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Fann Mountains Guide: Trekking in Tajikistan

Fann Mountains, Alovaddin Lake, Alauddin Lake, Tajikistan, 10 reasons to visit tajikistan

Alovaddin Lakes from atop Alovaddin Pass.

Trekking In Tajikistan: A Fann Mountains Guide.

*This post contains affiliate links.

The Fann Mountains may quite possibly be the best trekking destination you’ve probably never heard of. In Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains you’ll find yourself surrounded by sky-scraping jagged mountains, crystal clear lakes of azure and the warm heart & legendary hospitality of the local people. Although- This is a remote stretch of Earth where you could go days without seeing another soul and that’s as much of its charm as the stark sceneries.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a hardcore mountaineer to enjoy this beautiful area. There are short and long treks around that will give most anyone a great experience in the Fanns. Of course there are treks that will keep even the experienced trekkers on their toes.

*This is a remote area of Tajikistan and with any trekking destination, or you know, just life in general there are assumed risks. This area is prone, but not limited to earthquakes, extreme weather conditions, landslides, political upheaval and bone crushing roads. Much of the trekking in Tajikistan in general is wild and remote. There are little to no facilities and services outside of cities.  Be prepared, have the enough layers and proper gear, food and water. The likelihood of being rescued in the event of a life threatening injury or disaster is slim. You’re going at your own risk and remember that there is never any shame in hiring a guide.

Intersted in joining me on an expedition?

It’s not quite the Fanns, however if you are interested in joining a crazy expedition in the Pamirs of Tajikistan’s GBAO, the western reaches of China, and the northern remote valleys of Pakistan this is the trip for you! I will be leading a small group of adventurers on this expedition in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!

Location:

The Fann Mountains are part of the Western Pamir-Alay Mountain System, located in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province. The Fanns are bound by the Zeravshan range to the North, The Gissar range to the South, The Haft-Kul (Seven Lakes) to the West of the Archmaidian River and the Fann Darya River to the East. This whole swath of land is situated in the northwest of Tajikistan. Cities & Towns near and around the Fanns include Penjikent, Ayni, Shing, Sarvoda and Sarytag.

Practical Information:

Money:

It’s advisable to stock up on cash in either Dushanbe or Khujand (even better is to have it before you enter the country). US dollars are pretty widely accepted, Euros and Russian Roubles generally will be taken as well. It is not uncommon for ATMs to be out of money. There are a couple ATMs in Penjikent that accept foreign cards. The local currency in Tajikistan is the Tajik Somoni. At the time of research (April, 2017) the exchange rate was 8.5TJS to 1 US Dollar. As of June 2017 the exchange rate is now 8.8 TJS to $1 USD. If you want to read up more on money matters head on over to the Tajikistan Travel Guide

Food:

The largest market in the area is located in Penjikent. Some items can be picked up in small shops in Ayni, Sarvoda or Sarytag. If you choose to arrange homestays (can be arranged by ZTDA) for your time in Fanns breakfast, lunch and dinner can usually be arranged by your host. Otherwise if you plan to free camp, make sure to stock up on provisions and either bring a camp stove or rent one from ZTDA. For cooking I brought a lightweight cooking camp set that uses chemical cubes to heat.

When to Go:

The trekking season tends to run June through September. Spring tends to still be muddy, even into the month of June. Later in September temperatures at higher altitudes can get pretty cold. The fall and winter out here are harsh. You’ll find the most favorable conditions from late June to early September, but expect hot temperatures when at lower altitudes.

Gear:

Camping and trekking gear can be rented from ZTDA, contact them in advance for gear rental. For multi day treks a tent, a good warm sleeping bag (think cold nights in the mountains), small camp stove, water purification system, backpack, layered clothing, hiking boots, hat, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, and trekking poles are all a good idea to bring into the wilderness with you. Make sure to have a good backpack to haul all your gear around in. I carry the Osprey Aura 65L and find it to be quite comfortable. Equally as important is a good pair of hiking boots, the Merrell Moab is my person fave. Remember that it is possible to rent cooking equipment, tent and sleeping bag through ZTDA.

Guides:

There are a few guides who lead tours in the Fann Moutains. Contact ZTDA to arrange guides and tours. Caravanistan and Indy Guide can both arrange tours for you as well.

Language:

Tajik is the official language which is nearly identical to the Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. Russian is widely spoken as Tajikistan was a former region of the Soviet Union. It is possible to hire English as well as German, French, etc. speaking guides if need be.

Getting There:

You can read my Tajikistan travel guide with more information on traveling Tajikistan here, including airlines flying into the country as well as information on entering Tajikistan i.e.: visas. Many visitors either will come from or continue on to Uzbekistan as the Fann Mountains sit very close to the Uzbek border. In fact, the city of Penjikent sits only 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Samarkand (a large city and popular Silk Road stop in Uzbekistan for those unfamiliar), but unfortunately the border post between Samarkand and Penjikent has been closed for a few years now and does not look to be opening anytime soon. If coming from Uzbekistan you will likely cross the border at Oybek into Khujand. If coming from Dushanbe you will have the great thrill of driving through the famed Anzob tunnel. It’s 5 kilometers long, dark and not well lit, however; the scenery coming up from Dushanbe is quite stunning.

Fann Mountains, Tajikistan, tunnel

One of the many tunnels between Dushanbe and the Fann Mountains.

Dushanbe or Khujand will likely be where you begin your journey towards the Fanns via car or shared taxi. Things to note: Penjikent is the biggest city in the Fann Mountains, it is located just directly north of the Haft Kul (Seven Lakes). Sarytag is the nearby settlement to Iskanderkul, Alovaddin (also written Alauddin) and Artush are the jump off points for hikes to Kul-i-Kalon and Alovaddin Lakes (also called the Lakes-Loop trek) and the village of Sarvoda is the main transport hub for most people headed out for trekking in the Fanns. This is an estimated pricelist of transportation, at the time of research (April, 2017) the going rate for private car hire was in the range of $0.85-0.95 per kilometer (7.20-8.10TJS). These prices can change rapidly at times with fluctuations in currency value, Tajikistan’s currency- the Somoni isn’t the most stable.  Contact ZTDA for the most up to date information on these costs.

Private Car Hire.

Dushanbe-Penjikent: $200/1765 TJS.

Dushanbe-Sarytag: $180/1590 TJS.

Dushanbe-Alovaddin: $180/1590 TJS.

Dushanbe-Nofin (7 Lakes): $210/1850 TJS.
Penjikent-Artush: $100/880 TJS.

Penjikent-Alovaddin: $160/1410 TJS.

Khujand-Penjikent: $220/1940 TJS.

*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.

Shared Taxi prices.

Dushanbe-Penjikient: $15/132 TJS.

Dushanbe-Sarvoda: $15/132 TJS.

Sarvoda-Alovaddin: $45/395 TJS.

Penjikent-Khujand: $13/115 TJS.

*Anyone with more accurate transportation costs, please e-mail me and I will update this section!

Popular treks:

The Fann Mountains offer countless options for trekking. Here are a few of the more frequented hikes.

The Lakes Loop:

A stunning hike that will take you through semi-arid mountains, juniper forests and will find you waking up next to Carib-blue lakes. The Lakes Loop is easily the most popular trek in the Fanns. Most commonly it will start and end from Artush Village. Artush village is home to Artush Alplager offering simple accommodation. From Artush you will trek down to Kul-i-Kalon Lake (~5km). The shoreside of Kul-i-Kalon is great place to camp. There is a nearby settlement of friendly herders on the far side of the lake, they will likely invite you for a meal, or at least bread and tea. Try to give a gift or some money for the hospitality, although they will likely refuse. The next segment of the trek will take you from Kul-i-Kalon to Alovaddin Lakes, in which you have two options for passes to take. This will be via either Alovaddin Pass (~7k), or Lauden Pass (~15km). The closer but higher and steeper Alovaddin Pass (3,860 meters) will take you past the emerald Dushakha Lake, up and over the pass and give great views down onto the Alovaddin Lakes as you descend. There is accommodation just up from Alovaddin Lake at Vertical Alovaddin Camp. The camp can prepare meals as well. The second option is the slightly further but more gradual Lauden Pass (3630m) . You will follow the Pasruddaria River down the pass to where it meets the Chapdara River and then head towards the south to Alovaddin Lake. Once at Alovaddin you can camp around the beautiful lake or stay at Vertical Alovaddin. Options after Alovaddin Lakes include:

1) Trekking back to Artush via either Lauden or Alovaddin Pass.

2) Doing a day trek to Mutnyi Lake and back to Alovaddin Lakes which will take you about 13km roundtrip (Alovaddin-Mutnyi-Alovaddin). This is a gradual uphill trek on a portion of the Kaznouk trail to Mutnyi. Mutiny means muddy- named this due to the opaque grayishness of its water. From Mutnyi you’ll have grand views of Gora Chimtarga and Gora Energia. If inclined you could continue up Chimtarga Pass from here up and over to Bolshoi Allo Lake and down to the Sarymat River (this would obviously add a day or two and send you down and out to the Archmaidian River and then you would have to take the Zurmech Pass towards the west, past Chakurak Lake and around to Artush). Be aware that Chimtarga Pass is quite challenging.

3) There is road access to Vertical Alovaddin Camp- you could arrange transport to pick you up if you’ve had enough trekking going from Artush to Alovaddin one way.

The Lakes Loop can be done in about 3 days. Tack on a 4th day to the loop if you want to go to Muntyi. Plan roughly 6 days give or take if going the option 2 route up and over Chimtarga Pass.

Alovaddin Pass: 3860m.

Lauden Pass: 3630m.

Optional:

Chimtarga Pass: 4740m.

Fann Mountains, Alovaddin Lake, Alauddin Lake, Tajikistan, Central Asia

Alovaddin Lake.

Haft Kul (Seven Lakes):

The Haft Kul is set in a beautiful mountain valley. The old legend says an old man went missing in the valley. His seven daughters came to search for him but were unable to find him and began to cry along the narrow valley. The valley filled with tears and drown them. Each of the seven lakes represents one of the man’s daughters. In reality, it’s a narrow, earthquake-prone valley with the Shing River running through it. Researchers believe that earthquakes over the years created rockslides that dammed off the Shing River resulting in the Haft Kul. Haft Kul means seven lakes in Tajik. The lakes stretch roughly 15km from lake one down to lake seven. Their names from north to south are: Neznigan, Soya, Gusbor, Nofin, Khurdak, Marguzor and Hazorchazma. Each lake has a unique and different color to it. The Haft Kul offers a variety of trekking options from day trips from Penjikent to hike between the glimmering lakes to multi day treks. There are numerous homestays along the valley where you could do short treks lake to lake staying at homestays. Perched just above Marguzor Lake (the 6th lake) sits Kigoli village. From here you can continue up the Tavasang Pass and link the Haft Kul to the East-West Traverse (3-5 days trekking).

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Marguzor Lake, #6 out of 7 of the Haft-Kul

West-East Traverse (includes the Seven Lakes):

This is a somewhat long, and in some areas challenging trek that connects the Haft Kul to Sarytag/Iskanderkul. From the village of Kigoli mentioned above in the Haft Kul trek, continue up Tavasang Pass and then proceed down the pass and cross the Abusafedsol River. Kigoli to Abusafedsol River (~9km). After crossing the river you have two options: Either take Munora Pass slightly toward the northeast (~11km) and eventually link up to the Dukdon Pass that will lead you to Iskanderkul (~28km). Or veer to the southeast and trek up into the challenging and aggressively steep Sarymat Pass (~6km). Once down the Sarymat Pass follow the Akhbashir (which turns into) Karakul (which eventually turns into the) Sarytag River and on down to Iskanderkul (~30k). Expect this traverse to take 3-5 days.

Tavasang Pass: 3300m.

Munora Pass: 3520m.

Dukdon Pass: 3810m.

Sarymat Pass: 4160m.

Fann Mountains, Tavasang Pass, Tajikistan, Central Asia

Tavasang Pass.

Dukdon Pass:

Get a view into Tajik mountain culture trekking the Dukdon Pass. This trek will see you start in Artush village and end in Sarytag- Iskanderkul’s nearby village (can also be done in the reverse). From Artush Village you will trek due south toward Chakurak Lake (~10km). From Chakurak Lake trek up and over the Zurmech Pass towards the west to where eventually you will meet the Archmaidian River (~8km). Follow the Archmaidian River south to the confluence of it and the Sarymat River (~8km). Continue to follow the Archmadian River to the southeast to the foot of the Dukdon Pass (~17km). Continue up the trail into Dukdon Pass and over it where you will eventually meet the Karakul-Sarytag River (~8km). Continue along to Karakul-Sarymat River to Sarytag (~7km).

Zurich Pass: 3260m.

Dukdon Pass: 3810m.

Fann Mountains, Tajikistan, Sarymat River, Central Asia

Sunset at camp near Sarymat River.

Kaznouk Pass:

This is a shorter, but difficult and technical trek. The Kaznouk Pass will take you from Alovaddin Lake straight south to Sarytag (or reverse). It involves a glacier crossing that usually require crampons and ice axes. From Vertical Alovaddin Camp (you obviously have options to start this trek further afield than Alovaddin) head south along the trail to Mutnyi Lake (~6.5km). Continue toward the eastern side of Mutnyi Lake and begin to ascend up into Kaznouk Pass heading slightly toward the southeast. Eventually you will arrive at a snowfield and the trek continues on as the trail continues steeply upwards (this is where those crampons will come in handy). On the descent the trail will veer slightly toward the southwest and remain steep. Eventually you will arrive down at the Kaznouk River (~4km). Once at the Kaznouk River follow it to the east and it will eventually begin to bend southward. The Kaznouk River will turn into the Khavzak River and eventually converge into the Sarytag River. You’ll follow the rivers down from Kaznouk Pass and will arrive in the village of Sarytag (18km).

Mutiny Lake, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan, Central Asia

Mutnyi Lake.

Kaznouk Pass: 4040m.

More Treks in the Fanns?

There are countless treks, longer and shorter than the ones listed in the guide. Some of these include, Mura Pass, Chimtarga Pass and so many more. You even can combine some of these hikes together (as I did). For more information on trekking in Tajikistan in general and a good reference to download buy the e-book Trekking in Tajikistan by Jan Bakker. The other, in my opinion must-have for trekking in the Fanns is the EWP: Fann Mountains Map & Guide. The EWP map became my bible…err Quaran while out in the Fann Mountains. For lighter trekking and those not looking to do serious multi day excursions there’s the options of taking a nice stroll around Islanderkul, walking between the lakes of the Haft Kul and even a day trip from Artush Alplager to Kul-i-Kalon and back or get dropped off at Vertical Alovaddin Camp and waltz about the beautiful Alovaddin Lakes or go a little further afield to Mutnyi and back to Vertical Alovaddin.

Iskanderkul, Tajikistan, Fann Mountains, Central Asia

Iskanderkul.

Accommodation:

In general, most accommodation in the Fann Mountains area will be in homestays. Community Based Tourism (CBT) is fairly common throughout Tajikistan and greater Central Asia. In Penjikent there are a handful of hotels and guesthouses in addition to homestays. On the shores of Iskanderkul a few guesthouses and even the Turbaza Iskanderkul which are about 30 small cabins set back in the woods that are a popular weekend getaway for those from Dushanbe. In nearby Sarytag a number of homestays can be found. I personally stayed at Dilovar’s homestay in Sarytag after arrangements with ZTDA. Dilovar and his family are incredibly welcoming, his wife prepares great meals for you and Dilovar even speaks English if you’re struggling with communication. In the Haft Kul there are small settlements that dot the valley- mostly concentrated around the lakes. I can personally recommend Najmiddin Homestay (also arranged by ZTDA). Najmiddin is set back near Nofin Lake and is run by the kind Jumaboy and his family. Central Asia isn’t known for having superb cuisine, but the food prepared by the family there was some of the best I had in Tajikistan. Jumaboy speaks Russian and Tajik, so knowing bits of either is helpful and him and his family are quite fun to kick back, drink some cognac and share stories with. Expect homestays to cost anywhere from $10-20/night (85-170 TJS).

Outside of the towns and settlements plan to sleep in a tent. I was traveling alone so I brought along my MSR NX Hubba 1-man tentwhich I absolutely love! MSR makes a Hubba  2-man, 3-man and the 4-man Mutha-Hubba tent as well. Along with a tent, make sure to have a nice sleeping bag, it can get pretty chilly at night even in the summer here up in the mountains. My sleeping bag is cold rated to -7ºC/20ºF and was sufficient. To pair with the tent and sleeping bag you can also grab a sleep mat to bring with you. Remember that it is possible to rent cooking equipment, tent and sleeping bag through ZTDA.

Najmiddin, Najmiddin homestay, homestay, community based tourism, CBT, Haft jul, seven lakes, 7 lakes, nofin, nofin lake, Tajikistan, Fann mountains. Central Asia

Jumaboy at Najmiddin Homestay.

Tours & Guides:

Several tour operators can arrange organized tours and treks in the Fann Mountains, as well as in the Zaravshan, Yagnob Valleys and more!

Kalpak Travel Offering Fann Mountains trekking tours and even a trip the includes trekking the Fanns and cycling in Tajikistan. Mention the promo code Nicki-Kalpak2017 to receive a 5% discount off your bookings. They also offer tours in other regions of Tajikistan as well as the greater Central Asian region!

Paramount Journey Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!

Pamir Highway Adventure

Pamir Horse Adventure

Pamir Guides

Pamir Silk Tours

You can also contact ZTDA to arrange guides and tours.

A great resource who can help you book tours is Caravanistan. Shop for tours or contact them for more information.

Shop for tours in Tajikistan as well as the greater Central Asia region at Indy Guide.

Must-Have Books, Travel Guides and Maps:

‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton & Huw ThomasThis is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from the history, great-game stories, travel and more!

‘Central Asia’ by Lonely Planet.  Handy to have with you, although don’t treat it like a bible. Many times information is out of date as things change rapidly here. The ‘Central Asia Phrasebook’ by Lonely Planet. I found to be a handy item.

EWP’s Fann Mountains Map & Guide. I found my copy on Amazon, although it can be hard to track down at times.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Safety:

Weather can change rapidly and get quite extreme. At high elevations snow is possible even in the dead of summer. Down in the valleys temperatures can swelter in July-September, during prime trekking season. Pack layers of clothing with you and don’t forget to bring a decently warm jacket. Be careful collecting unpurified drinking water- some sources can provide clean waters, others not. If there are any shepards around ask, or just err on the side of caution and plan to purify your own water either through a water filter/pump , Lifestraw or, chlorine tablets.

Some of these passes can get quite treacherous, with loose shale, scree, steep ascent/descents and even falling rocks- know your limitations and what you are experienced enough for and comfortable with. Having a map/guide like EWP: Fann Mountains Map & Guide can prove useful as it includes Russian climbing grades as well as a chart showing their French and UIAA equivalents. Rockslides are a hazard around Tajikistan in general. Sometimes I could sit quietly in the mountains and hear rocks snapping off and sliding down in areas. Earthquakes are something to be aware of, as well as the rockslides that can accompany them. There are occasional wolves that roam the mountains of Tajikistan, although reports of them are quite rare. Most people in the area are helpful and friendly, but just like anywhere in the world- it pays to be alert. I would recommend bringing a Delorme Inreach, or even something similar with you. The Inreach functions as a GPS, text messenger and SOS beacon all rolled into one small handheld device- all via satellite. Prior to the trip I plotted out all of my trekking routes on the GPS function and proved to be helpful as not all trails are very well defined. In general, you will not have cellphone service out here aside from around cities and towns and a village here and there. That fact paired with the potential to get stranded due to a rockslide or natural disaster (although unlikely) made the SOS option on the Inreach seem like a good idea to have with me.

Now who’s ready to go trekking the Fann Mountains?

This is one of the most beautiful and untouched areas I’ve gotten to experience and I hope that this guide helps any of you thinking about a trip out to the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan. If you have any information that I should update on here or any corrections you want to point out, please don’t hesitate to add it in the comments or shoot me an email at adventuresoflilnicki[at]gmail.com. For information on traveling the whole of Tajikistan please check out the Tajikistan Travel Guide, for inspiration to visit go read the 10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan, and to hear a little about my time in the Fanns read Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan.

Interested in learning more and to start planning your trip to the Pamirs and GBAO region of Tajikistan? Check out the Pamir Travel Guide– Every bit of info you need to know to travel the rough and rugged Pamirs and info on the world’s greatest road trip, the Pamir Highway. Want to read about my day to day travels in the Pamir? Check out To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, And still more to come!-

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Bolshoi Allo,Tajikistan

 

Tajikistan Travel Guide- Everything you need to know

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The morning sun warming up Kul-i-Kalon in the heart of the Fann Mountains.

Tajikistan Travel Guide

This post contains affiliate links.

Where Carib-blue glacial lakes reflect atmosphere scraping mountains, hospitality is something of legend and where travel is just opening up.  Wild and rugged, Tajikistan is a country that attracts few adventurers, but those who dare go here are more than rewarded. If you’re looking for idyllic raw nature where few others roam Tajikistan is the place for you. But don’t worry, there’s a few stops to get in some creature comforts for those not as intrepid. Here is everything you need to know about Tajikistan travel.

Wanna join your truly on the expedition of a lifetime?

I will be leading a small group of adventurers on an expedition in far western reaches of China, the GBAO region of Tajikistan to experience the life of the Kyrgyz nomads and the remote and beautiful valleys of northern Pakistan in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!

Boring stuff first: Money and Costs.

Just so you have an idea for what to budget.

Money matters:

Tajikistan’s currency is the Tajik Somoni (Som for short). At the time of my visit (August/September 2016) the official exchange rate was:

$1 USD=7.8 TJS

€1=8.3 TJS

£=9.9 TJS

$1 AUS=5.8 TJS

$1 CAD=5.9 TJS

1 RUB=0.13 TJS

UPDATE:

As of October 2017, the exchange is now:
$1 USD=8.8 TJS

€=10.24 TJS

£=11.57 TJS

$1 AUS=6.76 TJS

$1 CAD=6.87

1 RUB=0.15 TJS

The Tajik Somani can be divided up further into 100 Dirham, but Dirham coins are rarely used (the only place I received any was from a purchase at a huge supermarket inside a western style shopping mall in Dushanbe). Somoni come in the following denominations: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 TJS notes.

Gone are the days of the blackmarket, so money can be converted at exchange booths and banks. US dollars, Euros and Russian Roubles are the most widely accepted. It is a good idea to carry a decent amount of US dollars with you as they will pretty much be accepted anywhere. ATMs can be are unreliable. I spent two days ATM hopping in Dushanbe between my Fann Mountains trek and Pamir Highway adventure getting stocked back up on cash! Some ATMs won’t accept foreign cards, but the most usual encounter was: they are regularly out of money all together. Some ATMs also have ridiculously low withdraw limits. Long story short, bring cash. 

ATMs in larger cities will usually dispense US dollars in addition to Somoni (think Dushanbe, Khorog, Khujand), in smaller towns/cities expect to only be able to withdraw Somoni, but in many places: don’t expect to find an ATM at all. Again, bring cash. You’ll find that Visa is going to be the easiest card to use, but some ATMs will take MasterCard and Maestro. Save yourself the anxiety: Get a Visa debit card, and don’t forget to bring cash.

From my personal experience the *most reliable* ATM I found in Dushanbe was the Amonatbonk on Rudaki very near the Westerunion on Rudaki (the very end of Rudaki near the Dushanbe Railway). You’ll be looking for a green sign that says ‘Амонатбонк‘, you know, because in Tajikistan cyrillic is used. The one I used in Khorog appeared to reliably have money. It was a Kazkommerts ATM machine inside a building (can’t recall name) just outside Khorog City Park on Azizbek Street. Just ask on the street for an ATM, the friendly people will point you in the right direction. Pro tip: JUST BRING CASH!

*This could be marginally accurate.

One thing to note: US dollars are widely accepted throughout the country for payment.

Costs:

This is where the lines get blurred. Tajikistan Travel can be dirt cheap, but the skies the limit. It just depends on how you choose to travel it. I’ll break it down further over the course of this section.

My personal budget when averaged out over my trip in Tajikistan: $81/day (including the Pamir Highway). I, of course did not travel Tajikistan on the tightest budget- this was my dream destination so paying a little more to do what I truly wanted to do on my timeframe was worth it in my eyes. However, you can do this trip for a hell of a lot cheaper than that.

The first costs you will endure are the cost of your arrival (in my case about $700 USD for a one way ticket from Anchorage, Alaska to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, but this is all relative) and the cost of your visa plus GBAO permit if you will be traveling in the Gorno-Badakshon Autonomous Province (you need it if you plan to go on the Pamir Highway). Luckily in June of 2016 Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rolled out their E-Visa. The E-visa will set you back $50 USD, you can apply for your GBAO permit at the same time for an additional $20 USDDO APPLY for your GBAO and visa at the same time if you plan or are thinking about the Pamirs. 

I’ll talk about visas a little more when I get to the ‘Getting in” section. Apply for your E-Visa here.

Accommodation:

Your accommodation costs can vary widely in Tajikistan. Of course when you’re out trekking you can sleep in a tent (free) or in homestays, that is, if you’re going to be passing any ($10-20 USD pp inc. 2-3 meals/day). In Dushanbe and other cities the sky is the limit. You can find dorm beds in a hostel for as cheap as $9USD/night on up to fancy hotel rooms for $100-300USD/night. I stayed at Hostel Hello Dushanbe in a private room which will run you $40USD/night, dorm beds go for $10/night. Khorog tends to be slightly more expensive but close to the same range. I stayed at LAL Hotel in Khorog which will set you back $50USD/night (shared room for $25/night, luxury rooms for $130/night) all inc. breakfast. In the Fann Mountains and along the Pamir Highway expect to pay around $10-15USD/night inc. meals at homestays and yurts. My most expensive night on the Pamir Highway was out in remote Jarty Gumbez at a hunting camp. At first they did refuse payment, but in the end they finally agreed to ‘let’ me pay $35 for my stay- they have a hot spring, served copious amounts of food, had very well heated rooms and everyone there waited hand and foot on me. I was more than happy to unload that $35 to them.

As you can see prices are all over the place and you can cut down on cost greatly depending on the types of accommodation you choose. If doing this trip on an extreme budget is your thing: Remember tent camping is FREE. I really enjoyed each place I stayed in. Homestays were my favorite. You got to interact with the locals more, and of course they nearly will feed you death. One thing to note about homestays is that amenities can vary. Some will have showers, others will not, be prepared to use a squat toilet (western toilets are scarce), you may be sleeping on stacked mats on the floor… things like this. Personally I feel this is just part of the experience. If you need fancy things don’t plan to leave the cities.

Food and Alcohol:

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Just the start of dinner at Lola Homestay in Jizeu.

Food and alcohol vary as well. What you will find is that in homestays usually dinner and breakfast will be included (sometimes lunch). In cities plan to pay $2-5 (15-78 TJS) for a full meal of local dishes at a chaikhana*, I can’t say for western foods as I didn’t eat at any western restaurants while in Tajikistan but you will read elsewhere online that they tend to vary between $5-10 (39-78 TJS) a meal. Alcohol is fairly cheap, you can find local beers for less than $1 (7.8 TJS) in some areas, Baltika (Russian lager) for not too much more. Cognac and vodka of course are popular. Expect to pay anywhere from under $1 to $5 (7.8-40 TJS) at most per drink.

*A chaikhana is a tea house, serving, you guessed it, tea! Plus a number of local dishes.

Tipping:

Not really a thing to take off in Tajikistan just yet. Although people catering to tourism (like guides and drivers) will expect something. 10% is a really good tip here. Some restaurants and hotels will add a service charge. In homestays or for when your welcomed into someones home for a meal or to spend the night your host will refuse payment or a tip. You can try to leave some money with the eldest child, or try to bring small gifts like candy, pens, postcards…

Transportation:

Transportation by land will most likely be via either shared taxi or private 4WD hire. There are some local buses, although they are few and far between in comparison to shared taxis. Marshrutkas can zip you around in Dushanbe. For the most up-to-date information on transportation costs your best options would be to contact  ZTDA (for arranging private 4WD or local transport to the Fanns, Zeravshan, Yagnob, Khujand, Penjikent, etc.), PECTA (for arranging 4WD or local transport to Khorog, Bartang Valley & Jizeu, Wakhan, Murghab, Karakul, the Pamirs in general, etc.)

Many hotels and hostels in Dushanbe can arrange private 4WD and shared taxis to destinations around the country, just ask!

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Rough cost private car hire in popular routes:

Dushanbe-Penjikent: $200/1765 TJS.

Dushanbe-Sarytag: $180/1590 TJS.

Dushanbe-Alovaddin: $180/1590 TJS.

Dushanbe-Nofin (7 Lakes): $210/1850 TJS.

Dushanbe-Khujand: $260/2295 TJS.

Penjikent-Artush: $100/880 TJS.

Penjikent-Alovaddin: $160/1410 TJS.

Dushanbe-Khorog: $270/2380 TJS.

Khorog-Murghab: $270/2380 TJS.

Murghab-Osh: $350/3090 TJS.

Khujand-Isfara: $90/795 TJS.

Khujand-Istaravshan: $620 TJS.

*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.

Shared Taxi prices.

Dushanbe-Penjikient: $15/132 TJS.

Dushanbe-Sarvoda: $13/115 TJS.

Sarvoda-Alovaddin: $45/395 TJS.

Penjikent-Khujand: $13/115 TJS.

Khujand-Istaravshan: $2/20 TJS.

Khujand-Isfara: $3/27 TJS.

Dushanbe-Khorog: $39/345 TJS.

Khorog-Ishkashim: $5/45 TJS.

Ishkashim-Langar: $7/62 TJS.

Khorog-Murghab: $20/177 TJS.

Murghab-Osh: $20/177 TJS.

*Anyone with more accurate transportation costs, please e-mail me and I will update this section!

The other transport options come in the form of the once a day flight from Dushanbe to Khorog (and return) with Tajik Air. People who have done it describe it as stunning and terrifying. One thing to note: if booking to go from Dushanbe to Khorog you will need to go to the Tajik air office (across from the Green Market) and ask to be put on the list (for your day of choice). This flight can book out, and if the weather isn’t perfect it will get cancelled. If a flight is canceled, those passengers from the day prior will have priority. So the important thing to note here is, if you plan to do the flight make sure you’ve set aside a few days just in case you get held up due to weather. The latest cost I saw at the time of research for the flight is $100 USD one way. Russian or Tajik is a must (or find someone to translate) as no one at the Tajik Air office (on either end) speaks English. If planning to go Khorog-Dushanbe you will just purchase and book a ticket at the airport, located just outside town.

Activities:

All dependent on what you’re doing and where you’re going. Here’s some more popular ones:

Pamir Highway: 

Expect to pay in the range of $0.80-0.90 per kilometer for a Landcruiser with driver. My driver ended up offering me a generous $0.70 per kilometer off the starting gate to take me from Khorog to Osh. I took him up on that. I did numerous side trips and ended up racking up 1,500 km between Khorog and Osh so my grand total came to $1,050. If you were to drive straight from Khorog to Osh it’s about 730 km, which would be substantially cheaper than what I did. You can also cut down on costs if hiring a private 4×4 by putting a note up on the board at PECTA in Khorog (Pamir Eco-Cultural Tourism Association), or even contacting them via e-mail and arranging a group of you to go in on a 4×4 to bring down the cost. You can also essentially do the same thing in Osh and Murghab if you are headed the opposite direction.

The cheapest way to do this trip would be of course cycling (most the travelers I met in the Pamirs were cycling it), or walking if you’re really determined (there was one man walking the road when I was there). If a private 4×4 even split amongst travelers is out of your budget and you aren’t up for a looooong bike ride or walk, the next cheapest option is to go by means of shared taxis. Shared taxis will be a fraction of the cost of a Landcruiser of Pajero. However you sacrifice the freedom of stopping every kilometer to take a photo and the possibility of being ‘stuck’ in a place for a few days until you can arrange the next leg out. Want to find out more on traveling the Pamir Highway? Check out the Pamir Travel Guide to find everything you need to know before you go.

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The vast nothingness of the Pamir Highway.

Trekking in the Fanns, Zeravshan, Yagnob, Haft-Kul:

This can vary widely. Coming from Alaska I do have some mountaineering experience so I chose to do my trek solo and unguided. If you want the most up-to-date information on the costs of doing a trek in these areas contact Munira at ZTDA (Zeravshan Tourism Development Association) and shoot her an e-mail ztda_zarafshon@yahoo.com. There are a handful of companies offering treks in the area as well that ZTDA can point you to. At the time of my research (spring/summer 2016) the cost of a fully guided 12 day trek in the Fanns including the rental of all equipment, guide, horses (for transporting gear), food and transport to/from Dushanbe came in at roughly $3,600. Of course this cost would be dispersed amongst a group if you can get a group of people together.

For my trek my only costs were the equipment I brought with me (already owned most everything I needed), the food I hauled in and my hire of a donkey and man (didn’t last long- I hired him on my own and fired him soon after.. the only unfavorable experience I had when I was in the country). To go in unguided and unaccompanied you need to understand the risks involved.

To start planning your own visit to the Fann Mountains and for trekking information in the area read the Fann Mountains Guide.

Permits:

The previously mentioned GBAO Permit is a must for travel in the Gorno-Badakshan i.e.: Pamir Highway. There are police posts set up along the road and it will be checked. The only other required permits are for Lake Sarez and for Zorkul. If you plan to go to either of them, get the permit.

GBAO: $20. Pretty much going to need this to do anything in the eastern half of the country, Just apply for it when you apply for your visa, otherwise you’ll have to waste time in Dushanbe at the OVIR office arranging it. I believe that if you don’t have it arranged and you’re traveling Osh to Dushanbe you’re just shit out of luck.

Lake Sarez: Free to $50/day. Varying information out there on getting the permit. I had read the they will be issued for free in Dushanbe from the Ministry for Emergency Situations and can take a month or more to be issued and I’ve also read info stating that you can arrange through tour agencies at a cost of $50/day and a guide is required. If anyone out there reads this and has more recent and accurate information on this please e-mail me and I’ll include it!

Zorkul: $10/day. Lake within a protected area on the Afghan border in very remote eastern Tajikistan. You will be checked for permits at the post from Khargush Pass. I was told it is only available by applying at PECTA in Khorog. But have read that it is available in Murghab as well, not sure if this is true.

Tajik National Park: 40 TJS/day. I was unaware of this one until after I left the country. Apparently you need it for visiting Yashi-kul and Rang-Kul. (I visited Yashi-kul and didn’t have it and was not stopped). I’m not even sure who, or where the permits are issued from. Again, anyone who may have information on this, please e-mail me and I will update!

Entrance… think museums, hot springs, national parks, historic sites, etc.:

Expect to pay between $1 and $5 for most these type of activities.

What to see and do:

Where to start, where to start…. Tajikistan is one of the most stunning countries I’ve visited. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the following. Note, that I didn’t make it everywhere in the country, but I have full intentions to go back and cover more ground!

Pamir Highway (M41):

The Pamiris refer to it as ‘Bam-i-Dunya’ which translates out to ‘The Roof of the World’. It’s a quite accurate nickname, seeing as the Pamir Highway is only trumped in elevation by the Karakorum Highway in nearby Pakistan. This is the number one attraction that draws in tourists to Tajikistan. The true, full Pamir Highway actually begins in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan heading north into Uzbekistan and then bends east into Tajikistan crossing to the cities of Dushanbe and Khorog before taking another turn north to terminate in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. However, most will only travel the Dushanbe (or Khorog) to Osh leg (or vice-versa). It will be easiest to arrange your Pamir Highway trip from Osh or Murghab if headed north-south, and Dushanbe or Khorog if you’re traveling south-north. I chose the latter.

The Pamirs will ruin you (it ruined me at least). It is home to some of the most stark and stunning sceneries this planet has to offer. Some of my favorite parts were the spots we turned off and followed some jeep tracks to the ass-end of nowhere. If you choose to take the route via the Wakhan corridor you’ll be rewarded with views of beautiful Afghanistan and even the occasional glimpse of the Hindu Kush clear over in Pakistan (the Afghan Wakhan is the narrow arm stretching off of Afghanistan and just on the other side is Pakistan).

The time needed to do the Pamir Highway varies. You’ll meet people doing it in 3 days to a week by way of shared taxi going Osh-Murghab-Khorog-Dushanbe, and you’ll meet people spending a couple weeks or even months out here. I was there closer to two weeks. Which I thought was a fair amount of time to see it, but I could have definitely gone longer. More information on the Pamir Highway, here.

Wakhan Corrdor:

Many include this on their Pamir Highway trip. From Khorog you can either follow the true M41 through the Ghunt Valley, or you can take a detour through the beautiful Tajik Wakhan Valley and meet back up with the M41 via the Khargush Pass. The Wakhan Valley follows the Afghan border through some truly amazing scenery. Through this stretch the Pamir River forms the natural border between the two countries. As mentioned in the above section you’ll have amazing views of the Afghan Wakhan. You will also pass through the picturesque villages of Ishkashim, Namadgut, Darshai, Yamchun, Yamg, Vrang, Zong and finally Langar. At every turn there’s sights your eyes will be glued to, but to name a few places to see in the Wakhan there is: Garam Chashma (hot spring), Qaaqa Fortress, Darshai Gorge, Yamchun Fortress, Bibi Fatima (hot spring), Vrang’s Buddhist Stupa, and so many more. Find more information on getting to the Wakhan Valley in the Pamir Travel Guide.

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Yamchun Fortress, Wakhan Valley.

Bartang Highway:

If you want a wild ride through the super-remote Western Pamirs this is your road. The Bartang highway begins at the village of Rushan, about 50 km north of Khorog and meets back up with the M41 in Karakul via Kök Jar. According to the small handful of resources you can find that have traveled the Bartang Highway all the way report that the road is just awful. More information on the Bartang Highway and activities that can be done there in the Pamir Travel Guide.

Khorog:

Biggest city in the Gorno Badakshan. Home to most of Tajikistan’s Ismaili population- Ismailis are Shia and known for their very progressive interpretation of Islam. Jumping off point for many adventures in the Badakshan, as well as making arrangements if you plan to travel across the border into Afghanistan. Make sure to spend an afternoon at Khorog’s Central Park. Home to the PECTA office (inside Central Park). Other sites to visit include the Botanical Garden, Aga Khan foundation, and the Central Asia University. Travelers used to travel to Ishkashim from Khorog to go to the Ishkashim Market on Saturdays where you could technically go into Afghanistan for the day (to an enclosed market area)  without a visa. However at the time of research the market was not being held. If you end up here and the market is open, plan to hand over your passport to the border guard for the day.

Zor-Kul

Part of the Zorkul Nature Reserve. (I unfortunately did’t make it here). Known for it’s surrounding green valley and remoteness. On the Afghan border near to the Khargush Pass and Keng Shiber. You do need a Zorkul permit to visit which can be obtained at the PECTA office in Khorog (see previous section on permits). More information on trekking around Zor-Kul in the Pamir Travel Guide.

Murghab:

You’ve officially made it to the wild wild East. Beautiful surrounding valleys, but Murghab isn’t the most picturesque village/town. Great jumping off point for adventures into the Eastern Pamir- Pshart Valley, Rang-Kul, Madiyan Vally, Shaimak and more.

Karakul:

Just north of the Ak-Baital Pass is Karakul (sometimes spelled Qarakul), Tajikistan’s largest lake sitting alongside the village of the same name. Karakul is believed to be a crater formed by a meteor impact about 10 million years ago. Karakul is a salt lake, but still freezes in the winter. There are a handful of homestays here in Karakul where you could break up your Osh to Murghab into two for a night. Attempts are being made to declare Karakul the highest navigable lake in the world, beating out Lake Titicaca in Peru/Bolivia. Read more on Karakul here.

Jizeu:

Most people only travel up the Bartang as far as the trailhead to the idyllic Jizeu Village. Arrange a car from Khorog to the suspension bridge* (or if traveling from Dushanbe to Khorog have your driver make a stop here either for a day trip, or for several days). It’s a pretty mellow 2 hour hike from the bridge to the village (I mean mellow in comparison to other treks in Tajikistan). Half of Jizeu’s 14 homes operate as homestays. I stayed at Homestay Lola for $6. Grand total I paid $14 including 3 meals. You can arrange to do some multi day treks from Jizeu through Ramved Valley all the way to Basid should it interest you (homestays will set this up for you). Wanna go here? Read on to find out how.

*All sources I found leading up to my trip to Jizeu mentioned to make sure not take the suspension bridge as it would take you only to the evacuated former village of Red and that the way to Jizeu was by way of a hand cranked cable car. When I arrived there is no cable car (it’s actually on the other side of the river next to a suspension bridge, no longer being used). I’m guessing that this is a newly built bridge. The concrete bases the bridge is attatched to does say ‘this way to Jizeu’.

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Jizeu.

Other stops in the Bartang Valley:

Personally, I only did the short trip up the Bartang Valley to Jizeu. The whole Bartang Valley is on my to-do list. The villages of Basid, Bardara, Pasor and Savnob are common, if you will, stops. Grum Grijmailo Glacier can be accessed via an intense, long trek from Pasor. The remote and isolated Khafrazdara Valley trek can be accessed by way of Pasor as well. A little further down the M41 toward Dushanbe, you can drive north off the highway near the village of Vanj to Poi Mazar where the Fedchenko Glacier can be accessed by a long strenuous hike. More information in the Pamir Travel Guide.

Zeravshan Valley:

Zeravshan means ‘Golden River’ in Tajik. You’ll pass over said golden river when headed toward Penjikent and beyond from Dushanbe. The Zeravshan Valley area encompasses many of the popular trekking destinations in northwestern Tajikistan, including the Fann Mountains, Iskanderkul and Seven Lakes. If you’re planning to do hikes in the Zervashan, Fanns and more a great resource is Jan Bakker’s E-Book: Trekking in the PamirsWorth the €6 for how many times I referenced it while planning, just buy it. Another priceless, in my opinion, resource to carry with you is the EWP Map. It’s old- 1994, but the map is super handy and even has the Russian climbing grades listed EWP Fann Mountains Map and Guide. This one can be difficult to track down.

Fann Mountains:

Tajikistan’s other big tourist draw. The Land of lakes and beautiful mountains. I found the Fanns to be very different from the Pamirs. They almost felt like two different countries both culturally and scenery-wise. Both are equally worth visiting in my opinion. Contact Munira from ZTDA to arrange a trek or homestays, she is a wealth of knowledge on the Fanns, Zeravshan and Yagnob areas. Read more on visiting the Fann Mountains and about the trekking there here.Notable places to mention in the Fanns are:

1) Alovaddin (spelled Alauddin also), Kulikalon, Dushaka Lakes. All can be hiked to via a pretty well beaten trail between Artush Village and Vertical Alovaddin Camp via either Lauden or Alovaddin Pass. Beautiful crystal clear Caribbean colored lakes.

2)Iskanderkul. Massive lake nearby to village of Sarytag. Many treks leave from Sarytag deeper into the Fanns.

3) Gora Chimtarga, Gora Energia or Chimtarga Pass. High altitude pass connecting Bolshoi Allo Lake to Mutnyi Lake, and further on to Alovaddin Lake. Difficult Pass.

The above mentioned EWP Fann Mountains Map and Guide is worth having here.

Seven Lakes (Haft-Kul):

A string of 7 lakes created by Earthquake induced landslides in a narrow mountain valley. Remote and beautiful and fairly easily accessible. ZTDA can arrange homestays and a car hire if needed. Road connects Penjikent to 6 of the 7 lakes. Marguzor is the final lake reachable by car. Only one more lake, Hazor Chasma is only accessible on foot. Can connect Haft-Kul trek via the Tavasang Pass with treks to Iskanderkul/Saytag via Munora and Dukdon Passes and to Artush via the Sarymat River. Read more.

The EWP map & guide linked above is useful in this area as well.

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Marguzor Lake, #6 out of 7 of the Haft-Kul

Yagnob Valley:

Come here to meet the Yagnobis- direct descendants of the Soghdians in their beautiful valley. They have retained their ancient language and traditions.

Dushanbe:

Tajikistan’s modern and fun capital. Still has touches from its Soviet Past but has emerged as it’s very own unique city. It’s a good place to relax between wild adventures. Must-sees in Dushanbe include: Bag-i-Rudaki Park, the World’s Tallest flagpole, the bustling Green Bazaar and so much more! I had about 4 days total in the city and still didn’t feel like I came close to seeing it all.

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Rudaki Park

Khujand:

Tajikistan’s second largest city in the tumultuous Ferghana Valley. The ancient city is home to the Khujand Fortress, lovely Pushkin Square and the famed Panshanbe Bazaar.

Istaravshan:

Near to Khujand in the Ferghana Valley. Home to the beautiful Kök Ghumbaz Medrassah, Khazrat-i-Shokh Mausoleum and Sary Mazar Mosque.

Tour Operators and Guides in Tajikistan

Tajik companies offering tours within the country:

Kalpak Travel– Offers nicely priced group trips the Fanns, the Pamirs, mountain biking in Tajikistan and trips to the great Central Asian region. Mention the discount code: Nicki-Kalpack2017 when you e-mail them to book and receive 5% off your bookings!

Paramount Journey Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!

Pamir Highway Adventure Offers trips to both Pamir and Fanns.

Pamir Horse Adventure Itineraries including both Pamir and Fanns.

Tour De Pamir Pamir trekking.

Sarez Travel Specializes in Lake Sarez, Pamirs and Fanns.

Pamir Guides Can arrange travel to both Pamirs and Fanns.

Badakshan Travel Specializes in the Pamirs and GBAO.

Women Rockin Pamirs First female guides in Tajikistan! Offering trekking tours of the Pamirs.

Pamir Silk Tours Pamir travel.

Pamir Trek Trekking in the Pamir region.

AdvanTour Based in Dushanbe, offers tours of the western part of the country.

Discovery Tajikistan Agency offering tours all over the country.

Western & Foreign based companies offering tours in Tajikistan:

G Adventures Offering overlanding adventures that include Tajikistan, as well as itineraries continuing through or coming from other ‘Stans including Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and China. Most range from 6 to 23 days.

Intrepid Travel Another popular overlanding style tour. 13 days from Bishkek to Dushanbe including the Pamir Highway.

Mir Corp US based company offering trips to Tajikistan.

Untamed Borders Offering trips in Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Specializes in difficult to reach destinations Like Iraq and Somalia.

Getting In & Out:

Your options here are by flight, by land or by train..

By Plane:

Both Dushanbe and Khujand have international airports. The country has two national airlines:

Tajik Air

Somon Air.

Foreign airlines include:

Turkish Air- Istanbul.

China Southern- Urumqi.

Kam Air- Kabul.

Iran Aseman Airlines- Tehran.

Other cities directly connected to Dushanbe and/or Khujand are:

Within Central Asia: Bishkek, Almaty, Kabul, Urumqi, Tehran, and soon Tashkent.

Within Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara, Sochi, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Perm, Krasnoyarsk, Orenburg, Irkutsk, Nizhnevartovsk, Surgut, Kazan, and Yekaterinburg.

Other: Istanbul.

Start shopping flights to Tajikistan on Skyscanner and Expedia!
Domestic Flights:

There is a flight offered by Tajik air once a day from Dushanbe to Khorog, and return.

By Land:

Note that some land border crossings can take hours, the crossings with Uzbekistan are the most notorious. There are several reports online of border guards extorting bribes and being pervy if you’re a solo female. I had no issue crossing at Kyzyl-Art, the guards were friendly. However I did have a male driver that may have helped deflect any poor behavior. 

Kyrgyzstan:

Kyzyl-Art Pass- On the Pamir Highway M41. Connects Karakul, Tajikistan to Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan.

Khujand- Goes into Isfana, Kyrgyzstan.

Isfara- Goes into Batken, Kyrgyzstan.

China:

No border posts are open to foreigners at this time. There is rumor that the Qolma pass will open in the near future.

Afghanistan:

Sheghnan- Bridge over the Panj River at Khorog. Sometimes closed.

Ishkashim- Bridge over Pamir River at Ishkashim village to Eshkashim, Afghanistan. Sometimes closed.

Panj-i-Payon- Goes to Kunduz, Afghanistan. Security problems in this area and ca get dangerous. This crossing is usually not recommended.

Uzbekistan:

Tusanzade- Connects Dushanbe to Denau, UZ.

Oybek- Connects Khujand to Tashkent.

Kanibodum- Connecting Khujand to Kokand, UZ.

*The border connecting Penjikent and Samarkand has been closed for a while now, no word on when it may open again.

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Kyzyl-Art Pass. Is it Tajikistan? Is it Kyrgyzstan? It’s that no-man’s land in between, let’s call it Kyrgyzjikistan!

By Train:

For the most up to date train info, visit seat61.com.

There is a train connecting Dushanbe to Khanbidam via Khujand, and Khujand to Saratov via Samarkand.

There is a 5 day long train to Moscow from Dushanbe. It can be difficult due to the train crossing into Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and from the sounds of it you will have to have all transit visas in order.

Visas:

E-Visa:

Most nationalities can apply for an E-Visa. Starting in June 2016 Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs allows for visa applications online. It’s simple and quick. You can apply here. After your application has been approved you will be e-mailed a copy of your e-visa (and GBAO permit if you apply for them together), just print and bring with you. Carry the paper copy of your visa on you at all times. I was asked for it on a couple of occasions.

Embassy:

You can still apply at an embassy in your home country or while you’re on the road. Neighboring countries have Tajik embassies. Tashkent, Bishkek and Almaty are all common embassies to apply at. Be sure to bring passport photos, several copies of your passport, documents and necessary fees.

Visa on Arrival:

Dicey. Not recommended. There are reports of passengers not being allowed to board flights to Dushanbe because they did not have a visa already. Allegedly if there is no embassy in your country you will be issued a VOA on arrival in Dushanbe. But why risk it?

Visa Free:

The following countries do not need a visa to stay visa free up to 90 days:

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Mongolia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.

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Cuisine

Nomadic ways meet Soviet Empire. Central Asia as a whole is not known to the world as a culinary destination. With that said, there are some pretty good dishes out there. I’ll include the most popular ones you’re bound to run into.

Tea:

Tea is served with every meal, get used to it. Green and black are usually the only choices. Its customary to marry the tea, meaning that you pour a cup then open the tea pot and pour the tea back in. You will do this three times before pouring the actual glasses of tea.

Plov: 

A greasy fried rice that can be found just about anywhere in Tajikistan (as well as the whole region of Central Asia.) Fried in a wok called a qazaan. Usually fried in animal fat and will typically include chunks of mutton and carrot, sometimes will have onion, egg, potato or other local vegetables.

Salad:

Salads are common here. At minimum tomato and cucumber and sometimes will include other vegetables. Goes great dumped over your greasy plov.

Samsa:

Similar to Indian Samosa. Flakey fried dough usually stuffed with a combination of either mutton or beef and onions. Tasty quick snacks.

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Samsa.

Qurutob:

The national dish of Tajikistan and by far my personal favorite. Briny cheese balls are boiled in water and then dumped over a big Non (flatbread). The non will then be topped with fried vegetables and onions.

Laghman:

Chinese broad noodles in a soup usually of mutton stock and potatoes and spiced with dill. Sometimes includes other vegetables. The best Lagman I had in all of Central Asia was at a drive up Chaikhana right on the highway in Sarvoda. You will see laghman served all over.

Shashlik:

A shish kebab. You will find them made of all kinds of meats.

Non:

Big flat breads. To the Tajiks bread is life. Never throw bread away or feed it to animals. Tajik non is thicker than Indian non breads.

Shurpa:

Soup. Usually will have mutton, maybe some potatoes and onions or other vegetables that are available.

Manti:

Noodle dumping stuffed usually with meat and onions, topped with sour cream. Usually can find them stuffed with pumpkin or potato as well.

*One thing to note: Tajikistan as well as the rest of greater Central Asia have very meat-heavy diets. Traveling as a vegetarian here isn’t as difficult as it was in the past. Most every homestay I stayed when asking me what I wanted to eat did ask if i was a veggie.

People:

Definitely a highlight. The hospitality here is world-class, people tend to go above and beyond (and even into debt) trying to cater to guests. People here view guests as a gift from God. Even if you have no common language people will still want to talk to you. For how small Tajikistan it is quite diverse. Tajiks, Kyrgyz nomads, Pamiris, Wakhis, Sodgians….

Communication:

Tajik is the official language, which is mutually intelligible with Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. Russian is still commonly used and understood, if traveling the whole of Central Asia, Russian will most likely prove the most useful to learn. Then of course there’s several regional languages: Pamiri, Bartangi, Wakhi, Sogdian, and so on. Children and teenagers may know a few words of English as it is becoming more popular.

Make sure you can read Cyrillic script before you come to Tajikistan or Central Asia. Most signs in Tajikistan are written in Cyrillic.

*Before I left home for my trip I studied as much Russian and Persian (Farsi) as I could cram in. This came in handy so many times as most people can speak Russian and Tajik. Tajiks are very open to teaching you their language as well as their regional languages like Pamiri if you’re open to learning. My best recommendation is to at very least learn some basic Russian phrases as it will help you all over the region.

Religion:

Islam is the main religion in the country. Majority of people are Sunni. In Khorog you’ll find a large number of Ismaili Muslims who are a Shia sect are quite progressive. Of course there is a small amount of other religions practiced, such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Russian Orthodox and so on.

Safety:

Take the normal safety precautions that you would no matter where you’re visiting. Tajikistan is a relatively safe country. Not once did I feel uncomfortable or unsafe. That said, always keep your wits about you. There are reports of petty theft and harassment. Don’t flash money around (duh!). There are reports of corrupt police and border guards, but we all know those can exist anywhere- usually acting like you don’t understand will get you out of it. Another thing to note is the reports of bribes being expected from the immigration officials at the Dushanbe airport. There are reports of tourists being ‘fined’ for made up things, especially if you declare large amounts of money on your forms. Personally, I was not asked for a bribe on arrival at the airport or anywhere in the country for that matter. 

The biggest dangers to be aware of in Tajikistan are the weather conditions and natural disasters. In the summer lower elevation areas can get extremely hot- over 40ºC/100ºF! In the winter extreme cold can ravage the mountainous areas. Be prepared for anything. Especially in the mountains, no matter what time of year weather can change in an instant. It can go from being a warm sunny day to bad winds and freezing temps, even in summer! Tajikistan is very earthquake prone- something to take note of if you plan to do hiking (especially in the Zeravshan/Fanns). Many of those beautiful lakes only exist because of earthquake triggered landslides. Be prepared that getting trapped out there is a possibility, by making sure you have a few days food supply and a way to filter your own water out there. A GPS is a handy tool, and even better if you have an SOS beacon.

The Ferghana Valley has a bit of a reputation for being volatile. Occasional fighting does occur. If you will be visiting the area make sure to stay up on the current events.

Occasional explosions do occur in Dushanbe with terrorist groups sometimes claiming responsibility. This is uncommon, but do be aware.

Infrequently there is factional fighting and some warlordism that spills over the southern border from Afghanistan.

Health Concerns:

The most common affliction to tourists is the usual travelers diarrhea. Sanitation isn’t the highest priority here. Take the usual precautions you would in most developing countries and bring necessary medications i.e: Immodium and an antibiotic.

*I made it out without a single bout of stomach issues! And I literally ate EVERYTHING. I think I just got lucky.

Altitude sickness will affect some. With 92% of the country being mountainous altitude is a real danger here for some. Hiker’s planning to go above 3,500 meters/11,ooo feet are recommended to allow plenty of time to acclimatize. Travelers on the Pamir Highway should also allow time for acclimatization as many passes go much higher that 3,500 meters. If you have symptoms that persist make sure to head for lower ground.

Be wary of tap water. Just don’t drink it.

Landmines are a concern in remote border areas, most have been cleared but be aware. If you aren’t sure find a guide.

Malaria is sometimes present in far and remote southwestern Tajikistan.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Respect:

As with most majority Islamic countries respectful dress is key. Tajikistan is a somewhat conservative society, but is nowhere near as conservative as other Islamic nations. For women, as long as you don’t show skin or wear revealing clothing you should be fine. Personally I had two outfits: haram pants with a loose t-shirt or long sleeve shirt, and leggings with either my sweatshirt or a looser fitting tunic top and I had no issues. The hijab isn’t necessary although you will still see some women wearing it. Most tend to wear a scarf tied around their hair wrapped in a bun. A scarf is a good idea to carry for visiting holy sites.

When to Visit?:

This depends on what you plan to do and where. If you plan to do trekking late June to early September is the best time of year especially in the higher altitudes. Just know that snow is a possibility year round at very high altitude . Expect passes to be snowed in by October. April is said to be the best time to visit the south of the country as everything is blooming then. Spring and Fall are said to be the most comfortable times to visit cities as they won’t be scorching hot or freezing cold.

Phone and Internet:

Decent cell coverage can be found throughout the country, although don’t expect to have reception out in the middle of nowhere. Sim cards can be purchased. Wifi is usually decent in Dushanbe but elsewhere can be snail speed and unreliable. The Tajik government has most social media websites blocked. I was unable to log on to Facebook and Instagram until I downloaded an app for a VPN on my cell phone and then was able to access them.

Good Resources:

Here are a few of my go-to websites and books I used when planning my trip!

Caravanistan: Saule and Steven are a wealth of knowledge on Central Asia. They are very responsive via email and can put you in contact with numerous tour agencies in the country.

ZTDA: Your go-to for treks in the Zeravshan, Fanns and Yagnob areas.

META: Only provides advisory services. Working to develop tourism.

PECTA: Can help you arrange anything Pamir. Very responsive.

Trekking in the Pamirs: Jan Bakker’s website with information on many hikes all over Tajikistan (not just the Pamirs!).

Monk Bought Lunch:

Indy Guide: Making travel in the whole of Central Asia & Mongolia easier buy providing the largest community marketplace of Central Asian tour operators and drivers.

Books:

‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton & Huw ThomasThis is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from the history, great-game stories, travel and more!

‘Central Asia’ by Lonely Planet.  Handy to have with you, although don’t treat it like a bible. Many times information is out of date as things change rapidly here. The ‘Central Asia Phrasebook’ by Lonely Planet. I found to be a handy item.

Maps:

EWP’s Fann Mountains Map & Guide. I found my copy on Amazon, although it can be hard to track down at times.

The Pamirs by Markus Hauser. Can be found online on Gecko Maps, or can always be picked up at the PECTA office. You can also order a Northern Tajikistan map as well as Southern Tajikistan map on Gecko Maps. I ordered mine through Amazon.

So there it is, a Tajikistan Travel Guide!

Please e-mail me at adventuresoflilnicki[at]gmail.com with any corrections or updates and I will be sure to include them in the Tajikistan Travel Guide in the future. I really hope this assists any of you planning to visit this beautiful gem of Central Asia! Planning to visit the Fanns and/or the Pamirs? Read more in depth travel information for the Pamir & GBAO Region and Fann Mountains. Need more convincing? Check out the 10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan

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I Haven’t Wrote Anything In 2 Months & IDGAF

I haven’t wrote anything in 2 months and I don’t particularly give a fuck.

To catch everyone up, after nearly 100 days on the road, a complete circle of the globe, 18 flights, thousands upon thousands of kilometers… Err I mean miles (now that I’m back into this god damn country that insists to continue using imperial measurements, yes, I’m rolling my eyes) flown, driven, biked, hiked, floated and boated, and some unforgettable as well as hilarious taxi rides, countless meetings of some of the most amazing people on Earth that I’ll never forget- both of course among locals and other travelers, about 15 stitches in my leg, a wrecked motorbike, many lost possessions, a new-found hatred for mutton and a new love for kickin it with goats, weird scars and weirder tan lines, ….I’m back in Alaska.

Where did I leave off last? Oh yeah, that’s right, I wrote not even half of my adventures in the Pamirs (pinky promise, I’ll finish them up!) before I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and type not even for a second because I was having so much fun. I really did have grand intentions of writing while I traveled to let everyone know what’s going on… But I didn’t and I’m not really sorry about that. But now that I’m on hour 31 out of 70 traveling home, I’ll give you guys all a brief overview….

Ha! Brief? Yeah right.

Country 1: Tajikistan.

Bolshoi Allo, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

Bolshoi Allo, Tajikistan

Of course I did tell you guys a little of my travels in Tajikistan. I’ve traveled, a lot. So much that the more places I go the harder it is for me to actually be impressed. Not that I’ve seen it all and not to downplay certain destinations but the bar has been set incredibly high at this point. Few places truly amaze me. Tajikistan, you’re one of the few. I don’t fall in love with too many locations.. But Tajikistan my lust for you is stronger than my relationship with pizza and mangosteen… and no, not them together. It’s the one place that has rivaled Yemen for me and I’m not sure which is my favorite. Thanks for making me question everything about what I thought I knew. I can’t wait to get back, and yeah, I daydream about you’re Carib-colored lakes and jagged mountains on the reg.

In Tajikistan I solo trekked the Fann Mountains (with the help of the amazing Munira over at ZTDA), fell down the backside of Chimtarga Pass (don’t worry I was only scraped up and ripped my pants) and into a stream which walls were smooth on the inside, so I sorta luged down it), was sorta kidnapped off a busy street and brought into a family’s 6 hour long Eid-al-Qurban feast in Dushanbe, visited the remote Wakhan valley butted up against jaw dropping views of Afghanistan (yes, I’d love to now visit Afghanistan) and made friends with surely every kid in Langar village, survived the Bam-i-Dunya aka The Roof of the World or best known as THE Pamir Highway, fired a man in broken RussjikiLish, was introduced to the dish called qurutob, was taken in to countless homes in the Pamirs and the Fann Mountains for bread and tea (so much that sometimes I had to say no!), and chased Marco Polo sheep in the remote outpost of Jasty-Gumbez.

Yeah, I’ll be back without a doubt.

Country 2: Kyrgyzstan.

Peak Lenin, Kyrgyzstan

Looking back toward Peak Lenin as we approached Sary Tash en route to Osh.

I ended my Pamir highway adventure in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Osh is located in the geographic swirl that is, the Ferghana Valley. Look at a map of where Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan all come together. It looks like someone grabbed the tri-border and gave it a purple nurple. I mean, what could go wrong? It won’t cause ethnic tension and occasional fighting will it?

Of fucking course it will. So there sits the Ferghana Valley, purply-pink in all its nurpled glory.

All in all, I didn’t love Osh. It’s a kind of strange place, I didn’t hate it though and under the burning late September sun it’s stifling. From Osh I chose to fly to the capital- Bishkek. Turns out the flight and a shared taxi ride between the two cost nearly the same. Although the flight wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I was stampeded by people trying to get on the plane (I just happened to be walking past the check in counter as they made the first boarding announcement, so naturally i was pushed up past the desk and out the door). WE ALL HAVE TICKETS PEOPLE! Patiently waiting in an orderly fashion isn’t a thing here. It was so bad a flight attendant had to act as a human shield to segment the mob trying to shove itself up the ramp and prevent the ensuing riot from happening in the plane.

I spent a couple days in Bishkek just kind of aimlessly wandering and checking out Lenin statues and wondering why people put scales (yes like the self-esteem killing on ones you measure your weight on) on the sidewalks, then I took note of the piece of cardboard next to one saying ‘5 som’. I wish I had a photo of one, but I kinda forgot to take one. Oops.

There’s not a whole lot to Bishkek, but with that said- it’s not a bad place. I felt like it was a good place to recover for a few days. From here I traveled on up to Kazakhstan for a few days before returning to Bishkek…. So we’ll return to Kyrgyzstan.

Country 3: Kazakhstan.

Zailiysky Alatau, Almaty, Kazakhstan

The sun setting over Almaty and the Zailiysky Alatau Range.

I wasn’t planning to come here in the first place. Only because Kazakhstan is massive. But I had a free week, and given Almaty’s proximity to Bishkek I made my way up/over there. For the most part I explored Almaty. I liked Almaty, it’s a nice city. I also made way over to Charyn Canyon with some people at my hostel who rented a car. I had intentions to see some more of the surrounding areas but on the account that I ended up meeting some fun people in the hostel and a couple crappy weather days I ended up not. I’m not going to lose any sleep over not thoroughly exploring a country that I wasn’t even planning to hit on this trip, but I do plan to set aside the time to properly go see it one day.

Annnnnnd back into Kyrgyzstan.

Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan

Hiking in Altyn Arashan.

This is the part where I jumped on that over landing tour with Dragoman. Night one included puking all over myself and into a beer mug in a vodka-beer-shisha fueled blaze of glory at a Bishkek club with a cover that sang Jason DeRulo songs better than Jason DeRulo can himself in the presence of new people that I just met that day. Anyone that was there on my final night of the overland trip with Africa Travel Co in 2014 will love the irony in the fact that I essentially did the same thing there, i.e.: puked down the front of myself at dinner. I know, I ooze class. I’m allowed to have fun from time to time people.

The rest of my time in Kygyzstan included stops in Chong Kemin Valley for some river rafting and a bike ride, Altyn Arashan to hike and sit in some hotsprings, spent a couple nights in Karakol, a quick swim in frigid Issy-Kul, a day trip to Jeti Orguz, a crazy Dungan-style dinner i.e.: the speed eating dinner Olympics, hiked a strange Utah-esque canyon (fairytale canyon), played with felting in Kochkor, ate some bullshit dumplings (not my words, I thought they were quite good) in a little village perched at the bottom of a stunning valley, and had a debaucherous evening under gale force winds and pouring rain next to an undetermined lake in remote Kyrgyzstan before making a return to Osh for a night before we crossed into Uuuuuuzbekistan.

*I’m sure undetermined said lake has a name, but not even our guide was sure. 

Country 4: Uzbekistan.

Whoever told me I was wasting my time in highschool going to punk-shows and metal concerts was dead wrong. And clearly none of them had ever crossed the Ferghana Valley border of Dostyk from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan. Mosh pit expertise are most beneficial here. That is the closest real-life comparison I can think of when describing what that border crossing is like, well until they opened the side gate where the rest of my group crossed through that weren’t in the first few of us fording the way through a sea of humans. Pure unadulterated sweaty hell for the most part. Okay, it was a little fun.

The first night was spent in Ferghana City then the next morning we made way to Tashkent, where I’d spend my 30th birthday, which was actually one of the most fun ones I’ve had and also included the kidnapping of a kitten. Which only later to find out the kitten pretty much lived at our hotel…. of course after our breakfast beers, and smuggling food in to feed him.

From Tashkent we crossed Uzbekistan and at this point it’s really just a blur of blue tiles. Lots and lots of blue tiles. We stopped at Uzbekistan’s famous*, if you will, Silk Road city stops- Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva where I saw all those blue tiles, many a mausoleum, encountered the most hilarious taxi ride of my life- really I nearly died laughing and we got a inadvertent tour of Samarkand, that acted as a hop on/off tour where we kept picking up locals and dropping them at various locations and then got traded to a new taxi, went to a belly dancing bar, seen so many god damn carpets (and carpets being made) that I think I only want hard floors for the rest of my life- really, I saw the most mellow of people begin to lose their shit at the sight of a carpet toward the end, spent the night under the stars at yurt camp between cities, learned about the life of Timur from our amazing Uzbek guide and drank copious amounts of terrible Uzbek wine. I still have a liver ache.

*This IS Central Asia after all, not many make it to the region, period. Even though Uzbekistan is one of the more visited in the area.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Blue tiles as I promised! Samarkand.

The last of the journey through Uzbekistan happened in the ‘Stan within a ‘Stan- the region of Karakulpakstan. This was bonus time: with Turkmenistan’s fuckery with the LOI and thus preventing us entering the country until the 30th of October rather than the 27th. We spent a couple nights in the town of Nukus- which Lonely Planet (or known as the ‘Lying Planet’ in Uzbekistan) described as desolate and hopeless. Clearly their writer has Nukus and Moynaq confused- I didn’t find Nukus to be hopeless and desolate at all, quiet yes, but not hopeless. Moynaq on the other hand I thought is exactly that. This of course because of the environmental disaster that is the dried up Aral Sea and the subsequent fleeing of the area. A few of us spent a couple hours out there visiting the ship graveyard which was interesting and well, pretty sad.

Country 5: Turkmenistan.

Finally we crossed into Turkmenistan and traveled it’s bumpy roads down to bush camp near Dashoguz. Okay guys, the roads aren’t THAT bad. Or apparently anyone I met that had traveled them before me in the region have never felt the wind beneath their tires as the’ve left god’s green Earth after launching off a good ol Alaskan style ice heave*. It did make our wine drinking that day more eventful with all the holes, dips and bumps- the Turkmen wine challenge was born… Okay, okay it was actually a horrific bottle of leftover wine from Uzbekistan, but nonetheless it did take a marginal amount of balance and a steady hand to keep the wine in your glass.

*Some Canadians will understand this one too. I’m sure Russians from the barren north get it as well, but I haven’t been to assess their heaves. 

Then finally I got to see what I came to Turkmenistan for, Darvaza- or better known as the door to hell- the accident that keeps on burning. It really was the best way to in sort- end my time in Central Asia. And the strangest of it all is that with the LOI getting messed up it pushed our visit to Darvaza to the 30th of October- which was my Aunt Ronna’s birthday. She used to always laugh with me and say I’d rather laugh wth the sinners than cry with the saints, let’s go to hell when we die… It’s where the fun people are gonna be, and it’s warm I hear. I am an atheist (and no, not one of those buffoons that gets all offended when someone mentions religion and God) so I don’t believe that my favorite Aunt is cheersing beers with the fun people in hell basking in the eternal heat, but the odds of me happening to be there on her birthday unplanned is quite the coincidence. And yes, it was warm and the fun people were there on the edge peering down into the fire.

Fuck…. I forgot the marshmallows.

Darvaza, Dashoguz, Door-to-Hell, Turkmenistan

If you look real hard, you’ll see Jeremy dangling on the edge of the crater.

In the pitch black around the gas crater I managed to trip and fall so quick and so hard that I didn’t even have time to put my hands out. So what happened? Oh, well my Rokinon 14mm lens was on my camera and slammed into the ground. What I didn’t know until I got home and loaded my photos onto a large screen is that I broke my lens. It wasn’t focusing correctly. And what did I use to take majority of the photos with out there after the fall since I couldn’t tell when looking at the view finder? The Rokinon…. So most my photos of Darvaza are blurry. I guess, this gives me pretty good excuse to go back.

The next morning we were on our way to Ashgabat- the strange white marble and gold adorned Turkmen capital. People I had met that had been (same peeps that told the tales of a nearly undriveable death highway) really made it out to be weirder than I actually thought it was. I mean it was by no means a normal city. It felt sterile. Everything is clean and perfect. The buildings are all actually white marble and adorned with gold- which I thought made it a beautiful city (Confession: I love white and gold together). And there were very few people around (this was also the case in Tashkent). The parks, monuments and streets seemed near empty- then again someone did point out that we were exploring the city mid-day when most people are at work. My last day was spent trying to find a new lens for one of my friends I made on the overloading tour- who actually that same day booked a ticket to Oman to join Dan Flying Solo and I on our upcoming adventure. I love people that make last minute decisions on a whim.
Finally I left Central Asia for Muscat from Ashgabat’s strange billions-upon-billions of dollar bird-shaped airport. Yeah, you read that right- the airport is in the shape of a giant fucking bird. And in case you wondered the outside was…. White and gold.

Let me end my little blurb about Turkmenistan (I will write in depth about my couple days there later) with this: They have a Ministry of Carpets.

Country 6: Oman.

Ok, I’ll just share Dan’s video from Oman here so I can be lazy and not have to describe how beautiful a country it is.

Or you can read Dan’s Post: 10 Reasons to Visit Oman.  Click it…. you know you want to, and btw his photos are absolutely stunning and dat video doe.

Wadi Ghul, Grand canyon of Arabia, Oman

Dan standing on the edge of Wadi Ghul.

The biggest mistake I made here was not having enough time. Dan, Jeremy and I packed a lot into 7 days (I was robbed of my extra day due to a debacle with a flight cancellation) but I am most definitely coming back. So behind the scenes though- I drove us around Oman and probably the wrong way down every one way street in the northern half of the country. Of course it was wild, and provided some memories that should give me abs of steel from all the laughs. From a completely obliterated tire to wild beach camps, kicked around in the ocean at night and felt like fairies with glowing phosphorescent plankton washing up on the shore all around us (I’ve seen it numerous times and it will never get old), saw tons of baby turtles, and a massive one digging to lay eggs, spent quality time with goats, swam in the clear teal waters in Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid, Splashed around in the unreal Bimmah Sink Hole, wandered around numerous a fortress, saw the stunning coastline, stargazed out in the Wahiba Sands, slept in a weird construction yard next to what we think was a goat sacrifice, trekked into Wadi Ghul aka: the Grand Canyon of Arabia and slept right on the edge of said canyon with a view straight out at the Jebel Shams as daylight broke, traveled windy-narrow dirt roads only to stumble across a small village that can only be described as looking like Oman’s very own version of Cinque Terre, and had a propane tank convert itself into a flame thrower and nearly lit the Landcrusier ablaze. Of course this all culminated into me and Dan dropping Jermey off at his hotel (he flew out the morning after us) and then proceeding to get so lost in our attempt to get to the airport that I barely made it to my flight.

Country 7: The Philippines.

Nacpan Beach, Twin Beach, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, The Philippines

Thanks stranger in a pretty dress that was sauntering around on Nacpan Beach that helped pull the picture together.

I had intentions of seeing a bit more of the country than I actually did, but of course no plan of action. I ended up flying to El Nido and spending the entirety of the time I had in the country down there. The town of El Nido isn’t exactly striking itself, you need to get out and away to see all those natural wonders you see popping up on your Instagram feed*. Luckily the first night there I met Ivan and Dimple- who may be two of the coolest people I’ve had the chance to come across. They own Ape Tours and if you plan or are planning to visit El Nido, whatever you do, book your boat trips to island hop with them. I ended up spending just about everyday I was in El Nido with these guys and I had a blast doing it. Ok, so there was the one day I wrecked the motorbike on the way home from Nacpan Beach and the following day that I had to go get stitches, but the next day I was back out. Oh, and they do have a office/restaurant/bar near the Eco Hotel. Dimple makes the best food, just FYI.

*If Instagram hasn’t deemed those photos as not to make your newsfeed. That’s right IG, you don’t know me. YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE! Let me scroll through everything and decide what I do and don’t want to see by letting me unfollow things I don’t like anymore. Seriously for the love of everything holy: STOP fucking changing your algorithm. And PS: Go fuck yourself Mark Zuckerberg. 

Country 8: Palau.

Seventy Islands, Palau

The Seventy-Islands from above!

My final true stop. Since I was unable to do the dive portion of my PADI cert in the Philippines after the wreck I had intentions to get it done here in Palau. Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I failed to do it! I found so many things to do there that I just got side tracked and ran out of time…. I swear one day I actually will finish the certificate. The real highlight for me was the scenic flight over the country. Yeah it’s a little spendy- $180 for a 40 minute flyover with the door open, but good god damn just do it. If you’ve spent the money, and the time to get out here don’t half ass it. I did my flight courtesy of Pacific Mission Aviation. My second favorite was spending my last few days out there on the lovely and nearly deserted Carp Island. The rest of the time I spent in Palau I did some trekking waterfalls, snorkeling, aimless road trips and the whatnot.

Country 9: Guam.

Guam

Guam as I landed there the first time.

Ok, I know it’s a US territory, but it is half a bazillion miles from the mainland USA and has it’s own culture. I had 15 hours to kill, but I didn’t do much on account that it was a VERY rainy, stormy day. Oh well…

So there,

you have a little update on everything I did and where I went. One day I’ll get around to writing more useful info on these places… But then again I said that about South America (July) and the Caribbean (February), so don’t hold your breath as you will without question, die.

Aside from that I’m not really sure how I’m going to adapt to going back to real life, and I can’t really picture myself adulting in like 3 days. (I’m actually adulting now that I’ve actually posted it. Spoiler alert: It sucks). Also, I don’t have a next ticket booked out, or a plan as where to go and THAT is scary to me… #ThatsaFirstWorldProblemIfIveEverSeenOne.

El Nido, Philipines, The Philippines, Ape Tours Palawan, Palawan

Out on a trip around El Nido’s islands.

Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan

Beautiful Tajikistan, alovaddin

Sunrise at Lake Alovaddin

Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan.

Has it really been nearly two weeks that I’ve been in Tajiksitan? It sure has flown by.

Why?

Beacause it’s fucking amazing here! Tajikistan has easily become one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited. I’m still a little shocked that it’s not more visited. Geographically I know it makes sense that it doesn’t get many tourists: it’s between a rock and a hard place. That border with Afghanistan seems to stave off the vast majority and I wish that didn’t detour people, but it does.

So what have I been up to?

Well… It all started with a long ass trip over there. My alarm didn’t go off the morning I was flying out so I woke up literally as I needed to be running out there door. Needless to say the last minute things didn’t get done and before I knew it I was on a 30 hour journey from Anchorage to Seattleto Dubai and finally to Dushanbe.

I finally stepped foot into Dushanbe at about 4am on Augsut 31st. I was a little worried about clearing immigration after reading some people’s bad experiences, but turns out I had nothing to worry about, it went pretty smoothly. I had applied for and was approve for an e-visa and GBAO permit back in June, so just a stamp plater and I was in.

Beautiful Tajikistan, tajikistan, Dushanbe,

Rudaki Park

Day one I spent wandering around lovely Dushanbe. Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan. My first stop was to find an ATM to get some cash. Finally on like ATM 17 I finally got money out. What a pain in the ass. Then I made my way toward Rudaki Park where I spent most the day wondering about Dushanbe’s unusual monuments.

Day two in Tajikistan started with my drive out to the Fann Mountains where I would spend the next 10 days. Prior to leaving home I had arranged a car to come pick me up and bring me to my home stay at Nofin Lake. I had arranged everything through Munira at ZTDA. If you are thinking about coming to the Fanns, Zerafshan Mountains or the Yagnob valley do get in contact with her, I cannot thank her enough for all her help! The drive out to the FannMountains is an absolutely stunning one, I’m glad I opted to spend the money on a private vehicle over taking a shared taxi since it gave me the freedom to stop whenever and wherever I wanted.

And by the way the Anzob Tunnel, in my opinion, was nowhere near as scary as every other site I read led me to believe. Either that, or no one has ever been to the Fanns had also been to the Rainbow Mountain in Peru- now THAT is the scariest road in the world!

Beautiful Tajikistan

Several tunnels connect Dushanbe to the Fanns.

My Fann Mountains hike would start with a night at Nofin Lake staying at Jumaboy’s Homestay (arranged by Munira), which has got to be the best place to start ofrom your trip. (If you’re starting from the Haft-Kul (Seven Lakes).

beautiful Tajikistan, Tajikistan, haft-kul, Nofin, Jumaboy

Jumaboy standing in front of his outdoor dining area.

Jumaboy is one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life. From Nofin I was brought to the stunningly beautiful Marguzor Lake and then up to. Kigoli Village to start the climb.

Haft-kul, Marguzor, beautiful Tajikistan

Marguzor Lake, #6 out of 7 of the Haft-Kul

Over the next few days I would climb up and over the Tovasang Pass to camp at the Sarymat River, then follow the Sarymat until it split into the Amshut River and then to where it forked again into the Zindon River. Eventually following the Zindon led to the impressive Bolshoi Allo Lake, of course before Bolshoi Allo there was a small lake with a perfect reflection of the sky in it (I don’t know the name).

Beautiful Tajikistan, Bolshoi Allo

The little lake near Bolshoi Allo

Then for the hardest day of all days the trip up and over the 15,700 foot Chimtarga Pass sandwiched between two wicked mountains- Gora Chimtagra, and Gora Energia.

Beautiful Tajikistan, Chimtarga pass

On top of the world at Chimtarga Pass.

Following the Pass I’d drop down to Mutnyi Lake that’s studded all around with impressive peaks. Finally down from Mutnyi I’d make way to Lake Alovaddin, which you would swear looks like it’s filled with the bright turquoise Waters of the Caribbean Sea- trust me, it’s not.

Alovaddin, beautiful Tajikistan

Does it get any better??

That shit is ice cold. From there I’d take Alauddin Pass up and over to Dushakha Lakes and then continue

Kulikalon, beautiful Tajikistan

The morning sun warming up Kul-i-Kalon

onto Kul-i-Kalon Lakes before descending down into Artuch Vilage to be picked up and taken to Iskanderkul Lake and spend the next two nights in nearby Satytag. Yet again, all arranged by Munira.

Beautiful Tajikistan, Iskanderkul

Looking down at the Iskanderkul coastline

Finally I’d make my way back to Dushanbe to spend a couple more days in the capital. My last day was spent at a 5 hour long picnic with a giant (mostly female) family who proceeded to try to feed me to death.

A few of my lovely new friends from the picnic.

One of these days I will write a more detailed post on the how-to’s, how-much, who to contact and what to pack but for right now I need to get to re-packing because I leave for Kala-i-Khum tomorrow morning to start my trip up the Pamir Highway and through the Eastern side of beautiful Tajikistan. I don’t know when or where I’ll have access to internet again, at least until I reach Bishkek for sure.

Kulikalon, beautiful Tajikistan

The Milky Way over Kul-i-Kalon’s dramatic backdrop.

So who’s ready to head to beautiful Tajikistan now??