Day seven of our trip began with some light tourism in the greater Dushanbe area. Our first stop was at the Shah Mansur Bazaar, where our guide gave us half an hour to explore. This was followed by a pleasant thirty kilometre drive to the eighteenth century Hissar Fort. We walked through the main entrance route and promptly ended up at a small funfair, which as I'm sure readers will appreciate made an interesting site even more so. The rides had no safety barriers, and people and animals were roaming free; at one point we saw a horse and rider come within a few inches of being clobbered by an overenthusiastic miniature pirate ship.
Afterwards we headed back into the city for a walking tour of the key sights, including the world's second-largest flagpole, the statue of Ismoil Somoni, and Rudaki Park. It was mid-afternoon by the time we were done, and most of the group decided to retire to the hotel for a few hours of air conditioned comfort. Megan and I decided instead to head visit the National Museum of Antiquities, best known for a thirteen metre long Buddha dating from the sixth century.
14th July 2018
We regrouped in the evening for the short drive to Park Khayyam, a thirty-five acre park located in the north-eastern corner of Dushanbe. The Metropolitan Amusement Park is virtually across the road from a coal-fired power plant commissioned in 2014 that is used during the winter months to compensate for reduced output from the hydroelectric facilities that between them make up 98.5% of the generation capacity in Tajikistan. Pollution when Dushanbe-2 is running has led to numerous complaints, and perhaps unsurprisingly the authorities are pressing ahead with plans for six new 600MW turbines, the equivalent of three nuclear power stations, at the world's tallest dam.
All payments within the park have to be made via a rechargeable smart card that costs five somoni (~€0.45), and this amount is fully refundable along with any outstanding balance at the park exit. The official web site explains that the system is reset at close of business each night, so there is no advantage in hanging onto a card except as a souvenir. Those keeping a close eye on their outgoings will also need to load up two somoni (~€0.18) for admission and, if necessary, one somoni (~€0.09) for access to the bathrooms.
The main entrance is a decorated arch that opens out onto a pleasantly landscaped garden. At its center is an artificial waterfall lined on both sides by stairs, though today the pump was out of action, revealing some interesting biological experiments that would ordinarily be out of sight. On the left hand side is the Varzob River and a walkway lined by trees that block out the sight and much of the sound from the rest of the park. On the right hand side is a lake with a dancing fountain show, as well as a small water park with four slides decorated by faux rockwork and castle battlements.
It is the back of the park that is of primary interest to enthusiasts, as it is home to twenty different amusement rides, roughly half of which are geared at thrill seekers. The largest machine in the collection is Roller Coaster (#2469), the only known first generation Anaconda from Italian manufacturer Preston & Barbieri. There were only two obvious differences in this installation relative to the upgraded version we caught up with in June; first, the train had a utilitarian boxy look rather than a themed fiberglass shell; second, there was one distinctly haphazard transition half way around the track that wasn't an issue on the newer build. Even with that minor niggle the ride experience was well worth the 15 somoni (~€1.35) ticket price, and most of our group chose to ride twice at opposite ends of the train.
We were somewhat less taken with the Horror Chamber, a walkthrough that looked far more impressive from the outside than it actually was. During our exploration we heard the unmistakeable sounds of effects being triggered by the group ahead of us, but we saw virtually none of them for ourselves presumably because they took too long to reset. Our guide was with us and used the light on his phone to determine where to walk, a well-meaning approach that nevertheless rendered what was left of the experience largely pointless. Having made our escape we headed for the Ferris Wheel, a thirty-six car model that was positioned perfectly both for an overview of the amusement rides and for an aerial view of downtown Dushanbe. The cars had retrofitted plexiglas screens as a backup safety mechanism, but fortunately these didn't get in the way of our cameras.