There is a 95% chance you are in Denau (Denov in Uzbek) because you are crossing the Uzbek-Tajik border. We know Denau is not traditionally billed as a highlight, especially when famous places like the Pamirs, or Samarkand and Bukhara loom, but if you are adventurous, Denau and its surroundings offer more than meets the eye.
The traditional mountain qishloqs surrounding Denau constitute one of the most untouched parts of Uzbekistan, while the archaeological remains of two important Kushan-era cities, Kalchayan and Dalverzin Teppe, are also within easy reach of Denau.
Hiking in the mountains of the Hissar range surrounding Denau would be the best way to meet local villagers and sample some of the natural beauty of the region. This remains, however, a difficult proposition, due to Uzbekistan’s stringent registration rules, and restrictions in areas close to the Tajik border.
As the semi-independent land of Chaghanian, Denau (‘New Town’) enjoyed relative freedom over the centuries and even at the beginning of this century it maintained only nominal relations with the emirate, via the east Bukharan capital at Hissar (in present-day Tajikistan). It provided taxes, soldiers and beautiful women for the emir’s harem, as did all the other 26 begships of the emirate, but rebellions were commonplace and bandits rife.
The mountains that provided such effective cover for bandits also concealed the later basmachi. Denau provided the backdrop for the last stand of these early mujahideen under the leadership of Enver Pasha, the charismatic Turk who had briefly united them.
The colourful and kinetic bazaar, fuelled by cross-border trade with Tajikistan, forms the vibrant heart of modern Denau. It is perhaps the most interesting one in all Uzbekistan.
Merging with the bazaar is the Sayyid Attalik madrassa. The 16th-century madrassah, one of the biggest in Central Asia, closed in 1935 and opened its doors after independence from 1991 to 1997, before it closed again for renovation. After a long lull, we have been told renovation should be getting underway again and finish before 2019. Its scale and elegant symmetry are more than ample compensation for the lack of ornamentation. For now, it is used as a storage space and workplace for carpenters.
Also in the town centre are the remains of the circular fortress of the Beg of Denau. It is mostly used as a toilet and a parking space. In its day, though, it must have provided the Beg with a tight grip on the town.
Along S Rashidov, halfway between the bazaar and the bus station, you can find the R Shreder Dendrarium (Tel: 94-205-42-29), an arboretum with more than 1,000 species of plants. Besides the Uzbek native plants, imported varieties include rubber tree, bamboo and sequoia, surviving here thanks to Denau’s slightly more humid climate (which also helps produce sweet wines). The arboretum also has a notable collection of persimmon: more than 200 species are represented in the garden.
Fortresses and mosques
Just outside Denau in the small qishloq of Yurchi lies another feudal fortress, dating from the 10th century. 30 km east of Denau lies the village of Vakhshivar and the Sufi Allah Yar Mosque (1713), named after the celebrated Uzbek poet buried here in 1724.
The Graeco-Bactrian and Kushan city of Khalchayan (4th century ВСE to 3rd century CE) lies 10 kilometres northeast of Denau, but its remains are faint and its fascinating past is better tasted through the remarkable collection of Parthian-, Greek- and Kushan-influenced sculptures in Termez’ archaeological museum and the history museum of Tashkent.
The slightly better-preserved site of Dalverzin Tepe, near Shurchi 30 km south along the road to Termez, was once one of the most glorious Kushan cities of the age and an early capital for the Tokharian (Yue Chi) Turkic tribes. Today only the sunken remains of a Buddhist temple, Bactrian shrine and Zoroastrian altar remain.
There is no charge to enter and no set opening times for either of these sites.
The Sangardak waterfall, 50 km north of Denau along the Sangardak (aka Kyzyl-Su) river, near the village of Nelu, is Uzbekistan’s highest at 150m. It is a popular place for locals to pick-nick on weekends. The area is surprisingly green and can serve as a jumping off point for hikes in the surrounding area.
Be aware that the water reservoir on the Tupalang river is a military zone.
- centrally located near the bazaar, train and bus station. Staff is helpful (Russian and Uzbek only)
- standard twin room with very noisy fan and shared bathroom for 10$
- Shared bathroom is not amazing, but it is clean nowadays. Hot water is guaranteed due to the boiler
- Luxe room with ensuite and aircon for 20$
- Mattresses need replacement, though, the springs poke you in the back
- No breakfast
We welcome reports of other hotels in Denau.
- Bus station: 2 km south of the center of town. On the map: OSM / Gmaps
- Train station: 1 km east of the center. On the map: OSM / Gmaps
For the latest info on crossing the border with Tajikistan, see Uzbek-Tajik border crossings.
There is little direct transport to Samarkand (5h) or Bukhara (6h) from Denau and vice versa. Find out ahead of time when a bus is departing; shared taxis could take ages to fill up.
A second option would be to taxi-hop via Boysun and Qarshi. The checkpoint at the ancient Iron Gates, just beyond Derbent, is a good place to get an onward taxi. Note that your registration will be checked here.
3rd option: train. Tashkent-Samarkand-Denau takes 15h and runs a few times per week. See trains in Uzbekistan for details.
Minibuses and shared taxis to Termez, Boysun and nearby villages are plentiful and cheap. Taxis are a bit faster and a bit more expensive. Minibuses are a bit slower and thus a bit safer.