24 Hours in Istaravshan
Istaravshan Travel Blog› entry 32 of 83 › view all entries
With my backpack on I weaved through the busy streets next to the bazaar looking for a hotel. My contact, Bahtiyor, had his phone off and I didn't want to waste more time waiting so I was going to just find a hotel and start looking around. The first hotel was on a side street from bazaar, but no one was at the reception desk. I tried to call another hotel but they didn't answer. Eventually I found a place directly next to the main entrance. A beefy bald guy showed me my room and explained I should pay 25 somoni up front and would have the room until 3pm. The room was a bit grotty but was private and even had its own toilet and sink not to mention a heater and television. Compared to some places, this was luxury, so I quickly dropped my stuff and headed out into the dusty streets.
I met some moneychangers at the entrance who were friendly and curious as to why I was in town. A juice salesman at the entrance to the bazaar gladly showed me to a good oshxona where I had the best laghman (noodle soup) I've ever had in Central Asia, along with a mug for instant coffee that I was allowed to make myself. After a filling lunch and relatively delicious coffee all for only 4 somoni, I wandered towards the old town, supposedly one of the better preserved ones in the country. I passed a choyxona where I was impatiently waved over to have tea with an old man. Then another authoritanian-looking man came over and spoke only Russian I didn't understand other than he was with "Komsomol," some kind of government affiliation. We went to his office where I sat down and was grilled in more Russian I didn't understand.
A few more streets away I discovered the large Abdullatif Sultan medressa, better known as Kok Gumbaz or "Blue Dome" for obvious reasons. A group of excited little boys followed me around, and inside the medressa one showed me a secret passageway that led to the top of the building where I could see over much of the city.
After staying a little too late at the Internet cafe, I noticed the formerly busy town was quiet and everything was closed.
The next morning, the 7th, I returned to the cafe where I not only had breakfast but a fairly good conversation about computers and business. The city was just as bustling and dusty as it was the previous afternoon, but the sun was making more of an attempt to shine through the clouds.
The trip didn't take very long, but I had the driver drop me off at the post office where I hope I was successful in sending a letter. I paid 2 somoni and handed my letter to a man who assured me it would be sent the next day. The actual lobby was under construction and appeared not to have the normal staffing. I decided it would be a test of the Tajik postal system and walked back towards town.
Istaravshan had an energy that I couldn't quite place but felt and truly enjoyed. It was extremely dusty, rough around the edges and busier than even Dushanbe, but it grew on me and I almost stayed another day to absorb the atmosphere. In a way it reminded me of the frenetic streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and was unlike any other city I'd visited in Tajikistan. After a rather disappointing laghman at the same oshxona I'd had lunch at the previous day, I decided to head north to Tajikistan's second city and hopped in a taxi just steps from the hotel and within 5 minutes we were leaving old Istaravshan behind in a trail of dust, bound for Khojand.