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Dushanbe Dushanbe–Khorog Khorog

Dushanbe

Expect nothing but chaos at the airport.

Dushanbe seems to have been laid out anticipating an influx of millions: wherever you want to be is two or three miles from where you are. A bicycle is therefore useful, though cycling is by no means pleasant owing to the homicidal inclinations of the drivers.

Dushanbe has no claims as a tourist destination, but many of the pastel-coloured Soviet official buildings are daintily attractive. (There were no buildings at all made from permanent materials before the Soviet period.) Newer concrete hotels are hideous, and a distressing tone of megalomania has entered the architecture since independence.

The only postcards we saw were pictures of official buildings sold by a photographic shop entered through the Palace of Communications (aka post office).

We stayed at Marian’s Guesthouse, which is a pleasant refuge.

The only enjoyable way to spend time in Dushanbe is to eat out. Our top recommendation is El Sham, an Arabic (effectively Levantine) restaurant at 11 Academician Rajabov Street. Alcohol is available, including Russian champagne.

Salsa, the implausible Ecuadorean restaurant at the opposite end of town, is well worth a visit. The Ecuadorean and Mexican dishes are good, the gazpacho and cocktails delicious.

We ate good Georgian food at Georgia café but don’t wholeheartedly recommend the wine except by way of experiment.

We also ate fairly well at DBD (a Persian kebab house) and at Kellers where the highlight is the beer.

Dushanbe – Khorog

We hired jeeps to take us from Dushanbe to Khorog and back. They were frigheningly expensive: $600 for an unreliable Lada in one direction, $485 for a reliable Toyota in the other. But (apart from being the wrong way round) the prices seem to have been fair.

We heard that a place in a minibus would have cost 200 somonis – around $60. Take account of the number of seats, the level of comfort, the quality of the vehicle, and the fact that a private hire isn’t guaranteed a return fare, and the prices seem to be in proportion. But that only shows that all forms of transport are mysteriously expensive.

By Toyota the journey takes 14 hours driving time, and could reasonably be undertaken in a single day. The Niva took quite a lot longer. The jeeps were arranged by Otambek Otambekov and his brother Alibek, contacted through Marian’s guesthouse.

From Dushanbe the road is new tarmac for the 90km to Ob-i Garm, where it perhaps serves the Norak dam. This part carries quite a lot of traffic.

From here to Darvoz (Kala-i Khum) the surface is badly broken-up roughstuff. Perhaps it is being left to deteriorate now that an all-weather alternative exists via Kulob. The road follows a sequence of valleys as far as Kala-i Hussein, and is blisteringly hot.

At Kala-i Hussein begins the striking 1350m climb to the Khaburabot pass, which is followed by an even more spectacular 2000m descent to Darvoz. This would have been nice to ride. There is an MSDSP guesthouse at Darvoz.

The rest of the journey follows the Panj valley on tarmac of reasonable quality, with views which are impressive if not quite the equal of those further upstream.

Many cyclists have ridden from Dushanbe to Khorog. Few seem to have enjoyed the stretch as far as the Khaburabot. Tim Barnes rated the pass highly but Bill Weir, travelling in the opposite direction, preferred the sector between Darvoz and Khorog. Igor Kovse made lightning progress, covering the route in 5 days. Bill’s 7–8 days are probably more typical.

Khorog

Khorog is a bustling town, not unduly attractive, but with pleasant gardens currently being refurbished for a visit by the Aga Khan.

When we passed through the first time we stayed at the Serena Inn 6km to the north. At more than $100 per night it is unlikely to appeal to budget travellers, but it is friendly, attractive inside and with gardens looking across the river to Afghanistan, and comfortable to a western standard. We thought it good value.

When we returned the Serena was full, and we stayed instead in the new Delhi Darbar hotel near the restaurant of the same name. Authentically Indian, it is charmless and would-be functional, but you get a private bathroom with a (slightly temperamental) hot shower, and a fridge of your own.

Breakfast is provided in the restaurant, and you have a choice of Indian or Continental. If like us you consider India to be the only civilisation to have mastered the Art of Breakfast, this is a potent attraction. You get Aloo Paratha with lime pickle and masala chai and raita.

The Delhi Darbar is almost the only place to eat apart from the Serena. The food is quite good, and Tracey raves about the garlic nan.

The shop ‘De Pamiri Handicrafts’ sells some flimsy postcards of the Bartang valley.

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