Project Delay

Due to difficulties securing visas, this website and project will not be completed in 2016. The website, as it is now, can still give a traveller a good idea of what to expect and where to go in the south. Unfortunately, there will be no exact maps, transportation prices, home-stays, guiding services, GPS tracks or anything else until we are allowed to visit Tajikistan again.

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Secret Tourist Spots of Southern Tajikistan: Sarband

The city of Sarband, formerly known as Kalininobod, is only 90 minutes from Dushanbe in the southern province of Khatlon. Very few people visit the area around Sarband, whether foreign and local tourists. But they should visit this area, as it is an “undiscovered” location with few tourists and many, many activities for visitors to enjoy.

Sarband

The grass beach, a 5 to 10 minute drive from the centre of Sarband city.

If you are looking for an all-inclusive luxury lake resort close to Dushanbe, and you have the extra money to spend, you should go to Norak (Nurek). But if you are looking for something “rougher” and more adventurous, you should come to Sarband. What can you do here? Here are the highlights:

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Visit the Golovnaya Dam. Note: up-close photos prohibited, the security guards will ask you – when standing on the dam – to only take photos in the direction away from the dam.

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Go hiking in the Red Hills, which start right at the edge of town, just across the Golovnaya Dam.

Mount Khojamaston

Hike up to the top of Mount Khoja Maston, and get an amazing view of the Vakhsh Valley. The hike starts after a 15 minute drive north of Sarband on the road across the Golovnaya dam.

Red Hills

Looking for an easier and closer hike? Just go across the train bridge from Sarband and climb a nearby hilltop.

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Looking for an even easier hike? Go for a walk on the reservoir lake behind the dam

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Want to cool down after your hike? There are many swimming spots on the lake.

Sarband swimming 2

Water temperature? Usually cold.

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Don’t like swimming? Water too cold? Take a boat ride around the lake.

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Looking for a secret urban spot? Walk around Sarband city and find all sorts of interesting things.

Lenin

You can start your exploring in the centre of Sarband, right in front of the Lenin statue.

Sarband Hills

It’s easy to get around, despite the large river, the lake and the many canals. This is the Sarband train bridge, one of many bridges in the area you can walk across.

bridge

If you want a great spot to relax in, you will find many quiet and beautiful places all around the Sarband area. This is the same bridge as above.

If you are looking for a picnic, you can bring your own food, or buy them in the local bazaar. And if you want to go to a restaurant, Sarband is a town of about 15,000 people, and has plenty of restaurants – notably a few fish specialty restaurants.

Is there anything else to do in the area? Yes. If you have transportation you can easily get to these places (click links below for more information):

Best time to visit? For swimming, June to September. For hiking, anytime except the three-month height of summer (mid-June to mid-September). Of course, if it snows it’s not the best time to visit, but it does snow far less than Dushanbe. However, many of the photos below were taken during the first half of February. So a winter visit is fine with the right weather.

For more photos of Sarband, view these tiles. Click any photo for a larger slideshow view:

So, how do you get to Sarband? If you have a car or driver, just drive straight south from Dushanbe to Qurghonteppa. Right at the Qurghonteppa ‘vokzal’ (car/bus station) at the northern edge of the city, there is a split in the road, with the road on the left going east to Sarband. It’s really quite easy. Don’t have a car? Take a shared taxi from the south-east corner of the Sakhovat bazaar in southern Dushanbe. Last time I travelled this route it was about 10-15 Somoni to Qurghonteppa. You can get dropped off at the Qurghonteppa vokzal or the old central bazaar and take a shared taxi to Sarband (but it should be quicker from the vokzal). Need better directions? I will update the Sarband section with a detailed map sometime during spring 2016. For now, check out our map advice here.

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This website is part of a tourist development project by the Sworde-Teppa English and Education Centre.

Questions? Contact me here: Christian.Bleuer at gmail.

Baking Bread in Southern Tajikistan

Bread straight from the oven is always the best. My first day in Tajikistan was in summer 2009 in Qurghonteppa, and I was lucky enough to watch my friend’s mother and grandmother baking fresh bread in their back yard. It looked exactly like this:

This video was created by John Wendle, who visited the town of Qumsangir in far southern Khatlon Province earlier this year.

10 Reasons to Visit Southern Tajikistan

When I first visited Tajikistan in 2009, the only tourist destinations I knew about were the Pamirs and the Fan Mountains. Fortunately, I met the friendly people at the Sworde-Teppa English and Education Centre in Qurghonteppa, and over the years they showed me the best places to visit throughout Khatlon Province. Now I tell everybody that they should visit the south.

This tree produces pistachios - we consider that magic

This spot near Sarband is just 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Dushanbe.

Here are the top ten reasons that I usually give to visit the south:

1. Water, Water Everywhere

Crossing the river near Baljuvon

Crossing the river near Baljuvon

Wading out into the Vakhsh River near Qurghonteppa

Wading out into the Vakhsh River

Bathing in the Sari Khosor Valley

Bathing in the Sari Khosor Valley

Sarband

A grass beach near Sarband

These are just a tiny fraction of the amazing lakes, rivers, canals, springs and waterfalls that you can find throughout the southern Khatlon Province. Explore this website for more.

2. History Around Every Corner

The south of Tajikistan may not be Samarkand and Bukhara, but you can definitely find some remarkable historical sites:

Khoja Mashad, near Shahrtuz

Khoja Mashad, near Shahrtuz

Ajina-Teppa Buddhist monastery ruins near Qurghonteppa

Ajina-Teppa Buddhist monastery ruins near Qurghonteppa

Qala-i Mir ruins in Qubodiyon

Qala-i Mir ruins in Qubodiyon

3. Lenin Lives!

Just when you least expect him: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. There are dozens of him in the south. I still haven’t found them all.

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Kulob Lenin in gold and Qubodiyon Lenin in silver

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Lenin in central Sarband

Hunting for historical sites or Lenin statues may not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But how about something even more ancient?

4. Geology

The diversity of the geology in the south is amazing. You will find an endless variety of beautiful cliffs, mountains and rocks.

The view of the mountain from the Sarband train bridge

The view of the mountains from the Sarband train bridge

Rocks next to the Vakhsh River by Qurghonteppa

Rocks in the Vakhsh River by Qurghonteppa

Photo of Childukhtaron Mountains by Farkhod (credit here):

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Childukhtaron Mountains, Muminobod District

5. Magic Trees

In some hidden corners of the south there are trees that can fix your health, make your wishes come true, and even just make you feel happy. Ask the locals what special property a particular tree has. However, sometimes the answer is “It’s just a pretty tree.” And that’s probably just as good.

A hollow tree upriver from Baljuvon

A hollow tree upriver from Baljuvon

A cliffside trail leads to this conifer in Sari Khosor

A cliffside trail in Sari Khosor leads to this conifer growing out of the rock

This tree in the Red Hills hypnotised me, and made me add a filter to this photo

This tree in the Red Hills makes hikers feel sleepy…

6. Safe and Peaceful

I’ve never had a problem in the south. Every time I see one of those “Be careful outside of the capital city!” warnings, I wonder if the person who wrote that has ever been outside Dushanbe.

The Afghan border at Panji Poyon

The Afghan border at Panji Poyon

In most of the south, the only sound you will hear is the wind

In most of the south, the only sound you will hear is the wind

Main channel at the 44 Springs

Main channel at the 44 Springs “Chiluchar Chashma”

7. Wildlife Gone Wild

I don’t have a big lens on my camera, so I don’t take great wildlife photos. But I see wild animals all the time. Travel up a mountain or in the forest, and you’ll see them.

Porcupine quills, found in the forest

Porcupine quills, found in the forest

Khatloni brown bear tracks next to a creek

Khatloni brown bear tracks next to a creek

8. Random Surprises

Sometimes I think I know the south, and that I’ve seen it all. But then one day while driving to Danghara I met a camel who only drinks RC Cola. He will chase you away if you try to feed him water or Diet Coke.

A thirsty camel on the Sarband-Danghara road

A thirsty camel on the Sarband-Danghara road

The truth is, on every trip I take in the south, something unexpected and memorable happens. One morning I decided to pay a quick visit to the town of Qubodiyon, and soon after my arrival I was looking at old Russian and Bollywood film reels stored in a Soviet-era cinema:

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9. Winter? What Winter?

This photo was taken two years ago in mid-February:

February

We can’t promise that it is always like this in winter, it does snow and freeze occasionally during the short winter. But most of the south is open when the mountains are closed. You can visit all year-round.

10. Hospitality

It’s still a novelty for the locals to meet a tourist. So the reception is always amazing.

These wonderful women invited us to try some fresh-baked bread as we walked by

These wonderful women invited us to try some fresh-baked bread as we walked by

Students at the Sworde-Teppa English & Education Centre welcome the author to their bonfire

Students at the Sworde-Teppa English & Education Centre welcome the author to their bonfire

11. Bonus Reason: Find Your Own Adventure

The Vakhsh Valley railway bridge

The Vakhsh Valley railway bridge

It is now so easy to find your way around the south and to set off exploring in any direction. This website will, by late spring 2016, provide all the tools you need (maps, directions, advice) to get to any destination in the Khatlon Province. For now, explore our website, we have hundreds of photos and dozens of trip itineraries listed.