So I'm in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Short version: this is a new job, and it may keep me here for up to three years. I've been here two weeks already. I'm alone for almost three months; Claudia and the kids will follow in July. My task is to get settled in the new job, find a house and a car, and prepare the way for them.
Dushanbe is very post-Soviet, and yet much nicer than you might think. The downtown is planned, but not in a horrible way. There are a lot of perfectly attractive buildings. It's definitely a bit of a backwater, mind. It's a very long way from anywhere. Most people don't speak English, so learning at least basic Russian is firmly on the menu.
So what is there to do in Dushanbe? Well, for one thing, there's the hiking club. Every Sunday at 9 AM, whoever wants to go hiking gathers at a corner at the north end of downtown. A local tour group picks everyone up in a couple of vans and off they all go. This week there were 15 or 20 of us, all expats, plus a couple of local Tajiks who acted as guides and chaperones.
Dushanbe sits at the northern edge of a flat plain. Beyond that northern edge are mountains: the Gissar Range, which is a spur of the Tien Shan. (Trivia: the highest peak in this range, on the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, is about 4,600 meters or >15,000 feet... and for many years, it enjoyed the euphonious name of Peak of the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party. These days it's known as "Khazret Sultan", which is also good.) So from the northern edge of Dushanbe, it's about 15 km to the foothills of the mountains; within 30 km, you're deep inside them.
These aren't big mountains by regional standards (note: regional standards are quite high), but they're geologically young -- meaning, they're steep and full of interesting geology stuff. We drove for some miles up the main road, which runs along a brown busy river, and then turned up a side road that wound through a couple of villages and then up, up.
The hike was maybe 6 or 7 km each way, starting at around 1500 meters up and climbing to maybe a little over 2000 meters (~6500 feet). It was up a narrow valley, almost a canyon, carved out by a fast-running stream. We crossed the stream seven or eight times; no bridges, one just waded across at a shallow bit. The trail was literally a donkey path -- we passed a donkey at one point. Lots of scrambling over scree, some Alpine meadows still green with spring. Spectacular views, of course. (Though I suspect that my idea of what constitutes a spectacular view may be adjusted a bit over the next few months.)
The end point was a "swimming pool" which was really just a couple of pools in the stream, not much bigger than bathtubs. We'd been told to bring bathing suits, so I changed behind a rock and... had second thoughts? The water was runoff straight from the snowpack still visible a couple of thousand feet above us. And it was obviously cold -- like, you could feel the chill radiating off it.
Well: the trick really is to plunge, before your brain realizes what's happening and can stop you. Because, yes, it's cold. It's AH AH AH AH very cold. But: do you want to stand beneath the icy waterfall like a samurai in a Kurosawa movie? Yes. you know you do.
Sore legs and a touch of sunburn, but very much worth it. And more on Tajikistan anon.