Where Silk Road mystique meets high altitude peaks and glimmering turquoise lakes in the crossroads of Central Asia. Tajikistan is home to some of the world’s highest peaks, remote cultures, and the mother of all roadtrips- The Pamir Highway. After having spent well over 3 months in the country over the last two summers I can say without question the hospitality is legendary, the people warm, the culture alive and the scenery is as varied as it is beautiful. Welcome to Tajikistan!
Dushanbe– The bustling capital city has a Soviet feel yet remains uniquely Tajik. If flying into the country most will start their Tajikistan journey here. Make sure to visit Rudaki Park, the World’s Tallest Flagpole, the Green Bazaar, Victory Park, and don’t forget to drop by Taj Restaurant for some delicious Indian food if looking for a change from Central Asian dishes. If you’re a fan of beautiful mosques, definitely get over to the Mevlana Yakub Charki Mosque- open to non-Muslims (outside prayer times, of course), and expect one of the men working around the mosque to give you a great and informative tour of the mosque.
Khujand– Welcome to the Tajik Fergana Valley. Khujand is the second largest city in Tajikistan, sitting at the banks of the Syr Darya River and capital of the Sughd province. Home to the Panshanbe Bazaar- the busiest bazaar in Tajikistan and one of the busiest in Central Asia. Don’t miss the Khujand Fortress and Khujandi Park.
Istaravshan– Not as large as Uzbekistan’s stars Samakand & Bukhara, and the mosques & madrassas not as impressive or restored, but hey, there’s no crowds! Take a day and visit Chor Gumbez, Abdullatif Sultan Madrassa, Mug Teppe, Hazarat-i-Shah Mosque, Hauz-i-Sangin Mosque, and Sary Mazar.
Panjakent– Small and walkable and the jumping off point for adventure into the famed Haft Kul lakes in the Fann Mountains. Don’t miss Ancient Panjakent, ruins of an ancient 5th century Sogdian city.
Khorog– The largest city in the Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan’s largest province. Sites to check out include the Botanical Garden, and the Khorog Central Park. Khorog is going to be the easiest place to organize an Afghan visa if you plan to cross into the Afghan Wakhan Corridor.
Murghab– Welcome to the wild-wild-East! There isn’t much to see, but it sits in a beautiful wide valley and is a great jumping off point in which to explore the Eastern Pamir Mountains.
The Pamir Highway Roadtrip– Welcome to the Roof of the World! The Pamir Highway will take you between Dushanbe to Osh, Kyrgyzstan on an exhilarating road trip between snow covered peaks, with glimpses into northern Afghanistan, and eastern Tajikistan’s high altitude moon-scapes.
Trekking in the Fann Mountains– Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains are Central Asia’s premier trekking destination. Craggy peaks, Juniper forests and turquoise lakes are abundant. And don’t worry- there’s a trek for just about every fitness level out here. Some favorites include: the Haft Kul, the Lakes Loop and Dukdon Pass.
The Bartang Valley– If you’re looking veer off the beaten path when you’re already in an off the beaten path country the Bartang Valley is the answer. Home to several remote villages who inhabitants speak Bartangi- a language related to Tajik/Persian, yet still all its own. If you love hiking there are several treks to take from the villages that dot the Bartang River.
The Tajik Wakhan– Part of the Wakhan sits in Tajikistan, while the other is just across the border in Afghanistan and at times feels so close you could high-five the Afghan Wakhis on the other side. Come for the unique culture, learn about the predominant sect of Islam- Ismailism, and take in the beautiful mountain sceneries of the Pamirs and even the Hindu Kush range that separates Afghanistan & Pakistan is visible at times.
Life with Kyrgyz nomads in the Eastern Pamir– The Gorno-Badakhshan province of Tajikistan is ethnically diverse with Tajik, Bartangi, Wakhi, Kyrgyz and more ethnicities all living amongst each other. The Kyrgyz dominate the very sparsely populated eastern Pamir, and heading out here will give you a unique glimpse into their nomadic lives.
What to eat
Tajikistan isn’t exactly known to be a foodie destination. Dishes are simple and meat is a big component of meals. It’s a challenging destination for vegetarians and vegans but not impossible. Here are a few of the most popular dishes.
Qurutob– The national dish of Tajikistan and by far my personal favorite. Briny cheese balls are boiled in water and then dumped over a big flatbread. The bread and cheese concoction will then be topped with fried vegetables and onions.
Plov– Think greasy fried rice, with onions, carrots, beef or mutton and sometimes garbanzo beans.
Shurbo– Soup of mutton, potatoes, onions and carrots, but can have varying ingredients.
Samsa– Flakey dough packets pilled with mutton or beef with onions. Very similar to Indian samosa.
Manti– Noodle dumplings stuffed with meat and onions, sometimes you can find them filled with potato or pumpkin.
Laghman– Noodle, meat, and veggie soup popular throughout Central Asia.
Non– Large flatbread.
Shashlik– Skewers made with various meats.
Melon– In summer melons are plentiful in Tajikistan, always delicious and sweet.
Chai– Everywhere you go you’ll be offered a cup of chai.
When to go
Tajikistan’s seasons are roughly:
Most who visit choose to go from June to September as that is when the weather is the best throughout the country, and treks have the easiest accessibility, however the temperature will be boiling hot in the cities. Fall extends through September and October with temperatures steadily declining. Winters can be downright frigid, yet beautiful to see the snow capped peaks for those adventurous enough. The first day of spring (March 21) marks Navruz, or Persian New Year, but springtime does bring heavy shower and mudslides in the mountains, so best to stick to cities.
-Dress on the conservative side to avoid flirtatious men and guides, although covering your hair is not necessary unless visiting a mosque.
-Learn a few basic phrases in Russian or Persian. Russian is still widely spoken throughout the country. Tajik is essentially a dialect of the Farsi spoken in Iran and the Dari in Afghanistan. Being able to communicate will greatly improve your experience in Tajikistan.
-If you’re in an uncomfortable situation, look for other women. Tajik women are quick to take you under their wing.
-Dushanbe and Khujand have a handful of nightclubs. A solo woman out is typically viewed as a possible prostitute, so if you want to go hit the Tajik clubs you’ll be much more comfortable with others- so rally up some friends at your guesthouse.