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Varzob Valley

Location – Varzob district to the north borders on Zarafshon valley, situated on the northern slopes of the Hissar range (Anzob and Takfon settlements), on the east – Romit Valley, on the south-east – Rohati and Vahdat (formerly Orjonikidzeabad, Kofarnihon).

Varzob valley is a favourite recreation area for Dushanbe residents. There are many recreation areas and picnic spots here. It is widely known as a small geographic area close to Dushanbe in the basin of the Varzob River, crossing the central part of the southern slopes of the Hissar range. Highways connecting Dushanbe with northern districts of the country and the Ferghana Valley, Istravshan (formerly Uroteppa), Khujand (formerly Leninabad) and Aini and Panjakent, pass through it.

The Lower Varzob River, which changes name to “Dushanbinka”, flows into the wide plain in which Dushanbe is situated, and further to the west of the capital, into the Kofarnihon River. From its start to its exit into the plain, the Varzob Valley is 72km long. The drop in altitude from the beginning of the river to its mouth is about 1.5km. The flora of the Varzob River basin is rich and diverse. There are juniper, walnut, maple, apple, cherryplum, and hawthorn trees, and shrubby arboreal vegetation. Not far from Dushanbe, in Varzob valley is the Gusgarf Waterfall, the most beautiful in the Hissar range. A wild river breached a vertical rocky cliff many centuries ago and the water falls there from a height of 30m. A large volume of water cascades to the bottom and scatters into a myriad of droplets that cheerfully glitter in the sun. A footpath to the waterfall starts from the 21km marker in Varzob Valley. From here to the waterfall is a 2-3 hours walk (about 8km). April-May is the best time for a hike to the waterfall. At this time of year the mountain slopes are full of red tulips, and hawthorn and other plants are in blossom. Those who love the thrilling experience can test themselves in unusual water treatment.

There is a fairly deep round pool here filled with ice-cold water, a fine spray from the waterfall and a current powerful enough to send one sprawling. Apart from the Gusgarf Waterfall the valleys of Siyoma, Ojuk, Kondara, Maikhura and Tagob Rivers flowing into the Varzob River are also very popular. The unique beauty of these valleys is amazing. The slopes of the Ojuk Valley (25km from Dushanbe), stretching dozens of kilometres deep into the mountains to the north-east of Varzob, are covered with vines. There are also apple, cherry and plum trees, but the main attraction in this valley is the numerous sycamores, known by the local population as chanor. The valley obtained its name from the Ojuk tributary which flows into the Varzob River. Hiking along the Ojuk Valley is a pleasurable experience. The climate here is mild. The river has many ponds in which it is very pleasant to swim, and sandy beaches where you can sunbathe. Moving up along the valley it is possible to get to the Simiganj (Golden Treasure) village which is famous for its grapes.

Kondara Valley (31km from Dushanbe) is a protected area, which preserves unique flora and fauna. In the valley, at the end of the Varzob Valley, are the Botanical Gardens of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan. The Gardens were established in the late 1930s. The valley itself served as a giant natural laboratory for the Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences. The Institute staff planted various species of trees, bushes and herbs in this valley, and observed their acclimatization and growth in mountainous conditions. The gardens are not large, however, almost one tenth of the flower flora of the CIS countries is collected here. More than two dozen of them cannot be found anywhere else. About 38km from Dushanbe the Varzob River is joined by one of its largest tributaries — the Tagob River. The Tagob River is formed through the joining of the Tuikutal and Varmanik Rivers. In the upper Tagob, at 2,200m above sea level, there is the hilly Safed-Dara Plateau (White Valley), Tajikistan’s ski resort. Since the 1970s skiers have come to this plateau. The Children Olympics downhill skiing school was organized here. A housing estate, including a four-story building (where the school and a hotel were situated), and many mobile homes which belonged to various organizations are here. Currently the whole infrastructure is in need of modernization or major repair. The snow, which falls from early November and sometimes, late October, remains on this plateau seven months a year. In winter the weather is often clear and calm with lots of sun. There are two cableways about 1km long which skiers can use to get up to the top. It is always very crowded in ski season and during weekends and holidays. You can rent skis here. It is best to use a 4-wheel drive car to get to the plateau.

Approximately 200m above the resort is the Ruidasht Plateau, known among local ski-lovers as the KhojaObigarm Plateau. It stretches for several dozen kilometres at an of altitude 2,200–2,500m. The plateau is quite suitable for skiing, however, it lacks the infrastructure necessary and so is used only by enthusiasts. The Siyoma River (54km from Dushanbe) is popular for its blue, crystal- clear water, wild apple trees, dogrose, birch groves and currant bushes which have an abundance of berries in the autumn. This blue river begins at an altitude of 3,300m at the MedvezhiZamok Glacier and in the course of its 21km stream literally jumps down more than 2,000m. Its route is filled with dams and waterfalls. Even on the hottest summer day, the water in the Siyoma is icecold (no higher than 4ºC). It is always clear and pure. Even during the spring floods, when the water in the Varzob River is dark-brown because of a fast-flowing mixture of stones, clay and pebbles, the Siyoma is always amazingly blue. After the Siyoma and Varzob confluence, both rivers flow together in one riverbed, but they appear to be separate until their waters completely mix up several dozen metres further downstream. In the Upper Siyoma and its tributaries there are several peaks over 4,000m of interest for mountain climbers (Siyoh – 4,065m, Peak of Four – 4,050m, Shirokaya – 4,180m, Qullai Javonon – 4,200m, Bolshoi Igizak – 4,100m, etc.). There are peaks for every taste here. Even novice mountain climbers can climb some of them while the more experienced will find peaks suitable for themselves. There are no settlements in the Siyoma Valley. Shepherds sometimes bring their flocks to the Igizak River mouth (a tributary of the Siyoma) for pasture in the summer. The local population is seen here rarely. Haramqul, which is at 3,000m above sea level in Upper Maikhura (another Varzob tributary), is considered the cold spot in the Dushanbe area. Water temperatures in the river, even in summer, are rarely above 5ºC. This is possibly the place which has the most avalanches per year in the country. Avalanches come in November-April.

There are about 2,000mm of precipitation per year here — almost three times as much as in Dushanbe. In winter the snow level can reach 5m – almost as high as a twostorey building. The other main sight in the Maikhura Valley is the almost 6km long tunnel through the mountains, the construction of which began several years ago. Upon completion it will allow the Dushanbe–Khujand road connecting the central and northern parts of the country to be usable all year round.

After Ziddi village, approximately 74km from Dushanbe, begins the lengthy 20km winding road leading, with immense loops, to the 3,372m Anzob Pass. The Anzob Pass is on a ridge with a small, flat area. The altitude difference between the beginning of the ascent and the pass is more than 1,400m. Cars driving from Ziddi village to the pass cover the distance in 1-1.5 hours. An impressive view of the Kuhistan Mountains opens up from the pass. Directly to the north, in the Zarafshon range, you can see the pyramidal Anzob Peak (4,525m) beneath which the Yaghnob River valley can be seen. To the east, the snowy peaks of ZaminQaror are seen. A weather-station has been functioning for many years on the pass. It is almost always windy here. However, in the summer, in sunny weather, it is possible to ski. In summer you can see apiaries on the slopes of the pass and buy excellent, aromatic, mountain honey. Due to snowdrifts, the pass is closed for transportation from approximately the second half of November until late May.

16km north-east of Ziddi village at an altitude of 3,030m there are the KhojaSangkhok cold carbonaceous mineral springs. Several rising streams of mineral water run from cracks in the Paleozoic crystalline shale and appear to boil due to the intensive liberation of carbonic gasses. Its taste reminds one of Narzan mineral water and is known to the residents of the capital as Anzob mineral water. A country road leads to the springs. In order to get to this road you need to turn right (if coming from Dushanbe) several kilometres up the main road leading to the Anzob Pass. It is possible to find several more mineral springs near the main road approximately 8km down from the top of the pass (if coming from Dushanbe). There is a small spring surrounded by stones next to the road. The unusual climate, flora and hydro-energy of the Varzob Valley has attracted numerous expeditions to research the habitat of the Yeti. However, local residents, mountain climbers and tourists are yet to meet any abominable snowmen. The Government of Tajikistan has now declared Varzob Valley to be a recreation and tourism zone. Construction of many tourism infrastructure projects is going on here.