A 90 minute drive south of Dushanbe lies the city of Qurghonteppa (recently renamed Bokhtar) and the smaller town of Sarband (renamed Levakant) nearby.
Qurghonteppa/Bokhtar itself is not a hugely fascinating destination. You can do a self-guided 2-hour walking tour of the center if you really like Tajik parks and Soviet-era pastel-coloured buildings. Instead, Qurghonteppa/Bokhtar is most useful as a base for exploring the region. But, like many regional towns in Central Asia without tourists, the accommodation options are mostly just hotels that serve local businessmen and government bureaucrats. So perhaps just skip the city completely.
15 kilometres from Qurghonteppa/Bokhtar is the town of Sarband (the new name ‘Levakant’ is slow to catch on). Known as Kalininabad in the Soviet era, this pleasant small town has so far managed to keep its trees, and its statues of Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrade Mikhail Kalinin.
The main attraction in Sarband is the Vakhsh River and the Sarband dam reservoir (viewpoints here), and the Mount Khojamaston foothills (hiking trails on OSM). Outside of the summer, these provide nice day walks to get out of Dushanbe.
In between Sarband and Qurghonteppa sits the Ajina-Teppa Buddhist monastery excavation site (OSM), where the big Sleeping Buddha you might have seen in Dushanbe’s museums comes from. There’s not much to see, if we are honest: all other treasures can be seen in the Hermitage in St-Petersburg (the Buddha was considered too big to move so far away).
Fakhrabad, Shahrtuz, Hisor and Khovaling all have underground Buddhist ruins, and Vrang in the Pamir has clear left-overs of a stupa and a cave monastery. They are small reminders that Buddhism reached here as well, beyond the big Buddhist centers of Termez and Bamiyan in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan respectively.
Qurghonteppa/Bokhtar is the hub for all western locations in Khatlon (Sarband-Levakant, Shahrtuz, Panj, Qubodiyon) and can be reached from Dushanbe via shared car, private driver, bus, marshrutka and train (see full instructions here).
More destinations in Khatlon
- Danghara: mega-chaikhana
- Kulob: salt mountain, mausoleum, kitschy fortress & screwhorn goats
- Shahrtuz: ruins, swimming pools & wildlife
- Baljuvon and Muminobod: remote villages, camping and 4WD destruction