Gharm is nestled in between the mountains, 200 km east of Dushanbe and essentially half-way down the Rasht Valley. The town is known for being conservative, both socially and religiously, and for being independent-minded. Most of the worst fighting in the Tajik Civil War in the ’90s took place around here, and the area is still only tenuously under the control of the central government. This lack of actual control may be the reason for the ostentatious displays of state authority all across Gharm, including the de rigeur and ubiquitous photos of the President throughout the town.
Although the town center was relatively bustling when we arrived just after noon on Friday, it was because the shops and offices emptied as the men (and it is only the men) walked to Friday prayers. The mosque on the edge of town was perhaps the nicest building in the settlement, with a burnished dome but no minarets.
With all the development problems in the Rasht Valley and Gharm, it was disappointing to see how much money was invested in religious structures rather than into people’s lives. Gharm was not the only town I’ve seen where tens of thousands of dollars were spent on a religious building while people within a stone’s throw didn’t have enough to eat.
After we poked around for a hour or so, we saw pretty much all there was to see of the sights of Gharm. We were ready to get onto the road east of town and head to the buzkashi match. But that had to wait for Saturday.