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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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
New Year’s Day (January 1) is a public holiday in Tajikistan, and one of the biggest holidays of the year. It is celebrated in a similar manner to western Christmas, with decorated trees, gift giving, and family visits. Many towns will also host fireworks displays.
Navrus is the celebration of the Persian New Year, which takes place over three days between March 20 and 22 each year on the spring equinox. The event is a national public holiday and a very important festival. Celebrations are a community affair, with whole towns preparing special dishes, eaten only on this occasion, and taking part in street parties, concerts, and parades, as well as visiting with friends and family.
Sayru Guli Lola is a regional festival held in the north of Tajikistan in honor of the native tulips that flower during spring. This colorful two-day festival is hosted by different towns and features traditional choirs, music, and dancing. The first day sees locals tying tulips around trees, where people gather to sing, dance, and make wishes. Naqshi Kalon is a traditional song particular to this festival, and evening torchlight parades represent the victory of light over dark. The next day is for self cleansing in rivers and remembering the dead, with special prayer services held at cemeteries.
Victory Day is a national public holiday that takes place on May 9 each year. The festival, which has been observed in Tajikistan since 1946, commemorates the Soviet Union WWII defeat of Germany, and is usually characterized by fireworks and a military Parade. Each town has its own celebrations that often include greeting veterans and acknowledging their wartime achievements. The capital, Dushanbe, has the largest organized event, centered on Victory Park.
The Muslim event of Eid al-Fitr, also locally referred to as Idi Kurbon or Qurban Eid, takes place according to the Islamic lunar calendar, usually during September, to celebrate the end of the Ramadan holy month of fasting. Festivities usually center on communal prayer, feasting, and family visits. Fasting is forbidden for Muslims on this day. Children are given sweets in the early morning, and the average household receives visits from more than seventy people in a day. It is also a time for gratitude and giving to charity.
Tajikistan celebrates its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union on September 9 each year. Each town celebrates in its own fashion, usually with a festival that includes street parades, concerts, and fireworks. Independence Day is a nationally observed public holiday.
This Muslim celebration occurs 70 days after Ramadan on 10th day of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, the event commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in submission to God’s will. The four-day celebration features special prayer services and a family feast of fattened sheep (in reference to the lamb that was sacrificed in the place of Abraham’s son, also at God’s command).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tajik Air has a number of domestic flights. Routes include Dushanbe to and from Khorog, Khojand and Kulyab.
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.
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.
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.
There are no boat services in the country.
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.
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.
There's little work for foreigners in Tajikistan.
There are Universities in Dushanbe.
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.
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.
Sleeping options in Tajikistan include the following:
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.
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.
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.
See also: International Telephone Calls
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