Rising 165 meters in the air, the world’s tallest flagpole landed Tajikistan in the Guinness Book of World Records last month, just in time for the nation’s 20th anniversary of independence.
David Chambers, an American, built the tubular steel pole. “We always tell the client when we are building these massive poles, we are not building them for Guinness World Records," he said. "We are building them for the nation and for the people.”
Chambers gears up to take VOA on a 54-story climb to the top.
He explains that the pole sections were built in Dubai, transported by sea to Iran, then shipped by truck - through Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - to this landlocked nation.
After climbing more than 500 rungs on steel ladders, we emerge from a hatch to a small platform, so high it has its own weather station. “We are standing on the top of the world’s tallest flagpole right now,” noted Chambers.
Flying from the flagpole is a mighty flag of Tajikistan - weighing 350 kilograms, 1,800 square meters in size. Chambers is also submitting this to Guinness to earn the ranking for the largest flag flown from a pole anywhere.
Putting Tajikstan on the map
Down on the ground, many Tajiks say they love their new national landmark.
Barbee Mahmoud, a student from the eastern Pamir mountains, says the pole is a national morale booster.
He says the massive pole and flag are helping to put Tajikstan on the map.
But others argue that the pole is an extravagance for one of Central Asia’s poorest countries. The $3.5 million spent on the pole and flags was part of $210 million spent on Independence Day projects. That is equal to 10 percent of the entire annual budget of Central Asia’s poorest nation.
Zafar Abdullayev is a blogger. He notes that big spotlights will keep the flag brighhtly lit all winter long - right when most of Tajikistan will be suffering from electricity rationing.
Muhiddin Kabiri, an opposition politician, contends the Tajik flagpole project is the result of a national inferiority complex.
He says some people who are short wear high heels to compensate for their height. Kabiri suggests that, if the human-rights policies and politics of Tajikistan’s authoritarian government dull the country's international stature, it has to polish its image with an attraction like the world's tallest flagpole.
Chambers has heard such criticisms before. The pole he built here topped one he built for Azerbaijan last year in Baku.
The Azeri president evidently was so annoyed about being overtaken in the flagpole department that he skipped a regional meeting in Tajikistan last month.
More monumental flagpoles to come
With world leaders entranced by erecting flagpoles as tall as skyscrapers, Chambers says orders keep coming to his Dubai-based company, Trident Support.
“We also build stately flagpoles - under 100 meters - in other countries, such as south Africa, Angola, India - places like that. Inshallah, I would love to go back and build one in America some day," Chambers said. "I will build my own if no one else wants to do it. That will be my swan song - the world’s tallest flagpole, built in Dave Chambers' backyard.”
But the United States may have to wait its turn. Next in line for Trident’s monumental flag poles are Nigeria, Malaysia, and Russia - for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.