A popular day trip from Dushanbe, the fortress of Hisor stands on a hill commanding the valley between 2 mountain ranges. These days, the site is occupied by a newly-built fortress, meant to evoke an 18th-century fortress destroyed by the Red Army when they conquered Tajikistan.
Not much of the original structure remains, but students of history can explore the obvious connections between Hisor and nearby trading posts like Samarkand and Termez. For those who are not super-keen on history, the general feeling is one of disappointment with the level of restoration and touristification.
In that case, the bazaar is your best bet. It offers more local flavour than the ones in Dushanbe.
Hisor (Hissar/Gissar) was the main settlement in the area for about 2000 years, before the founding of Dushanbe. It was an important staging post on the trade route from Termez to Kashgar via the Rasht valley and Sary Mogol.
In medieval times, Hisor was an independent khanate for some time before being incorporated in the Emirate of Bukhara, when Hisor became the winter residence of the Kushbegi of East Bukhara. Each summer the Kushbegi and his palace entourage moved to the Karatag Valley in what is today the Shirkent National Park.
However, the place was bulldozed countless times by every historical conqueror worth his salt, including Cyrus, Alexander, the Arabs, Genghis, Timur and finally the Red Army, so few things remain of ancient Hisor. Although the Tajik government’s restoration has brought the fortress back to life, it’s unclear in how far this new structure actually resembles the original.
Things to see and do
Fortress and madrassas
Few tourists find the Disney-version of Hisor appealing. Most people are looking for something more ancient-looking. But locals love it. Sunday is the best day to go as you will find numerous wedding parties taking pictures here. Expect lots of souvenir sellers and a theme park outside.
The 2 madrassas will hold interest only for those who haven’t been to Uzbekistan yet or who live in Dushanbe. If you care to push a bit further: the centre of Hisor has a 16th-century Sufi mausoleum and the remains of a bath house and caravanserai pointing to Hisor’s trading past.
The bazaar is good in Hisor, it is lively and colourful, and attentive foodies are sure to find some unknown ingredients.
It’s rare to find a healthy dish on a bazaar in Central Asia, so seek out the chalob man. Chalob is a dish from Samarkand that combines yoghurt with spring herbs, and can be surprisingly spicy depending on the radishes.
If you happen to be in the area around Navruz (21st of March), Hisor is the place to be. The fortress site is the venue for Tajikistan’s best-visited and most anticipated buzkashi game. Expect excitement!
How to visit
Think twice about planning a visit to Hisor in the full heat of summer as temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius.
To get to Hisor from Dushanbe, take the #8 shared car to Zarnisor station (Gmaps), and from there a marshrutka or shared car going to Hisor bazaar. Here you need to find a driver going to the ‘qala’ (Tajik for fort). Total entrance fees for the fort and the madrassa will be 10 somoni.
In the (by now rather bloated) category of “weird buildings Central Asian dictators build”: on the way you will pass the world’s largest melon-shaped teahouse.