20km from Vose is the large town of Kulob, another town with wide, tree-lined streets, but with some more substantial and handsome buildings. Literally translated as 'the swampy place', Kulob is nonetheless politically significant - as Rahmon was the city's governor before taking the presidency in 1992. Its population of 150,000 makes it one of Tajikistan's largest urban centres. Kulob is twinned with the Iranian city of Hamdani, as the poet born there, and after whom the city was named, is buried in Kulob
The Kulob Monument (on I. Somoni str) is supposed to celebrate 2,700 years of Kulob, but in reality the city you see today is almost entirely a 20th-century creation, its archaeological heritage well buried beneath the Soviet-era concrete. Historically Kulob was a settlement of some note, with a substantial-sized fortress. It is mentioned in the accounts of early travellers Ibn al-Atir and Saudi Ali Rais. The last king of Kulob (then known as Khatlon), Kai-Khatloni, fought for Timur on his campaigns in Afghanistan and achieved some local notoriety; his rule and that of his successors brought Kulob to regional prominence, and the city became the provincial capital in 1555. It was not strong enough to retain its independence, however, and it was incorporated into the khanate of Bukhara in the 16th century. Kulob continued to act as a buffer state between Bukhara and Afghanistan well into the 19th century when it briefly fell into the hands of the khan of Kokand, was destroyed and rebuilt, then returned to Bukharan control. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Kulob became a stronghold for Basmachi resistance fighters and remained so for several years after the rest of central Asia had fallen to the Red Army.
The Soviets industrialised Kulob and intensified farming in the province, focusing on cotton and cereal production in large-scale collective farms. After independence, the Kulobis were one of the main civil-war factions, and they directed and undertook some of the greatest atrocities of the early 1990s, including ethnic cleansing and a scorched earth policy for rival territories. It was the former communist leader of Kulob, Emomali Rahmon, who would rise to the top as Tajikistan's president in 1992, and many other members of government then and now hail from Kulob and the surrounding towns.
The main point of interest in the town is the mausoleum of Khoja Mir Sayid Hamadani, a poet and scholar of the 14th century. Born in Hamadan, in Iran, he is famous for having spread the word of Islam in Kashmir. He died across the river in Afghanistan and was buried here - a reminder of Kulob's pre-Soviet significance as a corridor between India and the Arab world. Pilgrims still visit the site to seek his blessing.
Hamadani's mausoleum is a splendid building renovated with Iranian money, of golden domes, and situated in pleasant gardens with some attractive gumbaz. The excavation of a house said to be almost 3,000 years is in one corner of the gardens. There is an interesting museum next to the mausoleum alongside the tomb, containing a number of ancient Qu'rans and writings by Hamadani, including one on guidelines for a wise ruler. The restoration of the mausoleum and museum was funded by the Iranian government.
The large and slightly ostentatious Kulob Monument was erected in 2006 to mark the 2,700th anniversary of Kulob's theoretical foundation. It's set in a pleasant square on I Somoni, close to the Hotel Khatlon. Expect to do battle with the wedding parties for the best photo-taking spots.
Next to the Memorial Centre is a new pink museum, containing a good range of ancient pottery, including a wine press, Tajik costumes and rugs. There are some Socialist Realist paintings, including a magnificent propaganda one of the first ascent of Pik Lenin.
Getting there There is an excellent new road between Dushanbe and Kulob with smooth tarmac. Local drivers do tend to speed along, but it's wide enough to keep out of their way. The minibus ride takes three hours and costs TJS25. Minibuses drop off and pick up passengers from the large bus stand at the western end of I Somoni.
Numerous minibuses whizz up and down I Somoni and between the bus stand and the hospital. Expect to pay TJS0.60 per journey.