Popular Destinations

Most Popular Destinations

 

Central Park

Dushanbe (which means Monday in Persian) is the capital city of Tajikistan and is located among the lowlands in the west of the country. Once Dushanbe was an important trading post, holding a bazaar three times a week, and as such was the cross-roads for Central Asian caravan routes. In addition to being by far the largest city, it is the economic, legal and transportation centre of the country and was reconstructed by the Russians on top of previous settlements. It is a pleasant, slow-paced “garden” city, its streets are lined with towering leafy trees and large parks. New upmarket hotels and shops have recently sprung up and there are now even internet cafes with wi-fi as well as a large variety of restaurants offering international and local cuisine.

Ismail Somoni Statue

Things to see and do in Dushanbe: include visiting Central Asia’s largest buddha at the Museum of Antiquities; walking along Rudaki Street to see the President’s Palace, Central Park and Rudaki’s statue, as well as the Somoni statue and map of his empire behind him; the Botanical Gardens where you can enjoy some peace and quiet amongst many different kinds of trees or observe all the newly-weds and their entourages posing for photographs on a Sunday.  For good views of the mountains around the city (haze permitting!) go to the Komsomol Lake and walk round to the side opposite the fairground rides. For good views over Dushanbe walk up the hills to the east of the city e.g. Victory Park;  or alternatively try the artist’s graveyard on the western edge of the city, next door to the sports university. Get lost in Korvon bazaar, the biggest in the country, on the southern edge of the city.  Or for a smaller bazaar experience try Zelyoni bazaar near the centre. The art gallery opposite the president’s palace is the best place to see the range of Tajik art.

Hissar Fort

Things to see and do around Dushanbe:  Do you  like the locals and take a day out up the Varzob valley where you can eat shashlik and swim and lie about on a ‘cat’. Visit the Hissor Fort, an outpost of the Bukharan Emirate and the place the last Emir escaped to as the Russians took Bukhara.  The walls used to be wide enough to drive a chariot along the top of, but as they were built from mud bricks you have to use your imagination to see how it used to be.  The museum across the road fills in some of the history and gives you the chance to see inside a madrassa as well.

 

 

Khujand – the capital of northern Tajikistan

Khujand is one of the oldest cities of Central Asia, according to some sources it was founded in the VII-VI centuries BC. It was conquered by Alexander the Great, who rebuilt, fortified and re-named it to Alexandria Eskhata (Extreme). Located on the Great Silk Road, and connecting Samarkand with Fergana Valley, Khujand enjoyed a favorable geopolitical location and significant transport importance. Later, it was conquered by the Arabs (in the VIII century), and then it maintained resistance to the army of Genghis Khan, but eventually was destroyed (in the XIII century). However, very soon the city revived, becoming one of the largest commercial, cultural and scientific centers of the Central Asian region. And even today, Khujand is an important industrial, scientific and cultural center of northern Tajikistan.

Khujand, occupying, mainly, the left bank of the Syr-Darya River, is surrounded by mountains with the slopes planted with orchards. A few kilometers upstream, there is a place where the Kayrakkum reservoir starts, stretching for 55 km. The Khujand citizens and tourists like to go swimming, sunbathing or fishing on the lakeside. The city’s climate is as beautiful as nature – the hot summers are softened by the winds and the waters of the Syr-Darya, while the winters are mild with little snowing.

As a thousand years ago, nowadays Khujand still plays an important transport role. The city is crossed by the shortest route, coming from Central Uzbekistan to the Fergana Valley, and afterwards to Kyrgyzstan. The city has a railway station, as well as an airport located 11 km from its center. The nearest major cities are Bekabad (40 km to the west) and Kokand (140 km to the east).

Being home of famous scientists, writers and musicians, Khujand preserves the status of the scientific and cultural center in Tajikistan. The city has a theater, regional history museum and an archaeological museum as well as the Khujand State University, with an enrollment exceeding 10,000 students from all over the country.

Khujand managed to preserve some monuments dating back from the XVI-XVII centuries – the Sheikh Muslihiddin Mausoleum and Jami Masjidi Jami Mosque as well as Khujand Fortress, which was built together with the city more than 2,500 years ago, and underwent several stages of complete destruction and restoration.
And today, following the tracks of the Great Silk Road, it is impossible to travel in Central Asia without visiting Khujand, the city which become a corridor in the snowy mountains.

Khujand fortress, Khujand

Throughout the whole history of Khujand, the city’s heart was its castle. Over 2,500 years, the Khujand fortress expanded together with the city, was destroyed by the conquerors, rebuilt anew, but always continued to be a symbol of endurance of the people.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the first fortress was built in the VI-V centuries BC, and consisted of an artificial embankment gradually developed into a thick wall of natural clay. Moreover, in addition to the fortress there was a city wall occupying 20 hectares. Along the walls there were deep moats filled with water.

During the heyday of the Great Silk Road Khujand fortress was rebuilt and the city wall as well. However, the city was growing even more, and was divided into three parts: the citadel, and rabad shahristan. By that particular time, the Khujand fortress was considered one of the most inaccessible fortresses in Central Asia.

However, the fortress was fated to fall under the onslaught of the Genghis Khan’s army. In the period from 1219 to 1220 Khujand was under a siege, the number of invaders, at that, exceeded 25,000,000 people, excluding 50,000 captives, intended for work. Timurmalik, who led the defense of the fortress, could not offer resistance to the Mongol fleets and the city surrendered. The fortress was completely destroyed, and the siege of Khujand has become one of the biggest events in the history of Tajikistan.

Some historians argue that the fortress was rebuilt in the XV century, while others believe that the reconstruction began soon after the siege. However, nowadays, the Khujand fortress is the remains of walls and gates, as well as a territory of archaeological digs of the first wall foundation.

In 1999, a part of the eastern wall of the Khujand fortress dating back to VIII-X century was restored, and flunked to the building of the Museum of Local History, Archeology and Fortification. This museum has collected household items, pottery and implements found at the fortress territory. All in all, the museum fund consists of 1200 exhibits, most of which are available to visitors.

Panjshanbe Market, Khujand

Bazaar called “Thursday”

Covered market Panjshanbe is one of the most colorful sights of Khujand. Its name sounds similar to the name of the capital city – Dushanbe for a reason. Both names mean days of the week: Dushanbe – Monday, Panjshanbe – Thursday. They used to have trade on Mondays in Dushanbe, and on Thursdays in Khujand.

Panjshanbe Market or, bazaar, is located in the center of Khujand, opposite Sheikh Muslihiddin mausoleum. The bazaar consists of the main pavilion and many stalls, tents and shops adjust to it. It is always noisy there since not only residents of the city but also neighboring villages flock there for shopping.

Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin

This large memorial complex located in the historical part of the city was erected on the tomb of Muslihiddin Khudjandi – the ruler of Khujand, a poet 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.

In the 14th century the mausoleum was rebuilt with slight changes. It consisted of two rooms. But this building was also destroyed. In the 16th century and you building was erected on what was left of the old mausoleum. Structurally it differed from former structures and became not just the burial site but also the place for prays and ceremonial ceremonials. Today the Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin is an architectural complex consisting of the cathedral mosque, the 19th-century minaret (above 20m tall) and ancient burials with the Mausoleum of sheikh Muslihiddin being the main one. The present mausoleum is two-storied with the portal entrance and the wide dome. In the center is ziyoratkhona (the hall of commemoration) and the tomb-gurkhona under the dome. In the center of the room there is a wooden sagona covered with graceful geometrical carving with vegetative ornament and incrustations.

Kayrakkum Reservoir,

20 km from Khujand there is one of the natural attractions of Sogdian region – Kayrakkum reservoir, stretching for 50 km to the east. This artificial lake was made in the 50-s of the XX century to build a hydroelectric station and control the Syr Darya runoff. The country’s inhabitants, having no access to the ocean, often call it the “Tajik Sea”.

The statistics of the Kayrakkum reservoir in figures looks quite impressive: its length is 55 km, width is 20 km, maximum depth is 25 meters, and the total water volume is 4.2 km3. The length of the dam is 1,205 meters and while the height is 32 meters. In addition, in cold winters the Kayrakkum freezes, and in summers the air temperature near the coast reaches 30-35 degrees Celsius.

An artificial lake has become a new ecosystem of the region: its waters are rich in fish species (pike, carp, catfish, perch, bream, etc.), moreover it became a stopover for birds of passage, annually migrating from north Asia to India and other countries.

The Kayrakkum over its half-century history has become a popular holiday destination. It has various sanatoriums, recreation areas and children’s camps stretching along the coast. This is a great place for swimming and fishing. Its coast along the whole length is covered by numerous fruit orchards.

Istaravshan, Tajikistan

Istaravshan is a museum city, the ancient center of trade and crafts, one of the most ancient cities of the Central Asia. In 2002 Istaravshan widely celebrated 2,500 anniversary of the city. The city was founded in the sixth century B.C. by a Akhemenid king Cyrus who fortified the settlement by means of three wall lines and a citadel.

In the second -seventh centuries B.C. the ancient sentiment Mugteppa was located on the territory of Istaravshan. Mugteppa was the residence of the local aristocracy who erected there numerous palaces distinguished by original expressive architecture. The evidence of that was found in Bundzhikat (Kala and Kakh-Kakh) and Chil’khudzhra settlements which had fortified structures with palaces and cult buildings decorated with paintings and carved panels. For example in Bundzhikat the archaeologists found the painting with the image of a she-wolf feeding two babies – the symbol of contacts between the West and the Orient.

Only the gate with a dome and columns on the sides has survived on Mug Hill where the residence of the local governor used to be. During the years of Arabian sovereignty Istaravshan became a province Arabian Caliphate. It was at this time when Islamic architectural structures of portal-dome design such as mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums, minarets, etc. started to appear.

The rapid development of Istaravshan is connected with the rule of the first ethnic Tajik Samanid dynasty (the 9th – the 10th centuries). In the 13th century the city was destroyed by Mongols.The second period of Istaravshan development began in the 14th century when the powerful Timurid Empire was formed. Now the city is called Ura-Tube.In the 16th century Maverannakhr (along with Ura-Tube) lost its significance as a result of formation on a new Shejbanid state with the capital in Bukhara.

In the 18th century Ura-Tube entered another stage of its development. It was then that the citadel and the fortress walls were restored and reinforced and new structures capable of resisting attacks of numerous nomadic tribes were erected. In 1886 Ura-Tube became a part of Russia. Today Istaravshan has a number of interesting historical and architectural monuments which bear the evidence of its bright historical past.

Penjikent – Tajikistan

The city of Penjikent (“five villages”) is located in Khujand area of Tajikistan in a picturesque Zeravshan river valley. Quite possibly the five villages started the history of this remarkable city which originated in the 5th-8th centuries AD. Penjikent of that time was one of the most important cultural and crafts centers of Sogd. It was even named “Central Asian Pompeii”. It was a superbly fortified well-organized city with a ruler’s palace, two temples, markets, rich dwelling houses decorated with numerous paintings, wooden and clay statues of ancient gods.

Penjikent was the last city on the way from Samarkand in Kukhistan Mountains. It was a very favorable location since no caravan or person going from the mountains or returning to Samarkand could bypass Penjikent. The city was destroyed by Arabs in the eighth century (the key battle took place on Mount Mug). The ruins of this ancient city were found only in the last century. Today the tourists can see the remains of dwelling houses and office buildings, the citadel with the palace, the house of craftsmen, and fire worshipers church.

Penjikent Sights:

In the outskirts of Penjikent one can find a “piece” of the past: a site of ancient settlement with the medieval citadel surrounded by dwelling and public buildings, some of which still have wall paintings. Nearby there is a necropolis. The clay and wooden figures found during excavations are kept in Rudaki History and Local Lore Museum. The place of excavation ha been turned into the memorial reserve.

Not far from Penjikent on Mount Mug the archive of documents belonging to a Penjikent ruler, written in Sogdian language was found. The interpretation of these documents offers a possibility to judge about social, economic and political life of the population of Central Asia in the 8th century.

Penjikent – Ancient Settlement

In the suburb of modern Penjikent the tourists can see the true picture from the past: the medieval citadel surrounded by dwelling buildings with wall paintings; near the ancient settlement center stands the necropolis. The local residents call this place “Kainar” which is also the name of the nearby water spring.

In 1946 archeological excavations were started there. As a result a separately standing citadel with Divashtich (the last ruler of Penjikent) Palace, two temples with extensive yards, streets, shops, workshops, markets, fortifications, multiroom two- and even three-storey dwelling houses, the richest of which were decorated with wall paintings and wooden statues, were found.

But the most famous in the ancient settlement of Penjikent are the picturesque and colorful wall paintings which have survived in spite of their 1,300-year stay in ruins. The subjects of ancient Penjikent artists were different. There were cult ones showing heavenly bodies (the sun, the moon, other planets of solar system), reflection of ancestors’ cults, water element (river Zeravshan), Hinduist gods (Shiva).

The genre paintings display battle scenes, feasts, hunting, sports, playing musical instruments and backgammons, dances, distributions of harvest. Also found were the remains of carved wood and clay monumental sculpture in the ruins of temple buildings. The arts of ancient Penjikent, along with Byzantian, Indian and Persian borrowings, possessed their special original style.

Muhammad Bashoro Mausoleum

Muhammad Bashoro Mausoleum (11th – 14th centuries) is located in a pituresque Mazori Sharif village among juniper groves is the Mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro who was an expert in khadises (the legends of deeds and pronouncements of Prophet Muhammad and his associates). Originally the building had no portal. It was added only in the 14th century. The portal was distinguished by a special beauty: it had graceful and noble proportions and was decorated with carved terracotta of unique beauty and complexity. The portal is bicolor – pink patterns of terracotta are placed within double frame of glazed turquoise bricks – and has the exact date preserved among the inscriptions (743 year of Hidzhra which corresponds to the years of 1342-1343).

The center of the building hosts a spacious domed hall with a number of vaulted rooms on its left and right. The main facade of the mausoleum faces a small mountain river where you can get using the only available road. A clay mikhrab with graceful ornamental and calligraphic inscriptions towers in the center of the hall.

The presence of mikhrab (a niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction to Kaaba – the main relic of Islam) testifies that originally the building might have not been a mausoleum but a mosque. This is not the only mystery of Muhammad Bashoro Mausoleum: another one is whether the remains of this notorious religious figure ARE buried there.

Penjikent – Sarazm Settlement

Sarazm is a settlement dated the 4th -2nd millennia BC located near Pendzhikent with survived temples of fire, public and residential buildings, cult and palace structures. A lot of objects made of copper, bronze, lead, silver and gold; armor, jewelry related to 4th – 2nd millennia B.C. were found there.

The settlement stands on a height extending from west to east on the left bank of the Zeravshan River. The total area of the settlement exceeds 100 hectares.

Sarazm was the ancient center of ores mining. Sarasm people exported the gold and silver found in the Zeravshan river valley to the countries of the Middle and Near East as well as West India.

Besides that Sarazm was one of the largest centers of metallurgy in the Central Asia. There the fragments of foundry forms, melting forges, massive pestles and hammers for ore crushing, metal objects in the form of axes, daggers, knifes, spears, pins, fishing hooks and ornaments were found.

During the excavations in Sarazm the palace complex (the area of more than 250 square meters) was discovered. The complex included a big corridor, a vestibule, two or three halls and several auxiliary structures. All structures are connected by wide passages. One of the complex walls has windows for illumination and ventilation. The presence of circular altars in the center of the two halls might mean that it was not just a palace but also a place for cult ceremonials.

Khazrati-Bobo Architectural Complex

Not far from Pendzhikent within the limits of Sogd area is located Khazrati-Bobo architectural complex (kishlak Chorku, Isfara). Hence there is another name of the complex – “Chorku Mausoleum”.

The complex consists of cult constructions and various structures. Although they were built in different times they have a single similarity: all of them are standing with their facadeк facing north. The main attraction of the complex is the mausoleum of a certain holy man whose name varies according to local residents: “Khast-i-Podsokh”, “Khast-i-Amir”, “Amir Hamza Sokhibkiron” (Sokhibkiron means “a Master of lucky combination of stars”). The local legend says that the mausoleum was erected in just one night to become the burial place of saint Khazrati-Bobo, the legendary hero, commander and king Amir Hamza Sohibkiron (Amir Hamza Hasti Podshokh).

The entire complex is considered a unique monument of medieval architecture and consists of two types of structures. The oldest building (the 10th -the12th centuries) is the wooden mausoleum (mazar) with aivan (canopy) resting on the carved columns decorated with Kufi inscriptions and ornamental carving. There are seven carved wooden columns supporting this structure. They are of a unique form standing 2.5 m tall. Each column is made of a whole tree trunk and decorated with an ornament. The ornaments of all wooden details vary in character -they are vegetative, geometrical, zoomorphic figures and patterns. Besides, these wooden pillars are decorated with absolutely unknown kinds of animals which look like birds, snakes and fishes at the same time. Quite possibly this is due to the ancient Tajiks’ religious beliefs in reincarnation.

Mazar has two entrance doors: one is on the northern side with calligraphically written sayings from the Koran as well as the date of the repair works – 1321 of Hidzhra (1903-1904) above it. The door is fitted with a decorative lattice behind which the believers were to observe their rituals. The other door leading from southwest was intended for the sheikh. In the center of the room is the tomb of the “holy man”.

The second type of Khazrati-Bobo structures are of later dates. The room with a four-columned aivan (to the left of mazar) is dated the 18th-19th centuries. The walls and the ceiling also are painted and decorated. This place, apparently, was intended for pilgrims who could spend a night ther. It was also used for some rituals such as – khudoi (sacrifice). In the yard of the complex there is a wooden minaret in the form of a three-tier tower. The complex of the buildings is surrounded by a pise-walled fence. According to the oldest local residents the mazar yard was used as a cemetery. But in the mid -20th century nearly all tombs were razed to the ground as some of the church-goers who visited the mosque frequently fell into the graveyard pits.

Penjikent – Rudaki Mausoleum

Rudaki Mausoleum, Penjikent The mausoleum of the world-renowned poet Abu-Abdullo Rudaki, the ancestor of classical Tajik poetry was constructed in 1958. This historical paradox is in the fact that this famous poet’s biography had not been studied in full, and consequently, the place of his burial was not determined.

What known is that Rudaki who lived in the late 9th – early 10th centuries (during Samanids rule) had spent his last days in poverty and died in 941 in his native Pandzhrud village Pendzhikent. Some data testify that the poet died blind.

It was due to the laborious efforts of the famous Tajik writer Sadriddin Ajni hat some important facts from Rudaki’s life have been exposed. Having thoroughly studied all available historical manuscripts he managed to identify the great poet’s burial place, and the well-known sculptor – anthropologist Michael Gerasimov restored his appearance on the basis of the found remains.

In 1956, the year of Rudaki’s 1,100th birthday, the tomb, where the poet had been supposedly buried, located in Pjandzhrud kishlak was dug out. The burial contained the skeleton bones, which belonged to a man who had died at the age of around 85-87 years. The objects found in the grave were related to the time in which the poet had lived. There were some other evidence proving the fact that it WAS Rudaki’s grave.

Kulob, Tajikistan

The city of Kulob was born 2,700 years ago and for many centuries was an important political, commercial and economic and cultural center of the vast Khatlon area. The city stood on one of the Great Silk way branches and had close trade and economic and cultural links with many Oriental and Western countries.

During the Middle Ages the city of Kulyab was an important political, economic and cultural center. A plenty of maktabs (schools) and madrasah (higher educational institutions) worked there.

Various crafts and trades were developed there; literary and scientific clubs were very popular. In the 17th -19th centuries 40 poets lived and created their works. The most known of them were Nasekh (Abdurakhmon Khodzha), Khodzhi Khusaini Kangurti, Bismil, Shokhin, etc. The remains of structures and mausoleums testify about the highly developed culture of architecture and construction.

In the beginning of the 20th century Kulyab was the largest city of Eastern Bukhara and had 20 blocks. Various kinds of crafts, including weaving (high-quality silk fabrics: brocade, alochi, kurtachi, suzane), jeweler business, pottery and tanning production, joinery and production of knifes, horse harnesses, armor and other metal products were highly developed.

In city had flourishing commerce, marketplaces. Kulyab was famous for its embroideries (gulduzi and chakan) which are distinguished by unique forms and colorings. For the first time the name of Kulyab was mentioned in the 13th century.

Sights in Kulyab

Mir Sayid Ali Khamadoni (the 14th-17ht centuries)

Right in the center of Kulyab in the park zone with centuries-old plane trees stands the memorial complex of Mir Sayid Ali Khamadoni – the poet, philosopher and thinker of the 14th century. His son Muhammad, numerous relatives as well as Shaikh Shokhi Tolikoni from Afghan city Tolukan, the former inspector of the mausoleum and the mosque are also buried there. The building of the mausoleum is a traditional medieval structure. Originally it had three portal entrances with a domed hall decorated with carved decor. This structure is dated late 14th century. Later the mosque and the tomb were added to it.

In the 1970s the mausoleum was restored. During the restoration works the masters tried to preserve the mausoleum in the shape it had existed for the previous five centuries. They finally managed to do it. Near the mausoleum there is one more marble gravestone with inscriptions in Arabian and Persian languages and decorated with a geometrical ornament. It is written on the western side of the gravestone that there the son of Hatlon ruler, Amir Muhammad bin Shajh Abdulla, was buried. The rectangular tombstone weighs about a ton. The legend says that it was delivered to Kulyab from India on elephants. Today the mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage of local population and numerous visitors.

 

Hulbuk 

In 1952 the archeologists started exploration of a place near Kulyab city named Khisht-Tepa (” the Brick Hill”). Presumably there had to be the site of the “vanished” medieval capital. The entire area (about 70 hectares) abounded with pieces of pottery and glass, ceramic and metal slag, and fragments of burnt bricks. According to historians Hulbuk’s structures were made from these materials.

The further excavation proved that it was on this hill, in the center of Hulbuk, where the palace of the local ruler used to stand. The inspection of the remains of the citadel which was a part of the palace revealed that it stood on an even platform; its walls were made of mud bricks and tiled with burnt ones. The palace consisted of big rectangular rooms and long wide corridors. The parquet0like floors were laid with burnt bricks. The palace was richly decorated: the walls and ceilings were covered with wall paintings showing warriors, musicians and musical instruments as well as alabaster carving in the form of vegetative and geometrical patterns, Arabian inscriptions, images of fishes and mythical animals.

The further excavations revealed that under the palace, dated the 11th century, there are some earlier structures which means that the palace was constructed on the debris of another. It was also found that in the ancient city there were a sewer, water and heating systems with brick ducts and ceramic pipes. The rooms were heated by means of big jugs, khums, dug into the floor. A jug filled with hot wood coal gradually heated the floor. One of significant finds in Khuttal’ were huge Hulbuk ivory chess figures. The archaeologists found 20 intact and 8 half-destroyed ones.

Kurgan Tyube, Tajikistan

It is located in Vakhsh Valley (100 km to the south of Dushanbe). Some sources mention Kurgan Tyube in the 7th century, others do it much later. The city perches in the top part of the valley in the center of a rich oasis. The territory of modern Kurgan Tyube was known as Khuttal and city itself – as Levakend or Vakhsh in the Middle Ages. These places were famous for good shots and special breed of sheep.

12 km to the east of Kurgan Tyube stands a hill named Ajina-Teppe with the remains of Buddhist monastery built in the 7th -the 8thI centuries (sanctuaries, cells, vessels, sculptures, wall paintings) including a 12-meter figure of the lying Buddha.

Today Kurgan Tyube is one of the largest cities of the republic, the regional center of Khatlon area. There are several large industrial enterprises, universities, colleges, licea, hotels. Not far from the city there is an airport; the new railway station has just been opened.

To find out about the history of the place one can in the Museum of History and Local Lore. The total number of its collection makes up 700 items. The museum “tells” the original story about the past and the present of the city. The main attraction of the museum is Teppai Kurgon and Rastai Kosibon diorama. First comes the picture showing the past of Vakhsh Valley where there was nothing but the burnt ground, the ruthless sun and rare caravans. Then before the eyes of spectators there is beautiful panorama of the new valley – with cities and modern buildings. The museum’s collection contains a lot of the most interesting data related to national crafts of Tajiks such as suzane embroidery, ceramics, wooden and copper items.

Near the city of Kurgan Tyube, on the riverbank of the Vakhsh stands an interesting historical place – the ruins of Lagman settlement (the 10-13th centuries). In the middle of the 20th century the archeologists found the pipes of ancient water pipeline, the brick wells, and fortifications with towers. This city was one of the largest settlements of ancient Bactria and occupied a relatively big territory of 43 hectares.

Sights in Kurgan Tyube

Ajina-Tepe Buddhist Monastery

Located 12 km from Kurgan Tyube is the district named by local inhabitants as Ajina-Tepe. It can be translated as «the Devil’s hill”, “the Hill of Evil Spirit”. Probably such an attitude to this place among the local residents was caused by the unattractiveness of this place surrounded from three sides by aryks, thick undergrowths, bumps and pits.

It came out as a surprise when archeological excavations which started in 1961 resulted in 500,000 artifacts: sculptures, reliefs, wall painting fragments of a uniform complex of dwelling and cult rooms belonging to the 7th – 8th-century Buddhist monastery.

The archeologists determined that the monastery in Ajina-Tepe consisted of two parts (the temple and monastery), two rectangular yards surrounded by buildings and strong walls. One of yards had the Greater mortar (a construction for storage of relics or for marking of sacred places). In the yard’s corners there were Smaller mortars of the same form as the Greater one. The monastery was richly decorated; its walls and vaults were covered with paintings. The walls had niches were both small and bigger statues of the Buddha used to stand (his image prevailed in Ajina Tepe sculptures).

But the most sensational find in Ajina-Tepe became a huge clay statue of the Buddha in nirvana found in 1966 in one of the monastery corridors. Only the bottom part of the figure, from waste to soles, was intact. The upper part of the sculpture turned out to be badly damaged. All other fragments of the sculpture were found separately. The restoration of the statue started in the same year and lasted until 1978. After that the work stopped and didn’t begin until 2000.

Today the sculpture “The Buddha in nirvana” is exhibited at the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan in Dushanbe. That is the biggest sculpture of the Buddha found on territory of modern Central Asia.

Takht-i-Sangin (“Temple of Oks”)

If you had a chance to visit the British Museum you might see the unique collection named Amu Darya Treasure (or “the Treasures of Oks”). His treasure was funded in 1877 on the right bank of the Amu Darya River (it used to be called Oks during Greek period). The find consisted of more than 2,000 gold and silver coins, gold objects dated 4th – 3rd centuries B.C. The local residents who had found the treasure sold it to the merchants traveling with a caravan to India from where the treasure got to England.

Now let’s go back to the present time, thirty years ago. It was in 1976 bats archeologists began excavation on the site of ancient settlement Tahti Kubad (34 km from Kabodian settlement at the confluence of the rivers Vakhsh and Panj). That stone settlement which the archaeologists named Tahti Sangin turned out to be really unique. In the very center they found an ancient temple which got a name “the Temple of Oks”. It used to be devoted to the Divinity of the river whose cult had existed there since the old days.

The amazing findings were discovered in the huge temple constructed in the 4th – 3rd centuries B.C. which continued to exist in the first centuries of our era. Most likely those were the gifts of church-goers to the temple: the image of Alexander the Great as Hercules, the sheath with the image of a lion holding a fallow deer, chests facings made of ivory and decorated with carved drawings, the biggest collection of arrow tips in the Central Asia (more than 5 thousand), arms of Greek-Macedonian warriors. The fragments of gilt bronze helmets which looked like if made of pure gold were also found there.

By the way, “the Temple of Oks” has survived in a very good condition. During the15 years of excavation in Takhti Sangin the archaeologists extracted more than 5 thousand objects of Greek-Batrian time. After all this time the archeologists and the scientists finally came to the opinion that there is a direct connection between Amu Darya Treasure (“the Treasure of Oks”) in the British Museum and “the Temple of Oks” in Takhti Sangin since the place of treasures discovery and the location of the temple are the same, and all treasure items are of ceremonial value. It might have happened that the treasures were moved from the temple in troubled times and hidden nearby in the riverbank. The ruins of Takhti Sangin today can be seen in the picturesque valley of the rivers Panj and Vakhsh, and “the Temple of Oks” treasures – in metropolitan museums.

Khodzha-Mashad, Mausoleum 

Khodzha-Moshad Mausoleum located in Saed village (in the vicinity of Kurgan Tyube) will strike your imagination with its monumentalism of forms and virtuosity of the brickwork. It is the only wooden carved mausoleum which has survived in the Central Asia.

The area where the mausoleum is located has been known since the old days as “Kabodian” and draws attention of travelers.

Khodza-Mashad is a real person known in the Islamic world; he came to Kabodian from the countries of the Near East approximately in the late 9th – early 10th centuries. He was a rich man preaching Islam. Most researchers believe that the madrasah was built with his money and after his death he was buried there.

The legends present anther version. According to them the mausoleum “emerged” in one night and it was the Allah’s miracle.

The monument consists of two separate mausoleums standing next to each other connected by a vaulted passage. At first sight both mausoleums look like twins. In fact they differ by the time of construction (the eastern building is dated the 9th -10th century, and the western one – 11th-12th centuries).

Both buildings were built from burnt bricks. In the western building the architects used the so-called “book matched” brickwork. In the eastern one the brickwork consists of alternating “angles”. Inside both mausoleums there are sepulchral structures.

Behind the mausoleums there is the big rectangular yard surrounded by the remains of mud brick walls and demolished rooms. Nearly the whole territory of the yard is occupied by tombs. The earth floors of the domed gape with semi-destroyed tombstones.

There are a lot of arguments in relation to the purpose of these monuments. Since there are some cells-khudzhrs on the yard’s perimeter one might think that there used to stand a madrasah alongside with the mausoleum and the mosque.

Other scientists believe Khodzha Mashad was a complex memorial site with khanaka functions. (Khanaka is a place for pilgrims, dervishes, Sufis and so forth). It used to have a hostel with khudzhrs, a refectory, drawing room, halls for praying and meetings, ceremonial ablutions, and a bath. In any event it is clear that Khodzha Moshad architectural complex is a place of worshipped, sacred burial – the most interesting monument of architecture in Tajikistan.

Khodzha Moshad is a place of pilgrimage of many believers coming here from all over Central Asia.

Chili Chor Chashma, Kurgan Tube

Chili Chor Chashma (“44 springs”) is located 12 km from Shaartuz village and is widely known in Tajikistan as well as in Uzbekistan.

There, right at the foot of a small hill in the midst of the heated desert, five large water springs break into 39 smaller ones. All springs merging form a 12-13 m channel inhabited with a plenty of fish.

As a legend goes the holy caliph Ali having seen the dried up river Romit reached Chali Char Chashma and asked the Allah for some water. At this he struck the foot of a nearby hill with his hand and five purest springs gushed from the five holes made by his fingertips.

Chili Chor Chashma is the site piligrimage. People visiting this place say prayers, perform ablutions, sacrifices, bathe themselves in the sources. The water of the 17 sources is believed to be curative. Each of them has its own name and curative properties:

Ashmai muin – prevents hair loss;
Khuni Bini – stops nose bleeding; 
Chashmai Mohron, Khunukzadagon – cures from snake bites and inflammations; 
Ustukhondard – helps to cure bones diseases; 
Tablarza – cures malaria; 
Shifo – medicinal; 
Fishori Khun – good for hypertonia; 
Sardard – relieves headache; 
peskho – cures psoriasis; 
Murod – is good for depression; 
Befarzand – cures infertility; 
Gurda – good for kidneys; 
Dilu Chigar – ccures diseases of heart and liver; 
Devonakho – treats mental diseases;
Chashmu Gush – cures eyes and ears;
Khorish – cures scabies.

On the territory of Chili Chor Chashma there is also a small hill with a small mausoleum on top. According to the legend there the holy Kambar Bobo, who was the warden of caliph Ali’s stable, was buried.. There are four more graves of the holy men whose names are unknown.

Bordered by two east-west mountain chains (Zarafshan Range to the north, Hissor Range to the south) the Fan Mountains are one of Central Asia’s premier trekking and climbing locations with seven peaks over 5000m. Accessed easily from Samarqand (Uzbekistan), Khujand (full access May to October only) and Dushanbe (full access May to October only) the rugged, glaciated mountains are interspersed with many alpine turquoise lakes surrounded by either green pastures in summer or snowfields in the winter. In all seasons, this is a beautiful destination and there are many day trips or extended routes for the traveller to select from.

The main town in the region is Penjikent that lies only 60km east of Samarqand although crossing the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan can be a painfully long experience if you choose to make this journey. Indeed, Penjikent makes a go
od overnight location if travelling east into Tajikistan. The town has an extended history, being a Sogdian settlement from the 5th Century. It was an important staging post on the Silk Road and significant remains still exist of its former pre-eminence.
Travelling south from Penjikent, the Marguzor lakes are a 20km chain of seven deep blue lakes surrounded by peaks and via 3000m+ passes the trekker can access other valleys to the east, reaching Iskander Kul in five days. Iskander Kul can be reached by road, 24Km off the north-south Dushanbe to Khujand main route. The lake is named after Alexander the Great and there are many legends about the Macedonian that emanate from the region.

The poet and scholar Abu Abdullah Rudaki was born in the 9th Century in the region and several monuments reflect this. Rudaki was a Samanid court poet and is considered to be the father of Persian literature, composing in the Perso-Arabic alphabet or “New Persian” script. Over one million verses are attributed to him, however, only 52 qasidas, ghazals and rubais have survived. Of his epic masterpieces we have nothing beyond a few stray lines innative dictionaries.

“Rudaki was probably the first poet who made the most lucid expression about the tragic and critical condition that we as human beings all have in everyday life, the fact the our life is ephemeral and death is waiting for us any minute.”

The chiefs, the presidents, the kings of this world all, all have passed away; all have surrendered to death.

All those who built lofty palaces are now buried deep within the earth.

Ah, what is their share, their final portion, of all the goods and bounties of this world?

Is it any thing but a shroud to cover their bodies in the grave?

 Source: “Rudaki and the Survival of Persian Language” by Nasrollah Pourjavady. A Lecture Delivered at the United Nations in New York on the Occasion of Celebration of the 1150th Anniversary of the Persian Poet Rudaki, 18 July 2008.

The Fergana valley is the oasis of Central Asia with fine soils and a climate suiting abundant arable farming. However, just a the Wakhan exhibits a political border solution without current rationale, so the Fergana valley international borders weave across the flat valley floor, making a patchwork quilt of enclaves composed of ‘Tajik’, ‘Kyrgyz’ and ‘Uzbek’ villages.

Statue of Lenin in Khujand

The Fergana valley of northern Tajikistan lies to the north of the Zarafshan Range and the district is relatively cut-off from the south by high mountain passes that close in winter months. Access by air, however, is relatively straight forwards from Dushanbe with a regular service flying into Khujand. Access from Khujand into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is theoretically easy overland. However, crossing the political borders can be very time consuming and visas are essential. Pamir Highway Adventure will facilitate this transfer and the sourcing of appropriate visas for your journeys.

Khujand is an ancient Scythian city that was captured by Alexander the Great (329BC) and renamed Alexandria Eschate (Alexandria the Furthest) – the point where he stopped his northern campaign in Central Asia. The Scythians had previously occupied the region as far back as 8th Century BC. Khujand became an important city of the northern Silk Road and was important enough to be razed by Genghis Khan. Today, it is Tajikistan’s second largest city and has a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, compared to Dushanbe. Khujand is an administrative, commercial and industrial centre but also has what is currently the largest statue of Lenin in the world at over 22m. However, there is doubt over its continued presence, and, like most of the previous holders of this title, it may be removed for a more acceptable figure.

The Tajik “Sea”

To the east of Khujand lies a former collective farm worthy of attention for tourists. Rather than being the more traditional square of huts, this farm has been modelled as a recreation of the Winter Palace of St Petersburg. Indeed, there are several remnant vestiges of soviet culture in this region which was so important to the union for over 70 years.

Ancient Istaravshan was once was a major trade centre on the crossroads of historical Silk Road caravan routes and is one of the best preserved old towns in Tajikistan. This city was founded in the 6th century B.C. by Cyrus, the Achaemenid king, and was originally named Cyropolis or Kurushkada. When Alexander the Great invaded Central Asia (the 4th century BC), Kurushkada was already a big, well-fortified city. Only by cunning did Alexander’s soldiers manage to walk along a dried-out channel of the river to open the gates and the city was then destroyed by the order of Alexander.

In the days of Arabian sovereignty, Istaravshan became a province of the Arabian caliphate. At that time, Islamic architectural structures such as mosques, madrassas, mausoleums and minarets started to appear. The city’s most rapid development took place under the rule of the first Tajik Samanid dynasty (9th – 10th centuries) but in the 13th century the city was destroyed again by the armies of Genghis-Khan.

The city rose from the ashes in the 14th – 15th centuries with the coming of powerful Timurid Empire. In the 18th century Istaravshan developed again as the centre of an independent feudal state. At that time, the citadel and fortifications were reinforced, old and the new structures restored, and new fortifications capable of stopping the attacks of numerous nomad tribes erected.

Legends of the Fergana Valley:

The international borders of the Fergana valley may not seem very logical to Western tourists wishing to travel this region.
However, legend suggests that Stalin took these boundary decisions for divisive political reasons. Stalin supposedly saw a need to add the Khujand and Istaravshan region, which was predominantly influenced by Uzbek culture, to Tajikistan’s territory to ‘top up’ the newly formed republic’s population, having already decided that the predominantly cultural Tajik cities of Samarqand and Bukhara must become part of the Uzbekistan republic. As a result, families were split by political divides and cultural tensions were exposed in both newly formed republics – perhaps exactly what Stalin sought in the first place…!  

Tajikistan Sights

For the adventure tourist, the spectacular geography, the rural cultural experience and the historic legacies of the Wakhan provide an ideal blend for a ‘gold star’ destination. The Wakhan is an essential component for every visitor to the Pamirs and should not be missed!

Over 200km long and between 15km and 60km wide, the Wakhan is an east-west running. Sheer valley sides, including permanently snow-capped soaring peaks of +6500m (Karl Marx, Engels, Akher Tsagh, Lunkho E Dosare, Kohe Hevad), bound the
Panj river which, in the western parts, meanders across a broad and flat valley floor. In the upper reaches of the Wakhan the geography and environment changes dramatically. The valley sides close in on both sides of the river and, as a consequence, the track hugs the cliffs and precipaces. The flora changes from alpine valley to high desert plateau as the Eastern Pamirs approaches.

Cherry Blossom in the Wakhan

A political creation of the ‘Great Game’, the Wakhan was devised to geographically separate the British and Russian empires in the 19th Century and it now stands out as one of the more obscure international boundaries. The political unconformity, the mix of travellers that have passed through and the physical harshness of the environment – winters usually see thick snows and temperatures of minus 15C and below – have meant that a distinct culture and language of the peoples of the Wakhan has developed. In the lower altitudes are the Wakhis, a community that relies on subsistence agriculture, growing mainly potatoes and wheat. They speak varieties of the Wakhi language (where village dialects are often indecipherable from each other), derived from several Iranian languages, and are Ismaili Shia, followers of the Aga Khan. In the higher altitudes are the pastoral Kyrgyz, who are generally Sunni and who speak Kyrgyz, of Turkic origin. Not having two vegetables to fry together has done nothing to reduce the famed hospitality of these peoples!

Ancient Afghan Fort and later Tsarist Garrison

The valley forms an obvious trading route and it is believed that both Alexander the Great and Marco Polo came this way. The Portuguese Jesuit priest Bento de Goes crossed from the Wakhan to China between 1602 and 1606 and in 1906, Sir Aurel Stein reported that over 100 pony loads of goods were travelling up the Wakhan annually into China. To this day, camel trains can still be seen traversing the route and the remains of fortifications and caravanserai appear on most promontaries. Probably the most spectacular site in the Wakhan is the fortress ‘Zamr-i atish parast’ (Fortress of the fire worshippers) which has its origins from the 6thC AD. Nearby is Bibi Fatima spring, a well developed sanitorium built around a cave where hot water gushes from some  beautifully formed stalactites. This is an essential stop off to wash away the travails of the road – there aren’t many opportunities for hot showers in the Wakhan!

Legends of the Wakhan:

Nobody really knows when and by whom Yamchun Fortress was built because legends in the Wakhan Valley are closely intertwined with reality, and it is sometimes almost impossible to separate them from true life. The most popular story tells about three brothers from the clan of fire-worshippers, the Siyakhpushes (which can be translated as ‘black caps’): Kaahka, the most well-known brother after whom the fortress next to kishlak Namatguti-Poyon had been named; Zengibar, who possessed the fortress Khisor situated not far from the kishlak Zong; and, finally, Zulkhasham who was the owner of Yamchun. They say that the three legendary brothers, using the force of the garrisons of their fortresses, showed long and stubborn resistance  to the Arabian invaders headed by prophet Ali himself.

The Siyakhpushes eventually succomed to the repeated  attacks and, in their desire to retain their countless treasures, resorted to hiding them far north in a cliff-top cave in the area of Rangkul (see ‘legends of the far east’).

Tales about Ali prove the legendary basis of the local history, for there is no historical data saying that prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law or any one of the Shiite imams reached the Wakhan in his campaigns.However, the Wakhan was indeed conquered by the Arabs and included into Arab Caliphate in the 8-9th centuries.

Yamchun fort (Photo by Waarispronkie)

Yamchun Fortress, Unassailable fortress on the height of 3000 meters. You can see amazing view of the Yamchun fortress in the middle of the Wakhan corridor after turning from the main road of the Pamir Highway and climbing along the long serpentine up to the mountains. This beautiful fort with stone walls and towers is located on the height of 3000 m above the sea level and mounts the valley of the river Panj running 400 m below.

Today only upper bastion that was well protected, has survived from the entire fortress. Ideal place was chosen for construction of the triangular-shaped Yamchun fortress: mountainside is protected from two sides with deep gorges of rivers, so it was hard to assault the fortress from this side, and the third side has a steep slope where they made a cascade of walls and towers, thus losing the lower tier, defenders could retreat upwards still keeping the strategic advantage. The preserved part of the fortress has an area of approximately 300 sq. m; and in the far past the fortress used to have a territory of 75 hectares (185 acres).

Walls of the Yamchun fortress are made of stones, of different rocks, some of which were delivered from afar. Moreover, thanks to investigation of masonry, it was discovered that thin layers of timber was added during construction that would add flexibility and strength in case of earthquakes. Outer walls are 3 m tall, and 1,5 m wide. Loopholes can be seen everywhere. However, time is slowly ruining the fortress and most of the walls and towers of Yamchun are partially collapsing. 

Construction of the fortress Yamchun dates back to the 3rd century B.C., and it is a bit older than another famous fortress in the Wakhan valley – fortress Kah-Kakha. It is known that fortress Yamchun earlier had names such as Zamr-i-atash-Parast and Kafir-Kala. Once this fortress had two functions: control over flow of people and goods across Wakhan valley and protracted defense in case of foreign raids. Today this is one of the brightest sights of Pamir that one should definitely visit taking a tour to Pamir Highway.

 

The house-museum of Muboraki Wakhani is a very interesting sight located in the middle of the Wakhan corridor, in the colorful village of Yamg. He was born and lived there all his life, from 1842 to 1902; amazingly, he became a scientist and philosopher, inventor and poet with no access to the development of the world science. He is sometimes compared to Leonardo da Vinci; like da Vinci, Muboraki Wakhani also created and worked himself.
Today works and inventions of this talented scientist from Pamir can be viewed in his house-museum where different exhibits are gathered, and the interior has been preserved, so you can see the lifestyle peculiar to villages of Pamir for centuries. There you can learn the arrangement of residential houses, various items that had some sacral meaning as well as decoration of Pamirian houses. Moreover, there are everyday life items and musical instruments among the exhibits created by Muboraki Wakhani.

It is worth paying attention to the stone astronomical calendar invented by Muboraki Wakhani scattered around the surrounding mountains. There is a stone with a hole not far from the house-museum and similar stone-windows are on the mountain slopes, so on particular days of the year, the sunlight or light of stars can be seen through these pairs of rocks. This way he defined days of vernal and autumn equinox, and made other measurements.

Any traveler taking Pamir Highway tour should definitely pay a visit to this house-museum, as you will find nothing more natural and vivid that shows lifestyle of Pamirians. It will take you to the atmosphere of village life; you will learn more about local beliefs, culture and traditions.

Murghab Nurkap (Beam of sunlight).

The Eastern Pamir is a remote high plateau all above 3000m and with Peak Lenin being the highest mountain at 7134m. The region is bordered by China to the east (via the Kulma pass – soon to open to international tourists), Kyrgyzstan to the north (via the Kizil -Art pass) and Afghanistan to the south. Murghab is the regional centre of the Eastern Pamir. Founded as a Cossack base in 1892, ‘Pamirsky Post’, it soon became a town for ethnic Kyrgyz nomadic herders and traders and was called Nurkap (Beam of sunlight). Supposedly, when Tajiks heard this they misinterpreted the name as Murghab (River of the Birds) because they’d seen a flock of ducks fly up at that moment. Murghab is a high-mountain district in the eastern part of Tajikistan located at an elevation of 3600 m above sea level. Vegetation is scarce on such elevation, and those rare trees are well taken care of. Climate there is rather severe with very dry air, strong cold winds and high UV. 40°C (degrees Celsius; 104 °F, degrees Fahrenheit) in summer and -40°C (-40 °F) in winter are typical.

No one would actually think of building a village in such rough conditions, but at the time of the Great Game, when Russian and British empires were struggling for the influence in Central Asia, Russian troops arrived there in 1892 and organized a frontier post. It was called Shadjan post. First, they built small houses to survive harsh winter, and later continued with other constructions. This is how the history of Murgab began. Few years later, Russians established a frontier post in Khorog. As a result, Shadjan post became less significant. Later, Murghab village became one of the points on Pamir Highway and served as a center of geological exploration in eastern part of Tajikistan. Today Murghab is a must-stop place for travelers, as there is no other populated settlement for hundreds of kilometers where it would be possible to stay for a night in relatively comfortable conditions.
Population of Murghab is around 6300 people represented by Pamirians and the nomadic ethnic Kyrgyz. During high season, you can always meet around 150-300 tourists from around the world traveling along the Pamir Highway.

Murghab – Background

In 1892, as a consequence of event surrounding ‘The Great Game’, a Cossack encampment was established known as ‘Pamirsky post’. The local ethnic Kyrgyz herders and traders saw this as an opportunity and soon they established a village surrounding the post. The village became known as Nurkap, meaning ‘beam of sunlight’, however, when Tajiks heard this name it is suggested that they reinterpreted it to ‘Murghab’, meaning ‘River of the birds’, having seen a flock of ducks rise from the valley. That name stuck. However, Murghab still does catch the sun far more than most of the surrounding districts due to the geography of the mountains – suggesting the correct naming in the first place.

Murghab – Dining Scene

As you will quickly learn, Murghab is not a centre for the gastronomic arts. With a very poor standard of living the local community have little need for ‘eating out’ experiences and a visitor’s best hope for sustenance is either through their home-stay / guest house or by visiting one of the cafes down in the bazaar. Cafe Nuris is perhaps the pick of the options, with a number of discrete booths and a wider selection of menu options than might first appear. However, it’s always best to ask what they have on before you look at the menu and get disappointed! Try Beshbarmak – the Kyrgyz national dish.

Murghab – Things to Do Murghab itself is not a beautiful town. Rather it is more functional for the 12000 or so local people that inhabit the Eastern Pamir and who get supplies and meet in this hub for the region.

In terms of things to do the main local attractions are ‘Murghab House’ which is run by ACTED and is at the Osh end of town (in fact the last place in the town). Currently it isn’t fully occupied and is underutilised for tourism purposes although it does perform some local functions.
The bazaar is perhaps the most interesting place to visit although more for novelty rather than for any particularly aesthetic reason. It consists of a few rows of old containers that have been re-designed to provide shells for shops. It is worth going in a morning to catch the shoppers and see life as it is in the town from a local perspective.

Whilst Murghab might not be a good reason to spend time off the road, it really is a good place to take day trips from, out into the wilder parts of the Eastern Pamir. Places of interest include:

• Rangkul with its beautiful lake. You can also take camel excursions from Rangkul into the sand dunes. Rangkul music school is also worth a visit if you can pre-arrange a performance (they do dance, music and poetry reading)
• Karakul is further afield and if you are travelling the Pamir Highway then you might already be going there – it’s certainly worth a stopover as the views in the morning light over the lake can be stupendous.
• A long day off-road trip down to Shymak is interesting as it take you to the furthest south-eastern corner of Tajikistan and close to the Chinese:Afghan:Pakistan borders right at the eastern end of the Wakhan. You won’t feel more remote than in Shymak.
• Beyond Shymak is the Zorkul national park where you will need a permit. To get down there involves more than a day out but it is worth an excursion to see the lake and perhaps a herd of Marco Polo sheep that are much more prolific in these mountains.
There are shorter excursions and trek routes close to Murghab that are all interesting and offer opportunities to see petroglyphs, cave paintings and more remote hamlets. Check out a local tour operator or the META office for details.

Lake Sarez – Tajikistan’s biggest naturally formed, rock-dammed lake created on 6(18) February of 1911 at 23:15 as a
 result of earthquake of 7.5 points according to Richter scale caused a massive land slide of 2,2 km3 which sealed off Murgab river valley and buried Usoi village with all the inhabitants. The created dam is 567 metres tall and 4 km wide and is currently the highest natural dam in the world.

A sealed off Murgab river flood the area and another village Sarez located upstream in the same year. A lake was named after Sarez village while the dam is known as Usoi dam after the village buried under the mass of the mud slide. Sarez is the youngest lake in the world. In 1913 the first research shown the lake to be 28 km long, 1,5 km across and 279 m deep. Every day the water level grew up for 36 sm and only in 1914 Sarez waters created an outflow thru the dam and gave start to Bartang River – one of the Pyanj feeders.

Since then a lake has grown to 55.8 km in length, 3,3 km across and 500 metres deep at its deepest point. The lake’s volume is curently 16, 074 km3 which is equal to Oxus annual discharge. In 1939 a hydro meteorological observatory was opened on the lake’s shore for permanent control over the lake’s waters as some sources believe the lake pose potential risks for downstream communities.

Should another strong earthquake or rock slide occur in the lake’s vicinity, the Usoi dam may give a crack or dam’s ‘right bank’- a partially collapsed body of earth and rock with a mass of roughly 3 cubic kilometres-might fall into the lake. The displacement could generate a wave large enough to wash away Usoi dam and release a wall of water that could flood some 6 million people living downstream along the Bartang, Pyanj and Amu-Darya rivers in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as in Tajikistan.

 

While catastrophic scenarios about the future of Lake Sarez are easy to come by, measures to mitigate the threats it poses are less so. Scientists still debate on what should be undertaken – some say about pumping station which would pump the water out of the lake the others about the need of drilling into Usoi dam in order to release water in controlled circumstances and reduce the pressures on the structure.

In the face of this uncertainty, the government and international community continue to monitor water levels and pressure in Lake Sarez-which, at the moment, seem relatively stable.

 

The Oxus with views of ‘Marx’ and ‘Engels’

The river Amu Darya (previously known by Europeans as the Oxus) is one of the longest (2400km) in Central Asia. One source of the Amu Darya is the Pamir River, which emerges from Lake Zorkul in the Great Pamir Mountain (ancient Mount Imeon) and flowing west to Qila-e Panja, it joins the Wakhan River to form the Panj River. The river also marks the Tajik – Afghan border for nearly 1000km.

This region is bound in mythology by the fact that four great rivers (the Oxus, the Indus, the Helmend, and the Gaxartes) rise from this geographic area, thus meeting the conditions of Christian, Islamic and Hindu texts for the fabled Eden. Furthermore, six thousand years ago the whole of Central Asia was lower than it is today and at that time the indications are that ideal conditions prevailed on the Pamir Plateau – an intruiging possibility!

Lake Zorkul is in fact one of a series of freshwater lakes, rich in fish and waterfowl, that cascade down a broad valley running east to west on the southern border of the Pamirs. The valley lies above 4000m altitude and for seven months of the year the valley is inaccessible to all except the best (and most reliable) 4×4 off-road vehicles – the tracks are often wet and boggy. This is not a spot to breakdown without some good support! Even the locals tend to rely on the horse rather than the machine in these parts…

Lake Zorkul

Assuming that sufficient time has been spent on acclimatization, tourists can spend many days trekking by horse or foot in this  region which offers mountain vistas and snow covered peaks in every direction. Zorkul is part of a UNESCO World Heritage conservation nature reserve and its access is controlled through permits that need to be purchased locally – Pamir CENTRAL ASIA can procure these for you. Marco Polo sheep, Asiatic Ibex, wolves and snow leopards all inhabit this region. Among the smaller habitual mammals in the reserve are ermine, weasel, red fox, turkestan lynx and Tian Shan brown bear. Birds typical for the reserve are the Alpine goose, bearded eagle, golden eagle and kumai.

Kara Kul lake

Karakul lake spread its waters in Markansu valley – one of the most driest place in Central Asia. Surrounded by high mountains which block humid air masses the valley has less than 30 mm of precipitation a year which is 3 times less than in Karakoram desert. Fluctuation of temperatures is a usual thing for desserts and in Karakul lake they are just incredible.

The great Russian Explorer of Pamirs N. Korjenevskiy, describing lake Karakul wrote: “In Febrary, at 9am the temperature was -35 Centigrade, while at 1 pm the temperature raised up to -6,2 Centigrade and so fluctuation of temperature for 4 hours was 28.8 Centigrade”.

The temperature measurement taken between 1933 and 1934 shows there were only 15 frost-free days a year and by latest measurements taken in our days it is known that 67 of 100 years had no frost free periods at all.   
  
Karakul is kyrgyz for “black lake” and its indeed looks black when the sun is hidden by clouds.    

Karakul has an area of 380 sq km and lies at the altitude of 3914 metres above sea level. It’s the most highest lake in the world excluding those in Tibet and even Titicaca lake – the biggest alpine lake in the world is located on lower altitudes.

The lake has 2 basins separated by a peninsula from the south and an island in the north. The island is 8 km long and 4 km wide. The strait between them is 1 km wide. East side is 22,5 metres deep, while west basin deepest point is 236 m. There are 3 rivers flow in but these days the lake has no outflow and therefore the water is very salty. 

 The salt mineralization is constantly increases and 1 liter of boiled out water would leave 7 grams of salt which makes the water undrinkable and useless for watering. Sulphate salt makes water taste brackish. 
   
 Karakul’s water level is now much lower than before, but this fact also applies to many other closed lakes of Inner Asia. N. Korjenevskiy noted that before Karakul lake was at least 60 metres above the present level. But even 37 metres is enough to create an outflow on the south where the valley ends up with flat pass towards Kokuibel valley. This means the lake was much bigger in the past and had an outflow that feed Pyanj and finally Amudaria River known in the west as Oxus. Its not exactly known when the lake had an outflow, should be an ice age, when glaciers were on much lower altitudes and some of them flow down the lake. Later the lake’s territory reduced, the depths diminished, the lake lost its outflow and finally became salty.

The Karakul lake impact structure remained unidentified until the recent geological research undertaken by Russian scientists along with studies of imagery taken from space which let some scholars to diagnose Karakul Lake depression as meteorite impact crater with a rim diameter of 52 kilometers and created some 230-190 mln years ago.

Kara Kul taken from west side of the lake