To the west of Dushanbe and approaching the border with Uzbekistan is the sweeping Hissar (Gissar) Valley, which encompasses the Shirkent National Park. This 3,000 hectare reserve, which is expected to be expanded to some 30,000 hectares in the coming years, has an unusually high concentration of sites of historical and scientific interest.
The landscapes vary from juniper and broad-leaf forests, to alpine meadows, grasslands, and arid steep. Each of these distinct ecosystems supports different types of wildlife including 30 species of mammals, and 95 types of local and migratory birds. The animals thrive here because of the availability of water: in addition to the Shirkent River, there are a large number of smaller watercourses, all providing natural irrigation to the land.
Geologists and dinosaur lovers should head to Shirkent to see the dinosaur footprints in the rock. More than 400 such prints have been identified: the mud in which they were originally laid down has fossilised, and the rock is now open to the air. The prints date from quite a wide period of time, and give a remarkable geological record, as well as an indication of which pre-historic species inhabited these lands.
Those with an interest in history will not be disappointed either. The Hissar Valley includes some 50 archaeological sites, including Stone Age and medieval discoveries. Cemeteries, settlements and irrigation facilities, have all been found during archaeological excavations, as has evidence of agricultural, handicraft, and early mining and metallurgical development. A tour with Paramount Journey will include a short trekking program in Shirkent National Park and visit at Hissar Fortress, said to date back to the times of Cyrus the Great and to have been captured 21 times. The fortress’ mighty gateway survives intact, and is reminiscent of the one that guards the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan.