10 Reasons To Visit Tajikistan.
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 the outside world that I chose to visit exactly for that reason. Those that make it to this little known corner of the world will be greatly rewarded.
1. The Mountains.
Tajikistan in 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.
2. The Lakes.
Iskanderkul, Karakul, Haft Kul, Lake Sarez, Zor-Kul, Alovaddin & Kulikalon Lakes…. 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 Roadtrips.
The locals nicknamed it Bam-i-Dunya, meaning ‘The Roof of the World’- this is the Pamir Highway or the M41. Second in elevation only to Pakistan’s Karakoram, 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 Tajik your 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 it’s 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, Bachor, Pik Engels, just to name a few. The options are limitless and all will be well worth the effort.
5. The People.
The people are what tie 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 from God 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!
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, Timur, Turkics, Persians and Russians… just to name a few. Marco Polo even 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. Shimak 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 sitting along one of the many routes of the Silk Road would be diverse with all the travelers that came through over time. In the GBAO area you’ll find ethnically Kyrgyz nomads, in the Wakhan Valley you’ll find the Wakhi people with each village identifying as it’s own people with different dialects of the Wahki language, Around Khorog you’ll find people who identify as Pamiri and have their own distinct language, The Bartangis tucked away in a beautiful and earthquake ridden valley who speak the Bartangi language that is virtually unknown outside. Then of course you’ll find ethnic Tajiks more into the west of the country. To see living history you can visit the Yagnobi people of the Yagnob Valley along the southern slopes of the Zeravshan Range. The Yagnobis have been isolated from the outside for so long that they still live in the traditional ways that ancient Sogdians lived. About 10 settlements exist in this area and speak the ancient Sogdian language and practice pre-islamic beliefs. The of course you have 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 and Uzbekistan.
8. The Cities.
Dushanbe, Khorog, Khujand, Penjikient, 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 in Tajikistan has it’s 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 Tajikistan.
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 own 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 the poorest country in the region and one of the poorest in the world. 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.
Do you need any more reasons to visit Tajikistan?
I cannot recommend visiting this lovely country enough. I’m already thinking about my next visit!
Sold? Start planning your trip to Tajikistan by reading my Tajikistan Travel Guide!
Want to travel the Pamir Highway, the best road trip in the world? See the Remote High Pamir and GBAO regions? Find everything you need to know to in the Pamir Travel Guide!.
Were you captivated by some of those beautiful mountain lakes in this post? Alovaddin, Bolshoi Allo and more are to be found in Tajikistan’s stunning Fann Mountains. Read the Fann Travel Guide! to start planning your visit. Also includes trekking information.
Want to read my quick write up on my time in Fanns when I returned to Dushanbe? Read Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan.
Curious about my personal log of my day to day adventures in the Pamirs? (I dropped the ball here and haven’t finished them all, but I’ll add them on here as they post).
To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day Hasht
To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day Nu
To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day Da