article - Panjakent

Substantially closer to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, than to Dushanbe, Penjikent is the old center of the Sogdian Empire. It lies at the entrance to Zeravshan Valley, one of Tajikstan’s main tourist attractions. Around the modern town and in its museum you will find remains of the pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian civilization.

Penjikent is a city in Tajikistan.

The remains of this Sogdian city are just out of town, on a hill overlooking the valley. You can wander around the site without being bothered by anyone. Unfortunately,there are hardly any signs explaining what is what. The director of the museum just next to the site is able to explain everything in detail though. You may also find some excavators here, and students from St. Petersburg willing to tell you about their work and finds.

The town has another small museum with Soviet memorabilia and stuffed animals as well as impressive finds from the excavations nearby — wall paintings from the 5th century, with faded colors but recognizable motifs and hunting scenes.

You can also do excellent treks in the surrounding Fan Mountains and further up the Zeravshan Valley. Penjikent is usually visited from Samarkand as part of a tour along the Silk route, other entry points are Dushanbe in the South or Khujand in the North. For the latter routes, you will have to cross high passes though. This means that Penjikent is often isolated from the rest of the country during wintertime.

. . . Panjakent . . .

The name Panjakent is derived from “panj” (five) and “kant” (settlements), meaning “five settlements”. Rudaki, the founder of Persian-Tajik literature called “Adam of poets”, was born in Panjakent.

The ruins of ancient Panjakent are situated in the Zarafshan Valley about 60 km east of Samarkand. Panjakant was the easternmost city of Sogdia. The site is being excavated from 1947 onwards. Excavations were led by Y.Yakubovsky, A.Belenitsky and B.Marshak of the Ermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Due to the long period of excavations, Panjakant has become one of the most thoroughly studied early medieval cities in all Asia. Excavations show that Panjakant was founded in the 5th cent and was inhabited until the 770s.

Panjakent is famous for the outstanding frescoes. Today, a few of them are exhibited in the small Rudaki Museum at Panjakent, but most of them are exhibited in Dushanbe and the Ermitage in St. Petersburg.

Ancient Panjakent was a town of the Soghdians. The Soghdians were a people of an Iranian language. They belonged to the most important peoples in Central Asia before arrival of the Islam. The name Soghd or Soghdian is mentioned in historical sources of the Achaemenid Empire (6th cent BC). The Soghdians founded several city-states in the Zarafshan Valley and colonies along the Silk Road from the Crimea to China and Mongolia. Ancient Panjakent was the capital of the state of Panch. The town dates to the 5th cent. AD. It was inhabited by rich merchants and land-owners. The Arabs conquered Panjakent in 722. The last ruler, named Devashtich, fled into the mountains, but he was captured and sentenced to death. People stayed in Panjakent under the rule of the caliphate, but towards the end of the 8th century, the city was abandoned.

Yaqub Beg was born in the town in the early 19th century when it was part of the Khanate of Kokand. He joined the Khan’s army as a young man and later commanded it as it vigorously, but in the long run unsuccessfully, resisted Russian expansion in the area. Later he took much of the army east, took Kashgar and Yarkand in what is now Xinjiang. He ruled a substantial kingdom from Kashgar for about a decade, but then he died (assassination, suicide and a stroke have all been given as the reason) and the kingdom fell apart.

Most visitors enter Panjakent and the Zeravshan valley from Samarkand, which is just across the border to Uzbekistan. You will need a valid Tajik visa to enter and a double/multi-entry Uzbek visa if you intend to return the same way you came. There is no public transport crossing the border and unless you have arranged your trip through one of the many Uzbek tour agents, you will have to switch taxis at the border. Taxis leave from Pandjakent Koutchasi, the south eastern part of the Registan. The trip to the border takes about 30 minutes and costs US$3 per person. From the border, the trip takes another 30 minutes and costs another US$3 per person. Travel agents at Samarkand organize the trip for about US$40 (including transportation, guide, admission fee and “border crossing fee”).

As of March 2018, to cross the border is ok. West to East: taxi drop off at the last checkpoint, get in one of the small van for the last kilometer for 1000 tenges, walk through the two checkpoints. Travelers have reported “not to bother with filing the forms and officials didn’t ask for them (don’t show the Uzbeks your Tajikistan visa unless asked)”, and to have spent 5 minutes waiting for the officer to read passport minutiae before stamping. Otherwise no questions, no search, no problems.

From Khujand or Dushanbe, it is a spectacular but exhausting 7-10h trip to Panjakent in shared taxi. In 2009, the price for a seat is about 140TJS for the Dushanbe-Panjakent bit. The roads range from virtually absent to spectacularly good, depending on whether you travel on the original road or one of the bits already repaired.

As of March 2018, the road to Dushanbe has been greatly improved, over one half of it is new, and the rest if uneven but still correct for this region, and the 5 hour trip in a good taxi is reported as almost comfortable.

The distance from Dushanbe is about 230 km. You will have to pass Varzob Gorge and go over the 3,370 m high Anzab Pass. In 2006, the 5 km long Anzab Tunnel has been opened. From Khujand, you will have to pass the Shakristan Pass with a height of 3,380 m.

Panjakent also has an airport from which small planes occasionally fly to Dushanbe. There is no schedule. Normally, if the passes are closed and enough potential travellers have assembled, Tajik air runs a trip or two.

. . . Panjakent . . .

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. . . Panjakent . . .

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