Northern Tajikistan is a strange amoeba-like tongue of land sandwiched in between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The product of Stalin’s divide-and-conquer, border-making scheme in the 1920s, it embraces Khujand, parts of the Fergana Valley, the Fann Mountains (including the Gisar, Zaravshan and Turkistan ranges) and the isolated Zaravshan valley.

The Fergana Valley and Khujand are home to a large number of Uzbeks. During the Soviet era, the clans based around Khujand (then known as Leninobod) had the closest ties with the ruling Communist elite. The mountains here produce much of Tajikistan’s home-grown opium. Zaravshan Valley lies between lies between the Gisar, Zaravshan and Turkistan ranges in the Fann Mountains. It is the home of the Yaghnobis, a sub group of Tajiks that trace their lineage to the ancient Sogdians. Some still speak the 8th century Sogdian language.

Northern Tajikistan embraces the Fann Mountains and the ridges of the Gissar and Turkestan mountain ranges on the southwestern part of the Pamir-Alay. Turkestan Ridge is a region of mountains along the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There has been some insurgent and Islamist activity in this area. The Turkestan ridge area is poorly surveyed because of its length and inaccessibility. This area has many walls and peaks which have not been explored.

Regions of Republican Subordination (RRS) is a group of regions consisting of 13 districts in Central Tajikistan, stretching from the border with Uzbekistan in West to outskirts of the Pamirs (GBAO) in the East, along the Southern slopes of the Gissar range and further to the East along the border with Kyrgyzstan. The RRS consist of Varzob, Vakhdat (former Kofarnikhon), Gissar, Jirgatal, Nurobod (former Darband), Rasth (former Gharm), Rogun, Rudaki (former Leninskiy), Tavildara, Tojikobod, Tursunzade (former Regar), Faizabad.

Roads in Northern Tajikistan

Roads link 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 Khujand in northern Tajikistan 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.

Dushanbe-Kyrgyz Border Road is two-lane road, linking Dushanbe with Darband near the Kyrgyz Border. The road is the main link between Dushanbe and the Rasht Valley and is part of an international corridor to Kyrgyz Republic and China. During several winter months, the road is the only link between northern Sugdh Oblast (province) and the rest of Rajikistan.

Dunshabe Kyrgyz Road is a two-lane road, linking Dushanbe to Darband in the Rasht Valley and the Kyrgyz Republic. The 140 kilometers from Dushanbe to Nurobod and rural roads connecting with the road have been upgraded. The center section of the road and the 12 kilometers section before the border have been upgraded. 60 kilometers of rural road in the area near the road were also improved. The section between Nimich and Sayron Bridge-Surkhob River Crossing No. 2 has been being upgraded. Improvements include widening, installing drainage facilities, stabilizing slopes, repairing bridges. Local roads in the project area have also been upgraded.


Much of northern Tajikistan area lies in Sughd, an administrative region in Tajikistan established in 1939 as the Leninobod (Leninabad) region. In 2000 it was renamed the Sughd (Soghd) region. Located in the North of Tajikistan, in the mountain ranges of the Tien Shan and Gissar-Alai mountains, and part of the the Ferghana valley, the Sughd region is divided into 14 districts: Ayni, Asht, Bobojon-Gafurov, Ganji, Jabbar-Rasulov, Zafarabad, Isfara, Istravashan, Kanibadam, Kuhistoni-Mastchoh, Mastchoh, Panjakent, Spitamen and Shahristan. The administrative center is Khujand. Cities in the Soghd region are Gafurov, Istaravshan, Isfara, Kairakum, Kanibadam, Panjakent, Taboshar, and Chkalovsk. The climate in Khujand is continental And the main rivers are Sirdarya and Zaravshan. The biggest and most popular lake is Iskanderkul. Other water reservoirs include Kairakum, Farhad, Kattasai and Daganasai.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: Now renamed Sughd, the Leninobod oblast (or viloyat in Tajik) in the north with its centre in Khujand has always been the most developed and populated part of Tajikistan. Its economy is based on grain, cotton-growing and modern industry: in 1992, 616 of the republic’s 733 factories were located there. In 1994, this region accounted for 62 per cent of the state budget’s revenues. The spirit of entrepreneurship has never been extinguished amongst the Khujandis; even at the height of Stalin’s rule they continued with private productive activities, mainly on family allotments, and with trade, which allowed for higher living standards than elsewhere in Tajikistan. Consequently, the cooperative movement initiated in the USSR in the late 1980s, and the process of small privatisation that followed, has yielded impressive results. The variety of privatised, semi-privatised and de facto-privatised enterprises operational in Khujand (usually headed by government officials of some kind) in the immediate post-independence period was astounding. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013]

“The Leninobod/Sughd oblast is an organic part of the multi-ethnic Ferghana Valley and, in terms of infrastructure and even ethnic composition, it is closer to Uzbekistan than rump Tajikistan; suffice to mention that Uzbeks make up 43 per cent of the population in the northernmost Asht raion. This region was connected with Dushanbe by one narrow mountain road, which was out of operation several months a year; there is no direct railway link, and the only reliable means of transportation for many years was airplane. The sense of isolation from the rest of Tajikistan is so entrenched that Khujandi businessmen flying from their hometown to Dushanbe would routinely say that they were going ‘to Tajikistan’.

Leninobod: the Source of Soviet Tajikistan’s Political Elite

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Between 1946 and 1991, the top leadership of Tajikistan was invariably recruited from Leninobod. In addition to the position of first secretary of the republican Party Central Committee, people from the north were traditionally in charge of industry and trade, and, generally, dominated the top party organs. Moreover, the oblast enjoyed the privilege of trading abroad directly, bypassing Dushanbe. Beginning with Jabbor Rasulov, the CPT Central Committee (CC) first secretary in 1961–82, the Leninobodi ruling elite adopted a truly Machiavellian tactic in preserving their control: representatives of other regions did gain access to positions of authority, however, they were selected ‘not as people who cherished [the] interests of their compatriots, but spineless individuals, or, even worse, “marginals” (those who had a Russian or Leninobodi wife, or had been brought up somewhere “far away”), or complete nincompoops, in order to discredit the southern nomenklatura clans in the eyes of Moscow’.

Hikmatullo Nasriddinov, a Kulobi who was appointed minister for irrigation in 1980, remembers with a degree of bitterness that one condition of his promotion was he could never employ fellow-townsmen in the ministry: Of course, these incantations of Jabbor Rasulov about inadmissibility of nepotism and favouritism were correct. But I saw that Rasulov himself, as well as his high-placed co-regionalists, did not uphold them. Their words were one thing, and their deeds—quite another. They tried in every imaginable way to plant cadres from the North in positions of influence and income in the mountainous regions.

“It would be wrong to depict the Leninobodi regional clique as a cohesive entity with a clear-cut political agenda. After all, it is an area where traditional ties and allegiances have been most weakened both by communist efforts at modernisation and by the rekindled taste for a market economy. There is an assortment of rival kinship and solidarity networks, which came into existence in the Soviet period and continued to play a pivotal role in contemporary Tajik politics in the immediate post-independence era. The Uroteppa (Istaravshon) ‘clan’ headed by Salohiddin Hasanov, the Panjakent grouping centred on Isomitdin Salohiddinov, the Qayraqqum-Yaghnob cluster represented by Safarali Kenjaev, and the Osimov-Olimov family agglomeration in Khujand, which had viable ties in the religious establishment throughout Central Asia, were only a few of these groups. All of them competed for greater autonomy and larger allocations for their patrimonies, or for political influence on the republican level, in defiance of the more powerful and well-established structures, such as the Leninobod-Kanibodom group of families (the Arabovs-Karimovs), Abdumalik Abdullojonov’s shadowy empire, or ex-premier Samadov’s patronage web. In times of peril, however, the feeling of regional loyalty invariably proves stronger than the resentments of more localised ambitions. This was the case when a Leninobodi, Rahmon Nabiyev, was removed from the leadership of Tajikistan in 1985 and the Kremlin was looking for a replacement from amongst mountain Tajiks. This situation continued into the early post-independence era—all strongmen in the region united in order to defend the privileged status of their homeland.

Fergana Valley

The Fergana Valley is a large, curving strip of land with the Tien Shan mountains to the north and the Gasser-Allay Mountains, a branch of the Pamirs, to the south. Covering 22,000 square kilometers and drained by the upper Syr-Darya river, it is 320 kilometers long and occupies an area about three-quarters the size of Maryland and is so large that it doesn’t really seem like a valley at all. The entrance to valley is a narrow mouth.

The Fergana (also spelled Ferghana) Valley is like a vast oasis that lies at a convergent point of some of the great deserts and great mountains of Central Asia. It is unevenly divided among Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with most of it in Uzbekistan. It is the most populous area in Central Asia, with 11 million people, many of them relatively conservative Muslims. The Uzbekistan section is home to about 10 million people, a third of Uzbekistan’s population. It also contains the region’s richest agricultural land that have traditionally produced melons and vegetables.

The Fergana Valley is separated by mountains from the rest of Kyrgyzstan. The Fergana Valley is regarded as more Islamic and less Russified than northern Kyrgyzstan. Osh and Jalal-Abad are two of the largest oblasts in Kyrgyzstan. They account for less than 15 percent of the republic’s land but are home to 55 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population and much of its agriculture.

The Fergana Valley spreads across northern Tajikistan from Uzbekistan on the west to Kyrgyzstan on the east. This long valley reaches its lowest elevation of 320 meters at Khujand on the Syr-Darya. Rivers bring rich soil deposits into the Fergana Valley from the surrounding mountains, creating a series of fertile oases that have long been prized for agriculture. In the Soviet era, the Vakhsh River was dammed for irrigation and electric power, and factories were built along its banks. Hot summers and frigid winters characterize the climate. The high mountain ridges protect the Fergana Valley and other lowlands from Arctic air masses, but temperatures drop below freezing more than one-hundred days a year.

The Fergana Valley has been divided in unusual ways between Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In some cases enclaves of one country are completely surrounded by another country. In general, Uzbekistan holds the valley floor; Tajikistan occupies in narrow mouth; and Kyrgyzstan possesses the highlands around the valley.

The Fergana Valley, for the most part, is a beautiful and charming place filled with melon fields, agricultural villages, apricot orchards, cotton irrigation canals and markets where you can buy Afghanistan opium and traditional crafts. It is also a center of cotton and silk worm production and has its share of Soviet-era polluting industries. There is some oil and gas in the valley. Walnuts are harvested in the hills.

Getting to the Fergana Valley

Khujand is the main city in the Tajikistan part of the Fergan Valley.Shared taxis and marshrutkas run to Khujand from Dushanbe, Penjikent, Istaravshan and other southern Tajikistan destinations. In Khujand, shared taxis and marshrutkas going the other direction depart from the central bus station (avtovokzal). The ride to Dushanbe costs around US$15. Marshrutkas and taxis to the Uzbekistan border depart from the northern bus station.

From Osh ro Khujand: According to Wikivoyage: “it's a bit of a trek but not too difficult. Go to the new bus station (not the Stariy Avtovokzal by the bazaar), officially Oshskiy Avtovokzal. About 45 minutes walk from the bazaar, north. Take a marshrutka for 307 som (yes, 307 exactly) to Batken (the drive is stunning, get a window seat if you can). From there get a shared taxi to the border (50 som, haggle) and then another to Isfara (5 somoni), and then another to Khujand (20-25 somoni, haggle hard. Some of them will try to fleece you for 20 USD).”

In Kyrgyzstan, the journey between Osh and Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is done in a shared taxi and takes about 24 hours. Some travelers have had visas trouble on this route due to the fact that the route passes in and out of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. There route is also popular with drug smugglers and road blocks are sometimes set up.

In Uzbekistan, the Fergana Valley can be reached by flights by flights to the cities of Kokand and Fergana in the valley from Tashkent and other places in Uzbekistan from Osh, which can be reached by flights from Bishkek and Tashkent and other cities in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan The main overland route is from Tashkent. It crosses 2267-meter-high Kamachik Pass on winding road that is best traversed in a shared taxi rather than a bus. A new more bus friendly road opened in the early 2000s.


Khujand (150 kilometers south of Tashkent amd 100 kilometers west of Kokand in Uzbekistan) is Tajikistan’s second largest city and one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. Located at opening of the Fergana Valley that is more convenient to get to to from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan than Tajikistan, it is an ancient city, founded Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. , and was an important Silk Road trading center and place where caravans stopped for some rest and relaxation. The Mongols sacked the city. The Russians claimed it in 1876.

Home to 185,000 people and located on the Syr Darya River, Khujand is also spelled Khojand, Xojand Khudzhand and Khodjent and was known as Leninobod (Leninobod) during part of the Soviet era. Khujand has traditionally been populated by an Uzbek majority. The Uzbeks had close links with the Communists in the Soviet era and threatened to secede from Tajikistan when it seemed that Tajikistan might become an Islamic state. It escaped the ravages of the civil war but was the site of a warlord battle in 1998 that left 200 dead. Today it lies at the center of Tajikistan’s cotton-growing region and is wealthiest part of Tajikistan. The major industries consist of silk and cotton production and food canning and meat packing plants. Power outages are frequent.

Khujand is the capital of Sughd Province. It is an important transport hub for Tajikistan and the Fergana Valley. The city is served by Khudzhand Airport. Buses provide transport to the city from the airport. Trolleybus service is available in the city. Shared taxis and marshrutkas run to Dushanbe, Penjikent, Istaravshan and other southern Tajikistan destinations. The trips to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan often involve going through border checks and changing vehicles. SUVs can be hired. They leave daily from the large minibus station just outside the city. Agree on fare before leaving. Determine if the vehicle is in good condition. Inspection should include the spare tire.

History of in Khujand

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: Khujand was “ founded about 2,300 years ago during the time of Alexander the Great. According to Greek historians, in 329 B.C. Alexander the Great founded a fortress on the River Tanais or Yaksart (present-day Syr Darya River), which formed a natural border for his empire. He named it after himself and populated it with Greek warriors and local “barbarians” (i.e. the local population). [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Of course, this fortress was not initially really a town. However, later, due to its strategic geographical location, it became densely populated and turned into a large town (by the standards of that time), known historically as Alexandria Eskhata (Outermost Alexandria). The issue of the exact location of this ancient town has interested scholars of various countries for many centuries. Only in the mid-20th century was it confirmed that 4th century B.C. Khujand and Alexandria Eskhata of 329 B.C were one and the same place. It was also assumed that Alexandria Eskhata was not just built on empty land but in the center of an ancient town known as Khujand, which was already in existence on the left bank of the Syr Darya River when Alexander the Great’s troops arrived.

“Occupying a favourable location in the Ferghana valley, Khujand prospered for a long time, becoming rich and building palaces, mosques, and citadels. In the 13th century it was conquered and destroyed by Genghis Khan’s troops. In the 9-12th centuries Khujand consisted of the town itself (Shahriston), an old fortress (kuhandiz) and a handicraft-trade suburb (rabad). All these parts of the town were fortified with defensive walls. Later the town was restored and began to play an important trade role as a Silk Road transit hub. In the late 14th-early 15th centuries Khujand and its surrounding region were a part of the State of Timur (Tamerlane). In the 18-19th centuries Khujand grew significantly, sprawling into one of the largest cities of Central Asia, comparable with Qoqand and Bukhara. The town also had its own ruler (beg). Late 19th-early 20th century Khujand was a typical Central Asian town, with crooked, narrow streets lined with adobe houses pressed close to each other, noisy bazaars, and rows of various handicraft workshops.

“The town was divided into numerous small quarters (mahalla), each with a mandatory mosque, teahouse and pond (havz). The quarter’s mosques and teahouses were locations for a variety of community gatherings and to resolve issues of common interest. Each quarter developed predominance in its own type of craft. Khujand was situated on the border of the Bukhara Emirate and the Qoqand Khanate, and was a source of contention between them. In 1866 it was annexed to Russia, ending Bukhara and Qoqand’s destructive fighting over it. In 1929, a part of the territory of the Uzbek SSR, which then included Khujand region and the town itself, were given to the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

“The population of the region at that time was slightly over 250,000. On January 9, 1936, Khujand was renamed Leninobod in honor of Lenin. The city kept this new name until 1990 when its ancient, historical name, Khujand, was restored. This city is currently a large industrial and cultural center in Tajikistan.

Khujand, Khujandis and Valley Tajiks

Khujand (30 miles northwest of Andijan in Uzbekistan) is Tajikistan’s second largest city. Located at opening of the Fergana Valley and home to 200,000 people, it is an ancient city, founded Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. In the Silk Road era, it was an important trading center and place where caravans stopped for some rest and relaxation. The Mongols sacked the city. The Russians claimed it in 1876. Khujand (also spelled Khujand or Khojent) was known as Leninobod during pat of the Soviet era.

The Fergana Valley and Khujand are home to a large number of Uzbeks. During the Soviet era, the clans based around Khujand (then known as Leninobod) had the closest ties with the ruling Communist elite. Khujand has traditionally been populated by an Uzbek majority. The Uzbeks had close links with the Communists in the Soviet era and threatened to secede from Tajikistan when it seemed that Tajikistan might become an Islamic state. It escaped the ravages of the civil war but was the site of a warlord battle in 1998 that left 200 dead. Today it lies at the center of Tajikistan’s cotton-growing region and is wealthiest part of Tajikistan.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Valley Tajiks who live in the north have been traditionally viewed as half-Turkicised by mountain Tajiks in the south and south-east of the republic. In their turn, some Khujandis go to great lengths to assert their purity and cultural superiority, claiming, for example, that they are direct descendants of the Aryans, Cyrus the Great and Ismoil Somoni, and that only ignorant people would say their capital city is 2500 years old, because in reality it has a 8400-year history. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013]

“Inside Tajikistan, the Khujandis have a reputation of being pragmatic people obsessed with making a profit and prone to striking dubious deals and gambling. It is also believed that the political ideal of the Leninobodis is a combination of rigid authoritarian central power and freedom of private entrepreneurship and initiative … The freedom of entrepreneurship by no means is associated with freedom per se, it is realised through communal mechanisms with their authoritarian character, paternalism and negation of individualism.

Sights in Khujand

Khujand spreads out along the Syr-Darya River. Sights include the 10th century citadel, which like an eroded excavation than a fortress; the Panchshanbe market, a colorful Central Asia bazaar; and a modern Muslim complex contain the mosque, madrasah and mausoleum of Sheikh Massal ad-Din; and the statue of Lenin, regarded as the largest in Central Asia.

Panjshanbe Market (in the center of Khujand, opposite Sheikh Muslihiddin mausoleum) consists of a main pavilion and many stalls, tents and shops around to it. It usually busy and noisy and used not only by residents of the city but also by people living in neighboring villages. This bazaar is the most colorful sights of Khujand. Panjshanbe means Thursday, reference to the day of the week the market was held on in the old days. Today it is open everyday although some days are busier than others.

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: Present-day Khujand is a lush green city with many parks and squares. The Syr Darya River, which runs through the center of the city, and its ample banks, form a wonderful place for recreation and swimming. Khujand is the only city in Tajikistan located on a large river. The famous Panjshanbe city market is one of the most interesting sights of Khujand. It is one of the largest covered markets in Central Asia, and attracts customers with its multiple colours, unusual sounds and flavours, and variety and abundance of fruit and vegetables. Panjshanbe in Tajik means “Thursday” and in former times Thursday was the main day for trade at this market. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Near the market is a mosque and the Sheikh Muslihiddin mausoleum (the mausoleum has not been preserved in its original form, only fragments remain of the 11-12th century building). In the middle of the northern part of the city, not far from the Syr Darya River, near present-day Kamol Khujandi City Park, there is a fortress that was built in approximately 7-8th century A.D. The fortress occupied an area of approximately 300 х 200 meters and was surrounded by a thick mud wall. Later it was destroyed, but at the beginning of the 13th century it was partially restored. The Museum of Archaeology and Fortification is now in the fortress area. It is known that in the 18th century Khujand was a walled city, and this wall has been partially preserved on the western and eastern sides of the present-day city. Once the city walls were about six kilometers in length but now there is only a little over one kilometer left of them.

“The name of the Qayraqqum Reservoir (the “Tajik Sea”), situated to the east of the city, is derived from the word Qayraqqum, which means “stony desert”. The “Sea” was formed as a result of damming the Syr Darya River with an earth-fill dam and constructing the 130 meters long concrete dam of Qayraqqum Hydropower Station (HPS). The reservoir itself is about 65 kilometers in length and 8-20 kilometers in width. In summer the water level reaches 18 meters. There are several respectable sanitariums, recreation zones, and the The Tajik Sea Hotel on its shores. Since ancient times Khujand, along with Samarqand, Bukhara, Merv, Balkh and other towns has been a place where Tajik culture has developed; it was one of the largest economic centers of Central Asia. The city still preserves its renowned traditions.

Sheikh Muslihiddin Mausoleum

Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin (next to Panjshanbe Bazaar) is a large memorial complex located in the historical part of the city. Muslihiddin Khudjandi was a poet and a ruler of Khujand who lived in the 12th century. The legends say that sheikh Muslihiddin was a holy miracle-maker. First he was buried in Undzhi settlement (Khujand suburb) but his admirers transferred his remains to the city and built the mausoleum on this place. It was in the 12th century. Back then the mausoleum was a small burial chamber made of burned bricks decorated by terracotta. This tomb was destroyed during Mongol invasion. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

A large religious building complex known as the Sheikh Muslihiddin mausoleum is located in the historical center of Khujand. It was named after Muslihiddin Khujandi, a poet and ruler of the town, who lived in the 12th century. His biography, Manokib, has been preserved. According to folk legend, Sheikh Muslihiddin was a holy miracle man. After his death, he was initially buried in Unji village (a suburb of Khujand). However, after some time his followers carried the Sheikh’s ashes to the place where he lies now and built a mausoleum over his tomb..

The 12th century burial-vault consists of a small burial vault made out of baked bricks decorated with terracotta and spray decor. It was later destroyed during a Mongol invasion and also suffered as a result of the general economic decline of Maveraunnahr in the 13th century.

In the 14th century the mausoleum was rebuilt but with a different design and now consisted of two rooms. Its new look existed for some time, but then it was destroyed again for unknown reasons. In the 16th century a new building, quite different from previous one in its construction and plan, was built on the ruins of the old mausoleum. It acquired a new purpose — from being just a mausoleum it turned into a mausoleum-khonako, i.e. a building for prayer and ritual ceremonies..

The memorial has been reconstructed and repaired many times since and that has led to a distortion of the 16th century look of the mausoleum-khonako. In the second half of the 20th century the mausoleum for a long time housed the regional historical museum. In the 1990s the museum in the building ceased to exist and its displays were taken to another place..

Currently this complex consists of a cathedral mosque, a minaret more than 20 meters high built in the late 19th century, and ancient burial places including the Sheikh Muslihiddin mausoleum in the center. The mausoleum itself is a two-storied domed skylight construction with a central cross-shaped ziyoratkhona (commemoration hall) and domical gurkhona (burial-vault). In the center of the construction there is a carved wooden headstone — (sagona), covered with a thin, geometric carving filled with ornaments and inlaid gems..

Directly across the street from the complex, on the other side of the square, there is one of the largest covered markets in Central Asia — Panjshanbe. The market building is decorated in national style. The bazaar is open every day from early morning to late evening; here you can buy almost any fruit or vegetable grown in Tajikistan. It is always possible to have delicious and inexpensive courses of national cuisine in any one of the numerous teahouses and cafes around the market..

Getting There: Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin Location — Sughd region, Khujand, Central part of the city, 246 Jura Zokirov St. city buses and minibus, taxi from any part of Khujand.

Mausoleum of "Amir Khamza Khasti Podshoh"

The Mausoleum of "Amir Khamza Khasti Podshoh"(near Isfara, 100 kilometers east of Khujand), or "Khazrati Shoh" is situated in the territory of mazar (a holy place) Langar near the Chorku Isfara Region, near where Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan meet in the Fergana Valley. It was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999..

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The architectural complex of "Khazrati Shoh" i.e. mausoleum was built on the place of the grave of the saint, whose name was Khazra posho mir Khamza. There are many fragments of artistic carving on the ceiling, therefore the scientist suppose that the mausoleum was built of an old building or near it. Primarily it was square wooden mausoleum. [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture, UNESCO]

“There were columns in the southwest part, and adobe walls in the northeast one. Koranic inscriptions on the perimeter purlins and on the board friese is evidence about it. The columns have some right-angled deepenings for decorate gratings and mosaic. Elements of the façade was badly kept because of weather influence. An ornament of the columns isn't made out, the wooden surface is decolorized.

“The Middle Ages building is contained into the new building made of adobe bricks in the style of Fergana burial places. A type of decorations of the friese with Arab epigraphy has no analogue. It has unique design of figured interlacings and high skilled carving. Finished lines, perfect compositions and high skilled carving is evidence of existance of professional school of calligraphy in Central Asia of Kara khanid period. The architectural peculiarities such as combinations of semi-columns and flat crossing of purlins with decorate pendant, two-ended consoles make the monument unique work of architecture of Central Asia.”

Hazrati-Bobo Complex

The Hazrati Bobo complex (20 kilometers south of Isfara, 125 kilometers east of Khujand) is situated on Isfara River, near the entrance to Vorukh Valley in the northeastern part of present-day Chorkuh village. Many local people believe that the mazor (tomb) was built overnight and supposedly Saint Hazrati Bobo, a legendary hero and commander, and King of kings Amir Hamza Sohibkiron (Amir Hamza Hasti Podshoh) is buried in it. It is not known whether any Saint is in fact buried there or not..

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: The complex “consists of various religious constructions in a straight line facing north and a saint’s tomb (mazor). The local population call the saint “Hast-i Podshoh”, “Hast-i Amir”, or “Amir Hamza-i Sohibkiron” (Sohibkiron means “Master of lucky star constellation”). Neither scholars nor older residents of Chorkuh know exactly which of these titles is the real one or who is buried in this mazor, which has been thoroughly looked after by worshipers. The mazor is situated in Langar quarter, and is therefore often called Mazori Langar. This place is also known as “Chorkuh Mausoleum”..

“To the left of the mazor building entrance there is a room with a four-column ayvon (veranda) from the 18-19th century. It has ornamental decoration and wall and ceiling paintings, and apparently served as an overnight refuge for pilgrims or for conducting ceremonies such as khudoi (sacrifice). To the right of the entrance is a mosque. In the courtyard there is a wooden 3-storey minaret. Modern buildings and a mud fence surround the building complex. According to the oldest residents, the mazor courtyard was once filled with tombs, i.e. it was a cemetery. However, in the mid-20th century almost all the tombs were destroyed because people attending the mosque sometimes fell into cemetery pit-holes. The Mazor itself consists of two types of buildings. The original 10-12th century building is a wooden ayvontype mausoleum with carved columns, a frieze with Kufi inscriptions, a covered ceiling, eight covered consoles and a set of plates decorated with ornamental carvings. It is now under the roof of a relatively new construction, i.e. “a ceiling under a ceiling”, with a gap of several meters between. The Mazor has two front doors: the main one from the north and the other from the southwest..

“This is connected to ancient Tajik superstitions that after death people’s souls turn into snakes, fish, flies, moths, and butterflies, which will supposedly fly or creep into a room to see their relatives. The consoles also portray a bird carrying a branch in its beak. Such birds with branches, ribbons or rings in their beaks are found in Tajik fairy tales and in Panjakent and Varakhsh (ancient Samarqand) wall paintings..

“Chorkuh’s woodcarvings contain features of artistic and building techniques of pre-Islamic fine art, though there is a trend to stylization of pictorial scenes and its transformation into ornamental art. It is still not clear why this building was constructed. It is assumed that there was some tomb here even before Islamic times, the cult of which was extended to a Muslim saint, and а mausoleum was erected much later than the burial. One thing that is clear is that this monument, a masterpiece of folk arts, which organically fuses ancient pre-Islamic traditions with more modern ideas in an intricate, unique, woodcarving masterpiece, is without equal in Central Asia’s woodcarving history.

“Earlier, in various parts of Central Asia, individual carved items had been found amongst ruins, but Chorkuh is unique in that the whole premises complete with all of its elements — columns, beams, purlins, ceiling bars and plates — were preserved. A detailed study of the carved Chorkuh complex and an interpretation of the Kufi inscriptions holds the answers to a great many questions from historians, architects and arts critics concerning yet-to-be-discovered aspects of historical Tajik folk art...

Getting There: The Hazrati Bobo complex is 20 kilometers south of Isfara, in Sughd region, Isfara district, Chorkuh village on the Isfara River, near the entrance to Vorukh Valley. The Isfara-Chorkuh bus departs from the Isfara bus station. You can also take a taxi.


Istaravshan (78 kilometers southwest of Khujand, 175 kilometers north of Dushanbe) is an ancient trade and craft center and one of the most ancient towns of Central Asia, celebrated its 2,500th anniversary in 2002. The Persians knew it as Kurukada while the Sogdians called Kurushkada. Contemporary scholars identify it with ancient Cyropol. The A.D. 1st century Greek geographer Ptolemy referred to it as Kireschata. Bordered by Uzbekistan in the north and west, and Kyrgyzstan in the east, the territorial area of Istaravshan covers 1,830 square kilometers, and is home to about 200,000 people, with the majority living in the outlying countryside.

Istravashan (formerly Uroteppa) is located in the northern foothills of the Turkestan mountain range and situated on the main road connecting Tajikistan's two largest cities, Khujand and Dushanbe. Before 2000, it was known as Ura-Tyube in Russian and Uroteppa in Tajik. Many locals have called the renaming to Istaravshan a process of forced "Tajikization" or "Persification",

History of Istravashan

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “In the 6th century B.C. the town was fortified with three rows of walls, had a citadel surrounded by walls 6,000 meters in length and was famous for its skilful craftsmen and lucrative trading. Some scholars believe that in the 1st-2nd centuries B.C. and 1st-2nd centuries A.D. Istravashan was known as Ustrushana and was part of the independent region called Ustrushana with a capital in Bundjikat. It was an important commercial center, since roads from here lead towards Khujand, Bukhara, Samarqand and the Ferghana Valley. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“In 822, during the period of Arab rule, Istravashan, which became a caliphate province, was widely known in the Muslim medieval east as a trade and cultural center. Here new forms of Islamic buildings were developed (mosques, madrassahs, mausoleums, minarets, etc.), based on developments in dome design. In the 13th century the development of Istravashan was interrupted by the invasion of Genghis Khan’s troops. They began robbing, and destroying the local population, and as a result many settlements were turned into ruins, irrigation systems were destroyed, and towns were deserted.

“Historical information about the town is also available for the end of the 14th century, when the powerful Timurid Empire, with its capital in Samarqand, was gaining power and Maveraunnahr was in its heyday. The town was then called Ura-Tyube. The town was becoming a dynamic populous center of the new state. Residential quarters were expanding, and the urban area was improving. The population was supplied with water through irrigation canals, underground pipes, and wells. In order to meet the local population’s water needs, recreation areas with ponds and covered reservoirs of water were built in each quarter.

“In the 16th century Maveraunnahr and Uroteppa fell from their positions of importance and prestige as a result of the founding of a new state with a capital in Bukhara, ruled by the Sheibanid Dynasty. Transit trade from India was monopolized by other countries. Further development came to Uroteppa in the 18th century. At that time the citadel and fortress walls were fortified, the old fortified structures restored, and new ones were built capable of withstanding the numerous assaults of nomadic Turkic-Mongolian tribes, who continuously attacked the town. The urban area where the ancient citadel, mosques, madrassah, six bath-houses and many teahouses were situated was 527 hectares. In just one year, 1886, before joining Russia, there were 17 different rulers in Uroteppa (some of them ruled less than a week). During this period the town was marauded 50 times..

“At the end of the 19th century there were 68 mosques, 16 caravanserais, five dairies, seven mills, and seven bath-houses in Uroteppa as well as many markets: wheat, carrot, meat, melon, livestock, as well as mat, wool, cloverleaf, cotton dresses, thread, cotton robes, down, knives, salt and tea.”

Sights in Istravashan

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: Up till this time a number of interesting historical monuments had been preserved in Istravashan. The double-domed mausoleum, Hazratishoh, built in the 18th century, was considered by the Istravashan population to be the tomb of Prophet Muhammad’s cousin — Kusama ibn Abbas. In the western part of town is the Abdulatif Sultan mosque-madrassah, also known as Kok-Gumbaz due to its tiled “Blue Dome”. This 16th century structure was built at the initiative of Abdulatif, son of the famous astronomer and philosopher Ulugbek. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Folk legend about the Kok-Gumbaz building says that after a quarrel with his father, Abdulatif left his parents’ house and was employed by an old peasant digging an irrigation canal for his plot of land. For this work he should have received 100 tenge (pennies). Meanwhile Abdulatif’s father was searching for him. Having learnt where his son was working, he took the money which Abdulatif had honestly earned from the peasant, added his own money, and built a madrassah. In the late 19th century it had eight teachers, and 44 students were studying there.

“The main building of Kok-Gumbaz is made of square bricks and there is a large, square room inside with four deep alcoves on the sides. There is an alcove with a mehrob (for the imam) decorated with a rich, sculpted, alabaster arch. The interior walls are painted. The front portal and dome have a majolica coating. Bath-houses (hammom) frequently served not only utilitarian purposes but were also used for purifying rituals before prayer, and were joined to mosques. As a rule, they were built from baked bricks. Bath rooms were situated below and had a waterproof cover. There were also special rooms for relaxing and drinking tea, where visitors could spend their time in leisurely talk, use the barber’s services or play chess. There were bath-houses in every quarter (guzar) of Istravashan. Such public facilities built in the 19th and 20th centuries have remained intact thus far in the guzars of Korgardon, Darvozai Bolo, Havzi Moron, and several others..

“One of the town’s more remarkable historical sites is the ancient settlement on Mugh hill, where a local ruler’s residence was located. Unfortunately, only the gates and a dome with columns on each side now remain intact. Present-day Istravashan is a town of folk craftsmen and an architectural complex and an important economic and cultural center in Tajikistan. Up to the present day there have been different quarters for each group of craftsmen — weavers, potters, blacksmiths, etc. Samples of carving, decorative textiles, wall and ornamental painting, artistic ceramics, jewellery, embroidery, architectural décor, and epigraphic design are an excellent illustration of the town’s high level of craftsmanship and their inexhaustible creative spirit.

“The roots of this rich, diverse and vivid art originate in ancient times. The local market is a great place to see the creative process and the results of local craftsmen’s work with your own eyes. Istravashan is connected with Khujand (the main city in the region) by a good paved road.

“The Kattasay reservoir is six kilometers from Istravashan, the sandy shores of which are a favourite recreational area for townspeople. This man-made sea was built in 1964. The dam is 60 meters in height, 800 meters in length, has a maximum depth of 43 meters, and a capacity of about 55 million cubic meters. Next to the reservoir is the Uroteppa sanitarium and several recreational zones. It is possible to get to the reservoir by public transport or by taxi from Istravashan.”.

Medieval Bunjikat

Medieval Town of Bunjikat (in Istaravshan) 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: “Bunjikat City (remains of the ancient town Kalai Kahkaha I, II, 3rd), the capital of Ustrushana existed in the 7th-10th centuries AD. It consisted of an arch, shakhristan, rabad. The palace with an area of 38 x 47 meters included a stateroom with a throne sunroom (17, 65 x 11, 77 meters), a small reception room (9, 65 x 9, 50 meters), a temple, armory, a residential tower donjon, residential, utility rooms, whole system of connections with corridors. The arch with palace of the ruler was additionally strengthened with corner towers and gates. [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

“The walls of the palace were covered with multicolored paintings (scenes of household, battles, etc.). The wooden architectural details of interior were decorated with carvings (geometric, floral ornaments, subject compositions, depicting people, animals, birds, etc.). The eastern half of shakhristan was a system of urban development (religious, craft-shopping, residential centers), and the western part was a military-defense complex. They are surrounded by strong walls with high towers, two gates, the northern as the main entrance and the western. The rabad included trade and craft centers. A necropolis was situated not far from the city.

“The total area of the site is 20 hectares. The formation of the early feudal city proceeded in the mainstream development of Central Asian urban planning and architecture. The individual features of the ancient town building art appeared in the proportions and the relative position of city parts and used the surrounding natural landscape for urban development, monumentality, as for the group of unique individual buildings. The palace stands with the lack of a vault cover; the roof is mainly in arch. The residential development of Bunjikat consisted of one-storied houses, while the majority of the urban body of Bunjikat was two-storied houses.”

Hazratishoh Complex

Hazratishoh (in Namozgoh guzar (quarter) in the old part of Istravashan town) is a historical-architectural complex composed of three religious structures — the Hazratishoh mausoleum, the Khudoyor Va’lami mausoleum and the Hazratishoh mosque (also known as the Namozgoh mosque) arranged in the form of a semicirclearound a spring. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “Hazratishoh is the name of a saint who was buried here. According to oral legend he was a brother of Kusama Ibn Abbas, who supposedly was buried in the 11th century in Samarqand’s Shohi Zinda complex, and who was a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. In the past there was a town cemetery, madrassah, qorikhona and nagorkhona next to the mausoleum. According to archives, 12 Qur’an reciters lived in six khujrah (cells) in this mausoleum, constantly praying for peace for the souls of the deceased that were buried at the adjoining cemetery of Uroteppa rulers.In front of the mausoleum there is a spring, the water of which is considered holy and medicinal. According to legend, the spring was formed when Imam Ali put his stick into Mount Oykul Lake (Oydinkul Lake, Turkestan range), and the spring appeared near Hazratishoh’s feet at his grave in Uroteppa.

“There used to be a market square next to the complex, where, during the Muslim religious holidays of Eidi Qurbon (Eid al-Adha or the “Feast of Sacrifice”) and Eidi Ramazon (Eid al-Fitr or the “Feast of Breaking the Fast”) a large number of townspeople and residents of neighbouring villages gathered to participate in holiday Namos (public prayer and worship), and from this follows the name of the mosque and a town quarter (guzar) — “Namozgoh”. After prayer, near the mausoleum and mosque, a festival began accompanied by holiday trade, food in teahouses, rooster-, ram-, and quail-fighting, horse-racing, tightrope-walking performances and wrestling.

“According to scholars, the history of the Hazratishoh religious-memorial complex went as follows. Long before Islam the local population considered the spring to be holy — a source of life. Later, after accepting Islam, the tomb (mazor) of a respected religious figure appeared near the spring. Afterwards, a simple mausoleum was built over his tomb — a single-chamber over a tomb which later was transformed into two chambers and with an added L-shaped corridor. In the 17-18th centuries an ayvon (veranda) with wooden columns was added to the mausoleum..

“In this regard, an interesting find was made in 1940 in a burial crypt near a mazor. Here, several women’s tombs were found. One of the corpses had been embalmed. The insides of this corpse had been removed and the abdominal and pelvic cavities filled with a fabric impregnated with antiseptic drugs. The embalmment was so good that both the mummy and the shroud in which it was covered had not decomposed despite poor conditions for preservation.

This mummy shows great scientific interest in the methodology of autopsy, and the means and modes of embalming. Its discovery says a lot about the level of knowledge in the area of health and chemistry in medieval Central Asia.

“The constructions in the Hazratishoh complex were each erected at different times and have their own history of creation and use. Trying to determine the exact date of construction has proved difficult. Some specialists think that the initial buildings were built in the 10th-11th centuries — the main arguments for this view are the location of the monument near a spring and some similarity in building design with Samarqand’s Shohi Zinda — certain architectural features of the plan, the combination of thick and thin walls, and the presence of galleries surrounding the building on two sides in its planning. Other scholars date this monument with 18th century.

“As happens frequently, it is very hard to get to the truth now because over the years the building has repeatedly been partially destroyed, rebuilt, completed, and re-designed. Parts of the ancient constructions were disassembled for use as construction materials and firewood. Also, the premises were used as warehouses for a canning factory during the struggle between Soviet power and “religious remnants”. The complex’s modern look came mostly from restoration and repair work. Nowadays the Hazratishoh mausoleum is a double-domed brick construction with a deep alcove on the east side..

“Khudoyor Va’lami mausoleum is a cross-shaped single crypt. This construction is very simple without any decoration or architectural details or facade. The cathedral-mosque Namozgoh (Hazratishoh) is a multi-column construction for festive prayers. All the wooden parts of the ceiling, consoles, and capitals are covered with magnificent paintings of green, blue and red colours. The ayvon ceiling rests upon 28 columns skilfully decorated with woodcarvings. The local population currently actively uses the complex...

Medieval Town of Shahristan (Kahkakha)

Medieval Town of Shahristan (20 kilometers southwest of Istravashan, 150 kilometers north of Dushanbe) is 25 kilometers to the southwest of town of Ura-Triube, near the settlement of Shahristan, on the bank of the river of Shahristansai. It was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The site of the ancient town of Shahristan (Kahkakha) was a capital of ancient Ustrushana of 6th-9th centuries. It consisted of the complex of castles, united in a system encircled with defensive wall with towers. In the north part there is Sharistan proper with the palace of governor (its name is Kalai Kahkakha I). [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture UNESCO]

“There is an old fortress in the south part (its name is Kalai Kahkakha II). They are separated by wide and deep moat of natural origin. There is Rabad (Kalai Kahkakha 3rd) there. Side by side with dwelling houses in the territory of Shahristan it was found a cult temple of idols. After Arab conquest it became the mosque. The territory of the site of ancient town was devided by wall into two parts. There was a defensive complex in the west part. It consisted of guard buildings and barracs and a drill ground. There was a sardoba (reservoir) there. The site of ancient town had two gates.

“The north one was main, and west one was reserve. There was a palace of Bungikata in the east part of the site of ancient town (the highest part). The territory of the palace was 38x47 meters, and it rise above the river bed on 57 meters. The palace was built of raw-bricks. Interiors were covered with adobe plaster. The palace had about 20 premises, in that number the main three-storeyed hall (17.65 x 11.77 meters) with throne loggia, a small hall (9.65 x 9.5 meters) for meetings, a donjon, some dwelling and house-hold premises, a large system of wide and long corridors, conducting them. There were temple and arsenal in the palace. It was found 5000 stone balls of 32-48 kg. Weight and stone balls for slings. The palace was encircled with defendence wall, there was a gate in the west wall of the palace. The halls, rooms and corridors had sufas (right-angled dais, interlocutors were situated on its surface), tambours with wooden screens, which in combination with wall painting, carving of columns, frieses and ceilings gave smart appereance to the interior of the premises.

“The hall of the palace is many-columned, with a wide entrance; it was decorated with carving and a beautiful carved wooden tympanum. The tympanum was situated in front of the trone loggia near the north wall. A planning of the hall is reminiscent of basilicas of Ancient Rome. Walls of a corridor leading to the hall is decorated astonishing subjects of many-colored painting. It's a picture of shewolf, nursing babies. Other subjects are warriors, fighting against demons, etc. Thus the site of ancient town of Shahristan (Kahkakha) is a unique archaeological monument, where the elements of structure of towns of 9th-12th centuries is expressed very clearly. Kahkakha was political, economical and cultural center of Ustrushana.”

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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