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October 29, 2002

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Tajikistan has one famous tourist site that no one has heard about or really cares to visit: the ruins at Penjikent. It doesn't seem like the Tajiks care either because the site is unlabeled and unattended. We found it by wandering out of town and following a stairway in a field that looked as if it led to nowhere. The site itself could have been last year's abandoned construction; we never actually saw a sign that verified this was once a city of the ancient Sogdian Empire. These mud walls without roofs looked old and that satisfied our curiosity. By going to the bus station anyone can find shared taxis that are going to Dushanbe, the capital, a five hour drive through the mountains. Our negotiation attracted the attention of the taxi rank and their shouts of advice couldn't help us because we can't understand Tajik. In the end we decided on $25 for two spots in the car. The other two spots were taken by the driver's relatives. The mountains in this part of Tajikstan are bare and brown, we were lucky the pass was still free from snow. At nightfall we arrived in Dushanbe, a city with a fearful reputation, so when the hotels were full due to a big convention we jumped at the opportunity to be in an empty apartment. The triple bolts on the door and grates over the window indicated times haven't always been good in Dushanbe.
The ruins of a major Sogdian town called Bunjikath (Penjikent), founded in 500 AD and abandoned when the Arabs ravaged it three hundred years later. Foundations of Zoroastrian Temples remain.
The headscarf must not provide enough camouflage.
Start a conversation with a one cabdriver and like a flock of pigeons, a crowd of curious onlookers must help with the negotiations.
In a shared taxi with three other people we squeezed into a Russian-made Volga and rode over the Fan Mountains.