Location – Hissar District.52km west of Dushanbe.
Qaratag Valley begins approximately 8km from Shahrinav near a highway, 44km west of Dushanbe, behind Qaratag village, the road to which goes along the right bank of the Qaratag River. Qaratag village is located 1,000m above sea level at the valley entrance and in ancient times was a centre of silk-weaving production. Bright and colourfullocallyproduced silks, famous for their quality, were in big demand in Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey’s markets. Qaratag village was once a summer residence of a Hissar aristocrat, but, after a powerful earthquake in 1907, Dushanbe village, which later was transformed into a town and declared the capital of the Tajik Republic, became the ruler’s residence.
Qaratag village is known as the birthplace of the popular Tajik poet MirzoTursunzoda, who was born here in 1911 and whose name was given to the town formerly known as Regar. Nowadays there are recreation areas and summer health camps for children and adults in the Qaratag Valley.
The valley is famous for its diverse scenic nature and rich vegetation. In the lower area there are many wild fruit trees and in the upper junipers prevail. In the Labijuy village area (30km upstream from Qaratag village) there is a noteworthy grove frequented by nightingales and on the mountainside an abundance of wild grapes, apple, mulberry, cherry and plum trees.
The Qaratag River is formed from the joining of two rivers: the Diahan Darya to the west and the Payron to the east and trout can be found in these rivers. Following the Diahan Darya it is possible to reach Lake Iskandarkul. Payron River leads to the upper end of the Siyoma River. Hikes and outings along the Qaratag Valley to Payron and Timur-Dara lakes, which lie among scenic forest groves leave an unforgettable impression. Timur-Dara Lake was formed by a dam and is located an hour’s walk from Qaratag River, 1,970m above sea level. A path going to the lake begins from a small river also named Timur-Dara, which flows out of the lake into Qaratag River. The lake is situated among wooded slopes. Its water is bright-blue and one of its shores is covered with coarse-grained granite sand which make an excellent beach.
Payron Lake is situated 2,200m above sea level. It was formed as the result of damming, however, water filters through the rock-fill dam and forms several small waterfalls. The water in the lake is cold. The left shore of the lake is not accessible because the steep mountain slopes come to an abrupt end at the edge of the water. There is a path along the right shore. A track to the valley from Qaratag goes only as far as Hakimi village. To drive in the valley it is recommended to use a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Further up the valley it is only possible to travel on foot or use pack animals. Sarbin, a tributary of the Qaratag River, flows into it 1.5–2km below Hakimi village. Following this tributary upstream it is possible to get to the upper part of the Shirkent River.
Qaratag Valley is a wonderful place for one- or two-day hikes. Footpaths and horse paths ending near the glacier zone are wide and safe enough; the climate is mild, and there are suitable places for stops or overnight stays. There are many interesting routes of all levels of complexity which are best travelled between May and November.