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Rudaki Avenue, South

Returning to the Presidential Palace, cross the road to the south west corner of the Ismoil Somoni Street junction with Rudaki on the south side, is the Suhrob Art Gallery, where paintings by local artists are for sale at reasonable prices. You may ask for a discount, but bartering is not generally encouraged here. The gallery has four floors of paintings, and the corridors and stairwells feature some outstanding examples of Soviet era "collectivist" art. At ground level, a separate entrance leads to a small state-run shop, which is a good place to buy souvenirs, including all kinds of craftwork, ceramics, wooden items and embroidery. Closed Sundays.

On the left side of Rudaki is the Mayakovsky Drama Theatre, showing films and occasionally, plays.

On the right side of the street, just south down Rudaki from the Suhrob Gallery is a Soviet style, three-storey department store named TSUM. It is now privately let out to a variety of commercial shops selling household and electronic goods, furniture, photographic equipment, souvenirs and gifts. For those perhaps seeking an unusual gift there is a shop on the top floor, which sells fresh water pearls.

At the junction of TSUM, on Fateh Niyazi and Rudaki Avenue, there is a subway, which crosses beneath the street, and in the underpass the city centres flower sellers ply their trade. The blooms are either imported from Iran or are locally grown. There is usually a wide range of flowers on offer, many arranged in a very ornate manner. Prices tend to be expensive and a bunch of a reasonable size might set you back US$30 or more, but the Tajiks love flowers and it is customary when visiting a Tajik home to bring flowers or chocolates as a gift to the host.

Continuing southwards there are a number of good shops and cafes in the next section of Rudaki Avenue, leading to the junction at Shotemur Street. The cafes include the Segafredo Restaurant and the Istanbul Cafe. Turning right at the junction, the Tajikistan Hotel is reached after 100m. Opposite the hotel, and occupying the corner with Rudaki Avenue is Rudaki Park. This green and pleasant area is very popular for walks among mature trees, and there is also an amusement park with a ferris wheel and roundabouts, a court for basketball and volleyball, a football pitch, and numerous shashlyk stalls. Overlooking all is a large statue of Lenin. The park is one of the places Tajiks congregate during national high days and holidays, when many people just take the air or promenade on sunny days.

Continuing west along Shotemur for another 500m there is a good view on the left of the grandiose Palace of Nations. It is an enormous building, with Grecian pillars and an imposing appearance, being built on the site of the former Russian army barracks, which played a key role in the civil war.

Returning to the junction of Rudaki Avenue and Shotemur Street, and crossing over to the eastern side of Shotemur Street, the first turning right is Bokhtar Street. On the left by the law court is a fascinating private Museum of Musical Instruments. The museum was established by a famous Tajik actor, Gurminj Zavkibekov and it is now run by his son Iqbol. It is small with four rooms, filled with an interesting array of musical instruments from the Pamirs, Afghanistan and China. Entrance fee is 5 somoni. The Silk Road souvenir/art gallery is nearby.

Continuing along Shotemur Street for 100m, the Children's Park is reached on the left side of the junction with Avenue Turzunzode. Large cement gnomes and cartoon character statues for climbing are any mother's nightmare of broken teeth and bones. Opposite is the entrance to a small alley leading to Marians Guest House. It is also a centre for information about activities in and around Dushanbe.

Continuing back to Rudaki Avenue, there are attractive stuccoed buildings on the left facing Rudaki Park.

The avenue reaches Dusti (Friendship Square) formerly known as Azadi. Dominating all is the giant statue of Ismoil, often called 'Somoni', a cult hero of modern Tajikistan. Tajiks like to believe that his crown is solid gold. Ismoil was a great king of the Somonid dynasty. His statue was erected in 1999, displacing a figure of the poet Firdausi, which had replaced one of Lenin in the early 90s. The ancient figure of Ismoil has been developed to be a symbol of modern Tajikistan as part of the government's efforts aimed at nation-building. Facing Somoni to the left is the giant National Library. On the curve of the Square is the Central Post Office. Some people have had their post box numbers since the early 30s, and there is a long waiting list to get a box.

Behind the statue of Ismoil is a garden with formal flowerbeds. Immediately behind the statue is a bronze map showing the spread of the family of Tajiks, including those in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Opposite the statue are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Majlis, or Parliament, with fountains and flowerbeds in front. The Kino Theatre completes the square.

In 1992, during the demonstrations that heralded the civil war, Azadi (now Dusti) Square was where the supporters of the government congregated, in opposition to those in front of the Presidential Palace, the area formerly known as Shahidan Square, less than a kilometre away.

Rudaki Avenue veers southeast at this point, continuing as a wide boulevard with a central area for pedestrians. There are further impressive buildings on both sides of the road, including the Firdausi Library on the left, just beyond the junction with Bukhara Street. If you use the entrance on Rudaki, you will find a small crafts shop that features woven crafts not usually found in other souvenir shops - baskets, wooden bowls, stands and wonderful outsized hats.

Three hundred metres further down on the left is a square dominated by the striking facade of the Aini Opera and Ballet Theatre. Inside is a very large auditorium with pictures of Aziza Azimova and other great Tajik ballerinas and actors. Inside is a wide marble staircase leads to the auditorium, with typical Russian plush decor. During Soviet times the theatre was a venue for touring companies from other parts of the Soviet Union, but these days is not so well frequented, although concerts are performed there for smaller audiences, sponsored by aid agencies.

On the south side of the square is the Vakhsh Hotel. During the Second World War, this was a hospital, and was briefly the headquarters of the United Tajik Opposition which fought against the government in the 1990s.

If you continue down the street of the Vakhsh Hotel, passing the opera on your left with the park behind it, you will come to Modigliani, an art gallery designed "Euro-style", and featuring some first class silver jewellery among other crafts. Their gallery space hosts international as well as Tajik exhibitors, and they regularly have Siiftd'ay afternoon receptions.

Continuing down to the intersection, you will come to the Green Bazaar, properly known in Tajik as Shaikh Mansur Bazaar. On that corner is the Tajik Stock Exchange, and just a few paces down the same side of the street, there are two excellent antique/vintage stores, selling jewellery, old Soviet memorabilia, Czech glassware, and Russian icons. The shops may be dusty and crowded, but the proprietors really know their stuff.

On the other side of the avenue is the turning into Rajabov Street. A hundred metres on the right is the excellent Museum of National Antiquities. This is a must for visitors to Dushanbe. Recently renovated, the centrepiece is an enormous reclining Buddha, excavated from a site near Qurghan Tappa in the south of the country.

Further along Rajabov Street is the Bactria Cultural Centre, run by ACTED, a French NGO, which has done much to encourage eco-tourism in the Pamirs. Lectures, courses and concerts are held here. Craftwork produced in many parts of Tajikistan, but particularly from a woman's co-operative in the Pamirs is available for purchase from the shop.

Just beyond the DBD restaurant is a turning into Husravi Dekhlavi Street. Two hundred metres on the left is the Green Bazaar. It is bustling with stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables, dried fruit and spices, even the occasional fish aquarium. A hazard in this area is the metal wheelbarrows pushed vigorously by small boys taking produce around the market.

On the outskirts of the city are much larger bazaars, selling everything from cars to gold. The largest is the Korbon Bazaar in the southern suburbs.

At the bottom end of Rudaki, on the left is the Serena Hotel, top of the range and part of a chain built by the Aga Khan organization, with very high standards of service. It has a modern facade, with an interior that chimes with local culture and traditions. Further down is the office of Turkish Airlines.

Rudaki Avenue ends at Maydon-i Aini (Aini Square). On the island is a statue of Aini, flanked by panels depicting a colossal Soviet-era monument showing various scenes - including a man breaking the chains of slavery, and a Bolshevik soldier shooting a basmacbi rebel.

On the north side of the square is the rather quaint Bekhzod National Museum. It includes a fine mosque pulpit from Istaravshan, and a lot about the aluminium industry. Entrance 5 somoni.

On the south side of the square is the enormous Hotel Poytakht (formerly Dushanbe).

The main road to the left leaving Maydon-i Aini leads to Norak (70 km), Gharm (190km) and Khorog (525km in summer). The first turn right goes to the airport (7km).

To the south from the square after 300m is the railway station. Built in the grand Soviet manner, it has some fine bevelled and stained-glasswork in the main waiting area. Many Russians trying to escape from the civil war in the 1990s were stranded in coaches here.