Trans Eurasia travel

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Arriving in Isfara can feel as if you've reached the end of the earth. When the border crossing with Kyrgyzstan is closed there is little reason to come here, but when it is open it can prove a convenient overnight stop before you leave Tajikistan, and there are a few attractive buildings.

Most people arrive in Isfara on their way to or from Kyrgyzstan, as the road from Isfara continues east to Batken and thence to Osh. Minibuses and shared taxis from Khujand cost no more than TJS10 and do the 107km journey in two hours. They depart from Khujand's Isfara bus stand at the southern end of Lenin.

Close to the bridge is Isfara's historical museum (entrance TJS3) and it's worth starting here to get a picture of the region and the various invaders and settlers who have shaped the city, from its medieval mosques to the golden statue of Lenin.

The simple Abdullo Khan Mosque in the east of the city dates from the 1500s and is adorned with a later minaret. Standing in the central courtyard it is interesting to look up and compare the portions of the mosque that have and have not been renovated, as it's quite rare to see the two side by side.

On Kalima is the Hodijon Mosque, Isfara's largest place of worship. Due to the Soviet Unions restrictions on religion it was closed for almost a third of its 200-year history, but it's experienced an unexpected revival since independence, and thousands of people now regularly come here to pray.

Twenty minutes' drive south from Isfara brings you to the otherwise unprepossessing village of Surkh. Ask for the Mosque of Hazrati Shah and step inside the quiet courtyard to find the much older and more significant tomb of Kasim. Legend has it that Kasim was descended from Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet, and his burial place has been a pilgrimage site since the 8th century. Look out for the lifelike wooden carvings of birds that decorate the building; the owls are particularly fine.