Dushanbe City Guide
With a population of roughly 800,000 people, Dushanbe is the both the largest city and capital of Tajikistan. Located in Hissar Valley, Dushanbe is not commonly known as a tourist attraction, though with prior knowledge of what to do, it can be a fascinating place to visit.
When first arriving at the "The Big Dushe" as expatriates call the region, your first impression will be dependent upon what time of day or night you arrive, as the whole vibe of the city shifts dramatically.
During the day, you may find yourself initially overwhelmed when walking through the city. Due to the size and density, there is a lot of racket from the food stalls and people, which will often blindside you from the attractive features of the area.
Ideally, since first impressions matter, arrive in the evening during weekdays. During this time the several parks scattered along Dushanbe are very peaceful and provide a beautiful perspective and viewpoint of the city that is often unattainable during work hours. There is also a clear view of the distant mountain ranges that surround the area; this can be breathtaking to look at depending on the weather and clearness of air.
Much like the other countries in Central Asia, the people in Dushanbe are very helpful and welcoming. There is the inevitable language barrier for things like directions, and so forth, the residents can pronounce some words, and with the help of simple body language gestures, it will guide you if you are lost. Or just hire a persoal guide in Dushanbe.
Activities in Dushanbe
Although there are many attractions in Dushanbe, it is a city that you want to research beforehand as the layout and design of the area is not accustomed for tourists. Below are some areas that you will want to visit if you want to experience this city entirely.
Ideal for families or couples, this garden is the perfect place for a picnic. The layout involves a public forest with an abundance of greenery and large walking areas; it is not so much a garden in the sense that it contains a diverse range of plants, the area is more accustomed to just relaxing whether that be walking or sitting.
Pamir Highway (Tours)
Do not let the name form any impressions of a boring drive, if you are someone who loves exploring, then visiting the M41 Highway, better known as Pamir Highway, could be the best decision you make.
The amount of time you have in Dushanbe will dictate how long you want to drive on this road; the potential is enormous, though. The Pamir Highway stretches not only through Tajikistan, but all the way past Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.
A lot of tourists who visit Dushanbe come purely for the purpose of spending days traveling across this highway, if this is you, make sure you hire a driver that is suitable for the many unpaved terrains that you will come across, ideally with a driver to guide you.
Camping gear is usually brought along and set up wherever you stop along the road with safe space to stay. Otherwise, there are homestays you can sleep at during your ride. Read here about a self-drive experience on the Pamir Highway.
National Museum of Tajikistan
For the traveler who loves learning about the history of his or her destinations, this is an incredibly museum that is not only well displayed but extremely informative on various topics.
Located on Ismoil Somoni Ave, the museum offers just about everything a curious mind could want. With a variety of crystals derived from the surrounding mountains, a diverse display of wildlife found in the country, the history of the country beautifully paved in the art including wars and battles, this is an attraction site that will keep you entertained for hours.
Much similar to Botanical gardens during the weekdays, Rudaki Park, offers a very relaxing area to de-stress and relax with some friends.
For an excellent time, visit this park on Rudaki Ave during the weekend, often you will find live music and public weddings that love tourists to come and get in on the fun.
For anyone who likes to absorb the culture, Rudaki Park on the weekend is the ideal place as you will be prone to dance, sing and eat all in a Dushanbe fashion.
Zilioni (green) Bazaar
The largest Bazaar amongst downtown Dushanbe and the ideal place to shop instead of traditional stores. If you are from the West, then this will be incredibly intriguing to you as the prices are ridiculously low, while the quality of product remains high. The food that the bazaar vendors offer are your standard basics such as fruit, vegetables, beef and bread. And for anyone with an extended stay in the city, they also supply household tools for a range of appliances.
If your from a western culture, then this city can be a refreshing change during the night time unless you're a rowdy person.
Unlike most cities, Dushanbe is quite low-key and quiet during the night, which can either be interpreted as boring or peaceful depending on your personality.
During some nights, there are various bands and local groups that perform for the locals and tourists, though you couldn't rely on this as a consistent form of entertainment as it is dictated by the performer's willingness rather than crowd demand.
Despite the above, the city still stays true to providing a fun time to anyone who is looking for one, and below are some attractions that you can visit to experience them.
Ayni Opera and Ballet Theater
For small budget nights, the opera ballet is the best place.
Despite the cheap or sometimes free entries, the theatre often holds great performances that boast the countries culture, not only giving you entertainment, but also giving you profound insights on the history and society that operates in that region through the meanings they convey.
For anyone who travels and works online, the Irish pub located in Bokhtar Street is a very convenient place to both have a drink and work as it provides wifi.
With a European layout, it can feel like home for anyone from the UK, the crowd level being low to mid range with an exception in the weekends. The Irish Pub provides the best context for anyone wanting a low-cost meal and drink in a neutral venue.
Aside from People nightclub, Club Royal is the most common place to be when looking for a good time and dance in Dushanbe.
It is quite common to see people rotating between these two clubs; both are expensive regarding local standards, if you are a westerner who goes out a lot back home, then it should be quite familiar. I recommend hiring a table beforehand if you plan on staying long, the free bottle and discounts make up for the added money.
Traveling within the city
The most convenient, cheap and common way to get around Dushanbe are the trolley buses, though they don't often boast about quality due to the highly crowded spaces, they are very straight forward if you are a traveler who has a hard time with directions.
Like local buses, the route is predetermined. If you are having trouble with interpreting the instructions, just state the destination to the bus driver and if he corresponds positively then sit or stand nearby so he can signal once there.
A traditional method of travel in Central Asia, if you have money and are particularly worried whether you will get to your destination or not, then take a shared taxi.
Due to the low number of passengers, you can personally talk to the driver and even use phone translators if need be to convey to him where you want to go.
A method that is more convenient than it seems, bicycles are a superb vehicle for not only getting around while exercising but also experiencing more of the city without being squished in between people.
Since 2015, bicycle rental service has opened in Dushanbe, and are used not only for getting around but also for sightseeing and going on excursions with tour guides.
Food in Dushanbe
World of Chocolate
I am sure your eyes are already wider from reading the name, known as 'the escalator cafe', the world of chocolate is a great place to visit if you are comfortable with spending money and have a sweet tooth.
With various coffees and chocolates to choose from, this cafe is a great place to splurge out while looking at a vast and mouth-watering chocolate fountain.
After your stomach is finished processing all that sugar, the first thing you are most likely going to want is real food. Cafe Merve offers quality Turkish meals ranging from Kebabs, pizzas, and even sweets if you want to go for a 2nd sugar hit, a great place for quality meals at a low price.
Ironically, the steakhouse is amongst the few vendors that sell sushi in Dushanbe, as well as pasta, steaks and a collection of western style dishes.
If you choose to visit during night, then you can expect live entertainment with alcohol.
A restaurant with primarily Latin/European food serves as a nice change from most other food stores in the city, and as you might of guessed, it attracts a lot of the European tourists towards it. If you are someone who is European or want to meet fellow travellers, this is a very convenient place.
Safety in Dushanbe
As always, safety is a priority no matter where your traveling, especially in more impoverished areas with a significant portion of the masses being desperate for more money.
Although police officers work as people who will protect you, if you are in a situation that involves money and you are a tourist, always keep an eye out for scams or false charges. Corrupt officers are something you never want to be naive about. In general, police offers are very friendly and leave tourists alone. Don't pay any bribery, just keep calm and 'wait it out'.
Aside from the police corruption, Dushanbe is quite a peaceful place and does not boast any higher crime rates than it should. Common sense still prevails when walking around alone at night time as this is always a hot spot for robberies and for officers to charge you without the attention of locals.
Visiting Dushanbe can be confusing at times because it isn't made for tourists, now you have an extensive guide you can use and keep referring to for how to spend your hours and days so you can have the best and safest time in the largest city of Tajikistan!