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October 27, 2002

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Our host family dropped us near the border with a final "Be careful" warning about Tajikistan. Standing at five kilometer intervals, Uzbek police stopped us several times for no other reason than idle curiosity and the chance to extort a few dollars for imagined offenses, such as taking pictures of the countryside. We didn't pay. At the border we had second thoughts about traveling to Tajikistan: it was the most desolate border we've come across since Africa. No hawkers, money-exchangers, or crowds, just a lonely truck and a look-out tower with armed guards. The border guards treated us nicely, no hassles, and by lucky chance a Volvo with a UN license plate pulled up as we passed Uzbek customs. We hitched a ride and flew through Tajikistan customs. We chatted with our benefactor, a World Bank employee, as the car zoomed through Tajikistan, heedless of any police (a UN license plate must be license to flaunt traffic laws). We saw an immediate and dramatic difference between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Whereas villages and farmland covered every inch of road from Tashkent to the Uzbek border, once on the Tajikistan side the land turned into lonely scrub desert. The first Tajiks we met appeared in Khojand, our destination for the night. It's a pleasant city that straddles the Syr-Darya, or Jaxartes as Alexander the Great knew it. Alex founded Khojand when he rampaged through this area.
Lenin has the best view in town, the biggest statue of him in Central Asia. Guess some people yearn for the Soviet days in Tajikistan.
From the days of Arab conquest, old citadel stands next to our hotel. The hotel tested our Russian skills, we carried a useful conversation about bus schedules and things to see in Khojand. Though the Tajik language is derived from Farsi, unrelated to Kazak, Kyrgyz, or Uzbek, the words are still written in Cyrillic.
Calm Syr-Darya River runs through Kokand and provides good fish for a struggling restaurant along the water.