Norak – The powerhouse of Tajikistan

Norak is a small yet versatile city along the Vakhsh River in Central Tajikistan. Most importantly it is the largest powerhouse of Tajikistan owing to the huge Norak Dam right next to it – the second tallest dam in the world. Apart from this huge megastructure, Norak hosts a space monitoring center on a nearby hilltop and a military base. The city is also a popular place for locals to hang out and relax at one of the many lakes along the river. If you are in Dushanbe and have some time left, then Norak can make for a nice place to visit.

Street scene in the center of the city of Norak in the west of Tajikistan

Situated on the banks of the Vakhsh River, Norak – also transliterated as Nurek – is a small city one hour driving away from Dushanbe. The city lies at the foot of a huge dam. Whereas you can find innumerable natural dams and reservoirs, the Norak Dam was constructed by man to generate electricity. In fact, the Norak Dam is one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in Tajikistan and supplies an important part of the electricity for Dushanbe and its surroundings. It is safe to say that is essential for a large part of Tajikistan's population.

The construction of the dam was accomplished in 1980. With a height of 304 meters and a width of 700 meters, the megastructure is the second tallest man-made dam in the entire world.

In autumn and winter, the amount of melt water coming from the mountains decreases and thereby also the discharge by the Vakhsh River. For that reason, the dam also plays a key role to maintain throughout the year a steady supply of water for irrigation of agricultural land in southwest Tajikistan.

The Vakhsh River seen from a rusty bridge with the Nurek Dam in the background
The Vakhsh River

Norak itself is a quiet city. There are several eating places, a small market street and some parks. From Dushanbe, Norak is a good option to escape the bustle and spend some time in a more relaxed environment. You can walk along the Vakhsh River and there are several small lakes where you can go swimming or even jet-skiing if you are looking for an adrenaline boost. Many wealthy Tajiks have built their dacha along the banks of the lakes to hang out in their free time.

View from above of a lake next to the Vakhsh River in Norak with dachas on the shores and a sunset in the background
Sunset at one of the various small lakes along the Vakhsh River in Norak. Lots of dachas are built on the lakeshore, where people go in their free time to come together and relax.
Central park in Norak next to Lenin Square with a monument for those who built the Nurek Dam
Park in Norak next to the central Lenin Square. The tall momument is dedicated to the workers who built the Norak Dam.

The large Vakhsh River that flows through Norak allows for plentiful fishing activity. You can commonly spot fishermen along the river. Norak and the surrounding region are one the few places where you can find lots of fresh fish on the menu.

Norak is also a strategic place. There is a space monitoring station in the mountains right next to Norak. The Russian owned station is called Okno (Окно), which is Russian for window. There is still a small Russian military base and you can find many Russian people on streets. All these strategic sites are obviously not open for unwanted eyes.

Fisherman at the banks of the Vakhsh River in Norak
Fishing at the banks of the Vakhsh River
Fried fish sold along the road at night near Nurek in Tajikistan
Fried fish served at a roadside restaurant near the Vakhsh River

How to get there

It is quite easy to go to Norak from Dushanbe. From the intersection of Nazarshoev Street and Rudaki Avenue, shared cars regularly leave directly to the center of Norak. For the return, you can take a shared car or a taxi along the main Lenin Street running through the center of the town. From here, you can go directly back to Dushanbe again.