The Zerafshan Valley is an alpine area located in the basin of the upper river Zerafshan. The valley is surrounded by the Turkistan, Zerafshan and Hissor mountain ranges with the Zerafshan and Yagnob rivers running through it. “Zerafshan”, meaning “Golden River” in Tajik is the main river crossing the valley and supplies the inhabitants with their most precious resource, water. The local population is heavily reliant on agricultural revenue and the river is vital in providing the necessary irrigation. The Greeks called Zerafshan, “Politimitet” and the Sogdians, “Namik” both of which also mean “Golden River”.
The Zerafshan is 877 km long, of which 316 km run through Tajikistan. The river starts at the Zerafshan Glacier in Kuhistone Mastchoh and flows from east to west into neighbouring Uzbekistan.
The valley contains in part, three districts of the Soghd Province: Penjikent, Ayni and Gorno Matcha. The population of the Zerafshan Valley is roughly 314,000 who reside in 254 villages and one town. The majority of the population is ethnic Tajik, with an ethnic Uzbek minority and a small Jagnobi community in the Jagnob valley.
One of the valley’s most famous features is the beautiful lakes: Alauddin, Kulikalon, Iskanderkul and numerous others.
Ancestors of the Tajik’s, known as Sogdians, have lived for over 1500 years along the Zerafshan Valley. Just outside Penjikent is the ancient city of Sarazm, often referred to as ‘The Pompeii of Central Asia.’. The city is believed to be over 5,000 years old but was abandoned after the arrival of Indo-Iranians around 2,000 BC. The villages in the Yagnob Valley provide an opportunity to encounter people who continue to speak a language deriving from the ancient Sogdian.