Rogun Hydropower Project: Highest Dam in the World

Drive along the somewhat perilous road from Dushanbe to Garm, high above the Vakhsh River, and a surprise awaits at the point where the river canyon narrows. Perched above the cliffs on the other side of the valley, in the middle of an otherwise pastoral idyll of high-altitude meadows and wilderness peaks, lies a half-hidden city of high-rise buildings. Below this new metropolis, off the map in terms of tourism, the open jaws of an enormous building site yawn between the canyon walls as diggers gnash their way day and night in the building of the Rogun Hydropower Project. Billed as the tallest in the world at 335m, the dam is expected to run six large turbines when it reaches its full height in 2025.

Naturally it is being hailed within Tajikistan as an engineering miracle, predicted to bring about an economic boon in an otherwise underdeveloped country. Providing much-needed electricity for home consumption, the project is also expected to generate export revenue with surpluses bound for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Beyond Tajikistan, however, the project is receiving less of a welcome as anxious downstream neighbours fear the effect that the taming of the mighty Vakhsh River may have on agriculture (cotton and grains are major crops in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). Despite the blessing of the World Bank, sporadic attacks on the dam have led to heightened security in the area and explains something of the sequestered nature of Rogun city. With nearly US$4 billion invested in the project, it's little wonder that the authorities chose to release doves at the project launching ceremony.

Buzkashi: A Winter Sport

The Rasht Valley is a good place to look out for the ancient sport of Buzkashi – a game of Persian origin played on horseback that attracts only the best and strongest riders. Akin to polo, the object of the game is to scoop up a dead carcass (usually goat) and land it in goal. Each Sunday in winter, villages take it in turn to host the event in an appropriately level playing field and large crowds turn out to cheer on the buzkash (horsemen). With large prizes often at stake (TVs, goats, money and even cars), participants take the game seriously and train hard to build the necessary upper-body strength to lift a 50kg carcass.