Trans Eurasia travel

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Roghun is the site of the biggest dam that never was. On the opposite side of the river from Obi Garm are multi-coloured but almost derelict housing blocks built to accommodate workers and their families who were engaged on the construction of the Roghun Dam. Though a few thousand people still live there, it is a community caught in limbo: construction ceased with the fall of the Soviet Union, and despite a few subsequent false starts, it is yet to properly resume.

The dam was first proposed in 1959 and it was intended to harness sufficient hydropower to create 13.3 TWh of electrical power per year. At 334.98m it would have been the tallest dam in the world (and more than 30m higher than the nearby Nurek Dam). History had other ideas. The Soviet Union fell, construction stopped at a little over 60m, and an earthquake, mudslide and flood washed even that away in 1993. A Tajik-Russian partnership agreement was signed in 2007 but later blocked by the Russian government, and when the Tajiks launched an initial public offering (IPO) to raise US$1.4 billion in 2010, they received just a fraction of the required sum. One river tunnel has recently been rebuilt, but the future is anyone's guess.

The one person delighted with the delays is Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Having publicly called the Rogun Dam a 'stupid project' in 2010, he will be breathing a sigh of relief that, for the moment at least, it will have no impact on his country's cotton irrigation channels downstream.

Shortly after the village of Darband (renamed Nurobod, the town of light, by excited local officials when it first received an electricity supply) the road crosses the river and then forks. The main road continues south to Tavildara, and the northern road goes to Gharm, Jirgital and the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. Close to the junction are three inter-linking fortresses, grassy hillocks from the top of which are great views towards the Pamirs.