The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged Lenin

Khojand (aka Khujand) is a sleepy industrial town in Northern Tajikistan. In an earlier age it was Leninabad. And in an even earlier one, it was Alexandria-the-Furthest.

Yes, Big Alex was here, pursuing a Scythian army. In 329 b.c. he re-founded the existing city as Alexandria Eschate (“Alexandria the Farthest”) on the Jaxartes River. Unfortunately there isn’t much surviving from his visit.

There are the remains of a medieval mudbrick fortress, which is probably the latest descendent of fortresses on the same site from Alexander’s time. Nowadays there is a small Tajikistan army post on top, presumably a leftover from the Tajik civil war.
The Soviets left a giant polished metal statue of Lenin, which LonelyPlanet assures us is “the largest Lenin statue in all of Central Asia”. It’s on the North bank of the river and is a suitably impressive sight against the Tien Shan mountains.

Another Soviet relic

The Regional Museum is housed in a splendid building, modeled on a Medieval Castle. The basement rooms are beautifully decorated with heroic classical scenes in inlaid marble showing Alexander and other Gods. Unfortunately, the actual exhibits are relatively prosaic.

The following day I took a long-distance taxi over the long bumpy road from Khojand to Dushanbe. This is slowly being rebuilt by a Chinese construction team, but right now many sections are in extremely bad shape, especially on the Northern half. The section over the 11,500ft Shakhristan pass is basically a dirt track with many pot holes, cut into the side of steep slopes. The taxi driver, who appeared to know the road well, was veering from side to side to avoid the worst of them, while driving quite briskly, on the edge of long sheer drops. After some good road, we then took another long windy pot holed dirt road over the Anzob pass. I had been expecting us to use the Anzob tunnel, but I guess that is closed right now. We did see about a dozen short avalanche shelters being built over the main road. (We needed to detour around them.)

This disaster of a road is the only link between the (relatively) industrialized North of Tajikistan and the more agrarian South. Seeing the road helped me understand why the Northern factions were unable to intervene effectively in the civil war, which was mainly fought in the South around Dushanbe.

Of course, Big Alex led an army over that same route, long before there was any kind of paved road. Those Macedonians were a tough bunch.

A Day in Transdniester

Now entering Transdniestre!

Transdniester Entry: Welcome to the USSR!

On my way from Chisinau to Odessa, I passed through Tiraspol, the capital of the strange territory of Transdniester (aka Transdniestr, or Transdnestr, or Transnistria, or Transdniestria).  This is a narrow slice of Moldova with an ethnic Russian majority.  Back when the USSR was dissolved, these good folk were alarmed to discover that Moldova was proposing to unite with Romania.  They could reluctantly accept being Moldovan, but the prospect of becoming Romanian was too much for them to bear, and they seceded.  A peace-keeping force was eventually dispatched, but, since no one seems particularly interested in resolving the dispute, the area remains one of Eastern Europe’s frozen conflicts.

Tiraspol Lenin

Tiraspol Lenin

Transdniester itself is now a wonderful throwback to the grand old days of the USSR, with a hammer-and-sickle on the flag and coinage, a commemorative WWII Red Army tank, and a dashing statue of Lenin outside the Presidential Palace.  At the train station the young lady at the left luggage desk seemed resolutely convinced that if she only spoke Russian loudly enough then eventually I would understand her.

Transdniester’s economy is reputed to flourish on what can be most kindly called the “grey market” and its unelected government does not welcome outside interest.  As a result, it seems to be content to remain unrecognized.  Its de facto foreign policy seems to be to avoid being noticed.   Life is profitable for the elite, and being unrecognized and unknown avoids many troublesome inquiries.

Entering Transdniester was easy, but it turned out (by accident or design) I had not received the right entry stamps on my forms.  So when I came to exit, two cheerful immigration officers with very limited English took me into their office and explained that there was “problem” with my forms.  I was told that I should “go back” to get this fixed.  Yes, right.  I politely declined.

So then we got to the crunch.  It appeared a small gift would facilitate matters:

  • Guard (meaningfully): “Present!”
  • Me (politely):  “No.”
  • Guard (emphatically): “Present!”
  • Me (politely but vigorously):  “No!”

The guard then fidgeted with stuff on his desk.  After a minute I realized he was fingering a pair of handcuffs in what I think was supposed to be an intimidating way.  But alas, I’m afraid he wasn’t very convincing.  After a further short pause, he realized I wasn’t buying it, reluctantly gave up on me as a bad job, handed back my passport and let me leave.  (Sigh.  These wicked foreigners just have no respect for local traditions!)

I admit that I was fortified by my reading of Transdniester’s foreign policy (to not be noticed).  The border guards may hope for gifts, but I suspect they would be in deep trouble if they actually caused any significant incidents with foreign nationals.

Ashgabat: Much Strangeness

Turkmenistan is by far the strangest of the ex-soviet Republics.  The late President Niyazov (aka “Turkmenbashi”) ruled as an absolute monarch, with a personality cult that would have made Stalin blush.   Strange relics of his reign still dot Ashgabat.

Arch of Neutrality

The Arch of Neutrality is a 75 meter tripod tower, adorned with a 12 meter golden statue of the late God-King President Niyazov.  The golden statue rotates through the course of the day, so that the God-King President is always facing the Sun and so that he dispenses his blessings equally to all points of the compass.

Earthquake Memorial

Ashgabat suffered a devastating earthquake in 1948, killing perhaps as many as 100,000 people, including President Niyazov’s mother. But miraculously the infant Niyazov survived.

The earthquake memorial, in a rather nice piece of symbolism, shows a bull tossing the earth in its horns.  Writhing figures mark Ashgabat’s location.  However, fear not, all is not lost!  A dying mother lifts a golden infant, the future god-king President Niyazov to safety.  (Alas!)

Lenin

The local statue of Lenin is comparatively modest.  It is however distinguished in having an impressive tiled plinth, in a Central Asian style with Lenin’s name in flowing Turkmenistan letters.

Ashgabad’s new city area has broad avenues of tall white “marble” apartment buildings. It clearly aspires to be futuristic, but it looks like a 1950’s vision of a Soviet Model City. I much prefer Astana’s more daring vision.

“The World’s Tallest Flagpole”

“The Great Plunger”