In the mountains of Khoja Obi Garm, north of the capital of Dushanbe, many Tajiks come to enjoy radon baths and steams, a slightly radioactive gas, with supposed relaxing and painkilling properties.

This “sanatorium” (from the Latin “sanare” – to treat, to cure) is one of the rare vestiges of the USSR still in activity, in this small mountainous country located in the north of Afghanistan. Here, the hot springs, containing radon, spring directly from the surrounding mountains. As early as 1935, Khoja Obi Garm welcomed its first visitors, who then lodged in tents. It was in the 70s and 80s that this spa resort took on another dimension, with the construction of a unique hotel complex, in an architectural style marked by Soviet brutalism, and of colossal dimensions.

From 1974 to 1986, the Soviet authorities built three monumental blocks on the mountainside. Each one hundred meters long, they could accommodate a large audience from the fifteen socialist republics. The Soviet labour code guaranteed two weeks of vacation to workers and recommended that they be taken to sanatoriums. At that time, Khoja Obi Garm had the title of “spa of the whole union”, and saw boarders from all over the USSR, who landed by train or plane from Vladivostok, Riga or Yerevan.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, followed by the Tajik Civil War (1992 to 1997), the sanatorium was abandoned and lost its flow of Soviet tourists. In 2010, this unique place benefited from a national renovation plan and has become a privileged vacation spot for Tajik holidaymakers, who come to enjoy the spa resort in winter and the coolness of the mountains in summer. For around 20 euros per day in full board, numerous treatments are available, such as hot water baths, or radon steam hammams. In the greatest Soviet tradition, each stay begins with the consultation of a doctor who prescribes a list of treatments to be performed.

Every evening, after dinner, the residents meet in the auditorium located in a monumental annexe. With its imposing red curtains, its stage welcomes traditional musicians and singers. In this singular place, an audience performs Tajik dances, under an imposing chandelier dating from the USSR, like an allegory of the reappropriation by Tajikistan of its Soviet heritage.