Traveling Alone As A Woman in Tajikistan
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I spent a month in Tajikistan last year. I plan to head back this summer/fall for 6 weeks. When I tell people I traveled to Tajikistan I usually get a contorted facial expression from my listener. A face somewhere between shock, confusion, pure horror and gold-fish-with-eyes-bulgging-out like a victim of Grave’s Disease. For an added kick, throw in that I went there solo and the gasping for air in utter disbelief begins.
Yes, I, a vagina-wielding, US passport holding female went to Tajikistan by myself and lived to tell about. And guess what? I wasn’t the first, I won’t be the last, and I sure as fuck didn’t do it solely on sponsor’s dime in an 18 month race around the world in which some places didn’t even include stepping foot out of the airport*.
*YES, I am referring to what’s-her-face that broke the record for the world’s FASTEST woman to visit every country. But what I’m really ripping on here is these shitty excuses for media outlets with all out lying faux-journalists. All these bullshit spewing media websites claiming she’s the first woman to visit every country really need to pull their heads out of their asses and utilize the 30 seconds it takes to simply search Google to fact check. She’s not even the first, nor the second woman to visit every country. While the ability to do it the fastest is a feat all in itself, could the media please stop lying to everyone about it? The most disgusting part of it all to me is how many women it has inspired to attempt the same. I’ve had several female Twitter followers, Instagram followers and email messages I’ve newly received that are raising money through crowd funding and gaining sponsors for them to attempt to break her record in the name of bringing peace, equality to women and other happy Bullshit. Going on a $200,000+ race doesn’t bring solidarity or peace, or help women. How about you assholes use that crowd funded money and sponsorship dole to start a program that may help bring peace or god forbid help women become educated and fight their oppressors? Oh wait, I forgot your whole ‘mission’ to get sponsored is a sham. Sorry, I got worked up on a tangent there -rant over. And PS: Stop e-mailing me asking for exposure on my channels.
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Safety for female travel in Tajikistan
Tajikistan isn’t as dangerous as most people tend to assume since it does end in the suffix ‘Stan and in fact shares a long border with Afghanistan.
To give you an idea of what I did in my travels in Tajikistan:
I trekked for days on end, completely alone in the Fann Mountains and Pamirs.
I walked around cities and towns completely alone, even at night in Dushanbe, Khorog, Alichur, Karakul and Murghab.
I ate in restaurants and chaikhanas completely alone.
I was welcomed into countless homes in cities and in rural areas, you guessed: while I was alone.
I hired a driver to bring me from Dushanbe to Khorog over the course of two days. I didn’t want to just hire him straight out for the entirety of the Pamir Highway (M41) in case he was handsy or pervy. Guess what? He wasn’t! He was a lovely, respectful man whom I in the end wound up hiring to take me the entire length of the M41, and Khorsaan- the man who took me through the Pamirs by road became my friend. I ended up being the only passenger (although we did pick up countless hitchhikers- locals and tourists alike that joined us for usually short jaunts).
The only two incidents that were unfavorable in way of solo female travel in Tajikistan were:
The man with a donkey I hired to help porter my gear in the Fanns on day one. I did not plan to hire one as I was offered to before I left when speaking back and forth with ZTDA. After a couple offers as I was passing through the first village on my trek I decided, why not? It may help the local economy. He seemed friendly at first but shortly after departing was very rude and kept insisting I should let him rub my legs (of course he attempted the upper thigh area) to prevent muscle cramps and even began trying to demand to sleep in my tent later that night wherever I ended up camping. Needless to say I fired him, in Russian. Note: if you want a guide or a herder with a donkey to porter your gear, hire them from a reputable agency. Lesson learned.
The second happened as I was walking down Rudaki, the main street in Dushanbe. A boy zoomed past me on a bicycle and slapped my ass as he passed. He was going fast enough that I couldn’t be an asshole and push him off his bike and drag him by his ear back to his mother to let her know what he had done. And for those of you assuming I probably deserved for dressing like a slut: I was wearing loose ‘genie’ style pants and a loose long sleeve shirt- similar to what you’d see Tajik women wearing.
To be honest I’ve been victim of worse treatment and ass grabbing by men in my home country. I mean after all one time I was fully covered from my toes to my jaw in winter gear as I left a restaurant back home and some guy drove past and called me ‘A whore asking to get fucked‘. Short of a headscarf I was essentially wearing an Alaskan version of a burqa.
Trust me, there are shit-bag scummy men all over this planet, they’re not all located in certain regions*.
*I don’t think all men are bad, in case you think I’m attempting to go on a man-hating tirade.
Aside from these two incidents, I found people in Tajikistan very respectful.
What I wore:
I had three tops with me during my travels in Tajikistan. A loose long sleeve shirt, a tshirt and a loose fitting long sleeve tunic style top that nearly went to my knees.
I had two pairs of pants I brought with: a pair of leggings which I wore with the long tunic style top, and a pair of genie pants (or elephant or harem).
I did bring a scarf with me. Although the wearing of headscarves in public is heavily discouraged in Tajikistan as well as some neighboring countries as they’re seen as a symbol of Islamic extremism. I wore it around my neck most the time, but found it useful to have with me for entering mosques.
Tajikistan in general is a conservative country, but not extreme. Women generally wear loose fitting pants with a loose fitting shirt with short sleeve to elbow length tunic. Althought is not unusual, especially in Dushanbe to see women wearing jeans, leggings, tight fitting tops and sleeveless shirts. In Khorog, with its Ismaili majority it is not uncommon to see women wearing skirts to the knee.
What to bring?
Good news is, if you’re arriving in Dushanbe you can find most items there, some will fly into Khujand which has a decent selection of shops. The other probability is that you’re arriving from Kyrgyzstan- likely passing through Bishkek or Osh, or from Uzbekistan where you’d pass through Tashkent or Samarkand. You can find most any essential items in any of those cities as well.
I found traveling with a 65L Osprey Aura backpack and my daypack with camera gear in it to be plenty enough to tote all my belongings in. Another great purchase to make prior to arriving is sun cream as it can be tricky to track down. Bring a Diva cup with you so that you don’t have to do the burden of going on a hunt for tampons. A water filter is a good item to bring along so that you aren’t always searching for bottled water, and is great for hiking.
How I was treated:
Quite well actually. In the Fanns and along the Pamir Highway people aren’t strangers to seeing women traveling. I’m not the only foreign female to have trekked in the region on my own. You will even see Tajik women traveling their country alone or with other women.
Many people assume that Tajikistan, a predominantly Islamic country is oppressive to its women, but it isn’t what most think. Women have a 99% literacy rate, and are the core of the workforce. Is the treatment of women equal to that of men? No. Are child brides still being married off? Yes. Is the rate of domestic violence against women high? Yes.
Tajikistan isn’t perfect, but it seems to be making strides toward getting better. There are women serving in parliament. And there was even laws put in place in 2013 making domestic violence illegal.
Most Tajik women still live a very traditional life. They marry young (in rural areas it may even be arranged), the average women will have 2-3 children, and yes, bridenapping- Although rare, does occur.
My advice for solo female travel in Tajikistan
Dress conservatively. Like I mentioned before good go-to outfits would be loose pants and shirt or a loose tunic with leggings. If traveling in the hot summer months loose cotton and/or breathable fabrics will be your best friend.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable, look for other women. Tajik women are quick to take you under their wing.
Be assertive. If you end up in a situation where a man is being inappropriate say no and be serious. Don’t be afraid of being a bitch, cause let’s face it: Bitches get shit done.
Even if you’re single, having a fictitious husband back home, wearing a wedding ring and having made up children (bonus points) can wield off most unwanted male attention. This is a tactic used by women traveling solo the world over.
Tajik women do travel without men, although solo women will almost always be asked why they’re on their own and if they’re married or have kids. Saying you’re single opens up an idea that you’re up for grabs.
Wear that resting bitch face, and wear it well. If you have a tendency to walk around at home without a welcoming smile this will come naturally. If not, fight the urge as it makes you look approachable. Eye contact can even welcome unwanted interaction. So if you don’t wanna deal, don’t wanna explain and show pictures of your fabled husband and made up children just look pissed off with eyes forward. However smiling and making eye contact with other women can open you up to a great experience.
Avoid going out at night, especially to nightclubs. While I did go wander about in the evenings alone at times with no issue, I didn’t go to any nightclubs. I was told solo women in a nightclub are generally assumed to be prostitutes.
You will be stared at and probably even cat called. Just ignore it. Giving it the time of day just welcomes more attention.
Learn to read Cyrillic script. Trust me, it’s not too hard and being able to at least read signs will make travel a lot easier. Learning a few Tajik or Russian phrases will make your trip more enjoyable. Okay this one goes for anyone planning a visit to Tajikistan, not just the solo girls.
My number 1 tip for solo female travel in Tajikistan?
Take the normal precautions you’d take at home or most places you’d travel and all should be well.
Want more info on traveling in Tajikistan?
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