Dushanbe’s quiet, green beauty, drawn from the neoclassical architecture, tree-lined streets and epic mountain backdrop, belies its tumultuous civil war history, but will welcome you with relaxed and open arms. Explore the capital’s bazaars, Hissor fortress, Museum of national antiquities and reclining Buddha, and you’ll soon see the diversity of cultures that have influenced the city over the years. Sample styles of cuisine from across Asia and elsewhere at chaikhana tea houses, and you’ll marvel at the centuries of folk who crossed the mighty Pamirs to conquer, trade or settle.
Pad in bare feet or slippers around the carpeted floors of Dushanbe Museum and see the region’s history splayed out in artifacts: prehistoric stone tools and flint arrow tips in one room, fine Chinese porcelain in another, Arabic-inscribed stone tablets, finely embroidered costumes and intricate gold work in others. However, the centerpiece is upstairs: a 12 metre, 1600 year-old statue of the reclining Buddha entering Nirvana crafted long before Islam existed anywhere, let alone in Central Asia. A contemporary statue to the Taliban-destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the Buddha was excavated from the Silk Route city of Kushan by Soviet archaelogists in 1966, but languished in pieces in someone’s backyard until recently being restored by Japanese experts. It is the largest Buddha in Central Asia, eternally smiling at its new red-carpet surrounds.