There’s good hiking around the ski resort at Takob, whose turn-off is 36km north of Dushanbe, just before the President’s dacha. The village of Takob is 8km after the turnoff. The road rises along a narrow valley, passing a derelict chemical plant built by German prisoners of war. The next village, after 10km is Safidorak. Here, most of the 460 villagers speak Sogdian. Further on the road forks to the village of Zumand (a four-wheel drive is recommended for this 4km section) with a population of 110 families, 960 people. This village is well worth a visit. Zumand is on a hill top at 2,000m with views across the surrounding hills and mountains. The substantial two-storey houses are built of stone, with hay stored on the roofs. The people all speak Sogdian. They are subsistence farmers with cattle, sheep and goats, and they grow potatoes, cereals and vegetables. They are very hospitable and friendly, and there should be no problem in arranging a homestay.
The people moved voluntarily to the two villages at various times between 1870 and 1925, when conditions became too difficult in the Yagnob valley. They are proud to speak Sogdian, but the children are taught in Tajik at school. They retain some Zoroastrian traditions, particularly at weddings, when the bridal couple jump over a fire. They are very positive about their living conditions, which they consider are improving now they own their own land and the mosque has reopened. They are cut off from December to the end of May by snow. Their main concern is the lack of water, the poor road and the need for better education.
Zumand is a good example of a village with resourceful, proud, humorous and hospitable people existing on a subsistence economy. Despite living so near Dushanbe, they live in a different world, much more like that of the people of the Pamirs than the city folk.
The other fork in the road leads 2km to the ski 'resort'. In Soviet times this was a popular place for skiers, with ski lifts and a large accommodation block.
Judging by the gear lying around, there were plans for this to be a major resort. Now it is all a bit sad, with rusting machinery strewn about. The accommodation block is habitable in only a few rooms. There is no water, and the toilet is outside. Some metres below the main block is a sauna room, with tepid water and mice.
The slopes here are not as steep as those in some other valleys, and it is good walking country. It is a starting point for the attractive walk to the Ob-i Safed Gorge (allow 5 hours). From there it is a 2-day trek to the Romit valley.
BOTANICAL GARDENS, KONDARA
2km beyond the turning to Takob, there is a turning to the left over a bridge at the village of Kondara to some botanical gardens. There was a proud tradition in Soviet times of botanical gardens that combined attractive gardens containing a wide range of flowers, plants, trees and bushes, with scientific research and the introduction of new species to Tajikistan. The best examples of these are the botanical gardens in Dushanbe and Khorog. These gardens at Kondara are somewhat rundown, but devoted staff try to maintain some of the standards of the past. There are attractive flowerbeds and a wide range of trees and bushes. It is a peaceful place to meander through the gardens and up the small valley beyond.