Sarazm & Panjakent

Penjikent Travel Blog

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One of the archeological sites at Sarazm

Sarazm, today a small village west of Panjakent, is the location of one of the oldest Zoroastrian civilizations in this area, dating back to the Bronze Age, or about the fourth millennium BC. Artifacts discovered here are renowned in the archeological world as some of the most spectacular and many are found in museums in Panjakent, Dushanbe, Saint Petersburg and Moscow. One such example is the “Princess of Sarazm,” an intact skeleton surrounded by remnants of jewelry, beads and baubles. However, the site was rather accidentally discovered only in 1976 by a village farmer and is still visited annually by teams of archeologists searching for more treasures.


Khurshid and I enjoyed a delicious and filling breakfast of eggs, warm milk and plenty of bread and honey with the family before venturing off to see the ruins on a sunny but blustery day.

Close up of a Sarazmian house foundation
Although the ruins weren’t very far, it must have taken us over a half hour to walk there, with everyone stopping to say hello to Khurshid and his strange guest. At dinner the night before his grandmother literally did a double take when they said I was American, and still did not believe it until she was able to see me in full light the next morning. Despite the presence of several international archeologists and other random tourists in the summer, it was rare that any of them ventured into the village and mingled with locals.


The ruins were scattered amongst five metal canopies specially constructed to preserve the delicate mud walls of the ancient city. Unfortunately the museum was closed to everyone but the cattle grazing on the grasses that grew around it, and all the artifacts were in other cities, but the story behind its discovery and the treasures that were found here made this a particularly pleasant diversion to my semi-planned itinerary.

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Khurshid's house

We threw my backpack in the back of a tiny car, picked up a couple more passengers and headed into town. I wasn’t sure that the itinerary included me coming back or not, but as friendly as the family was, I was hoping to be closer to town and potentially meet other tourists or at least the English-speaking Niyozkul Nematov who ran a guesthouse from his home in downtown Panjakent, or Penjikent, depending on which language its translated from.


I had made the mistake of explaining to Khurshid what I needed to accomplish in Panjakent other than simply touristy stuff. For the better part of two hours, Khurshid, the taxi driver and I went from the airline ticket agent to two banks and a hotel before finally going to Mr.

Me in front of the deserted bazaar...closed for cleaning today
Nematov’s guesthouse. I didn’t really accomplish getting a plane ticket or changing money, but at least we’d located my accommodation and after only having to pay 10 somoni to the driver for all that, I bid my new friend Khurshid goodbye and went back to Niyozkul’s for lunch.


Niyozkul was batching it with his brother, as his wife and daughter had gone to Urmatan village for a few days. We ate pirozhkis and crescent-dough-wrapped hot dogs and I picked his brain for suggestions on the best way to get to Kyrgyzstan. After some phone calls and another visit to the aviakassa, I had my ticket in hand and was prepared to go visit the ruins of ancient Penjikent.

One of the many patriotic billboards in Panjakent
On my way I met a friendly 18-year old boy named Rinat, who was more than eager to help me in any way and practice his English at the same time.


We both had wanted to go to the bazaar, but a sign on the closed gate announced that today was the monthly cleaning day and the bazaar was closed. We sat down at the bus stop and talked while we waited for the marshrutka to come that would take me to the site, but when it did, not only was it packed like sardines, the driver informed Rinat that the route for the day had changed and they would not be going to the ruins, so with that I decided to go to the Rudaki museum and save the ruins for the next day. We walked back along the main street all the way to the newly-built museum, talking all the way. Rinat had to go to class, so he left me to the museum, where I had to remove my shoes and don a pair of handmade slippers that were quite comfy.

The newly refurbished Rudaki museum


I ended up spending a lot more at the museum that I had imagined, but aside from the entrance fee, I somehow consented to pay for an Uzbek-speaking guide. However, I was able to understand her perfectly and her soothing voice was strangely pleasant, so I consider the minimal fee worth it. The museum was about half Penjikent history and half Rudaki, the famous Persian poet and national hero whose final resting place is Panjrud village, some 60 kilometers east. I bought a couple souvenirs at the spartan gift corner of the museum, returned the slippers and headed back to Niyozkul’s, where I ended up staying in for the night despite wanting to venture out for the draft Solpybeer a bar had advertised on a banner. In sympathy, Niyozkul offered me some vodka that he recently gave up drinking for health reasons, and I slowly sipped a teacup full with apples and a crisp pear for chasers, realizing that it was my first taste of Tajikistan vodka, but finding it odd that I was drinking alone and without necessitating a toast to success, long life or many children. But silently I toasted to Tajikistan, marveling at its many facets.

One of the archeological sites at …
One of the archeological sites at…
Close up of a Sarazmian house foun…
Close up of a Sarazmian house fou…
Khurshids house
Khurshid's house
Me in front of the deserted bazaar…
Me in front of the deserted bazaa…
One of the many patriotic billboar…
One of the many patriotic billboa…
The newly refurbished Rudaki museum
The newly refurbished Rudaki museum
photo by: Biedjee