The Rasht Valley is a newer name given to a valley that was formerly part of the now-defunct Gharm Province. Previously called Karotegin, the Rasht Valley is a mid-altitude mountain valley that is known for being green far longer into the summer than the rest of the country.
Sometimes a narrow gorge through which the Surkhob River flow, the valley also widens in places to as much as 10 kilometres across. Due to being a former stronghold of the opposition during the civil war, and the closed border crossing with Kyrgyzstan, this valley is both underdeveloped and a dead end for tourists. This, however, leaves it open as a relatively underexplored region of Tajikistan.
Independent hikers can carve out their own adventure (but should look out for landmines). Although there is really no limit to the exploring you can do in the Rasht Valley, the best bet for the generally interested tourist is to visit the village of Jafr.
Jafr Botanic Gardens
18km past the town of Gharm is the town of Jafr, home to the Kuhsori Ajam Botanical Gardens (OSM). These gardens are the project of Tajikistan’s most-interesting man, Mirzoshoh Akobirov, an amateur botanist who is creating new varieties of fruit trees and promoting biodiversity in the landscape around the village of Jafr. Musician, historian, story-teller and all-round intellectual, his vision has been movingly portrayed by Joe Schottenfeld.
The botanic gardens include a guesthouse (OSM) and an (under construction) museum. Mirzoshoh speaks Tajik and Russian and can be reached at +992 98 804 8059; it’s a good idea to call in advance to make reservations ($10 per person, meals extra), but you can also take your chances and arrive unannounced.
For $20 you can get a group tour of the biodiversity projects in the area. Horse trekking is $20 per person.
4 hours driving time, 80% paved road. Start at the ‘Garm or Kulob avtostantsiya’ on the east side of Dushanbe (OSM), ~70 somoni for a seat to the central town of Gharm.
The drive will take 4 hours, plus a 30 minutes stop at a restaurant stop near the halfway point in the village of Aligalabon. There is also a marshrutka that goes to Gharm. It will be far cheaper and far slower and may not have space for your large trekking bags.
Once in the town of Gharm you can then start finding transport up the valley. The starting point should be on the main street in front of the town’s mini-bazaar (OSM).
From the mini-bazaar, look for a shared taxi by calling out ‘Jafr! Bogi Botanik!’. A seat should be 5 Somoni per person – cheap enough to buy out the car to leave immediately with empty seats.
Return to Dushanbe
On weekdays it will be easy enough to find a car in the village of Jafr that is heading towards Gharm (5 somoni). Once in Gharm, taxis to Dushanbe collect 1 km south of the bazaar (OSM). Prices could be lower than the 70 somoni to get here since the supply of drivers tends to be large.
Rasht Valley as part of the Pamir Highway
Pamir Highway drivers avoid the northern route from via Tavildara as they can go quicker going the southern route via the Kulob lowlands, and their car is more likely to survive compared to the rough road that goes through the Tavildara and Khaburobot passes.
But if you are not going on public transport, you can tell your driver you want to go to Rasht and he will go, if you negotiate the right price. So it is possible to do the northern route, or better yet, to go past the turn-off up the road to the village of Jafr to spend the night (Gmap itinerary).