Roads links Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Tursunzade (Tajikistan), Dushanbe (Tajikistan) and Termez (Uzbekistan). Traffic includes farm equipment and many heavy goods vehicles. The road passes through several cities and agricultural areas, but bypasses Tursunzade, an industrial center. Traffic is often congested near the Dunshanbe exit. Traffic levels drop before Tursunzade and are light from Tursunzade to border crossing in Kyrgyzstan. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2009]

M-34 Between Dushanbe and the Uzbekistan Border: is a heavily traveled, two-lane and in poor condition. Road crashes involving fatalities occur frequently. The road is part of two international corridors: European corridor E50 and Asian Highway 65, and is the main road linking Dushanbe and cities in Gissar Valley to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

M-34, Bratstvo Border Crossing: is of the most important border crossings between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Located on the Dushanbe—Tursunzade—Termez Road. The crossing handles heavy car, truck and pedestrian traffic daily. It has been upgraded to international standards.

M-34 Between Dushanbe and Khujand is sometimes blocked by avalanches or landslided or heavy snow the in winter. The tunnel built near Anzob Pass in the Fan Mountain Range opened in July 2007. According to ASIRT: “The tunnel lacks lighting, ventilation and adequate drainage. Except in the center of the tunnel, deep water may cover the road. Tunnel lining is incomplete, allowing ground water to seep into the tunnel. Rocks or pebbles can fall from the ceiling. Guards often close the tunnel, but some will accept payment to allow travelers to pass. Traveling through the uncompleted tunnel is not recommended. Work on the tunnel was suspended due the global economic crisis. When completed, the tunnel should keep the M 34 open all year. Using it shortens travel from Dushanbe to Khujand by four to five hours. The tunnel’s name may also be translated as Istiqlol, Esteqlal, Anzub or Anzab...


The Sogdians were the inhabitants of fertile valleys surrounded by deserts, the most important of which was the Zaravshan valley, in today’s Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Sogdians spoke an East-Iranian language and are regarded as ancestors of the Tajiks. Sogdians incorporated element of other great civilizations of that time. Byzantine, Iranian and Indian influences can be seen in their artwork, but Sogdian art had its own unique style within which there were many variations. Sogdian painting reflected the literature, folklore, ceremonies and customs..

The French scholar Étienne de la Vaissière wrote: “This Iranian-speaking people had a fifteen-centuries-long historical identity between the sixth century B.C. and the A.D. tenth century when it vanished in the Muslim, Persian-speaking world. Although the Sogdians constructed such famous towns as Samarkand and Bukhara, they are quite unknown. Only specialists on the Silk Road know that they were among the main go-betweens of the exchanges in the steppe, in Central Asia, and in China during the first millennium CE, and especially between the fifth and the eighth centuries CE. During this period, the “inland silk road” and the “Sogdian trading network” are almost synonymous. [Source: Étienne de la Vaissière, École pratique des hautes, études Sciences historiques, et philologiques, Paris,Silk Road Foundation newsletter]

Albert E. Dien wrote in a Silk Road Foundation article: “Western Turkestan, the area of modern Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan, was an important area in the history of the Silk Road. It was the area through which the Road passed, and the inhabitants were very much involved in the commercial activity which took place along its route. This area, known variously as Transoxiana (that is, across the Oxus, or the Amu Darya) or Eastern Iran (meaning really the eastern extension of Iranian culture) is a fascinating area, well worth exploring. It is an area where a number of cultures met, that of the Greco-Roman world, of Iran and India, and to some extent even China. It is a dry, semi-arid area, containing the fearsome Kara Kum and Kyzyl Kum deserts, traversed by some rivers from which water could be diverted into agriculture, and thus support some cities with large populations, really an oasis culture. Trade and agriculture supplied the economic basis of what were important cultural centers. But at the same time, the area abutted on the steppes, and there was almost constant pressure from nomads to the north and east, across the Syr Dary, to move in with their herds and to raid, and if successful, to become the rulers of this rich land. It was in effect the early-comers fending off the late-comers, because the inhabitants of Transoxiana were an Iranian population who had themselves moved in from the steppes and who had settled down. [Source: Albert E. Dien, Silk Road Foundation =]

“The area can be divided into three parts, Sogdiana, Ferghana and Khorezm. Sogdiana was made up of the Zaravshan and Kashka Daryâ river valleys, Ferghâna is along the upper Syr Daryâ River, and Khorezm is in the delta region of the Amu Daryâ. The Achaemenid empire conquered the area in the 6th century BC, and the names of these areas are recorded in the list of Cyrus' conquests at Behistun. But then the Persians had to defend the area against the nomad peoples, and in fact, Cyrus was killed in 530 BC while fighting the Massagetae to the east of the Caspian. There followed periods of rule by the Seleucids, the Bactrian Greeks, the Parthians, the Kushans, and then a new nomadic group, the Hephthalites (or White Huns) fresh off the steppes, who helped put an end to the Kushan empire. Then came the Sasanians, whose rule lasted until their conquest by the Arabs in the 7th-8th centuries. =

“Ferghâna was especially noted for its horses, and these early on attracted the attention of the Chinese who wanted to improve the breed they used for their cavalry. An envoy was sent to purchase the desired animals, but was not only turned down, but was killed. General Li Guangli was then sent in 104 BC with an army of 60,000 over the Pamirs to seek revenge and to bring back the Ferghana horses, known to the Chinese as "blood-sweating" or "heavenly" horses. Li besieged the city of Tashkent, but failed to take it and returned with the remnant of his army. Reaching the frontier of China, he asked for permission to proceed on to the capital. This was denied him, reinforcements were sent, and he was told not to come back without the horses. This gave him added determination, and the second expedition was successful, returning in 101 BC with 1000 horses. This marked the start of Chinese activity in the area west of the Pamirs, which was sporadic to be sure, but which did not end until the defeat of a Chinese army by a joint Turkish-Arab force in 732. =

Early Sogdian Trade

Étienne de la Vaissière wrote: “The contemporary Sogdian, Chinese, Arabic, Byzantine, and Armenian sources describe the Sogdians as the great traders of Inner Asia. They managed to sell their products - musk, slaves, silverware, silk and many other goods - to all the surrounding peoples. A Greek text describes their trading embassies to Byzantium, some caravaneers’ graffiti prove that they were in India, Turkish vocabulary is a testimony to their cultural and economic power in the Turkish steppe...But their main market was always China. The Chinese branch of their network is by far the best known, and in China the number of new discoveries on the Sogdians is quickly growing. [Source: Étienne de la Vaissière, École pratique des hautes, études Sciences historiques, et philologiques, Paris,Silk Road Foundation newsletter]

According to the Encyclopedia Iranica: “The people of Sogdiana were the main caravan merchants of Central Asia from the 5th to the 8th century. Little is known of the origins of Sogdian trade. The first mention of Sogdian merchants is found in the Shiji (Shih Chi), written around 100 B.C. and based on reports by the earliest Chinese envoys to Central Asia: “Although the states from Dayuan west to Anxi speak rather different languages, their customs are generally similar and their languages mutually intelligible. The men all have deepset eyes and profuse beards and whiskers. They are skilful at commerce and will haggle over a fraction of a cent” (Sima Qian, in Shiji, chap. 123, p. 3174; tr. Watson, p. 245). [Source: Encyclopedia Iranica +++]

Archeology bears witness “only to limited regional trade in Sogdiana (turquoise from Ferghana to Samarkand), contrasting with that of the neighboring regions (Chinese imports to Ferghana). The economy appears to have been very little based on money and, rather, to have been dominated by agricultural exchange. China of the Han period sent numerous embassies with a large number of rolls of silk and other products of the empire, in order to ingratiate itself with the nomadic aristocracies (Yuezhi, Wusun, Kangju) who dominated political life in Central Asia, so as to fight against its Xiongnu enemies. The Sogdians traded with the Chinese envoys on a small scale, while in Bactria and Gandhara merchants discovered how much they would be able to benefit by developing a market for Chinese silk in India, Iran, and the Hellenized Near East. The latter decided to re-export the silk brought by the embassies and even took the road to China, pretending to be ambassadors so as to buy the silk right at its source (Han shu 96 A, p. 3885; tr. Hulsewé and Loewe, p. 109). The Sogdians were to imitate them. In 29 and 11 B.C., ambassadors from Kangju, a nomad state centered on the middle reaches of the Syr Daria but at that time including Sogdiana, presented themselves at the Chinese court pronouncing the word “commerce” (Han shu, chap. 96 A, p. 3893; tr. Hulsewé and Loewe, p. 128). +++

“The unification of southern Central Asia and northern India within the Kushan empire during the first and third centuries of our era further reinforced the importance and prosperity of the powerful merchants from Bactria and Taxila and led to the creation of the main economic center of the Middle East. Buddhist sources show that Sogdian merchants, who were not on the main roads situated farther to the south (Ptolemy, tr. Ronca, pp. 31-36, misplaces Samarkand) emigrated as far as India, benefiting from this prosperity (biography of the monk Kang seng hui [Seng-Houei], born in the early 3rd century, tr. Chavannes, 1909, pp. 199-200; Grenet, 1996). The Sogdians were then the pupils and apprentices of the Kushan merchants. Part of the commercial Sogdian vocabulary is of Bactrian origin (Sims-Williams, 1996, pp. 50-51). +++

“The Sogdian commercial network grew sufficiently to ensure that in the early 3rd century, in Gansu, the representatives of Kushan and Sogdian merchants were placed on the same level and together participated in political negotiations (Sanguo zhi, chap. 4, p. 895). However, the main proof of Sogdian commercial expansion in the direction of China is provided by a set of letters, the Sogdian Ancient Letters (tr. Sims-Williams, 2001; Grenet, Sims-Williams, and de la Vaissière, 2001). Written in 313 in the Gansu corridor, these show the presence of Sogdian merchant communities in the main cities of the region, as well as in inner China. They also show that the merchants were organized within networks. The second letter, written in Gansu, is addressed to Samarkand. The descendants of the Kushan rivals are also mentioned in this text, since the Indian (?yntkwt) and Sogdian communities of Luoyang had been decimated by famine. It is hard to tell what became of the great trade during the following century, but in 439 the Sogdian merchants were the main foreign merchants in Gansu (Wei shu, chap. 102, p. 2270; Enoki, 1955, p. 44). From the same period, in the passes of the High Indus, are found more than 600 inscriptions by Sogdian caravaneers, against only about ten Bactrian inscriptions (Sims-Williams, 1989, 1992)—a fact which gives evidence of the replacement of Bactrian merchants by Sogdians.” +++

Sogdiana and the Silk Road

Sogdian settlements were located almost everywhere along the Silk Road — from the borders of the Byzantium empire all the way to China. In the 6-8th centuries, the Sogdians occupied the critical link of trade between China and Europe, , and between the hunter tribes of the North Urals and nationals of the great Iranian and Byzantine Empires. Sogdian mercenaries served in the armies of foreign princes. They were in a position to see the whole of the ancient world, and though they were familiar with civilization they never created their own powerful state. Their country represented a conglomerate of small town-states,

The Sogdians were centered in what is now northern Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan From the fifth to the eighth centuries, the Sogdians were the main caravan merchants of the Silk Road which passed through the Sogdian cities of Samarkand (their capital) and Bukhara. The Sogdians also established extensive colonies in what is now western China. Their influence was so extensive that Sogdian, an east-Iranian language, was the lingua franca of Central Asia during the seventh century (Dien). The region to the south of Sogdiana, Ustashana (also called Sorushna) was also populated by Sogdian speaking people (Negmatov, 1999). Its capital, Bunjikat, was near present day Istravashan in northwest Tajikistan (Bosworth, 2005). The dialect of Sogdian spoken in Ustrashana in the eighth century has been identified through lexical and phonological similarities as the language from which modern Yagnob has descended (See Below).[Source: Bahrom in History, October 15, 2007]

Albert E. Dien wrote in a Silk Road Foundation article: Sogdiana was more actively involved with the Silk Road. The names of its major cities, Samarkand and Bukhârâ, must call to mind the area and significance they had for the Silk Road. Even in the earliest period, before those cities were founded, the Sogdians were the major participants in the Silk Road caravans, their language became the lingua franca across Asia, their alphabet the source of later alphabets to the east, they carried with them such religions as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity. They were a strong presence in the markets of the capitals of China, and some letters of the early 4th century, found in a tower of the Great Wall, reveal that the various Sogdian colonies in Central Asia kept in touch with the "home office" in Samarkand. [Source: Albert E. Dien, Silk Road Foundation =]

“The several Sogdian principalities, mostly small, were formed in antiquity, and some minted their own coinage. Many were at least nominally subject to Samarkand, but their situation would change with each new "super power" that exerted control over the area. For a time, for example the Turkish khagans on the steppes supported the Sogdian rulers, protected Sogdian trade, and employed Sogdians as officials and diplomats. The Chinese were also treated as overlords in the 7th century, but as distant ones, and Sogdiana suceeded in gaining its independence. During that 7th century there was rapid development of the capital at Samarkand, there was an expansion of trade, as evidenced by the abundance of coins, there was progress in silk weaving and handicrafts, and the Sogdian merchants not only thronged the Silk Road east to west, but also the "Fur" road, north to the Urals. The many silver and gilded vessels found through Central Asia and in China are now believed to have been manufactured in Sogdiana, not in Iran to the west. =

“With the coming of the Arabs in the later half of the 7th century, there were important changes. Iran had been conquered and there were raids across the Amu Darya, but in the early 8th century, the conquest of Transoxiana began in earnest. The governor-general of Khurâsân, the great general Qutayba ben Muslim, in 706 to 712, took over, and the local rulers became the vassals of the Arabs. There were some local uprisings, the area suffered from the campaigns, some of the cities being abandoned or destroyed, and with the change in the caliphate dynasty, from the Umayyads to 'Abbâsids, in 750, came large scale conversions to Islam. =

“We must not think that the Sogdians were simply passive subjects of the various powers which came to rule over them. During and between those periods of outside rule, a number of city-states had grown up, very decentralized, with an elite of knightly landowners lording it over large, irrigated estates, and rich merchants who were on a social par with the knights. Though some scholars have likened the social and political situation to that of feudalism, actually that is going too far. There was little stability in succession of rule, and it would seem that the community, or some segment of it, had a say in the selection of rulers. Bukhara, for example, had no ruler, and in the case of Pendzhikent, the city had its own income and own officials. Sogdian society thus displayed a highly developed economy but a weak state system, with little centralization. It was this lack of centralization that made the area so vulnerable to the attack of the Arabs.” =

Ancient Panjakent

Ancient Panjakent (255 kilometers north of Dushanbe, 68 kilometers from Samarkand) is one of the best preserved Sogdian cities an done that has revealed the most information about the Sogdians. In the 5-8th centuries it was the easternmost town of Sogdia, Sogdia was a conglomerate of small town-states, and Panjakent (also spelled Penjikent and Panjikent) was the last of these on the way from Samarkand to the mountains to the east. The ruler of the town and the surrounding area was in a good position because neither caravans nor individuals with pack animals traveling between the mountains and Samarkand could bypass Panjakent.

Merchants who traded along the Silk Road, lived in Panjakent. One of the main routes of the Silk Road passed through the town. Sogdian merchants profited greatly from Silk Road trade and actedas intermediaries between the East and the West. Panjakent us a good picture not only of Sogdian city culture, but also of the whole Silk Road.

Ancient Panjakent is a monument to the pre-Islamic era. The Sogdians lived there in the 5th-8th century. They were the ancestors of the modern Tajiks living in the Zaravshan valley. Panjakent is mentioned many times since the Arab conquest of Central Asia in Arabic-speaking historical documents. Heading from the town to the mountains, Panjakent is connected with a leader named “Divashtic.” An important battle was fought with the Arabs near Mugh Hill castle. The Panjakentis were defeated and Divashtich was captured and later crucified. The town only outlived him by a short time.

Ancient Panjakent was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and is part of the Silk Roads Sites in Tajikistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. Ancient Panjakent is unique in that none of the area has been built over or destroyed to make room for farming. Its buildings, dwellings, temples, streets and lanes have been preserved to this day. It is located in Sughd region, Panjakent district, upstream on the Zaravshan River, 1.5 kilometers southeast of present-day- Panjakent, above the left-bank flood-plains of Zaravshan River, on a low hilly ridge. The local population know the site of the ancient settlement as “Kaynar”, based on the name of a nearby spring.

Composed of a fortified citadel (kuhandiz), the town itself (Shahriston) is surrounded by fortifications with numerous towers, suburban settlements rabad) and a large cemetery with small separate crypts (naus), which contained small clay urns with the remains of the deceased. After the loss of Divashtich, Panjakent ceased to exist and its population left. The Arabs introduced Islam and during the 8-10th centuries Islam and the Farsi-Dari (Tajik) language spread throughout all of Sogdiana.

The ruins of ancient Panjakent drew attention as early as the 19th century, but not until 1946 was an archaeological dig started here and so far it has only covered about half of the ancient settlement. The citadel, with the palace of Divashtich standing separately on the hill, two temples with spacious courtyards in the center, eight main streets and ten lanes, shops, workshops, bazaars, fortress walls, multi-roomed two- and even three-storied buildings were excavated. There is a stark contrast between the strength of the buildings and their modest construction material — mud bricks made from unbaked clay. Prosperous house-owners decorated their houses with wall paintings and wooden sculptures. Outstanding works of art found in ancient Panjakent today decorate the showrooms of many museums, particularly the famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Ancient Panjakent Archaeological Site

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The town of Ancient Panjakent consists of an ark with three belts of fortifications, shakhristan, enclosed by a fortress wall and a necropolis. It belongs to the A.D. 5th-8th centuries, The palace complex had a stateroom, amenity and residential buildings. A large throne hall (250 square meters) and three almost equally sized halls belonged to the stateroom. The central part of shakhristan was occupied by two temples with a similar layout. Its main part is an extensive residential area with shops, stalls etc. The two-and three-storied houses made of mud brick and pakhsi were located inside of the city. There were ground-building burial vaults — nauses with ossuary graves, also known as burial in the hum, the graves in the city cemetery. In 722 the town was captured and burned by the Arabs. The outstanding feature of the Ancient Panjakent is its monumental art — wall painting, volume and relief sculpture of wood and clay. [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

According to the Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “Archaeological excavations cover about half the area. A governor’s citadel located on a separate hill and cemeteries have been excavated. The main elements remaining of the ancient city are the settlements (an area of 13.5 hectares), a governor’s citadel (2.5 hectares), Rabad (country estates and the surrounding area of 70 hectares) and a cemetery. Shahristan is actually a city surrounded by fortifications. Two Zoroastrian temples, estates with wall paintings, eight streets, a market, shops, craft workshops and defence works have been uncovered within the city. Prosperous Sogdian houses in ancient Panjakent had formal main halls with wall paintings made of glutinous paints applied to dry plaster, and carved wooden reliefs. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Kuhandiz (Panjakent citadel) covers an area of more than 2.5 hectares and its layout has a very similar layout to Varahsh (Bukhara) citadel. The palace and the castle had internal fortifications and the east and south sides of the castle had two lines of walls.Long-term excavations have shown that there were two large buildings — a dungeon and a palace in the citadel — until the Arabian invasion. The dungeon consists of a 26 meters x 26 meters platform 2.5 meters above the surrounding courtyard area and a socle above an eight meters high platform spanning 18 meters x 18 meters.

“The main building of the citadel was the palace complex. It was excavated at the foot of the governor’s palace. This complex consists of a three-storied hall sized 22 meters x 12.5 meters, with a royal throne colonnade and three small (11 meters x 10 meters) halls. On the west, southwest and north of the palace there is a main veranda 12 meters long and a main corridor 45 meters long. Based on the remaining painting left on the surface of the walls it is likely that all the main premises were decorated with multicoloured paintings. The palace building was surrounded by farm premises and dwellings for the governor’s staff on the south, east and north sides. The palace and Shahristan suffered badly from fire in 721-722. The main premises were burnt and all the paintings were taken down from the walls and destroyed.

“The cemetery is located south/southwest of Shahristan. It really is a unique pre-Islamic Sogdian cemetery. Before excavation the cemetery as a whole was a long chain and groups of separate mounds. Rabad is a suburban settlement located east/southeast of Shahristan. Panjakent Rabad covers an area several times larger that the city. It had more than twenty mounds located separate from each other. Excavations have shown that the mounds consisted of separate houses with three or four rooms. Each of them had a specific purpose: bedroom, kitchen, guestroom, workroom, etc. In the majority of houses in Shahristan there was a slope leading to the second floor or the roof.

“From studying the suburban houses, it is clear that in the 7th-8th centuries Panjakent Rabad had started to become a single topographical organism indivisible from the early feudal cities. After a while these would have been included in the city boundaries and surrounded by a defensive wall like we see in Samarkand, Bukhara, Khujand, Termez and other medieval cities.

“The excavations in the ancient settlement have allowed study of the fuller picture of the construction business and the basic features of the city’s architecture. Panjakent architects were familiar with Mesopotamian, Bactrian, and Iranian architectural traditions. Ancient Panjakent shows the priority of universal values and respect for national property. Here we can see clearly what a high level Central Asian culture had already reached in those ancient times, thus connecting it with all the main centers of development of world civilisation.”

Panjakent Art

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The clearest feature of the ancient town Panjakent is its monumental art, which is preserved better to a greater extent than in other monuments of Central Asia. The variety of subjects Panjakent painting surpasses all that is known in other monuments. It is characterized by ornamental, brightness, special beauty canon, ethnography of details transmission.” [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

According to the Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “Paintings make up a substantial portion of the works of art found in ancient Panjakent. Walls in Panjakent, on both temples and secular buildings, were covered with colourful wall paintings. It is remarkable that despite more than 1,300 years of being in ruins, fragments of paintings on walls made out of mud bricks have been preserved. Panjakent paints were mainly made from glue paints with mineral dyes. Vegetable dyes (indigo and red) were used occasionally. Over the years, more than fifty premises whose walls had once been decorated with numerous paintingswere uncovered. Ancient Panjakent painters painted a variety of subjects: religious, epic, folklore and other genres. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“There are personifications of heavenly bodies (the sun, moon, and planets), ancestral cults (funeral rites), water elements (worship of the River Zaravshan), and the Hindu divinity (Shiva). A number of subjects of the epic paintings are connected to heroes from the renowned poems of Firdausi’s Shohnoma (Book of Kings). These are Siyovush, Rustam, his horse Rakhsh, Rustam’s son Suhrob, and female warriors. Subjects depicted include battles, feasts, hunting, sporting duels, playing of musical instruments, backgammon, dances, and harvest distribution.

“In pre-Islamic times wood carving, like wall paintings, was a widespread form of art and demonstrated remarkable levels of artistic talent. Wood itself does not last long in humid loessial soil conditions so, interestingly, the carved wood monuments of Ancient Panjakent owe their preservation to fires. Remains of carved wood have been found in premises where they were charred by flames but did not have time to burn completely and then were covered by collapsed roofing. Panjakent’s carved wood appears in two artistic forms — ornamental and figured.

“Few of the remnants of clay sculptures found in Panjakent compared to the number of wall-painting and carved-wood finds. Clay sculptures formed a part of temple buildings and were religious in nature. Many inscriptions in Sogdian language have been found in Panjakent since the language was native to the town. They have been preserved on broken pottery, stones, and walls. Coins found in Panjakent are of great interest. Most of them were produced in Samarqand, from where the supreme rulers, the Sogdian ikhshids, governed all of Sogdiana. Besides royal coins, other coins of smaller Sogdian regions were found and among them were those of the rulers of Panjakent. On one side of coins emblems of the Panjakent ruling house were depicted.

“On the other side there was a Sogdian inscription in fine characters — a key in which the title and name of the ruler making the coins was usually displayed. Numerous finds in ancient Panjakent clearly show that the Sogdians were familiar with achievements of the great civilizations of their time: in their art can be found Byzantine, Iranian, and Indian influences. At the same time, Sogdian art had its own unique style. Almost nothing was known about the literature, folklore, rites and customs of the Sogdians before the excavations in Panjakent started, and these are all reflected in Sogdian painting.”.

Yaghnob Valley

Yaghnob Valley(begins 105 kilometers north of Dushanbe, just before 3,372-meter-high Anzob Pass) is the home of the Yaghnobis, a sub group of Tajiks that trace their lineage to the ancient Sogdians and still speak the 8th century Sogdian language. The Yagnob valley is formed by the Kumbil and Barzenga Rivers, which begin in the Takali mountain junction glaciers. The Yaghnob River flows down parallel to Zaravshan River and separates the Zaravshan range from the Hissar range. The upper part of the valley is famous for its alpine and sub-alpine meadows, however the area has no permanent population. Only in summer-time do shepherds bring cattle here for grazing. The Zaravshan (Zaravshan) Valley is about 60 kilometers long and between the Hissar, Zaravshan and Turkistan ranges and the Fann Mountains. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Halfway along Yaghnob the river, where the valley is relatively wide and open, at an altitude of 2.000-3,000 meters, there are small villages populated by Yaghnobi. But Yaghnob area is not only of great interest to ethnographers, historians and linguists, it is also popular with hikers, but also for trekkers, mountaineers and rock climbers. According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “The well-known Yaghnob cliff Zamin Qaror — Quiet Land, i.e. a mountain which doesn’t suffer from earthquakes or rock falls) — is situated there. Zamin Qaror stretches eight kilometers from north to south and has several separate peaks which stand far apart. The highest of them, situated in the eastern part, is 4,767 meters. The eastern part of the Zamin Qaror massif has significant glaciation, while the western is completely rocky. The gradient of the northern cliffs ranges from 60 degrees to a vertical slope. The southern slopes are very smooth and relatively flat. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“The main mountain-climbing routes of the Zamin Qaror peaks are on the north side and are accessible only to well-prepared and highly-skilled climbers. Descending to the south presents no difficulty as the route goes through slate and crumbled stone. To get to the Yaghnob wall from the Dushanbe—Aini highway (a bridge over the Yaghnob River, just after the descent from the Anzob Pass) takes about three hours. Pertified forests dating from the Jurassic period, consisting of wood fossils in the form of huge trunks, stumps, branches, and wild vines, are an interesting sight in Yaghnob Valley....The preserved parts of the plants have, over the centuries, been replaced by mineral compounds, which preserved not only the external structure of the wood but also often the growth rings. The petrified trees of Yaghnob are made of ferrous minerals — red ochre and siderite (iron ore). The largest trunks are three to five meters high and about one meter in diameter. There are whole “graveyards” of hardened vines and vertical stems which reach three to five centimeters.

Getting There: The Yaghnob Valley can reached by helicopter or car . It is located in the Sughd region, Aini district. If traveling by car from Dushanbe to Khujand, Istravashan (formerly Uroteppa), or Panjakent. It is south of the Zaravshan range, just after the descent from the Anzob Pass to the right

Yaghnobi People: Descendants of the Sogdians?

The Yaghnobi (Yagnob, Yaghnabi, Jagnobi) live in the Yaghnobi and Zaravshan in northern Tajikistan that lie between lies between the Gisar, Zaravshan and Turkistan ranges in the Fan Mountains, which extend into Uzbekistan. The Yaghnobis, a sub group of Tajiks, trace their lineage to the ancient Sogdians. Some still speak the 8th century Sogdian language — Yanob. Yanob was once the lingua franca of trade on the Silk Road. It is now only spoken by a small group of people: the Yaghnobi, who have inhabited the high mountain valley of Yaghnob in west-central Tajikistan. These people are regarded by some as the descendants of the Sogdians, who continued to thrive until the Arab conquests of Central Asia the A.D. eighth century. for centuries, have been identified as descendants of the ancient Sogdians.

After the Sogdians were defeated by Arab invaders at the battle of Mount Mugh in A.D. 722 many of them fled Arab domination to live in the high mountain valleys (Whitfeld, 2005). According to Belyakov (2003) the village of Pskon in the Yaghnob valley became a de facto capital for the Sogdian refugees. It appears that the Sogdian refugees remained fairly isolated from outside authority and influence, although significant numbers were subject to forced conversion to Islam. Eventually all of the Yaghnobi adopted Islam, but they also retained Zoroastrian beliefs which continue to be a part of their religious practice (Gunya, 2002). [Source: Bahrom in History, October 15, 2007]

In the 17th century a significant number of Yaghnobis migrated to the Varzob valley (Bielmeier, 2006) which is mainly populated by Tajiks and closer to the lowland population centers. A sizable Yaghnobi population remain there in half a dozen villages today. The Yaghnobis’ land came under control of the tsar in 1870, but Russian authority was mainly in name only. Aside from tax collection, from which the Yaghnobis were exempted in 1895, there was little control exercised by the Russians and the Yaghnobi remained isolated by the high mountains surrounding their homeland. The first scientific records of the Yaghnobi language were made in 1870 by the Russian scholar Alexander L. Kuhn and his Tajik companion and interpreter Mirza Mulla Abdurrakhman from Samarkand.

Yaghnobi People Under the Soviets and in Recent Times

In the 1920, the Bolsheviks took control of Russian Turkestan, but because of the rugged terrain surrounding the Yaghnob valley they exercised no real control until 1930 when the first soviet was established in the village of Naumetkan in Yaghnob. In 1929, the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic was created. The Yaghnob valley was in the territory of the Tajik SSR and is about sixty miles from Dushanbe which was designated the capital of the Tajik SSR. With the Soviet political apparatus developing at closer proximity to the Yaghnob valley, further attempts were made to sovietize the Yaghnobi, including the establishment of two largely unsuccessful collective farms in the 1930s (Gunya, 2002). In spite of the increasing Soviet control over the Tajik SSR, the Yaghnobi continued to remain relatively isolated and autonomous because of the absence of roads through the high passes into the Yaghnob valley.

During 1970 and 1971 the Soviet authorities forcibly deported the entire population of the Yaghnob valley to the cotton plantations in the area of Zafarbod on the northwest border between the Tajik and Uzbek SSRs. The deportation was both politically and economically motivated. The fact that the Yaghnobis’ remote location had allowed them to effectively resist Soviet authority, coupled with the pressing economic need for laborers in the cotton fields motivated the government to force the Yaghnobi people from their mountain homes at gunpoint and fly them by helicopter to grow cotton in irrigated desert land (Donovan, 2007). The population of the Yaghnob valley at that time numbered between three and four thousand. Due to the harsh desert climate with temperatures over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, inadequate housing, lack of sanitary drinking water, and exposure to tuberculosis, between 400 and 700 Yaghnobis died during their first year in Zafarabod (Loy, 2005). During the first few years some of the Yaghnobi fled back to the Yaghnob valley only to be deported again.

In 1990, the Dushanbe based Council of Ministers passed a resolution to reestablish all villages from which people had been deported. Tajikistan became an independent country in 1991. Since independence, the government of Tajikistan has promoted national awareness of the country’s Sogdian heritage as part of an effort to construct a new national identity. Although the Yaghnobi are now permitted to return to live in the Yaghnob valley, only about three hundred have done so since all of the homes had been destroyed and the valley is completely lacking any kind of infrastructure or economic base. About 6,500 Yaghnobis remain in Zafarabod, the largest Yaghnobi population center. In spite of the suffering and hardship they have experienced they have retained much of their culture and continue to speak Yaghnobi as their first language.

Yaghnobi Culture

According to the Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “Nowadays, the Yaghnobi communicate in two languages — their own, which belongs to the East-Iranian group of languages, and Tajik. Most Tajiks do not understand the Yaghnobi language. What is noteworthy is that the “keepers” of this rare language are women, because they prefer to use their native language for communication, unlike the men who tend to use Tajik. In late 1960s residents of Yaghnob were resettled to other valleys in order to help with cotton-growing and only after the break-up of the Soviet Union were the Yaghnobi able to begin returning to their native home for permanent residence. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Traditional houses in the villages (there are more than 30 of them in the valley) are built out of stone and are composed of numerous living and household rooms, frequently combined under one roof, where fuel and fodder are also kept. Carved beams support the ceiling and there are niches in the walls for household effects. Furnaces and fireplaces are a mandatory aspect of all such homes.

“Despite the fact that the Yaghnobi are now Muslim, they preserved some pre-Islamic principles related to ancient pagan concepts and Zoroastrianism (fire-worship). Thus, even now it is forbidden in Yaghnob to extinguish candles by blowing them out; many festivities are accompanied by jumping over fires. Brides are taken around a bonfire before entering the groom’s house, where they are met with a lighted lamp. Near some of the numerous mazor (holy places or saints' burial-vaults) the local population leave small ceramic figurines of animals — sheep, horses, mountain goats — which, according to legend, come to life at night and go down to the river to duel with spirits. If, the next day, a figurine left by somebody is found broken, it means that a saint did not accept a sacrifice.

“In one of the ancient Yaghnobi places of worship — Khatti Mullo mazor in Sokan village — an interesting Piskon village ceremony is performed during which a man goes three times around both a large stone and a huge column in the mazor. After each time round the polished shining column he must embrace it with outstretched arms such that his fingers meet on the far side. If his fingers meet then one of his wishes will come true. If they do not (because the column has allegedly become thicker), then the man will soon have troubles.”

Muhammad Bashoro Mausoleum

Mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro (20 kilometers southeast of Panjakent, in the village of Mazari Sharif) memorializes Muhammad Bashoro, a famous Islamic scholar, who died here in 866. Bashoro is one of the most authoritative sources of the the Hadith (sayings about the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad and his associates. Situated in and picturesque and solitary place on the bank of mountain river, the mausoleum was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Mausoleum of "Mukhammad Bashoro" of a connaisseur of khadices in the first Islamic centuries was built (without portal) in 11th-12th centuries as a building, which combined functions of a mausoleum and a mosque for making mention. It consists of a spacious centra cupola hall, where there are a row of vault premises on both sides (on the left and on the right). They are grouped along two axes, which are parallel the middle central axis. The left group of the premises of three rooms has individual entrance in the main façade. A portal with rich decoration made of teracotta appeared in 1332. The portal has an arch niche of lancet form. A heel of the arch leans on capitals of three-forth columns, which are inscribed into the inner angles of its abutment. [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture, UNESCO]

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “The mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro is a fine example of the golden age of Central Asian architecture. It is situated among apricot orchards and juniper trees and was built in the 11-12th centuries, combining the functions of a mausoleum and a memorial mosque. The building consists of a spacious central domical room, on the left and right of which are several vaulted compartments. The main facade of the mausoleum faces a mountain river to which the road leads. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Initially the mausoleum was built without a portal. The portal was attached in the 14th century, decorated with carved terracotta of unique beauty and complexity. Such a technique required a high level of expertise, careful attention to detail and precision in assembly. The portal is two-coloured — a double frame made of turquoise enamelled bricks borders pink terracotta patterns. Its precise date of completion is preserved among the inscriptions — year 743 of Hijra, which corresponds to 1342-1343 A.D. The portal decoration is a masterpiece of Tajik medieval art, and one of the most outstanding works of decorator craftsmen after the Mongolian conquest.

In the central room of the mausoleum there is a clay mehrob (an alcove in the mosque wall showing the direction to the Kaaba — the most sacred place of Islam) of great artistic value with fine ornamental and calligraphic inscriptions. The steps of the mausoleum are decorated with carved terracotta and are also of great interest.

“There are many puzzles about the architecture of the mausoleum, and even now it is providing new discoveries. First of all, it is necessary to determine whether Muhammad Bashoro, who died in 866, was, in fact, buried here. If this is true, then at the location of his grave an older mausoleum may have existed, possibly made from mud bricks which has not survived to today. Some hold the opinion that the building was initially a mosque and not a mausoleum — the normal orientation of a mehrob in this type of buildings to the southwest suggests this. Later, when somebody (possibly other than Muhammad Bashoro) was buried in the mosque, it was no longer used as a mosque and another building was attached to it for small mosques. A new portal was added to this building early in the 14th century which changed the position of the entrance.

“The purpose of numerous vaulted corridors placed within the wall adjoining the hill and going into the slope is also unknown. They are not high and lack light. It is assumed that they were used as chillakhona (a room for forty-day fasts and prayers). Possibly they were intended to prevent damp in the walls in the most vulnerable part of the structure. Answers to these questions may become clear after deeper study into this important monument of Tajik architecture.

Getting There: The mausoleum is located near Mazori Sharif village,. Panjakent district. There is a bus from Panjakent to Kolkhozchiyon village then hitchhike or taxi.


Sarazm (15 kilometers west of Panjakent and 45 kilometers east of Samarkand) is an archaeological site in Tajikistan bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium B.C. to the end of the 3rd millennium B.C.. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean. [Source: UNESCO ~]

Proto-urban Site of Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to to UNESCO: The proto-urban site of Sarazm illustrates the early rise of proto-urbanization in this region in the sophistication of the dwellings, infrastructures, and archaeological findings. It came into being as the result of the complementarity initially between pastoralism and early agrarianism, and subsequently between the exploitation of mineral resources in the Bronze Age and the development of handicrafts. Sarazm was a long-lasting and prosperous proto-urban metropolis, at the north-eastern extremity of a vast area stretching from Mesopotamia to the Indus and the Iranian plateau. ~

The ancient Sarazm settlement was discovered in autumn 1976 by the archaeologist Abdullojon Isakov. The monument is located 15 kilometers west of Panjikent and 45 kilometers east of Samarkand. The original area of the uncovered settlement spread over an area of 130 hectares. A city existed there more than five thousand years ago and had its highest level of development near the start of the bronze age. According to radio-carbon dating, the civilization existed in four separate periods: 3,500-3,200 B.C; 3,200-2,900 B.C.; 2,900-2,700 B.C.; and 2,700-2,000 B.C. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan, /*/]

The area had an agricultural economy centred around farming (irrigated and non-irrigated) cattle-breeding and craftwork. At the end of the 4th millenium B.C. Sarazm became one of largest centres for metallurgy in Central Asia. This came from the riches found near the top of Zarafshon’s mountains such as gold, silver, copper, lead and tin. Sarazm had a strong ecomony and a well-developed industrial culture by Central Asian standards of that period. By the middle of the 4th millemium B.C., the Sarazmians had improved their network of contacts, spreading their culture and trading with ancient settlements in Southern Turkmenistan, Iran, Baluchistan, India and Afghanistan. Sarazm city is a unique monument which shows the variety of cultural relationships and contacts of early bronze age people. /*/

The results of the excavations in Sarazm have been presented in many international symposia – in Tajikistan (1979 & 1994), Washington (1981 & 1986), Paris (1985), Germany (1992), Iran (3004), Italy (2007) and Africa (2008). According to the decision of the Republic of Tajikistan (#391, dated 21 September 2001) the 5,500-year old Sarazm site in Panjikent region was declared a historical-architectural treasure which forms part of the culture of the land, history and tradition of the Tajiks. /*/

History of Ancient Sarazm

The original area of the uncovered settlement spread over an area of 130 hectares. A city existed there more than five thousand years ago and had its highest level of development near the start of the bronze age. According to radio-carbon dating, the civilization existed in four separate periods: 3,500-3,200 B.C; 3,200-2,900 B.C.; 2,900-2,700 B.C.; and 2,700-2,000 B.C. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

The area had an agricultural economy centerd around farming (irrigated and non-irrigated) cattle-breeding and craftwork. At the end of the 4th millenium B.C. Sarazm became one of largest centers for metallurgy in Central Asia. This came from the riches found near the top of Zaravshan’s mountains such as gold, silver, copper, lead and tin. Sarazm had a strong ecomony and a well-developed industrial culture by Central Asian standards of that period.

By the middle of the 4th millemium B.C., the Sarazmians had improved their network of contacts, spreading their culture and trading with ancient settlements in Southern Turkmenistan, Iran, Baluchistan, India and Afghanistan. Sarazm city is a unique monument which shows the variety of cultural relationships and contacts of early bronze age people.

The word Sarazm has several etymological interpretations: a) sar-sabz, i.e. Sari-Sabza (“green beginning”). Perhaps, it refers to the valley that begins in Sarazm heading in the direction of the mountains, in which a variety of greeneries grow; b) from an Arabic word Sarrazm (“beginning of battle”). Residents of upper Zaravshan first met their enemies in Sarazm and fought back; c) from the Sogdian Sari-Zamin, (“beginning of the land”). Sarazm divides the Zaravshan valley into flat and mountainous parts.

Archaeological Excavations at Sarazm

The ancient Sarazm settlement was discovered in autumn 1976 by the archaeologist Abdullojon Isakov. As happens quite often, an accidental find gave impetus to a large discovery. It happened this way in 1976 when Ashurali Taylanov, a resident of Avazali village, after visiting a history museum in Panjakent, informed local archaeologists about his interesting find — a bronze axe, which he found not far from his home and which was very similar to the one he saw in the museum (a bronze axe which had been found in the late 19th century in Yor village, Panjakent district).

Being interested in the local resident’s unusual find, scholars decided to research the area in which it was discovered in more detail. In 1977 Tajik archaeologists began a dig in a place which later became known as the site of the ancient agricultural settlement of Sarazm. French and American specialists joined the works in 1984.

The results of the excavations in Sarazm have been presented in many international symposia — in Tajikistan (1979 & 1994), Washington (1981 & 1986), Paris (1985), Germany (1992), Iran (3004), Italy (2007) and Africa (2008). According to the decision of the Republic of Tajikistan (#391, dated 21 September 2001) the 5,500-year old Sarazm site in Panjakent region was declared a historical-architectural treasure which forms part of the culture of the land, history and tradition of the Tajiks.

Site of the ancient settlement of Sarazm

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “The settlement consists of a hill 400-800 meters wide, stretching about 1.5 kilometers from east to west, situated on a terrace of the left bank of the River Zaravshan. The total area of the site is more than 100 hectares. In the northern and western parts there are now the villages of Sahibnazar and Gurach, and in the northeastern part Avazali. Crops are grown on a significant portion of this site. The part of Sarazm which remains undisturbed is about 30 hectares. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Research gives grounds for the opinion that the ancient settlement existed here for about one and a half millennia from 3,400-2,000 B.C. Numerous houses, religious buildings and palaces were excavated in Sarazm. A great number of articles made of copper, bronze, lead, silver and gold, weaponry, and ornaments of the 4th-2nd millennium B.C. were found.

Some of the finds allow us to understand the rather high social status of women in the settlement at that time. In one burial ground opened by scholars a woman was found buried in clothes decorated with silver, turquoise, cornelian, lapis lazuli, and jasper beads. Her hair was decorated with gold beads, and her arms with massive bracelets made out of sea shells. All this wealth would not be found in the burial of a peasant. Agriculture, cattle-breeding, metal mining, blacksmithery and production of stone goods formed the basis for Sarazm’s economy. Judging by the large number of items related to metal-working found in this site you can conclude that Sarazm was one of the largest metallurgy centers of Central Asia. Fragments of casts, cast crucibles, smelting furnaces, massive tampers, ore-crushing hammers, and metal goods including axes, daggers, knives, lance-heads, pins, fishhooks, knitting needles, razors and decorations were found here.

Copper ore and other bronze production components were most likely home-produced from deposits situated 40—50 kilometers east of the site. Stone cutting was widely developed in this site. Beads and pendants made from agate, onyx, obsidian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and cornelian found during a dig serve as evidence of the high level of this art. There were some unique finds among them, such as a stone baton with a rostral head and an opening for a rod and a clay stamp. Such stamps were found in some ancient monuments of Mesopotamia, Iran, Baluchistan (Pakistan) andIndia. A palace complex occupying more than 250 meters² and consisting of an entrance corridor, a lobby, two-three rooms and several auxiliary structures was excavated in Sarazm. All the buildings are connected by wide corridors with clay doorsills. In one of the complex walls there are windows for light and ventilation similar to those seen in bronze age monuments in South Turkmenistan, South Afghanistan and North Baluchistan. However, a distinctive feature of the Sarazm complex is the existence of circular altars in the center of two of the rooms which do not exist in the other monuments. Perhaps it was not simply a palace but also a place for devotions.

Archaeologists always considered ceramics and particularly their method of production as one indicator of the level of development of primitive communities. Most ceramic goods found in Sarazm were hand-made and baked in furnaces nearby. Altogether six furnaces were discovered, in which 12 forms of containers (goblets, rummers, bowls, jugs, etc.) were baked, and this shows quite a high level of development of ceramics there. Some goods, mainly kitchenware, were decorated with paintings similar to those found on early agricultural ceramic artefacts from the Middle East, South Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.

All these many and various finds serve as evidence of the wide trade and cultural ties between the tribes that lived in the Upper Zaravshan valley and Southeast Turkmenistan, Southeast Aral area, the Middle East, and the Indus River valley tribes.

Getting There: Sarazm is15 kilometers west of Panjakent and 45 kilometers east of Samarkand in the Sughd region, Panjakent district, on the border of the plains and mountains of Zaravshan valley. You can hitchhike from Panjakent to Sahibnazar, Gurach, and Avazali villages, which are near Sarazm.. Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan (, 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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