"A tiny taste of Tajikistan" Panjakent by TheWanderingCamel

Panjakent Travel Guide: 11 reviews and 40 photos

Step back to Sogdia

Just 35km from the grand monuments and Russian influence of Uzbekistan's second city, Samarkand, a short walk along a dusty country road takes you from the bureucratic formality of Uzbek customs and immigration officers to the ramshackle arrangement of Portacabin and old wooden bench under the trees that is the Tajik border post. Having been dropped off by our driver on the Uzbek side, we walked towards Tajikistan, trusting that someone would be there to meet us to take us to Panjakent (or Penjikent, or Pendzhikent - spelling is a hit and miss affair in this part of the world).

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!

  • Last visit to Panjakent: Oct 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (11)

Comments (16)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Mar 3, 2014 at 5:55 AM

    Fabulous insights into this off the beaten path destination. It's been too long since I read one of your always-excellent pages and this has reminded me what I've been missing.

  • starship's Profile Photo
    Mar 13, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    Back for another little visit to this wonderful page! Though it seems to be quite an exercise in patience to visit Panjakent, it certainly proved to be worth it -- at least from this VTer's perspective. History aside, the meal at the Tajik home and the textile market look fabulously exotic.

  • bijo69's Profile Photo
    Apr 29, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    That's definitely an exotic destination! Great write-up!!!

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2010 at 8:34 AM

    Panjakent looks most interesting! You've explored some wonderful places and made some wonderful memories. Nice page!

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Oct 25, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    You again have done a wonderful job of describing the culture and the territory sites, along with great pictures.

  • BillNJ's Profile Photo
    Nov 29, 2009 at 4:17 PM

    Great page -- Panjakent, Tajikistan is definitely off-the-beaten path of most tourists! The feast that you enjoyed makes all of the bureaucratic red-tape look worthwhile. Cheers, Bill

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Nov 21, 2009 at 10:49 AM

    Leyle, excellent tips on your brief time exploring OTBP Panjakent! I loved your background information on its history and your photos really brought it all home. That's a nice ancient 'ode to wine' too! First class stuff as always.

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Nov 20, 2009 at 4:41 AM

    A fascinating slice of Tajikistan life, border bureaucracy, and the Sogdian civilisation of which I concede I previously knew nothing. Thank you Leyle.

  • SLLiew's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    A new country visited - Tajikistan. Nice descriptive page of Panjakent. Great footwear warning tip - like the photo comparison. SL :)

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    Nov 13, 2009 at 11:29 PM

    Sounds like you had a great daytrip to Panjakent! I would have loved visiting the ruins and markets and your description of the food makes it watering in the mouth. Great tips Leyle!

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