Dushanbe - A view from our expert author

Palace of the Nations, Dunshanbe, Tajikistan by  Nazar Niyazov Dreamstime

Tajikistan’s capital may be the largest city in the country, but it feels like a part of the countryside. Without centuries of Silk Road wealth or the patronage of indulgent emperors, Dushanbe’s façades are far humbler than many of its central Asian rivals’, and it is instead the geography of the valley, the paths of the rivers and the acres of parkland and trees that define the shape of the city and give it a laid-back feel.

(Photo: The 165ft-tall flag pole outside the Palace of Nations in Dushanbe © Nazar Niyazov, Dreamstime)

At 812m above sea level, Dushanbe is undoubtedly a mountain capital, and it is therefore no surprise that easy day trips from the capital put you up close with an impressive landscape.

The three gorges – Romit, Shirkent and Varzob – are all picturesque picnic spots with fine trekking opportunities, and the 19th-century Gissar Fortress confirms the importance of the mountains as a natural defence against attackers.

With acres of parkland, humble façades and a laid-back atmosphere, Tajikistan’s capital feels like part of the countryside.

In the heart of the Gissar Valley, at the confluence of the Varzob and Kofarnihon rivers, Dushanbe (meaning ‘Monday’) takes its name from the weekly market that historically took place on this site. Though archaeological finds suggest an ancient heritage, the modern city is just 80 years old, and its former name of Stalinabad reveals its past is forever linked to that of the USSR.

Today, the city’s population hovers around two-thirds of a million people, predominantly ethnic Tajik but with significant numbers of Uzbeks, Russians and latterly, due to the influx of international aid and development organisations, Europeans and Americans. The population has been falling slowly for the past five years, in large part due to the exodus of Tajiks seeking better employment prospects in Kazakhstan and Russia.

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