"A tiny taste of Tajikistan" Panjakent by TheWanderingCamel
Panjakent Travel Guide: 11 reviews and 40 photos
We were coming to visit the ancient Sogdian city of Bunjikant, a once thriving and cultured city of the Silk Road, sitting high above the Zerafshan River that flows from the high Pamirs, through modern Penjikent and on to Samarkand and Bukhara before finally joining the Amu Darya - the fabled Oxus of Alexander (who married a Sogdian princess), Ghengis Khan and Timur. All traces of the Sogdians disappeared when Bunjikant fell to the invading Arabs in the 8th century CE, leaving the city's baked mud walls to slowly melt into mysterious mounds covered in the grasses and wildflowers of the valley's southern slopes. 1200 years were to pass before the mud mounds began to reveal their secrets - a large city complete with citadel, Zoroastrian and Buddhist temples, Nestorian and Manichean churches, two- and three-storied houses built for rich merchants. The invaders had left the city in ruins and no-one had built on the hilltop since then, leaving a wonderfully unspoilt and intact find for the archaeologists who finally arrived in the mid 1940s.
Nowadays the archaeologists have gone, the fabulous wall paintings that once adorned the palace and temple walls have been removed to museums along with the other artifacts they found, grass and flowers are growing over the mounds again. It's some 30 kilometres from the border to the site and, once there, it takes a practiced eye to interpret the lumps and bumps strewn over the open ground. Waiting for us at the border were the driver and guide we needed to make our visit both possible and meaningful so, formalities completed, we set off along the road the Penjikent.
Wandering through the silent streets and courtyards of the ancient city, a monchrome landscape of mud brick and sere grass, it was easy to think ourselves into the dust of past centuries . Reaching the edge of the bluff and looking down onto the green sprawl of modern Penjikent far below opened up another image entirely. It certainly looked peaceful enough, the civil war that wracked Tajikistan for over a decade largely passed the city by, but the problems it faces today are a result of the war as many places of employment - including schools, hospitals and factories - closed down, leading to a steady decline in the population of skilled workers as they left for Russia.
Geographically isolated from the capital, Dushanbe (on the other side of the mountains and far to the south) Penjikent is having to find its own way into the modern world. Its proximity to Samarkand makes for an easy day excursion and, with its interesting small museum, busy bazaar, rural atmosphere and friendly people as well as the archaeological site, we were very pleased we'd made the walk across that small strip of no man's land earlier in the day. Short as it was, our day in Tajikistan was enough to make us want to come back for more - we might even be prepared to brave the rigours of the Hotel Penjikent, described in a our guide book as "a decaying Soviet-Oriental hybrid". Now that could make for an interesting night!
The chances are if, as we did, you come to Panjakent on an organised tour, lunch will be included. Restaurants as we... more travel advice
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