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10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan
Updated November 2020, 10 Reasons To Visit Tajikistan was originally written in December 2016
Untouched, unspoiled, and unrivaled, Tajikistan is an oddly shaped, mountainous, landlocked country. Squished between Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and Uzbekistan to the west. A country unknown to most of the outside world that I chose to visit exactly for that reason.
Those that make it to this little known corner of the world to visit Tajikistan will be greatly rewarded. If you’re just starting to plan your visit, I recommend picking up a copy of Bradt’s newly updated Tajikistan guidebook.
Start planning you visit to Tajikistan: The Ultimate Tajikistan Travel Guide
1. The Mountains
Tajikistan is 93% mountainous, making it one of the most mountainous countries in the world. 100% are bound to leave you breathless and I mean that literally and figuratively- much of the country sits at high elevations, so that lack oxygen is very real. Home to the bulk of the famed Pamir Mountains, as well as the Fann Mountains, Zeravshan Range, Aktau Range, and Shokhdara Mountains just to name a few…
2. The Lakes
Iskanderkul, Khafrazdara Lake, Karakul, Haft Kul, Lake Sarez, Zor-Kul, Alovaddin & Kulikalon Lakes, Timur Dara…. I could keep going all day. Tajikistan is packed full of beautiful lakes. Best tip: Always be awake for sunrise if you’re at a lake in Tajikistan, the perfect mirror of mountain reflections and the golden colors of the rising sun are to die for.
3. One of the World’s Greatest Road Trips
The locals nicknamed it Bam-i-Dunya, meaning ‘The Roof of the World’- this is the Pamir Highway or the M41. Just slightly lower in elevation than Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway, this is one of the world’s grandest adventures whether you drive it or cycle it.
The Pamir Highway will take you up and over high altitude passes surrounded by jagged peaks and dotted with villages full of some of the most hospitable people in the world who will stop at nothing to bring you inside for tea, bread, and homemade yogurt.
Of course, many a side trip can be taken from the Pamir Highway- The Wakhan Valley, Bartang Valley, Pshart Mountains, Bachor, just to name a few. The Pamir Highway will take you through the biggest state of Tajikistan, the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast). Make sure you get your permit when you apply for your Tajik visa.
4. The Epic Trekking
Tajikistan is the best trekking destination you’ve never heard of. During Soviet times it was a popular trekking destination for Russians looking to get away from it all, but after the Soviet collapse and civil war, it lost its luster for most hikers. It’s now safe and just as beautiful as ever.
More and more people are coming to take in the sceneries, but it’s still far from being crowded. Where to start? The Fann Mountains, Yagnob Valley, The Pamirs, Bachor, Pik Engels, just to name a few. The options are limitless and all will be well worth the effort.
Pick your route: The Essential Guide to Trekking in the Fann Mountains
Looking for more ideas? Read the 10 best treks in Tajikistan
5. Making Friends That You’ll Visit Again & Again
The people are what ties this diverse and spectacular country together. All over Tajikistan, you’ll be welcomed in by strangers who will stop at nothing to show you unrivaled hospitality.
People here believe that the guest is a gift and will go to great lengths to make sure you’re well taken care of. Trust me, I was essentially kidnapped off a busy street in Dushanbe by an older man who had asked me the time who then ushered me into his family’s Eid al-Qurban feast where I was force-fed for 6 hours and spent the afternoon getting to know the entire family- extended and all!
Over my several trips to Tajikistan over the last 5 years I’ve made countless friends, and much of my return visits are spent making rounds paying visits to friends all over the country.
Want to combo Tajikistan & Uzbekistan? Check out my two week Uzbekistan & Tajikistan itinerary
6. A Fascinating History
While its more recent history has been on the tumultuous side, things have stabilized more recently. But the turbulent past makes for an interesting series of events that have led to the Tajikistan we know today.
Tajikistan has fallen under the rule of the Arabs, Mongols, Timurids, Turkic, Persians, and Russians… just to name a few. Even Marco Polo and Alexander the Great took a stroll through Tajikistan. Tajik civilization dates back at least 3,000 years albeit only having been an independent republic since 1991.
If you’re fascinated by the ‘Great Game’ there is plenty of stops in Tajikistan to live out the history of the times when the British and the Russians were vying for control of central Asia. Shaimak in the extreme southeast was a strategic point- having the ability to see into Afghanistan, China, and clear over into Pakistan.
My favorite book on Tajikistan with loads of history? ‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton and Huw Thomas. Buy it here.
7. The Cultural Diversity
Tajikistan is as diverse as it’s mountains are high. Of course, a country sat along one of the many routes of the Silk Road would be diverse, with all the travelers that came through and even settled over time.
In the eastern parts of the GBAO area you’ll find ethnic Kyrgyz still living nomadically, in the Wakhan Valley you’ll find the Wakhi people practicing Ismailism, and with their own distinct Wahki language. Around Khorog you’ll find people who identify as Pamiri and have their own language which is similar yet distinctly different from Tajik, and in the earthquake-ridden Bartang Valley you’ll find the Bartangis, a Pamiri group who speak the Bartangi language a dialect of Shughni that is virtually unknown outside. Then, of course, you’ll find ethnic Tajiks more into the west of the country.
To take a step back in history, head to the Yagnob Valley along the southern slopes of the Zeravshan Range. Despite their tragic history, the Yagnobis have retained their ancient language, and even some have returned back to live in the traditional ways that their ancestors, the ancient Sogdians did. About 10 settlements exist in this area and speak the ancient Sogdian language and practice pre-Islamic beliefs.
Tajikistan is also home to ethnic Russians who came during the Soviet times and stayed, as well as Chinese migrant workers. For being the smallest of the former Central Asian Soviet Republics it is crammed full of culture. There are also substantial Tajik populations outside the country especially in Afghanistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan.
8. The Cities & Towns
Dushanbe, Khorog, Khujand, Panjakent, Istaravshan, Murghab… Not place names that you hear people speaking of too often in the common area in a hostel around the world like you would hear mentions of Bangkok, Paris, and Sydney.
Each city and town in Tajikistan has its own unique charm. Watch an afternoon and locals waltz by from a chaikhana (teahouse), go to the opera, visit the city parks, gaze at the intricate designs of mosques. Believe it or not, there’s even some nightlife to be had in Dushanbe.
9. World Class Hospitality
Remember in #5 where we talked about the kindness of the people? With the people of Tajikistan comes hospitality that is something of legend. Many people come to Tajikistan for the nature and leave saying the warm heart of the people was their favorite memory of the country.
From sipping tea in the afternoon, watching the day go by to a good old fashioned shot-for-shot boozy evening of Cognac with the family who owns your homestay welcoming you to their beautiful country, you’ll feel like you can’t move an inch without running across the hospitality Tajikistan is known for.
People will take you into their own homes, care for you, and nearly feed you to death. Plate after plate will be brought out to you and then the sweets come out.
Tajikistan is, economically speaking, the poorest country in the region. People will go into debt showing you grand hospitality, so it’s always advisable to give some Somoni(money) to your host, and if refused hand it over to the eldest child or hide it somewhere in the house to find later.
10. Off The Beaten Path Adventure
You’ve turned up in Tajikistan, so congrats, you’re already off the beaten path! The adventures to be had here are limitless, from death-defying roads to poorly lit 5 kilometer long tunnels with rubble strewn throughout and machinery parked in the middle of the road, rallying down 4×4 trails not knowing where the jeep tracks end, high altitude treks, cycling broken roads through the high Pamir, kayaking across crystal clear lakes, skiing, to glacier trekking…. you’ll never find yourself bored or unchallenged in Tajikistan.
Have Any Questions About Visiting Tajikistan?
Check out the posts below or ask in the comments section below!