Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan



Day 11

Nurek Dam


26 August 2018

The good news is that I was able to delay my drive to Nurek Dam by two hours, and I managed to get a much-needed nine hours of sleep last night.  I think that I may have been functioning on adrenaline over the past week and a half, and the long days of travel, late dinners, high altitudes, dust and bumpy roads, and constantly interesting things to see and photograph may have made me a little more tired than I thought.  Anyway, after catching up on sleep, I felt great when I woke this morning.

The rest of the group (all of whom are due to leave Tajikistan tomorrow or the following day, in contrast to me who is leaving today) were spending the morning at Hissor Fortress, which I had visited and thoroughly enjoyed when I visited last year.  Having already seen the fortress, and given my interest in researching the water-energy-food nexus in Central Asia, my priority was definitely the Nurek Dam instead.

As things turned out another member of the group, Max, was also interested in seeing the dam, so we shared the cost of the car and farewelled the others as they left for the Fortress at 8:00am, our car being due at 9:00am.  It seemed to be operating on ‘Central Asian Time’, and arrived casually at 9:20am.  The slightly delayed departure was not a problem; I had factored in some extra time (of course!), so everything was fine.

The 75 kilometre drive took only a little more than an hour, and it didn’t take long to realise that the decision to visit the dam was indeed a good one.  The dam is indeed huge, being the highest rock-filled dam wall in the world and the second highest dam wall overall.  It took almost twenty years to build (1961 to 1980) and it was the pride of Soviet engineering at the time.  Indeed, it remained the highest dam wall in the world until 2013 when China’s Jinping-I Dam was completed.  It has a unique construction with a central core of cement that forms an impermeable barrier within a 300 metre-high rock and earth fill construction.  The volume of the mound is 54 million cubic metres and includes nine hydro-electric generators.

When we first arrived, we were greeted by the amazing sight of the outflow of water from the hydroelectric generators spewing out through a large pipe into the watercourse below (see video at That flow never stops, as the generation of electricity never stops.  The reservoir formed by the dam (which we saw from a distance yesterday afternoon) is also huge in scale, having a capacity of 10.5 cubic kilometres of water and extending more than 70 kilometres in length and having a surface area of 98 square kilometres.  In addition to its main role of generating electricity, the dam also provides water for irrigation to about 700 square kilometres of farmland.

Impressive though the dam and its associated infrastructure were, what made the visit more delightful were the unexpected aspects of the place.  It seems that hydro-electric power stations and their associated dams are preferred spots for wedding gatherings, and there were two wedding celebrations underway at the time of our visit (with several more convoys of wedding cars heading for the dam as we left - Sunday seems to be ‘wedding day’ in Tajikistan).  Photos were being taken to highlight the high-tension power lines overhead and the power station in the background while musical groups beat drums and played various wind instruments as young women celebrated the wedding with dancing.  It turned out to be one of the best opportunities of the entire trip to meet and chat informally with local people.  A video of the dancing can be seen at

The other unexpected delight of visiting was seeing the nearby settlement of Nurek that was built to support the dam’s operations. It was a great example of a Soviet-era industrial settlement with well-maintained five-storey housing blocks, complete with their Soviet-era wall mosaics, and an impressive statue of Lenin in the main town square.  There aren’t many Soviet industrial settlements that are as well preserved and maintained in their original state as this one.

I managed to return to Dushanbe Airport in plenty of time to check-in for my delayed flight to Almaty – indeed, I had to stand around waiting for about half an hour before the check-in counter opened.  Unlike my previous exit from Tajikistan last year, everything went smoothly without any signs of corruption or hassling – it was pleasant courtesy all the way.  My flight had been made easier with the loan from Rich of a foldup up carry bag that I’m using to carry the new clothes I bought in the markets in Osh to replace some of my lost luggage; there was just a little TOO much to squeeze into the backpack that I was using for my cabin baggage for the trip, and the alternative would have been wearing the thick, warm tracksuit on this day of 32 degrees Celsius.

My flight out of Dushanbe to Almaty was a relatively short one of an hour and twenty minutes, and included great views of the countryside east of Dushanbe on takeoff.  The aircraft did a 360 degree climb out of Dushanbe before flying to the north-east to Almaty in order to gain altitude to cross the high mountains I had been driving through just a few days earlier.  One of the great thrills was looking down and seeing a large white pulsating jet of water – the outflow from the Nurek Dam that I had photographed close-up just a few hours previously.

Postscript 1: My diary for the next day of my travels In Kazakhstan can be be seen HERE.

Postscript 2: I was eventually reunited with my luggage on 3rd September when I arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan.