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Tajikistan

Photo © Marie-Jose

Travel Guide Asia Tajikistan

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Introduction

Pamir Hwy, Tajikistan

Pamir Hwy, Tajikistan

© All Rights Reserved madpax

Tajikistan (Тоҷикистон) is an ill-conceived child of the Soviet demise in 1991: as the Soviets retreated and the country announced its independence, brutal civil war erupted. It took till 1997 to reach some form of an internal peace agreement, by which time the war had created half a million refugees. Even now, the tension sits uncomfortably high.

Obviously, Tajikistan is not ideal for a family holiday. Great care must be taken: don't go wandering the streets of Dushanbe late at night. But the spectacular heights of the Pamirs and the Tian Shan range provide some excellent hiking opportunities; if care is taken to avoid trouble spots, you could be in for some of the most outstanding scenery you'll ever see. Tajikistan boasts a number of peaks over 7000 metres, putting it high on the list of the world's most impressive visual treats.

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Brief History

The territory of what is now Tajikistan has been inhabited continuously since 4000 BC. It has been under the rule of various empires throughout history, for the longest period being part of the Persian Empire.
Arabs brought Islam in the 7th century AD. The Samanid Empire supplanted the Arabs and enlarged the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, which became the cultural centers of Tajiks (both of which are now in Uzbekistan). The Mongols would later take partial control of Central Asia, and later the land that today comprises Tajikistan became a part of the Emirate of Bukhara.
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to spread into Central Asia during the Great Game. Between 1864 and 1885 it gradually took control of the entire territory of Russian Turkestan from today's border with Kazakhstan in the north to the Caspian Sea in the west and the border with Afghanistan in the south. Tajikistan was eventually carved out of this territory, which historically had a large Tajik population.
In 1924, the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created as a part of Uzbekistan, but in 1929 the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic (Tajik SSR) was made a separate constituent republic. The predominantly ethnic Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara remained in the Uzbek SSR. Between 1926 and 1959 the proportion of Russians among Tajikistan's population grew from less than 1% to 13%.
By the late 1980s Tajik nationalists were calling for increased rights. Real disturbances did not occur within the republic until 1990. The following year, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Tajikistan declared its independence.
The nation almost immediately fell into a civil war that involved various factions fighting one another; these factions were often distinguished by clan loyalties. The non-Muslim population, particularly Russians and Jews, fled the country during this time because of persecution, increased poverty and better economic opportunities in the West or in other former Soviet republics. Emomalii Rahmon came to power in 1992, and continues to rule to this day.
Russian troops were stationed in southern Tajikistan, in order to guard the border with Afghanistan, until summer 2005. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, American, Indian and French troops have also been stationed in the country.

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Geography

Tajikistan is landlocked, and is the smallest nation in Central Asia by area. It lies mostly between latitudes 36° and 41° N (a small area is north of 41°), and longitudes 67° and 75° E (a small area is east of 75°). It is covered by mountains of the Pamir range, and more than fifty percent of the country is over 3,000 metres above sea level. The only major areas of lower land are in the north (part of the Fergana Valley), and in the southern Kofarnihon and Vakhsh river valleys, which form the Amu Darya. Dushanbe is located on the southern slopes above the Kofarnihon valley. The Amu Darya and Panj rivers mark the border with Afghanistan, and the glaciers in Tajikistan's mountains are the major source of runoff for the Aral Sea. There are over 900 rivers in Tajikistan longer than 10 kilometres.

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Regions/Provinces

  • Ferghana Valley - Central Asia's notoriously unstable, but fascinating, culturally vibrant region spans three countries in one of the world's most convoluted political geographical jumbles.
  • Karategin - The Tajik heartland, home to the capital, Dushanbe.
  • Khatlon - Tajikistan's diverse southwestern province, and the centre of the rebellion that led to Tajikistan's disastrous post-Soviet civil war.
  • Pamirs - One of the world's highest mountain regions, with soaring landscapes, trekking, climbing and an incredible drive down the Pamir Highway.
  • Zeravshan - Beautiful valleys amidst the majestic Fann Mountains, and ancient ruins by Panjakent.

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Cities

  • Dushanbe - the capital and largest city by far.
  • Khujand - the center of Tajikistan's Ferghana Valley region, and the nation's second largest city.
  • Khorog - largest city of and gateway to the Pamirs.
  • Qurghonteppa - the largest city in Khatlon, and the political heart of the rebellion in Tajikistan's last civil war.
  • Kulob - the country's third largest city
  • Murghab - along the Pamir highway
  • Uroteppa
  • Panj
  • Isfara - an ancient Silk Road town in the center of the Ferhghana Valley on the Kyrgyzstani border.
  • Istaravshan - an old city home to the well known and beautiful Abdullatif Madrassah and Mosque.
  • Konibodom - in the heart of the Ferghana Valley, on the Uzbekistani border.
  • Tursunzoda - an aluminium town west of Dushanbe on the road and railroad to Uzbekistan.

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Sights and Activities

Ismoil Somoni Peak

Located in the northwestern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Rergion, Ismoil Somoni Peak is the tallest mountain in all of Tajikistan. This amazing mountain is 7,495 metres tall and is covered in snow year round. Named after an ancestor from the great Samanid dynasty, which was a dynasty during the persian empire (819 AD to 999 AD), this mountain is stunning. Only deemed the tallest mountain in 1928 and climbed for the first time by a Soviet mountaineer in 1933, one can truly explore this remote peak. The climb is very technical and requires lots of ice climbing. There are also several other peaks nearby like Ibn Sina Peak (Lenin Peak), Korzhenevskaya Peak and Qullai Istiqlol (Independence Peak).

Kyzylart Pass

Kyzylart Pass is a stunning mountain pass located in the Trans-Alay Range. This pass reaches a breath taking altitude of 4,280 metres. Located on the border of Kyrgyzstan the view from the pass is jaw dropping. Remember that the weather can brutal year round on this pass.

Lake Zorkul

Lake Zorkul is a stunning mountain lake located on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The lake runs from east to west for about 25 km. The northern half lies within the borders of Tajikistan and the clear blue waters are stunning. To all of sides of the lake one can see the stunning Pamir Mountains. 15 kilometres south of the lake is the stunning Concord Peak, which is 5,469 metres tall. On the eastern shore of the lake is the small settlement of Qarabolaq.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Bazaar - Visit these colourful weekly markets in major cities and small towns across the country.
  • Hiking - Go explore the mountains and lakes of this remote country on day hikes or intense multi week exhibitions.
  • Monument to Samn Khuda - Visit this stunning monument in Dushanbe to the great ancestor of the Samanids and is a major source for Tajik nationalism.
  • Statue of the Persian-Tajik Poet Rudaki - Located in Panjakent, get a taste of how important poetry is in Tajikistan by visiting this statue.

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Weather

Tajikistan has a continental climate with generally dry weather, hot summers and cold winters, especially in the higher regions. Conditions in the lowlands, for example in the capita Dushanbe, are less extreme in winter, but can be very hot in summer. Generally temperatures are around 30 °C in summer and around or slightly above zero in winter, during the day. At night, it normally freezes in winters but summernights are pleasant. Summers are drier than winters, when more rain and some snowfall (especially in the mountains) is more common.
Late spring (May/June) and early autumn (September) are good times for visiting most of the country.

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Getting there

By Plane

The main international airport is at the capital Dushanbe and the national airline is Tajik Air. Tajik Air has flights mainly throughout the Central Asian region and Russia. It also has flights from Munich via Istanbul to the capital. Other airlines serving Tajikistan are limited to airlines from the former Sovjet Union, except flights with China Airlines from Ürümqi.

By Car

You can drive across many borders with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, though the one with China is closed for now. Have your visa and car documentation (green card, driving permit etc.) in order and expect some long waiting times across the some borders. The ones to Afghanistan are not really recommended but crossing to and from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is better than it has ever been.

By Bus

Most cross border transport needs to be done in stages, that is taking a taxi/bus/minibus to the border, walk across the border and take onward transport from there.
To Afghanistan, you can travel between Dushanbe and Kunduz in a day, with a very early start you might make it to Kabul, but there is enough to see across the border already so need to do that. The main and easiest crossing is at Panj-e-Payon. To get to Panj-e-Payon take a shared taxi otherwise even a minibus to Dusti from Dushanbe or Kurgonteppa follwed by a taxiride to the border. There is also a crossing at Ishkashim but that one is easiest when you are heading for Afghanistan. To Tajikistan you will need to show a permit and those are technically only available inside Tajikistan though you might get on at the Tajik embassy in Kabul (don't count on it though).
For know, the new road between Tajikistan and China is not yet open for citizens other than those countries.
There are a couple of ways to get to/from Kyrgyzstan. From the Pamir Alay Valley you can cross into Tajikistan just north of the Kyzyl-Art Pass. From Khojand you need to get to Isfara and then take a shared taxi or bus to Batken in Kyrgyzstan. From there, transport to Osh normally travels through the Uzbek enclave of Sokh so you need a multiple entry visa for both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. If you are headed directly to Osh from Khojand and have an Uzbek multiple entry visa it is best to take taxis through the Uzbek Fergana Valley to Kokand, Andijon and the border at Dostyk.
To/from Uzbekistan, the main border crossing is 55 kilometers west of Dushanbe, near Tursanzade/Regar, crossing to Denau. Taxis and buses go thre from. At the border, minibuses run to Denau town, where you may find a shared taxi direct to Samarkand. From Khojand there are two main border crossings. Oybek in the northwest for Tashkent, and Kanibadam in the northeast for Kokand and the Fergana Valley. It is best to get transport to the border, walk across and take onward transport again. Finally, it is easy to travel between Samarkand and Penjikent as well.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Tajik Air has a number of domestic flights. Routes include Dushanbe to and from Khorog, Khojand and Kulyab.

By Train

There are three main railway lines in Tajikistan. There is one leading south from Dushanbe through Kurgan-Tyube and Shaartuz. Another one leads south from Dushanbe, through Kurgan-Tyube to Tugul on the Afghan border. A third one is located in the northern region which runs from Samarkand, through Khojand to the Fergana Valley. A branch from Kulyab to Kurgan-Tyube is currently under construction.

By Car

Self drive cars are not available right now, but you can rent one with a driver. Some main roads are in an acceptable condition, but most are not and are full of potholes. Maintenance of vehicles and roads is just regular at best. In winter, most of the main roads are closed due to severe snow. The road from Khorog to Osh in Kyrgyzstan is kept open year round and is one of the most beautiful routes anywhere in the world, running through the Pamir Mountain Range.

By Bus

From Dushanbe, buses go south to Kurgan-Tyrube and Kulyab and as far down as Pyanj and Ayvadaz. Buses to the east reach only around 100 kilometers, as far as Komsomolabad. If you want to travel further, you will need to arrange a car or be on a tour.

By Boat

There are no boat services in the country.

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Red Tape

Nationals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia and Ukraine do not need a visa for visits up to 90 days.

Following the trends of other Central Asian countries, visas are increasingly easy to obtain, particularly for nationals of wealthy countries. This policy is designed to stimulate tourist activity in Tajikistan. The big change has been the abolition of OVIR registration for tourist visits under 30 days. Letters of invitation are no longer needed on arrival at Dushanbe airport, but are needed to prearrange a visa from the UK and US embassies.

Visas have to have applied for in advance at Tajik embassies or may be purchased upon arrival at Dushanbe airport. However due to a recent change in the law, these visas are now only available to citizens from countries with no Tajik embassy. To save time you can complete and print a form before arrival. It is best to use the Tajik form, bring two passport photos, a handful of photocopies of your passport and cash. The process takes around 10 minutes. Tourist visa in Tajikistan costs $US25 in Dushanbe International Airport and in consular representatives abroad. A separate permit is required if you wish to travel to the GBAO region; it costs USD50 and is easily obtained when applying for a visa or in Dushanbe.

If crossing a land border then get a visa prior to arrival. The embassies in Vienna and London are the more professional.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The Somoni is the national currency.

Banknotes come in TJS1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 denominations and you may find TJS0.05, TJS0.10, TJS0.20, TJS0.25, TJS0.25, TJS0.50, TJS1, TJS3 and TJS5 coins in circulation.

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Work

There's little work for foreigners in Tajikistan.

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Study

There are Universities in Dushanbe.

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Language

Tajik, mutually intelligible with all Persian dialects, is the primary and historical language of Tajikistan. It just so happens to be one of the several dialects of the Persian language alongside Farsi, Dari, Hazaragi, and others. In addition, due to Soviet promotion of Russian throughout Central Asia, almost all Tajiks speak Russian. There are also ethnic Russians with Russian as their native language. Russian is widely used in government, which makes it widely spoken by government officials such as politicians. However, English is hardly spoken, and the only people likely to speak a word of it are youths residing in Dushanbe. But even to them, Russian is often more popular since it is widely taught to them by their parents.

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Eat

Food in Tajikistan is a cross between that of Central Asia and that of Afghanistan & Pakistan along with a bit of Russian influence. If you like Russian food, you will probably have a good culinary experience. If you find Russian food bland, you may have a rough time here.

  • Plov - The national dish is made with rice, beef or mutton, and carrots. All fried together in vegetable oil or mutton fat in a special qazan (a wok-shaped cauldron) over an open flame. The meat is cubed, the carrots are chopped finely into long strips, and the rice is colored yellow or orange by the frying carrots and the oil. The dish is eaten communally from a single large plate placed at the center of the table. Plov is generally referred to as "osh" in Tajikistan.
  • A traditional dish that is still eaten with hands from a communal plate is qurutob, before serving the dish is topped with onions fried in oil until golden and other fried vegetables. No meat is added. Qurotob is considered the national dish.
  • Laghman- a pasta soup dish served with vegetables and lamb or beef. Try the stir-friend Uyghur varieties available at several restaurants in Dushanbe.
  • Sambusa - (baked pastries)
  • Shashlik (shish-kebab) - Grilled-on-coal fish, liver, chicken, mutton and beef.
  • Tushbera soup - (like ravioli, or pasta with meat in it)
  • Ugro soup - (handmade spaghetti soup served with cheese cream and basilic)
  • Jiz-biz - (fired freshcut lamb or mutton on its own juice)
  • Dolma - (steamed rolls with grape leafs and meat inside, served with sour cream and red pepper)
  • Mantu - (steamed dumplings with meat inside, served with sour cream and fried onions)
  • Shurbo - (fresh vegetable soup with lamb or beef, served with green onion and basilic)
  • Many types of bread like chappoti, kulcha, nan, fatir, qalama, etc.
  • Damlama - (like English stew, steamed lamb or beef with vegetables in its own juice)
  • Khash - (soup with sheeps' legs and arms, joints and tendons)
  • Melons and watermelons are extremely popular among locals and are very cheap in local markets

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Sleep

Sleeping options in Tajikistan include the following:

  • Hotels - In Dushanbe, there are a small number of large hotels. The Hyatt Regency just built recently and opened its doors in March 2009. Another one of big hotels is "Tajikistan" (recently renovated), located in the central city. Most are ex-Soviet era and tend to be over-priced and in poor condition. There are a couple of newly-built hotels offering western standards of accommodation for around from $US70 to $US220 per room.
  • MSDSP Guesthouses - The Aga Khan's Mountain Societies Development Support Programme has a network of guesthouses in places like Kalaikhum and Khorog, offering a good standard of accommodation. Full board is around USD40 per person
  • Formal Homestays - The French NGO ACTED is establishing a network of Homestays in the Pamir region, around Murghab. For around USD10 per person per night you get a comfortable bed in a family home. The facilities are basic, i.e. no running water and an outside toilet, but guests can expect comfortable clean rooms, good local food and a very warm welcome.
  • Independent Guesthouses - In Dushanbe, Khorog, and Murghab there are a small but growing number of independent guesthouses. These are similar in standard and price to the ACTED homestays.
  • Online Accommodation (couchsurfing) - Many cities of Tajikistan offer free accommodation in homestays through the couchsurfing.com

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Drink

  • Green tea - Tajiks customarily enjoy drinking unsweetened (or sweetened) green tea all throughout the day. Hence, it is the country's national beverage.
  • Compote - A distilled fruit punch.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Tajikistan. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Tajikistan. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria does occur, but only along the border with Afghanistan. Take malaria pills and buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Tajikistan is a safe country, though some factional fighting spilling over from nearby Afghanistan (as well as local warlordism) still occurs in Tajikistan. Visitors should keep abreast of the security situation and not take any unnecessary risks. After sunset, it is not advisable to walk around outside alone; and generally do not travel unaccompanied to rural areas.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Tajikistan flag

Map of Tajikistan

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Capital
Dushanbe
Population
6,864,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Islam
Languages
Tajik
Calling Code
+992
Nationality
Tajik
Local name
Tojikiston

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