North of Dushanbe lies the region of Sughd. Centered on bustling Khujand and closed off from the rest of Tajikistan by the Zerafshan range, it has a distinct identity. The Sughd region accounts for two thirds of the country’s GDP, and has closer ties to Samarkand, Bukhara and Kokand than to Dushanbe. it is the most prosperous and dynamic part of the country.
Nonetheless, Outside of Khujand and Penjikent, there are still majestic mountain scenery, remote valleys, and little traditional villages.
Khujand and around
To Tajikistan’s slow-paced standards, Khujand is extremely lively, serving as an introduction to Uzbekistan’s part of the Ferghana Valley. There is plenty to see to warrant a stop-over, like the idiosyncratic Arbob Palace and the Panjshanbe bazaar.
Most people will want to skip Istaravshan, though, a town in visible decline. Although the old mosques are billed as the star attraction, it is actually more interesting for its woodcarvers and metalworkers, and the atmospheric bazaar.
Slow travel attractions include the Vostokredmet factory that provided the material for the USSR’s first nuclear weapon, and a Sufi mausoleum in Isfara.
The Zerafshan valley draws a straight line across the map from Samarkand to Aini, and continues east, upstream into little populated mountainous areas.
The gateway to the valleys is the crossroads town of Aini, near the Anzob Pass and its famous “tunnel of death”.
Well worth a small detour from the Aini-Penjikent road are Khairobad, Kum and Madm. Picturesque villages in their own right, you can find forts here associated with Dewashtich, the last ruler of the Sogdians.
The Yagnob valley, so remote it preserved its ancient language for a thousand years, is the most famous side valley. East of Aini, you can stay in homestays and/or trek around. Despite the existence of homestays, it all remains quite pioneering. Be prepared to make your own way across the local gorges, cliffs and fruit groves.
For hikers, the Fann mountains are an alternative to the Pamir. With easier access and equally stunning scenery, there really is no reason to pass up the opportunity for a hike or trek of up to 5-6 days. Iskanderkul is a highlight for trekkers and sightseers alike. The Seven lakes are the place to go if you want to find traditional village life.
Penjikent, a provincial market town with ancient roots as the capital of Sogdiana, is the gateway to the Seven Lakes. Once the border crossing to Samarkand opens again, it will blossom again. For now, you can check out the archaeological remains of Sarazm, and admire some of the frescoes at the town museum.
- Karotegin: Dushanbe and around + the Garm valley
- Pamirs: The Pamir Highway winds its way through landscapes from another planet
- Khatlon: a different Tajikistan: hot, flat, but also nature and history
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan