The Varzob Valley
Some 30km north of Dushanbe is the Varzob Valley, through which the Varzob River later flows on to the capital. The Varzob valley is the route to the Zarafshan valley and Khujand. On leaving Dushanbe, the magnificent Hissor mountain range is reached very soon with views of peaks of 4,000-5,000 metres. The main and excellent M34 winds north through the valley of the Varzob River, past dozens of villas built in recent years by the city’s nouveau riche. There’s no one particular place to head for but there are plenty of picturesque locations, including the Varzob Reservoir which offers a popular place to cool off in summer.
At weekends certain spots, particularly around the Varzob Lake, are crowded with Dushanbe families having a picnic or taking a stroll from their dacha, but walking even a few kilometres up into the surrounding hills will guarantee you peace and quiet. Minibuses run up the valley to the villages of Varzob and Takob.
Of the numerous short treks starting this valley, two are particularly picturesque. Popular hiking destinations in Varzob Valley include the pretty 20m Gusgarf Waterfall, a 2,5-hour walk up a side valley 7km south of Varzob (31km from Dushanbe), and further north, the Khoja Obi Garm Valley (behind the industrial-sized sanatorium of the same name) and Siama Valley. The path to the Guzgarf Waterfall will take someone with a reasonable level of fitness around two hours. The waterfall itself is a vertical torrent crashing down 30m from the rock above and in late spring the route is further enhanced with a carpet of blood-red tulips. Guzgarf Falls is particularly beautiful spot in spring when the flowers are in bloom.
Alternatively, an hour's walk from the main Varzob road brings you to the Siama Gorge, where the crystal blue waters rush steeply downhill from glaciers 3,300m above sea level and through thickets of birch trees and fruit bushes before joining the Varzob below.
Other things of interest in the upper reaches of the valley are the somewhat forlorn Takob Ski Resort, sadly in decline after its Soviet heyday, and the small botanical garden in the Kandara Gorge, an outpost of the Academy of Sciences. Though lacking in investment in recent years, the garden is thought to contain 10% of the species of flora native to central Asia, many of which can no longer be seen anywhere else.
Regular buses run to the valley from the Varzob Bazaar bus station in the north of Dushanbe. Tickets cost TJS2-3 depending on how far up the valley you wish to travel. For those travelling by car, there is a TJS3 road toll.
Some of the highlights are:
- Simply being in the mountains, similar to the Pamirs, enjoying the fresh air, the stunning views and a chance to see some traditional villages, including some where the people speak the ancient Sogdian language.
- Following the course of a clean, fast flowing river, with many choikhona, restaurants and small parks along the banks.
- The chance to go on walks of anything from two hours to three days in dramatic scenery, and likely to be the only outsider there.
THE ROUTE NORTH TO THE VARZOB VALLEY
This route follows the main road, with some deviations, as far as the Presidential Dacha, at Pughuz, 52km from Dushanbe. Taxis can be hired almost anywhere in the city. Minibuses leave from the Vodonasosnaya bus station near the Varzob bazaar and cement works, just to the north of the city. The road passes the cement factory with pictures ofTajik heroes on the walls, and then follows the canal to the arch marking the northern boundary of the city.
After 12km the Varzob lakes are reached. These attractive, artificial lakes, surrounded by trees are very popular with local people in the summer. There are choikhona and shashlyk stalls. It is possible to swim and hire small boats. The best restaurant is the Anzob, at the south end of the main Varzob Lake. There is a road all round this lake. Entrance fee is 1 somoni.
Apart from in spring time, the earth is parched, but there are irrigation canals and trees are being planted to prevent erosion. At 20km the valley narrows and there are the first views of the high jagged peaks of the Hissor range.
The road follows the course of the river, which runs between the steep lower slopes of the mountains. At frequent intervals there are small parks with children's play areas, and restaurants and choikhona with awnings overlooking the river. There are many splendid new dachas built by the new rich. Some houses look like fairy tale fantasies, with pointed roofs, turrets, bright roof tiles and reflective glass windows - the status symbol of the wealthy Tajiks.
There are some places to stay in what were once camps for Pioneers. These are now private and some used for visitors.