Palace of Arbob
Of all the things you might expect to find on a collective farm outside Khujand, a 1950s recreation of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg is probably not one of them. The Palace of Arbob is there to surprise you. On the road east from Khujand there is a turning to the left after 7km, and then a further 3km to the extraordinary Palace of Arbob. Definitely a place to visit. It was the centre of the Voroshilov State Collective Farm, but rather than being a collection of huts, it is a recreation of the Winter Palace at St Petersburg! A series of water gardens lead up to the palace, with its two wings. From the complex there are views across to the hills to the north. Built between 1951 and 1956, it was the inspiration of the local head of the collective farm, O. Urunkojaev. From photographs of him, he was clearly a larger than life character, with a huge belly and a magnificent moustache. He was a man of importance: there are pictures of him with Krushchev and other Soviet dignitaries.
The palace is a real oxymoron: on one hand it was the centrepiece of the Voroshilov State Collective Farm, and its museum (entrance TJS3) is stuffed with Soviet propaganda glorifying the happy peasant and his remarkable achievements in increasing cotton production. At the same time, its very architecture and the water gardens in which it is set imply a very un-Soviet admiration for the indulgences of the bourgeoisie.
There is a splendid theatre that can hold 700 people, with a large vestibule, all now empty and echoing. It is essential to visit the museum on the first floor in one of the wings, It consists of a corridor with several rooms off, all superbly decorated. The theme is the glorification of the achievements of the collective farm and its place within the Soviet system. There are exhibits about cotton production, a recreation of the boss' office, some evocative Soviet style paintings and propaganda posters. Amid the statistics of production figures there are pictures and posters of happy, productive workers. The reality would have been very different.
A plaque on the main building records an important occasion in the history of Tajikistan was held at this palace, "The 16th session of the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan was held from 16th November to 2nd December 1992, when the new constitutional government has been established and the leadership of the Tajik state has been elected". It marked the political watershed of the civil war and the rise of an unknown young man from the south, Emomali Rahmon (nowadays president of Tajikistan).
Continuing another 10km to the east brings you to Lake Kairakkum, an artificial reservoir that was a popular Soviet-era holiday destination and is still the closest thing to a beach resort you'll find so many thousand miles from the sea.