NEAR DUSHANBE

NEAR DUSHANBE

There are a number of good day trips and short excursions into the mountains that can be taken from Dushanbe. The trekking is especially good. There are some wonderful places just a short drive away. Dushanbe is located in the center of the Gissar valley at an altitude of more than 800 meters. level. To the north and east are foothills and the often snow-capped mountains of the Gissar range. The Gissar range extends down both sides of Varzob River (within the boundaries of Dushanbe). There are some 120 glaciers in the upper part of the Varzob river basin, which create a relatively cool microclimate in the mountain gorges and in outskirts of Dushanbe.

Although Dushanbe is a relatively young city, the area occupied by Dushanbe has a relatively long history. Archaeological digs in the city and around it have uncovered a wedge-shaped copper axe dated 2nd millennium B.C., 2500-year-old elegantly-crafted gold and silver alloy earrings, part of bronze-gilded a harness bearing an embossment of the head of the Greek god Dionysus, and Sassanid silver coins. The first-known written record of Dushanbe dates to 1676 when it was called Kasabai Dushanbe and was located at the crossroads of caravan routes connecting the Hissar valley, Bukhara, Samarqand, the Pamirs and Afghanistan.

Tursunzabe (60 kilometers west of Dushanbe) is the home of huge aluminum smelter built by the Soviets, which at one time was the world's forth largest aluminum plant and is now Tajikistan’s biggest industry. All the bauxite used to make the aluminum comes from the outside and is brought in by rail. They plant was built where it is to take advantage of hydroelectric power supplied by dams.

Kurgan-Tyube (60 kilometers south of Dushanbe) is located in the southwestern part of the country and has a population of about 65,000. The agricultural and industrial sector are dependent on cotton and sheep. Most industries deali with food processing or clothing manufacturing. A total of 103 kilometers of the most deteriorated sections of Dushanbe-kurgan Tyube-dargara Kulyab Road have been been restored and 90 kilometers of rural roads connecting with the road have been improved.

Hissar

The Hissar (Hisor, Gissar) mountains lies just north of the capital, Dushanbe, which is situated in west-central Tajikistan. Mountain ranges of Gissar-Allay occupies the central place in the territory of Tajikistan and refer to the south of Tien-Shan and include Turkistan, Zarafshan, Gissar, Karategin and Alay mountain ranges. The Hissar Valley includes Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: The Hissar Valley “is another industrialised zone. The aluminium plant at Tursunzoda near the Uzbek border is one of the largest in Asia and, immediately after independence, generated 50 per cent of Tajikistan’s hard-currency earnings. By the early 1990s, an unofficial alliance had emerged between the industrial and financial captains of Leninobod and Hissar; the latter had been allowed to occupy high positions in the state bureaucracy as a sign of recognition of Hissar’s industrial and agricultural potential. The geographical proximity of the two regions as well as close cultural ties complemented the political rapprochement. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“Hissar was a major princedom from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. It was subjugated by the Emirate of Bukhara only in 1868, in the wake of the 15-day battle of Dehnav. Local activists have always believed it is unfair that Hissar should be just one of the raions under Dushanbe’s direct jurisdiction; they have demanded its elevation to oblast status and mooted the idea of a ‘reacquisition’ of territories in Qurghonteppa, Qubodiyon, Boisun, Sherobod and even Darvoz and Qarotegin, for ‘they belonged to the realm of the bek of Hissar, or sent him annual metayage and were accountable to him’. But its relatively small population and its sheer heterogeneity (45 per cent of the population is Uzbek) effectively precluded a dramatic rise in Hissar’s influence in the republic until the civil war. ><

“The region’s location at a trade crossroads of Central Asia, the presence of hard-currency-earning industries in its territory, the relatively high degree of mobility of the population and the folklore tradition of Hissari polvons—the outlawed fighters against the Manghit authorities—were instrumental in the emergence of organised crime groupings as a potent unofficial institution in the region by the early 1990s. At that time the four main gangs specialised mostly in extortion, smuggling and car theft. They also maintained close contacts with colleagues in Uzbekistan and enjoyed protection in high places in Tashkent.” >< .

Hissar Fort

Hissar Fort (32 kilometers west of Dushanbe, six kilometers south of the town of Hissar) is an 18th century fortress occupied until 1924 by the army of the Emir of Bukhara. In the 1920s it was occupied by the basmachi rebels and was destroyed by the Red Army. All that remain of the fort is it reconstructed gateway. Hissar was the capital of the province of Eastern Bukhara. Don’t believe claims that it was sacked by Cyrus, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. But Tamerlane stopped here. There are nice views from the nearby hills. Occasionally buz kashi matches are played in the area.

Located on a mountain-flanked plain, Hissar (also spelled Hisor and Gissar) fortress overlooks the market square surrounded by a caravan-sheds, an 18th century madrasah and a 19th century madrasah.. There is a small ethnographic museum in one of the madrasahs with a display of jewelry, clothing and pottery. Historical sites near the Gissar Fortress include the 16th century Makhtum Azam Mausoleum, Masjidi-i-Sangin (“The Stone Mosque”), and the natural spring of Chashmai Mohiyon. There is a teahouse next to the fortress in the shadow of two large chanor (sycamores) that are 500 and 700 years old, where one can can catch one’s breath and try local food and sip green tea.

Hissar Castle is part of the Silk Roads Sites in Tajikistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Hissar Castle functioned from 14th to early 20th centuries According to the written sources, Timur's arsenal located in Hissar and there was the residence of one of the powerful Turkic-Mongol princes. In a later period of the there was the palace of Hissar bek. The Castle consists of four parts: arch-citadels (4250 square meters), with the input of Darvoza-Khon, Shuturkhona-"Camel's house" (12 hectares), Askar-Khona "Military barracks" (6.5 hectares). [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

“The total area of the castle at the foot of the outer perimeter walls is 15 hectares. Each part has been circled in a single defensive wall or had additional facilities such as towers. The height of the arch is 80 meters. Gate Arch located in the southern facade of the castle, was erected in 18th century in place of destroyed gates in 14th-17th centuries The remains were found near the new gates. The input structure is a high portal structure with a width of 4.5 meters and height of 16 meters, by round towers flanked in both sides. The top of the tower neck was completed with cupolas equipped with loopholes and there was a guardhouse at its bottom.”

The fortress has one meter thick walls with loopholes for guns and cannons. The main entrance housed large staircases and terraces surrounded by brick which unfortunately have not been preserved. The only thing remaining of the fortress is the majestic baked-brick gates with two cylindrical towers and arch beneath like those which were built in Bukhara in the 18-19th centuries. Getting There: There are regular buses from Dushanbe to Hissar that leave from Dushanbe bus station. From Hissar you need to take a taxi, hitch or walk to Hissar Fortress.

Hissar Valley

Hissar valley is a large valley, 70 kilometers long and 2-18 kilometers wide, formed by the Kofernihon, Karatag and Shirkent rivers. Evidence of human habitation dates back to the stone age in the 4th-3rd millennium B.C. The valley later became part of Bactria, Greco-Bactria and Kushan.Today, all that remains to be seen is rounded Tepas (hills). Other archaeological monuments and remain include madrassahs, mosques, burial grounds and remains of irrigation canals. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: ““In the Middle Ages, Hissar was already famous in the Middle East for its craft production and had a rich market. The royal town was one of the 28 possessions of the Bukhara emirate. By the early 20th century Hissar was in a state of severe decay. At the site of the ancient town, archaeological and architectural monuments of different eras are now preserved, occupying an area of about 86 hectares

“Several folk legends told by local residents relate to the Hissar fortress. Rustam and Afrosiyob, the renowned heroes of Firdausi’s immortal Shohnoma are reputed to have battled here. According to legend, the Hissar fortress was built by Afrosiyob to protect himself from Rustam. Another legend says that Caliph Ali came to this area on his horse Dul-dul to preach Islam and stopped on the mountain which is nowadays called Poi Dul-dul, located to the west of Hissar. He lowered a rope from the mountain to the fortress and, like a tight-rope walking acrobat, slipped into the fortress, but here he was recognized and imprisoned. In order to escape from captivity, Ali summoned his horse which brought him Zulfiqor’s sword. With this sword he defeated his enemies, including the wicked magician who controlled the fortress at that time.”

Hissar Buildings

Monuments from many historic eras cover an area of about 86 hectares and together are now known by the name of Hissar Reserve, made up of: 1).Hissar fortress; 2) Registan, the square in front of the fortress; Old Madrassa, a 16th century, 2,250-square-meter Islamic school; 4) Madrassa from the 19th century; 5) the caravanserai, built in 1808 and used as an inn; 6) Mohiyon (Fish Spring) Mosque, built in the 8th century, with two porches and a tower were added in the 16th century (now been fully restored.); 7) the (Stone) Mosque; 8) Makhdumi A’zam Mausoleum, a 609-square -meter monument from the 16th century was built on the site of Khoji Mohammed Hayvoqi’s tomb; 9) Museum, located in the old madrassa. More than 3,200 unique artefacts found during excavations in and around the town of Hissar are housed here.

Opposite the fortress was a market square with a caravanserai and many shops. Opposite the entrance to the fortress today is 17th century madrassa. Nearby is the newer madrassa and mausoleum built in the 18-19th century.According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan “The best-preserved buildings are the old (16-17th century) madrassah (madrassah-i kuhna) — a domeshaped building with a wide courtyard and hujra (cells) inside, a library building and a new madrassah (madrassah-i nav) from the 17-18th centuries which only has two-stories on its front left side. All the structures resemble complexes in Bukhara and Samarqand and have been restored and nowadays are available for visitors to see something resembling the original. In the early 20th century madrassah-i kuhna had 100-150 students. Classes in the madrassah ended in 1921.

To the south of the old madrassah lies the 16-17th century Mahdumi A’zam mausoleum. Mahdumi A’zam means “Greatest master” and is not so much a name as a title or a nickname. It is interesting that in Central Asia there are several complexes under this name connected with a variety of real people, states and religious figures. Researchers have yet to identify who exactly is buried in the Hissar mausoleum, although there are already several theories and guesses. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“There is one other remarkable local monument, the 12-16th century Sangin (Stony) domical mosque. The mosque was so named due to the fact that the lower half of its walls were built of stone. The unique feature of this structure is the presence of four resonating chambers below the dome frames in the shape of bottomless ceramic jugs embedded in the brick mass. The resonating chambers were intended to improve the acoustic characteristics of the mosques’ interior where sermons and praying took place.

“A Khishtin (“built out of bricks”) caravanserai (ancient inn/motel) is one more construction within the complex. At first sight this construction does not stand out as anything particularly interesting. However, it is actually a noteworthy object primarily due to the tremendous amount of hard work that people have put into its restoration. At the beginning, this 17-18th century caravanserai was just incomplete ruins, with foundations and bakedbrick walls no more than one meter high. Restorers only had a 1913 photo where the caravanserai was shown in its original image to work from. After detailed study of the photo and other documents describing similar structures, specialists began restoration, the result of which you can now see.”

Varzob Valley

Varzob Valley (around the Varzob River, including Dushanbe) is a favourite weekend retreat for Dushanbe residents. There are many recreation opportunities, hiking trails and picnic spots here. It is close to Dushanbe in the basin of the Varzob River, embracing central part of the southern slopes of the Hissar range. Highways connect Dushanbe with northern districts of the country and the Fergana Valley, Khujand (formerly Leninobod), Istravashan (formerly Uroteppa), Panjakent and Aini. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Varzob District borders the Zaravshan valley and the Hissar range (with Anzob and Takfon settlements) to the north, Romit Valley to the east and Rohati and Vahdat (formerly Orjonikidzeabad, Kofarnihon) to the southeast. The main way to get destinations there from Dushanbe are hitchhike or taxi. Minibuses and buses serve a few places.

The Varzob Valley is 72 kilometers long and embraces an elevation change of about 1.5 kilometers. The Lower Varzob River, which changes name to “Dushanbinka”, flows into the wide plain in which Dushanbe is situated, and continues to the south into the Kofarnihon River. Flora of the Varzob River basin includes juniper, walnut, maple, apple, cherryplum, and hawthorn trees.

Not far from Dushanbe, in Varzob valley is the stunning 30-meter-high Gusgarf Waterfall, regarded as the most beautiful in the Hissar range. A trail to the waterfall starts from the 21 kilometers marker on the main Varzob Valley road. It is an eight-kilometer, two-3 hour hike to the waterfall. The best to visit is April-May when red tulips and hawthorn bushes are in bloom. There is a fairly deep round pool here filled with ice-cold water. You can take a swim if you dare.

Varzob Gorge and Khoja Obi Garm Resort

Varzob Gorge (50 kilometers north of Dushanbe) is a gorge with stunning Alpine scenery, spectacular cliffs, deep canyons, cascading waterfalls, rushing streams, and thick conifer forest. There are lots of hiking trails. Sarob is a year-round hotel and recreation complex located in Varzob Gorge, at an altitude of about 2000 meters. There are two complexes: a hotel and recreational facility with waters from a radon-rich mineral spring.

Khoja Obi Garm (48 kilometers north of Dushanbe) is a resort located in the central part of the southern slope of the Gissar Range, in the gorge of the Khodzha-Obigarm River, at an altitude of 1740-1960 meters. The picturesque resort is surrounded by forests with walnut, chinar, chestnut and white acacia trees, ) waterfalls, mountain streams and beautiful often-snowcapped mountains. Designed by French architects and opened in the 1970s, the large resort complex contains three pavilions. The largest is ten stories. The others are six- and four- stories.

The pavilions at Khoja Obi Garm y contain everything necessary for useful treatment and a comfortable stay. The main treatment is bathing in mineral water, which is brackish and rich in nitric-siliceous therms of suplhate-hydrocarbonate sodium-calcium composition and temperatures from 45-96 degrees C. The Hot mineral springs of Khoja-Obi-Garma have been known since ancient times. They exit the fracture zone and cracks in the red granites. The water composition is similar to that of hot springs in Chamonix, France. Tel: (+992)-934-11-11-11, E-mail: sarob_@bk.ru

Valleys That Run Off Varzob Valley

There are also nice walks along the Siyoma, Ojuk, Kondara, Maikhura and Tagob Rivers, which flow into the Varzob River. The Ojuk Valley (25 kilometers from Dushanbe) stretches dozens of kilometers deep into the mountains to the northeast of Varzob. The forest contain apple, cherry and plum trees, but is best known for it abundant sycamores, known locally a chanor. The valley follows the Ojuk River. Hiking along the Ojuk Valley is nice. The river has many pools where you can take a cold swim and sandy river banks where you can sunbathe. In the valley, Simiganj village is known for its grapes. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Kondara Valley (31 kilometers from Dushanbe) is a protected area and begins at the end of the Varzob Valley. The Botanical Gardens of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, founded in the late 1930s, has planted various species of trees, bushes and herbs in this valley to observe how they grow in mountainous conditions. The gardens are not large, however, almost one tenth of the flower flora of the former Soviet countries is collected here. More than two dozen of them cannot be found anywhere else.

Tagob Valley (38 kilometers from Dushanbe) begin where the Varzob River is joined by one of its largest tributaries — the Tagob River. The Tagob River is formed through the joining of the Tuikutal and Varmanik Rivers. In the upper Tagob, at 2,200 meters above sea level, there is the hilly Safed-Dara Plateau (White Valley),

Ski Areas Near Dushanbe

Safed-Dara Plateau (White Vally) has been Tajikistan’s premier ski resort since the 1970s skiers but these days is run down and in need of repair. The Children Olympics downhill skiing school was set up. A four-story building (where the school and a hotel were situated) and many run-down mobile homes are here.[Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Snow falls beginning late October or early November and remains on the plateau seven months out of the year. There are two cableways about one kilometer long which skiers can use to get up to the top. It can ne very very crowded in ski season and during weekends and holidays. You can rent skis here. It is best to use a 4-wheel drive car to get to the plateau. After the Hushyori village, 42 kilometers from Dushanbe, there is a road on the left to the Khoja Obigarm resort (1,790—1,960 meters above sea-level). It is about a six six kilometer climb to Khoja Obigarm.

Khoja Obigarm Plateau (near Hoja Obi Garm Resort , 48 kilometers north of Dushanbe) is also called the Ruidasht Plateau. It stretches for several dozen kilometers at an of altitude 2,200—2,500 meters. The plateau is quite suitable for skiing, however, it lacks the infrastructure necessary and so is used only by enthusiasts.

High Valleys Near Dushanbe

The Siyoma River (54 kilometers from Dushanbe) is popular for its blue, crystal-clear water, wild apple trees, dogrose, birch groves and currant bushes which have an abundance of berries in the autumn. This river begins at an altitude of 3,300 meters at the Medvezhi Zamok Glacier and drops 2000 meters over 21 kilometers. Its course is dotted with pools and waterfalls. Even during the spring floods, when the water in the Varzob River is dark-brown because of lare amounts of silt, clay and pebbles, the Siyoma is always strikingly blue. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan www.tdc.tj]

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “After the Siyoma and Varzob confluence, both rivers flow together in one riverbed, but they appear to be separate until their waters completely mix up several dozen meters further downstream. In the Upper Siyoma and its tributaries there are several peaks over 4,000 meters of interest for mountain climbers (Siyoh — 4,065 meters, Peak of Four — 4,050 meters, Shirokaya — 4,180 meters, Qullai Javonon — 4,200 meters, Bolshoi Igizak — 4,100 meters, etc.). There are peaks for every taste here. Even novice mountain climbers can climb some of them while the more experienced will find peaks suitable for themselves. There are no settlements in the Siyoma Valley. Shepherds sometimes bring their flocks to the Igizak River mouth (a tributary of the Siyoma) for pasture in the summer. The local population is seen here rarely. Haramqul, which is at 3,000 meters above sea level in Upper Maikhura (another Varzob tributary), is considered the cold spot in the Dushanbe area. Water temperatures in the river, even in summer, are rarely above 5ºC. This is possibly the place which has the most avalanches per year in the country. Avalanches come in November-April.

“There are about 2,000 milmeters of precipitation per year here — almost three times as much as in Dushanbe. In winter the snow level can reach five meters — almost as high as a twostorey building. The other main sight in the Maikhura Valley is the almost six kilometers long tunnel through the mountains, the construction of which began several years ago. Upon completion it will allow the Dushanbe—Khujand road connecting the central and northern parts of the country to be usable all year round.()

“After Ziddi village, approximately 74 kilometers from Dushanbe, begins the lengthy 20 kilometers winding road leading, with immense loops, to the 3,372 meters Anzob Pass. The Anzob Pass is on a ridge with a small, flat area. The altitude difference between the beginning of the ascent and the pass is more than 1,400 meters. Cars driving from Ziddi village to the pass cover the distance in 1-1.5 hours. An impressive view of the Kuhistan Mountains opens up from the pass. Directly to the north, in the Zaravshan range, you can see the pyramidal Anzob Peak (4,525 meters) beneath which the Yaghnob River valley can be seen. To the east, the snowy peaks of Zamin Qaror are seen. A weather-station has been functioning for many years on the pass. It is almost always windy here. However, in the summer, in sunny weather, it is possible to ski. In summer you can see apiaries on the slopes of the pass and buy excellent, aromatic, mountain honey. Due to snowdrifts, the pass is closed for transportation from approximately the second half of November until late May.

“16 kilometers northeast of Ziddi village at an altitude of 3,030 meters there are the Khoja Sangkhok cold carbonaceous mineral springs. Several rising streams of mineral water run from cracks in the Paleozoic crystalline shale and appear to boil due to the intensive liberation of carbonic gasses. Its taste reminds one of Narzan mineral water and is known to the residents of the capital as Anzob mineral water. A country road leads to the springs. In order to get to this road you need to turn right (if coming from Dushanbe) several kilometers up the main road leading to the Anzob Pass. It is possible to find several more mineral springs near the main road approximately eight kilometers down from the top of the pass (if coming from Dushanbe). There is a small spring surrounded by stones next to the road. The unusual climate, flora and hydro-energy of the Varzob Valley has attracted numerous expeditions to research the habitat of the Yeti. However, local residents, mountain climbers and tourists are yet to meet any abominable snowmen. The Government of Tajikistan has now declared Varzob Valley to be a recreation and tourism zone. Construction of many tourism infrastructure projects is going on here.”

Mausoleum of "Hodja Nashron"

Mausoleum of "Hodja Nashron" (45 kilometers west of Dushanbe) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. According to a report submitted to UNESCO:The mausoleum (11th-12th centuries) consists of two burial places contained in two premises. The first of that is square, it has size 6x6.8 meters. with portal. The height of the kept part is 2.8 meters. The second room is 11x16.35 meters. and consists of square burial place and portal. The walls are 5.15 meters. high. These two buildings show artistic possibilities of non-masked brickwork typical for Tajik architecture of 11th-12th centuries. [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture]

“The large mausoleum is a part of the complex of Hodja Nashron, it consists of two mausoleums situated at an angle one to another. It is a portal-cupola memorial building. A deep entrance arch bay has an arch, the next square room has cupola on the octagon. The southwest, southeast and northeast façades are identical: there is ordinary brickwork, then four rows of the twin brickwork, then there is a pattern brickwork over the ordinary one. It begins from the height 1.45-1.78 meters. to 3.52-3.81 meters. There are right-angled windows in all three façades. In the southeast and northeast façades they begin at the height of 5.3 meters. in the southwest one they begin at the height 5.07 meters. The window are 45 centimeters high.

“B.A.Litvinski dated the mausoleum the second half of 12th century. The mausoleum has a large (more than 3.5 meters) portal. It is an independent architectural element. Peculiarity of the monument is its breaking up on two parts — the mausoleum proper and the portal. Other monuments of 12th century have no such peculiarity of the monument. The portal does not cover all portal wall, but it as if projects over the wall. It's rarity among the monuments of pre-Mongol period, for example, the mosque Zulfia near Termez, the mausoleum of Abdul Fazla in Sarakhs”

Shirkent Valley: Dinosaur Footprints and Alpine Scenery

Shirkent Valley (60 kilometers west of Dushanbe, near the town of Tursunzoda) is the home of of historical-natural park with the same name founded in 1991 The most significant objects here are three sites of dinosaur footprints from various eras containing more than 400 footprints. The first is located in one of the right tributaries of the Shirkent River, slightly above Shirkent village with the same name. Two lines of pterodactyl footprints are seen here on the surface of erinaceous limestone. The length of the footprints is 0.5 meters on average, the width up to 30 centimeters, and the step length about 75 centimeters. Since there are no footprints known elsewhere like those in Shirkent, the animal that left them was placed in a new species of dinosaurs which is a suborder of Theropoda and was given the name Macropodosaurus Gravis (lit. heavy kangaroo-anteater). [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

The second group of dinosaur footprints is approximately five kilometers from the mouth of the Shirkent River, near the watershed on its left side. Footprints here are from a Tridactylous, and most are about 50 centimeters long, but there are also some about 65 centimeters long and up to 45 centimeters wide. The third group of footprints is near Pashmi Kuhna village and has the footprints of only one Tridactylous, but it was a real giant. The length of its feet exceeds 70 centimeters, the width 60 centimeters, and the depth of ground depression under its footprints is up to 10 centimeters. Rare fossil tracks of boring-mollusks, giant signs of wave ripples, fissures of dried sea-silt and other relics from the Dinosaur Age are also here.

Within the Shirkent Barrier area are towers, peaks, cornices, canyons, waterfalls and large caves. This whole mountain structure, formed out of red sandstone with groves of dark-green juniper trees. There are Stone Age Middle Age sites and evidence of the ancient mining of copper and copper-tin ores as wells cemeteries and irrigation facilities are interesting archaeological sights in this valley.

A track goes along the Shirkent Valley on the left bank of the river but only for about 20 kilometers. Houses and orchards of local residents stretch like a continuous ribbon along the river in the lower part of the valley; nobody lives in the upper part of the valley. The wildlife of the area is diverse. There are snow leopards (ounces), bears, marten cats, stoats, and Siberian wild goats. Some birds and insects, inhabitants of this area, are registered in the Red Book of Tajikistan’s rare and vanishing species (snowcock, griffon, Turkestan saker falcon, barbary falcon, swallowtail, rare butterflies, etc.). Getting There: There is a regular bus from Dushanbe to Tursunzoda. From there hitch a ride or take taxi.

Romit Valley

Romit Valley (beginning 45 kilometers northwest of Dushanbe) offers numerous recreation areas in its lower part: hot springs, protected forests and beautiful mountain rivers. The Kofarnihon River is 387 kilometers long. Its left headwater, Sorbo River, begins in the glaciers and snowfields of the Qarategin range and the right headwater, Sardai Miyona River, in the Hissar range. Below Shahrituz settlement, in the south of Tajikistan, the Kofarnihon flows into the Amu Darya River. The Sorbo and Sardai Miyona Rivers have mixed sources — glacial and snow. The largest water flow level is in May-July. Riverbeds 40—60 meters wide are littered with boulders and pebbles. The existence of many plants and animals in Romit Valley is thanks to these rivers. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Romit village is situated 70 kilometers from Dushanbe at the confluence of the Sorbo and Sardai Miyona rivers 1,200 meters above sea level. On the other side of the river the Romit reservation, established in 1959, begins, with an area of more than 16,000 hectares for the protection of the natural mid- and high-mountains of the Hissar range. The reserve is famous for its forests. The mountain slopes are covered with birch, poplar, willow, maple, oleaster (elaeagnus), and mulberry. There are also wild apples, pears, cherries, plums, cherries, nuts, sea-buckthorns, barberries, hawthorns, quinces, pistachios, almonds, dog rose, juniper and even occasional cedars. Above the forests are the sub-alpine meadows where tulips, crocuses, mountain violets, anemones, poppies, carnations, irises, and geranium grow. In

the numerous rivers and streams swim “king’s fish” — a kind of trout — as well as marinka and Turkestani catfish. The local residents call the trout “gulmohi” meaning “fish-flower”. In early autumn the trout swim upstream for spawning, almost reaching the snowy peaks. Sometimes you can see king’s fish literally soaring up over the water, climbing the waterfalls or, like snakes, jumping on stones barely covered by the running water and climbing up them. This is an unforgettable sight!

There are more than 100 species of birds in the reserve. After climbing the steep slopes towards the upper mountain belt, you can see among the rocks one of the most wonderful valley birds — the lammergeyer eagle with its wedge-shaped tail and a scrap of feathers under its beak. Having stretched out its huge wings, the bird hovers at low altitudes, as if following the mountain contours on the lookout for prey. One other interesting bird is the snow partridge (tetraogallus himalayensis), sometimes known as the snowcock (tetraogallus). A bluish-grey bird, with bright brown speckles and lengthwise-wavy mottled feathers on its sides, it is almost invisible among the fragments of rocks and rockslide debris which form its usual habitat.

There are a variety of species of animals in the reserve, some of them included in the Red Book of rare and endangered species. In the 1960s the first tugai deer — khangul (royal flower), which was an ancestor of the mountain population of this rare species, were brought here from the warm Vakhsh River area. Siberian wild goats and Central Asian goats are also inhabitants of this area. Older males have huge scimitar-shaped horns with a ridged surface that help defend them from predators. By examining the size of the roller-shaped nodes on the horns it is possible to calculate the age of their owner — half the number of nodes plus one. The brown bear is one more regular inhabitant of the reserve. Its claws are not black like normal brown bears’, but white, which is how it got its name — the white-claw bear. This subspecies of bear is considered rare. Mulberries and nuts are among their favourite delicacies. The real ruler of the high mountains, however, is the snow leopard. The snow leopard is called the wild goats’ shepherd as it often hunts for them. Getting There: From Dushanbe you can get to the valley by driving towards Vahdat (formerly Yangi Bazar, Orjonikidzeabad and Kofarnihon) and 37 kilometers from the capital, near an intersection, you need to turn left and continue along the right bank of the Kofarnihon River.

Nurek Dam

Nurek Dam (75 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe) It is a popular travel agency day trip destination form Dushanbe. At 300 meters (984 feett), Nurek Dam is the second tallest man-made dam in the world. It was the highest until it was surpassed by Jinping-I Dam in China in 2013. The Rogun Dam, also along the Vakhsh in Tajikistan, may exceed Nureky in size when completed. The dam is located in a deep gorge along the Vakhsh River. A town near the dam, also called Nurek, houses engineers and other workers employed at the dam's power plant.

The Nurek Dam is an earth-fill embankment dam on the Vakhsh River. Its primary purpose is hydroelectric power generation and its power station has an installed capacity of 3,015 megawatts. Construction of the dam began in 1961 and the power station's first generator was commissioned in 1972. The last generator was commissioned in 1979 and the entire project was completed in 1980 when Tajikistan was still part of the Soviet Union. An estimated 5,000 people were resettled from the dam's flooding area.[Source: Wikipedia]

The Nurek Dam is uniquely constructed, with a central core of cement forming an impermeable barrier within the earth fill construction. volume of the mound is 54 million cubic meters. A total of nine Francis turbine-generators are installed in the Nurek Dam's power station. Originally having a generating capacity of 300 megawatts each, they were redesigned and retrofitted between 1984 and 1988 so now have a capacity of 335 megawatts each (3,015 megawatts total). As of 1994, this formed most of the nation's 4.0 gigawatt hydroelectric generating capacity, which was adequate to meet 98 percent of the nation's electricity needs.

The reservoir formed by the Nurek Dam, known simply as Nurek, is the largest reservoir in Tajikistan with a capacity of 10.5 square kilometers. The reservoir is over 70 kilometers (40 miles) in length, and has a surface area of 98 square kilometers (38 square miles). The reservoir drives the hydroelectric plant located within the dam. Stored water is also used for irrigation of agricultural land. Irrigation water is transported 14 kilometers through the Dangara irrigation tunnel and is used to irrigate about 700 square kilometers (300 square miles) of farmland. It is suspected that the reservoir may have caused induced seismicity when being impounded...

Gharm

Gharm (beginning about 70 kilometers east of Dushanbe) is a mountainous region that has traditionally been the granary of Tajikistan, due to its mild climate and abundance of water. Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: In addition to the Gharm raion proper, it includes the districts of Komsomolobod (historical Qarotegin), Tavildara, Fayzobod and Jerghatol (the Qarotegin Valley has since been renamed Rasht). The Gharmis, 95 per cent of whom in this region live in villages, have traditionally been engaged in growing fruit and vegetables rather than cotton. An average Gharmi farmer would gain up to 80 times more profit from one acre of citrus trees than his Kulobi colleague growing cotton, spending much less effort. Gradually, the Gharmis accumulated substantial capital through trading agricultural produce on local markets and began to penetrate the republican trade structures, both legal and shadowy, that had been previously dominated by the Leninobodis and Uzbeks. Yet their growing wealth and sprawling commercial activities failed to bring about any rise in the political status of the region. On the contrary, it was downgraded from oblast status to just ‘a group of raions’ in 1955. In the late 1970s, the regional elite’s aspirations were rekindled—this time it was connected with the name of Mirzo Rahmatov, the USSR’s ambassador in Ghana and a personal friend of Brezhnev. Brezhnev’s untimely death in 1982, however, put an end to these hopes. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The principalities of Gharm, Qarotegin and Darvoz were always hard to conquer and administer. They were the last to fall into the fold of Bukhara with the help of Russian armed forces during 1869 and 1870. These areas formed a stronghold of the basmachi movement until the late 1930s. The highlanders of Gharm cling staunchly to their traditional institutions, such as the non-divided agnate family, adat and shari’a. They often called themselves oqab (eagle) or Tojiki toza (pure Tajik), and are noted for their religious piety and traditional values. In 1974, a certain sovkhoz in Gharm had no less than 30 mazors (shrines), and in 1977 there was only one girl from Komsomolobod who studied in a tertiary institution. ><

“The Gharmis arguably suffered more than other Tajiks from Soviet demographic exercises. Tens of thousands of people from this region were resettled to the Vakhsh Valley in the south-west between 1928 and 1931 in order to develop new cotton plantations. The whole project was based on forced labour and scores perished from the drastic change of climate, a ‘lack of the most elementary facilities … and an epidemic of typhoid’. In 1934, the CPT CC passed a special resolution that aimed ‘to carry out, in the shortest possible time, the special investigation amongst the settlers in the Vakhsh Valley, with the aim of getting rid of them’. As a result of this purge, many Gharmi peasants ended up in the Gulag. After World War II the authorities continued to press the Gharmis to migrate from their homeland—which registered the highest birth rate in the republic (over the period 1979–89 the population in the region grew by 36 per cent, compared with the republic’s figure of 26 per cent). In the mid 1970s, the construction of a gigantic hydro-power station began at Roghun, which would have required the evacuation of 62 villages and could have led to massive social and ecological changes in the Gharm region. Approximately 30 000 Gharmis were scheduled to be removed from the flooded area and resettled in Kulob and in the Vakhsh Valley. Not surprisingly, the population of Gharm felt aggrieved by the government’s plans. The sentiments of internal protest and subdued opposition were widely spread amongst Gharmi settlers (muhajirs) throughout the republic as well. The then Dushanbe-based poet Gulrukhsor Safieva was especially active in voicing the grievances of fellow Gharmis. ><

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan traveltajikistan.tj, Tajikistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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