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.
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.
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…!