Rudaki Avenue, North
From the Presidential Palace, go north up Rudaki Avenue. On the left is the Chinese embassy. The embassy is next to a road junction and a left turn leads towards the main entrance to the National Botanical Gardens, about 400m from the intersection. The entrance fee is 1 somoni. The gardens stretch for a kilometre, parallel to Rudaki Avenue. Although somewhat rundown and unkempt, they are pleasant and peaceful. There are many mature trees and walkways, and towards the back of the park there are excellent views over the Varzob river valley to the mountains and hills to the north and east of the city. On the riverside, there are four tree trunks carved into gnomelike personages. There is a large glasshouse conservatory, which houses the small national collection of exotic trees and bushes. The building is only opened for visitors by request. The gardens were founded by one of the many Germans who contributed to the development of Dushanbe; Konstantin Redlich, who imported plants from every continent. Some notable species include flowering magnolia trees, raspberry brambles and aloe vera patches.
Continuing north along Rudaki from the Chinese embassy, next on the left is the Orienbank. Opposite is the Vastan nightclub and restaurant. Next on the right is the Lohuti Theatre, a grand theatre in the Russian style. The exterior is neo-classical and inside the impressive marble-floored auditorium are pictures of the great Tajik actors of the past. There is also a fine chandelier in the vestibule and inside the main theatre is plush, with a balcony and boxes, which overlook the stage, for the more important members of the audience to sit in. Upstairs great care has been taken to renovate the intricate woodcarving and painted ceiling. The theatre is now mainly used for sponsored concerts. However, there is a little cabaret restaurant on the second floor that often features live music quartets.
Further north up Rudaki on the right side is the large and popular Choikhona Rokhat. The front part is on two storeys, open air, but under a very ornate ceiling painted in the Persian style. It is a good vantage point from which one can watch the world go by, especially in summer. Waitresses wear national dress and serve moderately good and relatively cheap food.
After the Choikhona Rokhat, turn left for the Haji Yaqub mosque and madrassa, whose silver dome is clearly visible from Rudaki Avenue. It is named after Haji Yaqub, a Tajik religious leader, and this large mosque was built, mainly with Saudi money, starting in 1990, on the site of an earlier mosque. The driving force behind the construction was a famous and charismatic Tajik politician, Akbar Turajonzoda, who after studying abroad became a leading figure in the reform movement during the 1980s. He was appointed Qazi Kalan, the highest official religious authority in Tajikistan in 1989. The mosque became the informal head-quarters of the anti- communist alliance or opposition during the civil war. Visitors are welcome, and earnest young madrassa students will help people, while welcoming the opportunity to practice their English language skills on all who enter.
Further up on the same side of Rudaki is the Avesto Hotel. Set back amidst formal gardens it is a Soviet-era classic and there is some fine stained glass in the foyer. On the opposite side of the street is Cafe Merve, a popular cafe serving pizzas, burgers, cakes and good ice cream.
Slightly higher up Rudaki are the fine neo-classical facades of the main campus of Dushanbe University, and 500m further on the right is the Presidential dacha set well back in wooded grounds, closely guarded by soldiers.
Opposite on the left is the Tojik Matlubot building, home to the Aga Khan Foundation, including the offices of its offshoot, the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, which provides a very effective development programme in the Pamirs and elsewhere in Tajikistan.
In a side street turning off Rudaki at 9 Firdousi Street is the NAVO Centre of Music and Poetry, the Academy of Shashmaqam, run by the respected Tajik musician Abduvali Abdurashidov. Shashmaqam is the classical music of the Muslim world. Abdulvali has given concerts of classical Tajik music internationally. He runs a school for young Tajik musicians, teaching them to play Shashmaqam on traditional instruments. The students also study poetry, history and Persian literature. Concerts are held occasionally. Visitors are welcome, but they should make an appointment first.
Running parallel to the east of Rudaki Avenue is Omar Khayyam Street. At this northern end, No. 13, is the Artists' Colony. The entrance is through a small gate to a garden with the studios in the houses on either side. Most of the studios are occupied by artists, who trained in Russia during the Soviet period and exhibited in the USSR. The artists are happy to sell direct - expect to pay US$400-1,000. Even if you do not wish to buy, it is a refreshing experience to meet this group of bohemians. You will be made very welcome and certainly be offered a glass of vodka or two.
There are also studios with potters and traditional wood carvers. Expect to pay US$70 for a wooden casket. A purchase from here will be unique, will help artists who are struggling financially, and will help to sustain the renaissance of Tajik culture. A good idea of the range of art can be found on www.tajikart.com.
Further south Omar Khayyam merges into Mirzo Tursunzoda Street. At a crossroads with Loik Sherali Street, there is a short continuation to the east of Loik Sherali, leading after 50m to a turn to the left. Immediately on the right is the Shahidi Museum. It is the former private house of Ziyadullo Shahidi, a distinguished Tajik composer, who lived here for 33 years, until his death in 1985. He wrote songs, operas and symphonies very much admired in Soviet times.
Further down Tursunzoda Street to the south, at the junction with Loik Sherali Street is the Tursunzoda Museum, dedicated to Mirzo Tursunzoda, a distinguished poet and writer, and a prominent figure in the Soviet era. The museum includes his old house and a gallery next door, filled with memorabilia and his books. Open Tuesday to Saturday 1000-1600.
Also on Tolstoy Street is a museum dedicated to Sadriddin Aini (1878-1954), a celebrated poet and one of the central figures in modern Tajik history.
Aini was born in Bukhara in the 19th century and recorded the huge transitions of his land, from emirate to Soviet republic. Aini's account of his traditional Bukharan upbringing has been translated into English (Sands of Oxus: Boyhood Reminiscences of Sadriddin Aini, trans. John R. Perry and Rachel Lehr. Bibliotheca Iranica. Literature Series, No. 6, 1998). As the emirate began to collapse, and the floundering Emir threw scores of intellectuals into jail, Aini was arrested and lashed. A photograph of his mauled back became a symbol of the cruelties of old Bukhara for the generation to come. Aini wrote too of the iniquities of the new regime and remained a respected, independent-minded man of letters throughout his long life. He settled in Dushanbe, where he wrote quantities of fiction and became founder of the Tajik Academy of Sciences in 1950. The museum contains his furniture, library, pictures, and photographs.