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Norak Dam and Resort

Norak (Nurek) is a popular destination for visitors from Dushanbe at the weekends in the summer. An hour's drive southeast of Dushanbe, on the banks of the River Vaksh, is the Nurek Dam, which is a surprisingly popular holiday destination with Tajiks. The dam supports the Nurek Hydro-electric Plant, and has created the 70km-long Nurek Reservoir. Construction of this epic building scheme took 19 years, finishing only in 1980, and it was thought to be such a marvel of engineering that busloads of tourists were brought here from other parts of the Soviet Union to gaze upon it in wonder.

The reservoir's waters are an attractive shade of aquamarine, and since the water is relatively clean it is a popular place to swim or hire a boat (TJS5 per hour). Amongst the slightly peeling sanatoriums is the very pleasant new hotel with bargain-priced rooms ($).

Multiple minibuses run from Dushanbe. The road goes to Kaftrnahan, and then on to the main road east to Kulob and the Pamirs. After 55km from Dushanbe, there is a clearly marked road to the left to the town of Norak, which is 6km from the junction. The road passes some attractive lakes before reaching Norak town, which has broad tree-lined streets and a pleasant square with choikhonas. The overall effect is rather spoiled by the large number of derelict factories that scatter the landscape.

Dominating all is the vast Norak dam, which rises in a series of giant walls, holding back the river Vakhsh to create Lake Norak. At 310m it is one of the highest dams in the world. This huge lake, 70km long and 5 wide is a reservoir for Dushanbe, and the associated hydro-electricity plant provides electricity for the city. The stored water is used for irrigating 700 square km of farmland.

This massive and uncompromising civil engineering scheme exudes the total confidence of the Soviets in the power of industry to transform society. The scheme took from 1961 to 1980 to complete. In Soviet times tourists were brought here to marvel at the scheme. The spectacle is enhanced by a number of waterfalls formed from an outflow. It is possible to go to a viewing area, just below the dam.

There is an excellent view of the lake to be had from the main road, turn left to Kulob, through the Shar Shar tunnel to the vantage points. The lake appears an impossible shade of turquoise. The view across the lake and to the far hills is impressive and worth the trip.

Rising 300m above the Vakhsh River, and stretching a remarkable 704m across, the Nurek Dam is one of the largest ever constructed. Built between 1961 and 1980, it consists of a cement shell filled with locally sourced rock, gravel and earth that have been compacted.

Nine hydro-electric turbines are installed in the dam, several of which were in use long before the dam's completion. The turbines originally each had a capacity of 300MW, but they have subsequently been retrofitted, increasing their joint capacity to 3GW, three-quarters of the country's total hydro-electric output.

It is possible to visit the Nurek power plant providing you get prior approval from the Ministry of the Interior in Dushanbe.