Our tickets were booked for the 11am flight to Khojand, not 2pm as we asked for and were told was our departure time. The woman at the airline service desk told us we were out of luck, everything was booked solid for the day -- but a porter took us aside and offered to fix things. He took us to a different counter and within about fifteen minutes he handed us tickets for the 11am flight. After going through security –which consisted of a broken metal detector-- the porter asked for 100 somoni, about $35. A bit exorbitant but I didn't have the energy to argue. I took my suitcase containing various flammable liquids and a very sharp knife and boarded the aircraft.
Khojand is in a northern sliver of Tajikistan and the city's population is heavily ethnic-Uzbek. It's the most agriculturally productive area in the country. The close borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan make the city a hub for imports, like used cars. And in fact, there were an awful lot of 1980s Mercedes on the road.
I played tourist for the afternoon while Carolyn scouted the city for photographic potential. I went to the recently constructed city museum, which wasn't bad. Khojand's history is traced back to Alexander's conquest and the new museum had some interesting artifacts.
Continued caption from above: Tajiks gather at the airport in Dushanbe, Tajikistan to greet and honor friends and family returning on charter flights from Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam. It is an obligation that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime of every Muslim who can afford to do so. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their devotion to Allah. The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Police in Dushanbe attempt crowd control at the airport, sometimes without success. The Tajik trip to Mecca is costs approximately $3,000. Tajikistan is the poorest of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries but also one of the most religious, and many families save for years to collect enough money to be able to send their aging parents on the journey.