In typical Tajik style, the waiter threw back 2 somani at us in a rage. Conveniently he then forgot to give 5 people their small change, which added up to about 4 somani. Its a nice scam they've got on the go out here.

The following day we had arranged to meet at Kellers pub and then go to Hissar fort together. The weather was sizzling hot, so we decided that we best have a beer before setting off. After the third beer, we decided to give the fort a miss and just spend the day lounging around. Lunch and a brief spell on the internet could only kill so much time, so in the end Wouter, Julia and I found our way back to Kellers beer garden.

An afternoon of Yahtzee ensued, in which Wouter proved that his luck with visas didn't cross over to that with dice. Having drunk four more beers each, we decided that it was time to leave and asked for the bill. What a shock to find that the cheque said we had 5 beers each! We assured the sour faced waitress, who hadn't smiled once all day, but had found the time to eat burgers and drink red wine in front of us, that we had only drank four. She wasn't going to give up the chance to take an additional 25% from us on top of her 10% service charge though!

When we asked to speak to the manager as we were sick and tired of such bullshit, we were told that he wasn't on duty. Instead we were faced by the barman, whose logic was to say to us that we must “prove that we had only drunk four”, otherwise we had to pay for five! How can you prove that you only drank four? If they charged us for 20 and said we had to prove we only drank four, then would we have to pay for that? In the end we were made to pay and i was at my wits end. Never had i wanted to scream so much.

After having some Dinner, we said goodnight to Wouter and went to quickly use the internet to upload some photos. I asked the guy to upload the CD onto his computer and then share the photos, as all the other computers didn't have CD drives. After 45 minutes of been told that he was just about to do it, and also having a connection that died every 5 minutes, i just couldn't bare to wait any longer and we left.

Back at the hotel i was faced with a familiar dilemma, which was that the bastard in my room had locked me out and was pretending to be asleep. Now i use the word pretending as it would be impossible not to wake up from the constant rattling on the door. After some time, the floor woman let me in, so as i could lie down and get eaten alive by mosquitoes.

The next morning the toilets were once more caked in shit, which my predecessors had not bothered to flush. For some reason the shower had been dismantled in the male bathrooms, not that it had been much good anyway. I ended up going to the female shower, which had a mirror blacked over on the wall. What was rather disconcerting is that it had a section scratched away to create a peep hole. What a completely disgraceful establishment to not even try and cover this up. They can't tell me no-one had noticed or complained in the past.

We caught a bus up to the northern outskirts of town, where we met up with David and caught another bus to the taxi stand where cars left for Penjikent. When we got on the second bus, we told the driver we needed to go to the cement factory, which the LP said was where the taxis gathered. With all our bags it was pretty obvious what we must have been looking for. The arsehole on the bus informed us to get off at the main gate of the cement office, which was actually one stop prior to the taxi rank, which was the end of the bus line! I had to ask myself whether these people are really so dumb or just spiteful. I concluded both.

At the taxi rank we had the usual gaggle of idiots quoting us stupid prices and calling us friend. Maybe this is the famous Central Asian hospitality that we are told about? Prices began at 200 Somani per person for the 250km journey, even though the 600km journey from Khorog had cost half that amount! We walked to a nearby cafe to have some lunch and a drink and obviously get a bill that was more than what we should be paying.

Back at the rank we were once again told the usual bullshit, which included the fact that benzine was expensive and the road was bad. When trying to explain to these idiots that so was the road from Khorog, they just didn't listen. In the end one driver who appeared to have some shred of dignity approached us on the sly and agreed to 90 Somani ($26) per person. Whats ridiculous is that he probably spends $20 on petrol and takes over $100, which is a huge profit for an afternoons work, yet all the other drivers were too greedy to want to work for anything less.

As it turned out, we couldn't leave Dushanbe until 15.00, as roadworks were been done. Even when we did leave, the road was still closed and we ended up waiting for a couple of hours at a road block. On the way the President and his entourage passed us by, returning from the giant summer retreat that he had spent the day at. It was nice to see where all his dirty money had been spent.

One job opportunity for all Tajiks must be to become a policeman. All along the road are random traffic cops pulling you over and tying to extract bribes from the drivers. At bad stages of the road, you can never move more than a few kilometres before the driver finds himself handing over his documents for the umpteenth time. Do these people really have nothing better to do?

As we passed the area where the road was been built, it was obvious that every worker was a cheery faced Chinese man. Some of the guys waved at us as we passed by and their smiles were really infectious, oh how i miss China. The question that remained in my mind was in a country where unemployment is meant to be so rife, why were none of the Tajik men working? It had been the same on the road from Khorog to Dushanbe too.

My honest assumption is that they are too busy sitting around parking lots trying to charge extortionate amounts for taxi rides. If they just do the journey once every 5 months in both directions, then they earn as much as the average Tajik worker, who reportedly gets $1 a day. In all honesty this dollar a day figure is laughable in my opinion, in a country where a mat on a floor costs $8, a simple meal costs $4-5 in a META home stay and a taxi ride can run up into hundreds of dollars quite easily. All you have to do is look at their large houses, decorated with expensive rugs and crockery and you know that something isn't quite adding up. These people are doing something right for themselves.

Around 22.00 the driver ran over a dog, when it looked easier to miss it and just shrugged his shoulders, said “sabaka” (dog) and gave a big grin. The speed we were going at probably meant  that we didn't even kill it, but he really wasn't concerned about such trivial things. Twat. Our taxi ride finished at 01.30 in the morning and just to round off a memorable feat of Tajik kindness, the driver told us that as he had dropped us at the home stay and not the bazaar, we should pay an additional 20 Somani ($6). After trying to reason with the fool, we just walked off, leaving him yelling to himself. The Tajik hospitality and warmth just never fails to amaze me.

almond72 says:
They can rip you off like this then imagine when they had guns. Now, just trying to pacify a population like this. Whether Soviets or Americans - this place is a nightmare !
Posted on: Aug 08, 2009
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The view from our the Vaksh Hotel …
The view from our the Vaksh Hotel…
Firdausi National Library
Firdausi National Library
Maydani Azadi
Maydani Azadi
Statue of Ismail Samani
Statue of Ismail Samani
Maydani Azadi
Maydani Azadi
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
Writers Union Building
Writers Union Building
Outdoor dining area
Outdoor dining area
Bekhzod National Museum, seen from…
Bekhzod National Museum, seen fro…
A view from Hotel Dushanbe
A view from Hotel Dushanbe
Statue of Ismail Samani
Statue of Ismail Samani
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Haji Yakoub Mosque and Medrassa
Dushanbe
photo by: AndySD