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Tajikistan Travel Guide
Updated January 2019 (Originally written December 2016)
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.
I can honestly say after four trips and several months spent in Tajikistan, it is my favorite country in the world. There’s no where else I’ve spent more time (aside from home) and no where else I’ve written this extensively about. Here is literally everything I’ve learned on the road in all my Tajikistan travel experience.
Tajikistan’s currency is the Tajik Somoni (TJS for short). As of January 2019, the exchange is now:
$1 USD=9.44 TJS
$1 AUS=6.78 TJS
$1 CAD=7.13 TJS
1 RUB=0.14 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 on my first trip! 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.
In 2017 getting cash in Khujand was not an issue for me. On my visits in 2016 & 2017 finding a working/stocked ATM in Dushanbe was a bit of a project. In 2016 I had no difficulty withdrawing cash at ATMs in Khorog, but in 2017 I was unable to withdraw money on the four separate occasions I was in the city and ended up having to Western Union money to myself to be picked up at a bank for me to be able to pay for my jaunt into Afghanistan. Pro tip: JUST BRING CASH!
One thing to note: US dollars are widely accepted throughout the country for payment.
Tipping isn’t the norm in Tajikistan, however those in services that cater toward tourists like guides and drivers will likely expect a tip of 10%. Many restaurants in cities will include a gratuity as a service charge on the bill. Tajiks are extremely welcoming and hospitable so it’s not uncommon for complete strangers to invite you to their home for a meal or to spend the night with their family. Typically Tajiks will not accept any kind of payment in this case, so it is recommended to either hide a few Somoni in the home or give it to the eldest child. The country isn’t particularly wealthy and people will go above and beyond and even into debt to show you Tajik hospitality. Bringing small gifts is another great idea to show your appreciation.
Tajik is the official language, which is mutually intelligible with Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. The one thing that sets Tajik the furthest apart from Dari and Farsi is the use of the Cyrillic alphabet over the Persian-Modified Arabic script. 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 first trip to Tajikistan 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.
Islam is the main religion in the country. Majority of people are Sunni. In Khorog, the Wakhan and the Bartang Valley you’ll find a large number of Ismaili Muslims who are a quite progressive Shia sect. Of course there is a small amount of other religions practiced, such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Russian Orthodoxy and so on.
Mevlana Yakub Charki Mosque in Dushanbe
What To Wear
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 tons of skin or wear revealing clothing you should be fine (even if you do, you will still likely be fine, just stared at). Great outfit options for women are harem pants with loose fitting shirts, or leggings and tunics. Another good idea would be to have a Tajik style dress (similar to a shalwar kameez) made.
Covering your hair is not required or the norm, but do always have a scarf handy with you just in case you find a mosque you’d like to explore. While the headscarf isn’t necessary, you will still see some women wearing it. Mostly they tend to wear a scarf tied around their hair wrapped in a bun.
For men you can likely wear similar clothing to what you would wear at home. You’ll see men wearing jeans and t-shirts, as well as dress pants and button down shirts. Men do cover their head when entering mosques, many mosques will have loner doppa caps you can borrow, or you can pick up a doppa at a bazaar.
How Long To Visit Tajikistan
This depends largely on what you plan to do and where you’ like to go. Most Tajik visas given out are 45 days in length which is a decent amount of time to get to know the country. 2-3 weeks is a good amount of time to fit in the highlights of Tajikistan. The biggest attraction in Tajikistan is the famed Pamir Highway road trip, followed by trekking in the Fann Mountains. The typical amount of time needed to travel the Pamir Highway between Dushanbe and Osh, Kyrgyzstan is 3-9 days. I do not recommend trying to cover the Pamir Highway in 3 days as this would mean sitting in the car for 8-16 hours each day and doesn’t give you any time to actually get out of the car except for to sleep at night. Usually people take between 5 and 9 days to complete it. However those wanting to really a feel for the region and get some trekking in could spend weeks here and not feel like they scratched the surface (me!).
For those visiting the Fann Mountains, most will spend 2-10 days in the area trekking in the mountains to the beautiful lakes. Of course you can spend 2 weeks to a month easily if wanting to more thoroughly explore the Fanns as well as the nearby Yagnob Valley.
Most visitors to Tajikistan will spend at least 2-3 days in Dushanbe exploring the city as well.
Here Are A Few Examples Of Time Allotments For Those Planning Tajikistan Travel
The best time of year to visit Tajikistan is largely dependent on what you plan to do. Most people who visit Tajikistan tend to have some trekking and outdoor adventures on their to-do list. The best time to access mountain passes, camp and even travel around the Pamir Highway is from mid June to mid September.
Summer stretches from June to August, this is when the high altitude passes are most easily accessible. The lower lying cities such as Dushanbe, Khujand, Kulab, and even Khorog can be downright scorching hot in summer. Fall is the best time visit cities as temperatures start to cool down in September and steadily drop through October. Trekking is still possible and quite beautiful in fall, although October can get quite cold toward the end of the month and snow can be expected at higher elevations. Winter stretches from November to March. Through winter many roads through passes will be closed, therefore your best bet at getting between Khujand, Dushanbe and Khorog will be by flight. Winter can be a great time to visit for those wanting to ski Tajikistan’s nearly untouched mountains. The spring months of April & May brings wetter weather and landslides to the Fanns and Pamirs making travel difficult. In spring head for Garm, Taviladara, Jirgatol, or into the rarely touristed southwest of Tajikistan.
Most of your transportation in Tajikistan will be by shared taxi, minibus/marshrutka, private 4×4 hire. Less commonly people do travel by plane between Khujand, Dushanbe and Khorog. Hitchhiking is possible, but can vary in difficulty depending on where in the country you’re at or plan to go. Note that pretty much anyone with a car will function as a taxi driver, so even when planning to hitchhike many drivers will still expect some payment.
Shared taxis and marshrutka/minibuses tend to only leave when full from taxi stands and bus stations in cities and towns. They typically have a fixed price per seat, so if you are in a hurry and would like to depart sooner it’s possible to pay for the empty seats.
Private 4×4 hire is a common way tourists get around the country as well, although more expensive. Most travelers will travel the Pamir Highway by 4×4 hire split amongst a group of backpackers. Prices tend to fall between 0.60¢-0.90¢ (USD) per kilometer.
Cruising through the Wakhan Valley
Shared Taxi Prices
Dushanbe-Penjikient: $15/140 TJS
Dushanbe-Sarvoda: $13/120 TJS
Sarvoda-Alovaddin: $45/410 TJS
Penjikent-Khujand: $13/120 TJS
Khujand-Istaravshan: $2/15 TJS
Khujand-Isfara: $3/30 TJS
Dushanbe-Khorog: $39/350 TJS
Khorog-Ishkashim: $5/45 TJS
Ishkashim-Langar: $7/65 TJS
Khorog-Murghab: $14/120 TJS
Murghab-Osh: $22/200 TJS.
Private Car Hire On Popular Routes
Dushanbe-Penjikent: $200/1820 TJS
Dushanbe-Sarytag: $180/1640 TJS
Dushanbe-Alovaddin: $180/1640 TJS
Dushanbe-Nofin (7 Lakes): $210/1910 TJS
Dushanbe-Khujand: $260/2365 TJS
Penjikent-Artush: $100/910 TJS
Penjikent-Alovaddin: $160/1460 TJS
Dushanbe-Khorog: $270/2460 TJS
Khorog-Murghab: $270/2460 TJS
Murghab-Osh: $350/3180 TJS
Khujand-Isfara: $90/820 TJS
Khujand-Istaravshan: $50/460 TJS
*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.
Tajik Air Flight
January 2019 UPDATE: Tajik Air has reportedly gone out of business. It is unknown if or when another airline will pick up the Dushanbe-Khorog route.
The other transport option come in the form of flight. Several times per week there are flights between Dushnabe and Khujand (285-440 TJS per seat), which you can book online directly with Tajik Air. Once a day there is a 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 Bazaar) 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. In 2017 the plane was grounded several times throughout the summer with varying reasons from the plane being broken and so on.
Get In & Out
The only ways you can enter Tajikistan is by air or by land (train or car).
Both Dushanbe and Khujand have international airports. Tajikistan has two national carriers, Tajik Air (Tajik Air has gone out of business as of January 2019) and Somon Air (Somoni Air’s website was down at the time of writing). Tajik air flies internationally, as wel as between Dushanbe and Khujand and Dushanbe and Khorog.
Foreign Airlines that fly to Tajikistan include Turkish Air, China Souther, Kam Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Air Astana, Air Manas, Avia Traffic Company, FlyDubai, Nordstar, S7, Ural Airlines, Utair, Uzbekistan Airlines and Yamal. Cities connected to Tajikistan by flight are: Almaty, Astana, Bishkek, Kabul, Masshad, Tashkent, Tehran, Urumqi, Beijing, Dubai , Istanbul , Delhi, Frankfurt, and several cities across Russia.
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. From personal expereince, I’ve never had any issues crossing the Kyzyl-Art-Bordobo between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. I did have a little bit of a hassle when I was exiting Tajikistan at Ishkoshim into Afghanistan because my e-visa had not been stamped when I entered the country at Khujand (don’t know why this was an issue as my passport had a stamp in it), however after arguing for a couple minutes I was allowed to exit Tajikistan with no further problems. Here are the border crossings into and out of Tajikistan. Two exciting updates have happened more recently, in 2017 the Qolma Pass into China is now open to foreigners and as of 2018 the Panjakent border to Uzbekistan is open again after a several-year-long pissing match between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Kyzyl-Art Pass-Bordöbö- On the Pamir Highway (M41). Connects Karakul, Tajikistan to Sary Tash and further onto Osh in Kyrgyzstan.
Isfara-Batken- For those in the Fergana Valley, this is the crossing to get between Khujand and Osh.
Ovchi Kalacha-Kulundu- This is an alternative crossing in the Fergana Valley between Khujand and Osh, via Isfana. This is an uncommon border crossing, but you can read info on it here.
Jirgatol-Karamyk- Currently closed to foreigners. If tensions rise and Kyzyl-Art is closed it could re-open (as it did in 2012).
A Rainbow Mountain in the no-man’s land between Kyzyl Art Pass and Bordöbö
Qolma Pass/Kalasu– Finally opened to foreigners in summer of 2017. This is Tajikistan’s only border crossing with China that connects Murghab to Kashgar/Kashi. Knowledge of Mandarin is helpful with this crossing. I have now done the crossing in both directions in 2018. You cannot take your own transport or walk over the border. You must hitchhike with truckers headed over the pass. Border patrol on either side know this and will assist you in getting on a truck. Learn more about the Qolma Pass border crossing here.
Ishkashim-Sultan Eshkashim- The gateway into the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. This is the most common way to visit Afghanistan from Tajikistan. Note that this border will sometimes close in times of disease outbreak and if the Taliban forces push closer to Sultan Eshkashim on the Afghan side. This border crossing is also the site of the cross-border market on Saturdays held on an island on the Panj River that technically sits on the Afghan side. You do not need a visa for the cross-border market and you will only need to hand over your passport to the border officer during the duration of your visit to the market. This market hasn’t been held for quite some time, if you may be in the area on a Saturday, ask locals on the status.
Panji Poyan-Shir Khan Bandar- This is the border crossing that will take you from Dushanbe to Kunduz. This border crossing is not recommended at this time due to Taliban fighting with Afghan forces. It is intermittently closed as well.
Khorog-Shegnan- A bridge across the Panj River connects Khorog to Shegnan. This border is also called Tem. Note that crossing here has not been recommended in the last two years because of Taliban fighting in Shegnan.
Kokul-Darkod- This border crossing is located about 70 km east of the Panji Poyon crossing. Crossing at Kokul requires a ride on a rickety boat across the River Panj as there is no bridge. Crossing here is not recommended for the same reasons the border at Panji Poyan is not recommended.
Ruzvai-Nusai- Border crossing bridge over the River Panj located about 3 km east of Kalai Khumb. Crossing here could be of interest for those wanting to explore the rural Badakhshan Province that you will see along the M41 from Kalai Khumb to Khorog. Taliban forces may push up into this area as they gained more foothold in the Badakhshan in 2017, so this is not recommended.
Kupruki Vanj- Jomarji Bolo- Border crossing over a bridge across the River Panj from near the terminus of the Vanj Valley Road at the Pamir Highway. Similar notes can be said here about crossing at Vanj as is about crossing at Ruzvai. This crossing is not recommended as well for the same reasons.
Langar- Langar is currently closed to all traffic. If the border crossing at Langar ever does open it will prove useful for those accessing the Little Pamir in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.
The Afghan side of the border at Ishkashim
Relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have warmed in 2018 and have seen the Panjakent-Samarkand border re-open after being closed for many years, as well as the Dusti-Pap border open.
Buston-Oybek- This is the border crossing that will get you between Khujand and Tashkent.
Konibodom-Beshariq- Cross here for those wanting to travel between Khujand and the Uzbek Fergana Valley city of Kokand.
Panjakent-Samarkand- After having been closed for several years because of bitter relations between the two countries. This is a convenient corssing for those wanting to combine the Silk Road history of Samarkand with the stunning mountain landscapes in the Fann Mountains.
Tursanzade-Denau- This is the border crossing that will take you between Dushnabe and little visited southeastern Uzbekistan. This was an alternative route commonly used when the Panjakent-Samarkand border was closed.
Dusti-Pap- This crossing is a more direct route for those wanting to go between Namangan and Khujand. This is a newly opened crossing in 2018.
*Other crossings that may potentially open in the future: Kushtegirmon-Bekabod and Zafarobod-Khavast in the Fergana Valley, and Shahrtuz-Gulbahor connecting southwest Tajikistan to Termez.
The Palace of Khudayar Khan in Kokand, Uzbekistan
Getting around by train is not popular in Tajikistan as the terrain makes connecting the country difficult, as well as the severe lack of funding.
Trains link Khujand with Uzbekistan, and in the south a train links Dushanbe to Kulob, and Qurgonteppa with Uzbekistan. Read more on Caravanistan.
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.
In 2016 Tajikistan began issuing e-vsias to citizens of most western countries making travel to Tajikistan that much easier.
Many nationalities can apply for an E-Visa. Starting in June 2016 Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs allows for visa applications online for single entry visas. Click here to apply online. The application process is simple and usually you’ll have an e-mail of your e-visa within about two days. You can apply for your GBAO permit when applying for your e-visa, which I recommend you do especially if planning to visit the Pamirs. E-visas are $50 USD and GBAO permits are an additional $20 USD.
You can still apply at an embassy in your home country or while you’re on the road. Bishkek, Tashkent, and Almaty are all common places to apply in. Read up on embassy reports here. Be sure to bring passport photos, several copies of your passport, and necessary fees.
Visa on Arrival
Dicey and 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?
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.
Tajikistan Travel Permits
The previously mentioned GBAO Permit is a must for travel in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. The GBAO region makes about for the eastern half of the entire country, and those traveling along the Pamir Highway will travel through most of the GBAO. There are police posts set up along the Pamir Highway and it will be checked. The only other required permits are for the Tajik National Park, Lake Sarez, and for Zorkul.
GBAO Permit- $20: This is a must for anyone traveling the Pamir Highway and anywhere in the eastern half of the country. It is easiest to apply for it at the same time when applying for your e-visa (you can apply for it at embassies and consulates when applying for your visa as well), 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 from Osh to Dushanbe you’re just shit out of luck.
Lake Sarez- $50/day: There is 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. In 2017 I visited Lake Sarez and the Usoi Dam with Nurmuhammed, the owner of Sarez Travel and I was told by him that a guide is mandatory and that the guide must apply for the permit for you. This is all the more information I know. When researching the permit before my trip last summer and even asking Tajik friends I got varying responses from “you can just pay police if you meet them out there” to “you must have a guide, Sarez Travel is the only organization that can go out there, and if you’re caught without a guide and permit you can be thrown in jail and deported”, but most commonly the response I got was that they just flat out didn’t know. No one was able to give me information on whether or not you need the permit to visit the lake from the south via the Mountain Lakes of Bachor and Bulunkul/Yashilkul, so if anyone has first hand information please comment here or email me at adventuresoflilnicki @ gmail.com.
The Tajik government is really cautious about people visiting Lake Sarez because if the Usoi Dam were to ever breach it would have catastrophic consequences.
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 (Pamir Eco-Cultural Tourism Association) in Khorog’s City Park. I have read that it is available in Murghab as well, but I am not sure if this is true.
Tajik National Park- 15 TJS/day: The Tajik National Park is massive to say the least. You should have one for visiting anywhere on the map below that falls within the green area (sorry for the water stains on my permit & map). Popular places in the Tajik National Park includes are: treks around the Bartang Highway (including Grum Grijmailo Glacier, Khafrazdara Valley, Lake Sarez), trekking around the Vanj Valley Road (including Poi Mazar & Fedchenko Glacier), the Mountain Lakes of Bachor, Yashilkul, Pshart Valley, Madiyan Valley, and trekking much beyond the shores of Karakul from Karakul Village. You can purchase your Tajik National Park pass from PECTA in Khorog, or from park rangers once you are in the park. With that all said, I’ve never been asked once to see my permit, or even ran into a park ranger anywhere within the Tajik National Park.
Nomadic ways meet Soviet Empire. Tajikistan as well as the greater Central Asia region is not known as a foodie destination. Meals are simple and meat-centric, with little spice. With that said there are some great dishes like Qurutob, which is a personal favorite Tajik dish. In Dushanbe and to a lesser degree in Khorog international food including Indian, Italian and more can be found. The best places to go for traditional Tajik fare are chaikhanas (tea houses) or bazaars. Most homestays include at least breakfast and dinner in your nightly fee.
Chai is served with every meal in Tajikistan. Green (zelony) and black (chorny) 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. If staying in a homestay your host will likely fill your glass when you get to about halfway over and over again. If you are done, sip the last bit of tea out of your cup and flip the cup upside-down to notify that you do not want more.
To Tajiks bread is life, therefore it is never thrown away for fed to animals no matter how hard and stale it gets. Non accompanies just about every meal in Tajikistan. It is a flatbread similar to Indian nan, just thicker.
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.
A greasy fried rice that can be found just about anywhere in Tajikistan and throughout Central Asia. Traditionally it’s fried in a large wok called a qazaan using animal fat, chunks of mutton or beef, carrot, and sometimes onion, garlic, egg, veggies, chickpeas or potato.
Salad is a common accompaniment to dishes like plov and qurutob. Just pour your bowl of salad over your main course. Typically will be chopped tomato and cucumber and sometimes other veggies mixed in. One personal favorite is carrot salad, which is simply julienned carrots with lots of olive oil and garlic.
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 the country, particularly in the west.
Meat kabobs most commonly of mutton or beef. On occasion you can find chicken and even rarer, vegetable shashlik.
A soup of mutton or beef, potato, and onions or other vegetables that are available.
Noodle dumping stuffed usually with meat and onions, topped with sour cream. On occasion you will find them stuffed with potato or pumpkin.
Similar to Indian Samosa. Flakey fried dough usually stuffed with a combination of either minced mutton or beef and onions. These are quick snacks you’ll find served up at street side, bazaars, and chaikhanas.
*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 vegetarian. It’s not a completely unfamiliar concept here, but just know your options especially in rural areas can become very limited.
In cities such as Dushanbe, Khorog and Khujand you will find a range of accommodations from hostels and homestays to decent hotels, although the only luxury hotels are typically found in Dushanbe. In smaller towns like Istaravshan, Kalai Khumb, Panjakent, Rushan, and Murghab you’ll be more limited to basic hotels and homestays. In much the rest of the country you’ll be left to homestays and even tent camping. If planning to trek on your trip to Tajikistan it is advisable to bring a tent as you will likely be tent camping most nights. Here are some of my favorite accommodations I’ve stayed at in my travels in Tajikistan, note that many of the accommodations listed do not have websites, but you can call to reserve or go to Pamir Top, and they can usually book just about anywhere for you online.
Haft Kul: Najmidden Homestay (+992 926366748 or can be booked through ZTDA)
Iskanderkul: Shezok Guesthouse
Sarytag: Dilovar’s Homestay (+992 927882235 or can be booked online through ZTDA)
Camping on the shores of Lake Alovaddin
Accommodation costs and amenities can vary widely in Tajikistan. In more rural areas and while trekking tent camping is free and possible, if you are near a settlement always ask permission first. Homestays & guesthouses can found throughout the country and typically will cost 110-180 TJS per night and typically including breakfast & dinner. Hostels are typically only found in cities and will usually cost around 90-120 TJS per night and may or may not include breakfast. Hunting camps such as the one in Jarty Gumbez should cost about 315-365 TJS per night including breakfast & dinner (note that most hunting camps will not take travelers from November to April as this is hunting season and they will typically be booked). Hotels will range in cost depending on how nice they are. Cheaper ones will start around 225 TJS per night and sore up and over 1,100 TJS per night. Homestays & guesthouses are my favorite accommodations in Tajikistan because you typically will get to know the lovely family that runs it, get a little more insight into what Tajik life is like, and sometimes even language lessons (Tajiks love to share their culture with those interested). Note that not all homestays and guesthouses will have showers, many will only have squat toilets, and it’s not unusual for your bed to consist of mats stacked on the floor. For those needing more luxuries than this leaving the main cities in Tajikistan are probably not a good idea for you.
Tajikistan Travel: What To See & Do
Where to start, where to start… Tajikistan is one of the most stunning countries I’ve visited. The mountains and remoteness are usually the main allure for most tourists who travel to Tajikistan. Here are a few popular adventures:
The Pamir Highway (M41)
The Roof of The World, or ‘Bam-i-Dunya’ as the Pamiris call it. The Pamir Highway is the most popular reason people come to Tajikistan. This is the mother of all road trips. The Pamir Highway actually extends from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, makes a quick ben into southeastern Uzbekistan, traverses Tajikistan from west to east to north and then terminates in Osh, Kyrgyzstan (there are arguments as to the beginning and end of the highway though). The main stretch of the Pamir Highway most tourists travel on is between Dushanbe and Osh. This road trip will take you through high altitude passes, Pamiri and Kyrgyz villages, jagged mountains, crystal clear lakes, and even give you glimpses into the Pakistani Hindi Kush and rural northern Afghanistan just a mere few meters across the Panj River.It also provides access to many treks into the Pamirs ranging in difficulty from easy to hardcore mountaineering.
Expect to pay in the range of 0.65¢-0.90¢ USD per kilometer for a Landcruiser or Pajero with driver. On my first trip to Tajikistan I chose to travel by private car hire (I wanted to really get the most out of my Pamir Highway adventure, little did I know I’d be back yearly). The driver, Khorsaan I ended up arranging to get me from Dushanbe to Khorog from Hello Hostel was absolutely lovely, so once we arrived to Khorog and he offered me a generous $0.70 per kilometer off the starting gate to take me from Khorog to Osh I immediately took him up on it. 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 USD. 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 the PECTA office in Khorog’s City Park (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. A great place to check to find other travelers is on the Caravanistan Forum.
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.
It is possible to make the trip between Dushanbe and Khorog in 3 days, but why? Most who travel the highway making side trips and treks will take around 9 days. For those really wanting to see the area a month can even not yield enough time. I personally have spent 2 weeks along the Pamir Highway in 2016, and over 4 weeks in 2017, and yet there is still a lot I haven’t seen in the Pamirs and GBAO region.
Trekking in the Fann Mountains, Haft Kul & Yagnob Valley
The Fann Mountains are the best trekking destination you’e never heard of. With many jagged peaks, stunningly beautiful crystal clear lakes, glacially carved valleys and a decent network of homestays to experience rural Tajik culture and life it’s easy to see why the Fanns are the second most visited part of the country. Treks range from easy to extremely difficult ascent to summit 5000+ meter peaks.
The Fanns are located in northwestern Tajikistan, the main jumping off points into the Fanns is the small city of Panjakent. For those wanting to combine trekking in the Fanns with the historical Silk Road city of Samarkand across the border in Uzbekistan it became easy yet again with the re-opening of the Panjakent-Samarkand border crossing in 2018. Artuch Base Camp can be reached by shared taxi or minibus from Panjakent, and Panjakent can be easily reached by shared taxi and minibus from Dushanbe, Khujand, Sarvoda, Ayni, and Samarkand. The popular and easiest to access trek in the area is the Seven Lakes of Marguzor (the Haft Kul). The lakes can easily be reached by shared taxi and minibus from Panjakent. Note that your passport and e-visa will be checked at the checkpoint near Shing Village on your way down to the lakes.
The Yagnob Valley is much less visited than the Fann Mountains albeit being not very far away. The draw here is to visit villages where people have lived traditionally for hundreds of years and still speak the ancient Sogdian Language. The Yagnob valley can reached by shared taxi from Sarvoda to Margeb. Margeb is the jumping off point for trekking into the Yagnob Valley. I haven’t yet visited the Yagnob Valley, but can recommend ZTDA to help arrange transport, guides, porters, homestays, and more.
Sunrise over Alovaddin Lake in the Fann Mountains
The Wakhan Valley
Many include the excursion through the Wakhan Valley as an alternative route on their Pamir Highway trip. From Khorog, rather than follow the true M41 through the Ghunt Valley toward Jelondy and Bulunkul, you will head south to the beautiful Tajik Wakhan Valley and meet back up with the M41 via the Khargush Pass near Bulunkul. The Wakhan Valley follows the Afghan border through some truly amazing scenery with glimpses of the ice-capped Hindu Kush forming the natural border of Afghanistan and Pakistan across the Pamir River, which forms the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. You will pass through the picturesque villages of Ishkashim, Namadgut, Darshai, Yamchun, Yamg, Vrang, Zong, Langar, and finally Ratm as you travel along the valley. 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 traveling in the Wakhan and more check out the Tajik Wakhan Valley Guide.
Ishkashim is also the jumping off point and border crossing into the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. In 2017 I did make the visit across into the Afghan Wakhan. Check out my article on what it was like to travel as a solo woman in the Afghan Wakhan, learn how to get an Afghan Visa in Khorog, and see photos from my travels in the Afghan Wakhan & Great Pamir Mountains. Ishkashim is also home to the popular cross-border Saturday market where Tajiks and Afghans come to buy and sell goods with each other, that takes place on an island in the Panj River (technically on the Afghan side). The main reasons tourists visit the market is for the bragging rights of saying they’ve been to Afghanistan, however without having to shell out big money for the visa. The market was sporadically open in 2016, and was closed for 2017 as far as I am aware. If you happen to be in the area and the day lines up, ask locals if it may be on, but as of right now, do not expect it to be.
Yamchun Fortress & The Hindu Kush
Bartang Highway & Valley
This is probably the wildest ride you’ll have in Tajikistan and is a popular alternative for traveler and cyclists to the Pamir Highway. This road cuts through the super remote Western Pamir along the Bartang River Valley. The Bartang Highway links up with the Pamir Highway at the village of Rushan (50 km north of Khorog) in the south, and near Karakul in the north. The best time of year to travel the Bartang Highway is from mid July until mid September. Earlier in the spring the road is usually inaccessible due to the river running high and landslides and in the later fall because of heavy snow. The most visited stretch of the Bartang Highway is just a few kilometers up from Rushan where travelers get dropped off at suspension bridge and make the short trek to the beautiful village of Jizeu.
Other excursions in the Bartang Valley include: Khafrazdara Valley/Grum Grijmailo Glacier, experiencing the remote life of the Bartangi people (they’re famed for their legendary hospitality), Lake Sarez, trekking in Basid & Badara, visiting remote sites between Gudara & Kök Jar, and trekking beyond Jizeu to the Ravmed Valley.
This is the bustling capital of Tajikistan and a likely entry point for those flying into the country. There are a number of attractions around the city including: The World’s Tallest Flagpole, The World’s Largest Teahouse, The Green Bazaar, Rudaki Park, and more. Check out the Dushnabe City Guide for more information on everything you need to know before visiting Dushanbe.
Rudaki Park, Dushanbe
This is the largest city in the GBAO region and home to most of Tajikistan’s Ismaili population- Ismailis are Shia and known for their very progressive interpretation of Islam. Khorog is a great jumping off point for many adventures in the Badakhshan, making arrangements if you plan to travel across the border into Afghanistan, getting an Afghan Visa, and a nice place to relax between adventures in the Pamirs. Make sure to spend an afternoon at Khorog’s Central Park, where you’ll find a large swimming pool, carnival, walking paths, a couple chaikhanas, and home to the PECTA office. Other sites to visit include the Botanical Garden, Aga Khan foundation, and the Central Asia University.
The view of Khorog and the Gunt River from the Botanical Gardens
The Tajik Fergana Valley
Khujand is the main city in the Tajik Fergana Valley with enough sites to keep you busy for a couple days. Make sure to visit the bustling Panshanbe Bazaar, Sheikh Massal ad-Din Mausoleum & Complex, the ancient Citadel & Kamoli Khujandi Park, and the tallest Lenin Statue still standing in Central Asia.
Istaravshan is another popular stop in the Tajik Fergana Valley, located only about 90 minutes by shared taxi from Khujand. Istaravshan has several lovely mosques and madrasa without the large crowds that Samarkand and Bukhara draw on the other side of the border. The attractions here include: Mug Teppe, Shahr-e-Kuhna, Hazrat-i-Shah Mosque, Hauz-i-Sangin Mosque, Sary Mazar, Chor Gumbez, and Abdullatif Sultan Madrasa.
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. For those headed for the Chinese border at Qolma Pass you will likely spend a night in Murghab before or after crossing.
Approaching Murghab from the south
Part of the Zorkul Nature Reserve (I unfortunately still have not visited 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 add #permit jump). Learn more about Zorkul in my GBAO & Pamir Travel Guide.
This large lake sits smack in the middle of Tajikistan and only exists because of disaster. In 1911 a magnitude 7.4 earthquake shook down a mountain face that crushed the villages of Usoi and Sarez, naturally creating the Usoi Dam. This dam blocked off the Murghab River and began to fill the valley. This is a beautiful lake in remote Tajikistan, but you should have a guide and permit before visiting. Learn more about how to get to Lake Sarez in my Lake Sarez Guide.
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, that is now 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 journey. 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 in the GBAO & Pamir Travel Guide.
Kyrgyz kids playing in Karakul
Where To Go In Tajikistan
AROUND DUSHANBE & THE RASHT VALLEY
Dushanbe and the surrounding areas areas are often overlooked by most travelers to Tajikistan that are headed to the country for wild mountain adventures in the Pamirs & Fanns. The Rasht Valley and many of the sites around Dushanbe are popular with expats, especially on the weekends.
Dushanbe is the capital and largest city in Tajikistan. Must see highlights include: The World’s Tallest Flagpole, Rudaki Park, Green Bazaar, Kohki Navruz, Mevlana Yakub Charki Mosque, Victory Park, and more. Dushanbe is a great place to relax between adventures in the Fanns and Pamirs as well. Read more about what to do, where to stay and what to eat in my Dushanbe City Guide. Shop Dushanbe accommodations here.
The intricate work on the ceilings on the main building of Kokhi Navruz in Dushanbe
Hisor is one of the more popular half-day trips from Dushanbe. Travelers come here to explore the Fortress of Hisor and Hisor Caravansersai, as well as the 16 & 17th century madrasas at the fortress that house a museum. Learn more about how to visit Hisor here.
Justa short drive north of Dushanbe Varzob Valley is a great day trip away from the bustle of Dushanbe. Make sure and trek out to Gusgarf Falls On your visit. Read more on how to get to Varzob Gorge & Gusgarf Falls here.
Timur Dara Lake
This beautiful lake sits in the Karatag Valley near the villages of Shahrinav & Hakimi about 45 km west of Dushanbe. This trek can be done as a long day trip, or as a multi-day trekking trip in the Karatag Valley. Learn more about Timur Dara Lake and how to get there here.
Nurek Dam & Reservoir sits about 80 km southeast of Dushanbe along the route most start the Pamir Highway trip from. Nurek Dam is the second highest manmade dam in the world, blocking of the Vakhsh River. Renting a houseboat and lazing around in the water at the Aqua Club are a popular excursion from Dushanbe. Read more here.
Located in the Rasht Valley in northcentral Tajikistan. The main draw to Garm is trekking in this little visited part of the country. Treks can be arranged that will take you on a loop around from Hazor Chashma Village. Caravan Tours can arrange trips to visit the Rasht Valley.
Located along the main road between Garm and Jirgatol is the picture-perfect village of Jafr. This is one of the most scenic parts of the Rasht Valley Road. One of the main reasons to come to Jafr is to meet Mirzosho Akabirov. Mirzosho has an amazing botanical garden with exotic fruit trees that he has spent years grafting to grow various fruits.
Tavildara is the main stop along the Pamir Highway for those taking the Northern Route between Dushanbe and Kalai Khumb. Nearby to Tavildara is the Sagirdasht Pass that is typically closed October to May due to snow.
GORNO BADAKHSHAN AUTONOMOUS OBLAST
The Badakhshan, or commonly just called by its acronym GBAO accounts for about half of Tajikistan’s landmass. With that said, the GBAO is desolate, with only 3% of Tajik citizens calling it home. The GBAO is the most popular draw for tourists wanting to take on the famed Pamir Highway.
Kalai Khumb feels like a great oasis for those making the long journey between Dushanbe and Khorog. I highly recommend splitting the trip into two days, by spending the night in Kalai Khumb. Kalai Khumb is small and easily walkable with a few shops, restaurants and accommodations. I recommend spending the night at Roma Jurayev Guesthouse that sits right on the river. Run across the street for a riverside dinner at the Oriona Chaikhana (they serve wine, you’re welcome). Shop other Kalai Khumb accommodations here.
Continuing along the Pamir Highway toward Khorog brings us Vanj. Vanj is the jumping off point for explorations of Fedchenko Glacier, the world’s longest non polar glacier. Head east off the M41 on the Vanj Valley Road to Poi Mazar. From Poi Mazar the nose of the glacier is a long day hike there and back, but can be split into an overnight trip. There are two homestays along the Vanj Valley the can be book through Pamir Top.
Rushan is located about 65 km north of Khorog and is the jumping off point for further explorations into the Bartang Valley. If planning to spend the night in Rushan before deaprting into the Bartang Valley, Mubarek Homestay comes recommended (+992 934052304).
The Bartang Highway is a wild adventure for anyone wanting to explore into the remote Bartang Valley in the Western Pamir. The most popular excursion along the Bartang Highway is the short and gentle trek to the beautiful village of Jizeu. From KM 23, cross the suspension bridge across the Bartang River and follow the trail for about 2 hours to reach the lower village of Jizeu. 7 of the 14 homes in Jizeu act as homestays and will gladly take you in. I stayed at Lola Homestay when I visited Jizeu in 2016 and had a wonderful time there.
But the Bartang Valley is more than just Jizeu. Two of my favorite treks begin from the Bartang Valley. The trek to the wildly remote Khafrazdara Valley & Grum Grijmailo Glacier begin from the quaint village of Pasor, as well as the start of the journey to Lake Sarez from the village of Barchidev. Other stops along the Bartang Highway include: trekking around Basid & Badara, the adorable village of Savnob, going beyond Jizeu into the Ravmed Valley, and more. Read up more on travel in the Bartang Valley in my Bartang Valley Travel Guide.
Khafrazdara Lake, a 4 day in and out hike from the Bartang village of Pasor
Khorog is the only real town you’ll find in the GBAO region, home to just under 30,000 people. It’s a laid back and fairly liberal town in regards to much of the rest of Tajikistan. The population is largely of Ismaili faith- a Shia branch of Islam. It’s not uncommon to see women and girls wearing knee length skirts, and the headscarf is less popular. English is fairly widely spoken as Khorog is a well educated town in Tajikistan thanks to the Aga Khan Foundation’s efforts. You’ll often find yourself being stopped on the streets by friendly locals wanting to speak English with you. Attractions in Khorog include the City Park, Botnaical Garden, and Regional Museum. Khorog is a great place to relax between trekking adventures into the Pamirs.
There are a number of guesthouses, hostels, and hotels in Khorog, so check them out here, and here. For lunch try Nan Melan’s Qurutob, for a cup of coffee walk over to Cafe Luni, and for dinner head to Dehli Darbar for great Indian food. If you need to stock up on anything head to the busy bazaar.
For those wanting to stay on the true Pamir Highway between Khorog and near Jelondy, this is the route. As you head out of Khorog you’ll pass a number of green orchard villages along the sky-blue Gunt River, with some of the most impressive mountain backdrops happening around Dehmyona.
For those wanitng to trek the stunning lakes of Bachor, you’ll need to get a minibus to Shazud Village on the Pamir Highway (20 TJS, go to the main taxi stand by the Khorog Bazaar and start asking for Shazud). Once to Shazud ask around for a taxi to Bachor (should cost about 100-120 TJS). From Bachor the hike takes off toward the east where you’ll eventually run into signs pointing you toward Zarojkul (north, to your left), or Yashilkul (east, straight forward). To make the loop up to Langar Pass, Uchkul, Zarojkul, back down to Tsaxinkul and back to Bachor plan for 5-7 days trekking. You can arrange guides and pack animals in Bachor. Don’t forget to order Jan Bakker’s ebook, Trekking in the Pamirs for a detailed guide on reaching the Mountain Lakes of Bachor. Technically you’re supposed to have a Tajik National Park permit to trek around in this area.
The next attraction off the M41 after Shazud and Bachor is the hot springs at Jelondy. Jelondy is a popular weekend trip for people living in Khorog. Further east of Jelondy you will cross up and over the 4272 meter Koi-Tezek Pass into moon like landscapes. There are some treks that can be done in the Koi-Tezek Pass area. Further east of Koi-Tezek you will descend to the turn off for Bulunkul and Yashilkul, continuing a little further you will pass by Sassykul and the turn off toward Khargush Pass and the Wakhan Valley. Continuing east will take you toward Alichur and on to Murghab.
Tsaxinkul on the Bachor Mountain Lakes Trek
The Shokhdara Valley runs nearly parallel and in between the more popular Wakhan Valley and Gunt Valley. If you want to explore a lesser-visited stretch of the Pamirs, this is it. Sites to check out along the valley are: ancinet shrine in Tandem, the main town of Roshtaqala and its Red Fort it gains its name from, the beautiful lake of Durum Kul, views of Pik Engles & Pik Karl Marx, and up the tough Maisara Pass to rejoin the M41 near Jelondy.
Homestays are available along the valley at Vezdara, Sindev, Shohirizm, Javshanguz, and Bodomara.It is possible to make several treks from the Shokhdara Valley into either the Wakhan Valley or the Gunt Valley. I personally have not traveled along the Shokhdara Valley in my Tajikistan travels yet. For information on some of the treks between the Wakhan Valley and the Shokhdara Valley, click here.
The much-talked about Wakhan Valley is a highlight for many in their travels in Tajikistan. As you twist and turn down the Wakhan Valley road you’ll at times feel so close to the villagers walking the narrow dirt path on the Afghan side of the border just across the river that you could have a conversation with them (hint: you pretty much can!). And the backdrop of the white-capped Hindu Kush Mountains that form the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Popular stops along the Wakhan Valley include: the largest village of the Tajik Wakhan Valley- Ishkashim, the Qaaqa Fortress near Namadgut, the trek up to Darshai Gorge, Yamchun Fortress and Bibi Fatima Hot Spring near the village of Vichkut, the Buddhist Stupa in Vrang, the adorable green village of Langar and finally the last scattering of houses up the hill at the village of Ratm.
A great trek to try in the Wakhan is the Pik Engles Medow Hike.
Zorkul is a large lake and nature reserve that sits right 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. North of Zorkul back towards Shakhty are grand Neolithic cave paintings. There are several treks that can be done in the Zorkul area.
Bulunkul & Yashilkul
Bulunkul & Yashilkul sit 14 km north off the M41. Bulunkul is allegedly the coldest place in all of Tajikistan with winter temperatures that can drop below -40ºC. There are a couple homestays in the small scattering of white washed buildings that comprise of the village of Bulunkul. Bulunkul is still a good option to spend a night as sunrise on the lake is a sight to see with perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains. The wind usually picks up later in the morning, so you’ll want to get an early start for perfect reflections. Another 4 km away sits Yashilkul which translates out to green lake. Yashilkul is much bigger than Bulunkul in size and the lake is more of a blue color than the green its named after. From Yashilkul it’s possible to trek to Langar Pass and the mountian lakes, or straight west to Bachor. Technically you are supposed to have a Tajik National Park Permit for visiting Yashilkul, however I’ve never been asked for it or seen a ranger out here.
If you’re traveling the Pamir Highway from Dushanbe, this is where you’ll notice things become more obviously Kyrgyz. Alichur is a village of several white-washed rectangular buildings just off the highway of predominantly Kyrgyz families. There are several guesthouses here marked with signs as well as stolvonaya- meaning canteen. The locals in Alichur are really friendly and will likely come hang out while you wander the village. There are many yurts that sit just off the highway around Alichur and along the highway nearby, and you’ll likely even see people out herding yaks in the pasture. There is one guesthouse listed on booking.com, but otherwise there are several around the village. I personally have stayed at Rahima Doronshoeva Homestay (+992 908482612 or +992 931065658) when I spent a night in Alichur, and eaten a couple times at the canteen on the east end of the village (it’s usually full of truckers headed down from Kashgar to Dushanbe).
I recommend spending the night in Alichur so that you can visit the nearby Ak-Balyk pond in the morning just east of Alichur. Ak-Balyk means white fish in Kyrgyz, the small pond is filled with unbelievably clear and turquoise water best viewed in the morning before the wind picks up and you can see perfect reflections of the mountains to the south dazzling in it. Another highlight of Alichur is the great stargazing you’ll have right outside your guesthouse.
As far as must-see sights in Alichur there aren’t many. There is a mosque in the middle of the village, and there are a few treks that can be started from Alichur to Zorkul and toward the Bazardara Valley.
Ak-Balyk, near Alichur
Jarty Gumbez, Keng Shiber, Kara Jilga & Bash Gumbez
To reach Jarty Gumbez, Keng Shiber, Kara Jilga & Bash Gumbez you will need your own transport (ie: 4×4 hire). Jarty Gumbez and Keng Shiber are Marco Polo sheep hunting camps that are possible to visit in the summer months (May-October). Jarty Gumbez is located down a dusty dirt track south off the Pamir Highway at Povorot. Head south along the Afghan border between high altitude peaks to search for Marco Polo sheep (I saw hundreds of them out here). There is a very nice guesthouse at Jarty Gumbez with heated rooms and a hot spring, the family that runs the guesthouse and hunting camp as well as the hunting guides that live out here are incredibly friendly. Keng Shiber is another hunting camp located just north of Zorkul, which can be reached from either the track that leads east from the Khargush Pass toward Zorkul and onto Shimak, or from track that head south from Bash Gumbez. Both Jarty Gumbez and Keng Shiber are great places to head for those wanting to photograph the milky way.
Nearby sites to Jarty Gumbez along the dirt tracks back toward the Shaimak-Murghab Road is the Ak Bura Meteor Crater, and the Shor Bulak observatory that is no longer in working order, and allegedly closed to foreigners (I’ve been there and there was no one else there, and at that point I did not know it was closed to foreigners).
Kara Jilga is another great place to head in this area. There is usually a yurt camp in the area with beautiful Wakhan scenery all around and the turquoise lakes of Kazankul & Jigitkul.West from Kara Jilga you’ll have awesome views of Zorkul.
Madiyan Valley is reachable from the Pamir Highway, where you’ll head west down a dirt track just south of Murghab. There is a settlement named Ak-Tal in the valley that has lush green sceneries and trees along the river. Continuing deeper into the valley you’ll eventually reach Madiyan hot springs, but will require you to cross the river to reach them.
For those looking for a trek, you can trek up and over the Gumbezkul Pass to connect with the Pshart Valley that is located just north of Murghab. Madiyan Valley sits within the Tajik National Park, so you are supposed to have a permit on you.
Welcome to the wild wild east! Murghab is where those wanting to explore deeper into the eastern Pamir will base themselves. Murghab is set in a scenic valley, but the town itself is more utilitarian than it is attractive. Somoni and Lenin are the two main streets through the town. There are a handful of guesthouses, the Pamir Hotel, and a chaikhana here. Don’t miss out on the shipping container bazaar in the heart of town. Both times I’ve arrived in Murghab I’ve stayed at Tulfabek Guesthouse (+992 935389159).
The draw to the Rangkul area is sand dunes, mountain desert landscapes, and salt lakes. There are yurt stays and guesthouses in Rangkul, and its even possible to go camel trekking in the area. Rangkul is located northeast of Murghab near the Chinese border (north of the Qolma Pass), and there are shared taxis that depart in the last afternoon on most days from the bazaar in Murghab for around 30 TJS per seat.
Shaimak is pretty far off the beaten path. Most who visit Shaimak do so as an alternative to the Pamir Highway, but heading east from the Khargush Pass to Zorkul and Kara Jilga and then continuing east to the furthest southeast corner of Tajikistan- Shaimak. Shaimak is a small village that sits below the impressive bluff of Ak Tash. Shaimak was of strategic importance during The Great Game, when between 1830 and 1907 Britain and Russian vied for power of Central Asia. Shaimak was important because it was the one point you could be at and view western China, Afghanistan’s Little Pamir and across into Pakistan (back then British India). North from Shaimak shortly before returning to Murghab are beehive shaped tombs at Konyekurgon. You can take a detour off the Shaimak-Murghab road to visit the Ak Bura Crater, and Shor Bulak Observatory. There is a guesthouse in Shaimak, but note that to reach Shaimak it will likely be by 4×4 hire.
Pshart Valey swirls with color just north of Murghab. From the yurt camp in the Pshart Valley it is possible to do the long day trek previously mentioned up the Gumbezkul Pass to connect with Madiyan Valley. It is possible to get a shared taxi out here from Murghab for about 100 TJS per seat. It is possible to continue west on foot in the Pshart Valley to eventually reach the Murghab River where it flows in to Lake Sarez. Pshart sits in the Tajik National Park, so you should have a permit on you.
The colorful Pshart Mountains
Ak Baital Pass
Ak Baital means white horse in Kyrgyz and is the chosen name for this 4655 meter pass. The pass looks like something out of this world, and also don’t be surprised to see it snow here- even in summer. This is also one of the best [alces to try and spot Marco Polo sheep from along the Pamir Highway, so make sure and stop to have a look for them.
Karakul is usually the last stop for those headed for the Kyrgyz border at Kyzyl Art. Karakul is a massive lake just off the highway caused my a meteor impact. There is a small village on the east shore of the lake of the same name where it’s possible to grab a meal or spend the night in a guesthouse. South of Karakul it’s possible to follow jeep tracks toward Kök Jar where you can link back up to the Bartang Highway and descend to Gudara.
The Sughd region is located in northwestern Tajikistan and is centered around the ancient Sogdiana Civilization.The Sughd Region is a bit wealthier than the remainder of Tajikistan as the Fann Mountains helped create a natural barrier that protected them from the 1990’s Tajik Civil War that ravaged much of the country.
Khujand is Tajikistan’s second largest city situated in the Tajik Fergana Valley. Most who end up in Khujand are traveling either to/from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan as the three borders gnarl together here. Sites to check out oil Khujand are: Panshanbe Bazaar, Sheikh Massal ad-Din Mausoleum & Complex, the ancient Citadel & Kamoli Khujandi Park, and the tallest Lenin Statue still standing in Central Asia. There are a number of chaikhanas around town to grab a meal and quite a few hotels and hostels which you can book here.
Kamoli Khujandi Park in Khujand
Istaravshan is a 90 minute shared taxi away from Khujand and a great place to stop off for a couple hours or a day to break up the drive time between Khujand and Pankjakent or Dushanbe. Make sure and visit Mug Teppe, Shahr-e-Kuhna, Hazrat-i-Shah Mosque, Hauz-i-Sangin Mosque, Sary Mazar, Chor Gumbez, and Abdullatif Sultan Madrasa before you leave. Many of these sites are smaller and less impressive, yet similar to what you would see in the more famous and more crowded Silk Road cities across the Uzbek border. Shared taxis from Murghab will cost 15 TJS per person.
The main reason people head to Panjakent is because it’s the jumping off point to the Haft Kul and the Lakes Loop Trek in the Fann Mountains. Panjakent does have a few attractions in itself including Ancient Panjakent Archeological Site, Rudaki Museum, Olim Dodkhokh Mosque & Madrasa, the Panjakent Bazaar, the Devastitch Statue, and a golden Lenin Statue. There are a handful of hotels and guesthouses in Panjakent, I personally recommend Hotel Umariyon. For transport to Khujand, Istaravshan, the Haft Kul, Artuch, and Dushanbe leave from taxi stands not far from the bazaar. Just ask around the bazaar and you will get pointed to which one you need to head to. Panjakent should start getting busier with the re-opening of the Panjakent-Saarkand border in 2018.
High fiving the Lenin Statue in Panjakent
Panjrud is located off the main road to Panjakent on the way to Artuch Base Camp. Panjrud is important because it is the village that Rudaki the famous Persian poet was born. There is a mausoleum dedicated to Rudaki in the middle of Panjrud. Check booking.com for guesthouses in Panjrud.
The Haft Kul is a string of seven beautiful lakes that vary in color from light turquoise to nearly black. This is the easiest trekking to access in Tajikistan and can even be done as a day trip from Panjakent. The road goes all the way to the 6th lake, making the only lake reachable by foot only the 7th lake of Hazorchashma. Many will spend 2-3 days trekking here getting dropped off near the village of Shing and trekking down to the 7th lake and back. There is a homestay ran by the friendly Jumaboy and family called Najmidden Homestay near Nofin Lake. You can make an alternate trek starting from the village of Mogiyon to the west of the Haft Kul, hiking down to Rogich Village and then up and over the Komichura Pass to reach the 6th Lake (Marguzor) in the Haft Jul and then trek back to the first lake. Additionally from the west shore of Marguzor you can trek to Kiogli Village and then over Tavasang Pass to either head toward Artuch, Chimtarga Pass or Kaznok Pass to the Lakes Loop Trek, or to the Dukdon Pass to continue to Iskanderkul. Make sure and have your passport and e-visa handy as they will be checked at the check point near Shing. Read more on trekking in the Haft Kul in my Haft Kul Travel Guide.
Marguzor Lake in the Haft Kul
The Fann Mountains are stunningly beautiful and home to the beautiful lakes of Alovaddin, Kulikalon, Bolshoi Allo, Iskanderkul, and many more. There are several routes that can be taken leading you to these lakes, as well as beautiful valleys and rivers. For those more serious into mountaineering there are a few 5000 meter + peaks in this range, the tallest being Gora Chimtarga. Read more about trekking in the Fanns in my Fann Mountains Travel Guide.
Maloye Allo, near Bolshoi Allo in the Fann Mountains
Yagnob Valley & Margeb
The Yagnob Valley is much less visited by foreigners than the Fanns and the Haft Kul, but is equally as interesting. The Yagnob Valley is home to several remote settlements of people who still live traditionally as they have for hundreds of years and even still speak the ancient Sogdian language. Margeb is the main village and jumping point into the Yagnob Valley. Shared taxis are available from Sarvoda on most days as the Yagnobi traders that come down from Margeb will be returning home, seats usually run about 60 TJS.
Ayni isn’t much of a stop in itself as it is the main transport hub for those headed into the eastern Zeravshan Valley. There is an ATM here for those hoping to withdraw cash, and a mosque that may be of interest.
Sarvoda isn’t a site itself, much like Ayni. The main reason you would be here is to grab a shared taxi bound for either Margeb & the Yagnob Valley, Iskanderkul or Vertical Alovaddin Base Camp. There is a guesthouse here called Mehmonkhona Yazdon if you end up getting stuck here overnight. There is a chaikhana in Sarvoda that is painted green and has outdoor seating right along the main highway that sells great laghman.
The Khatlon region makes up the southwestern corner of Tajikistan. Khatlon can get dreadfully hot on the summer time. The best time of uyear to visit the Khatlon area is in springtime.
Qurgonteppa is a city situated in the southwest of Tajikistan, about two hours by bus or shared taxi from Dushanbe. The main attractions to check out in Qurgonteppa include the Chiluchor Sacred Spring, the Ajina-Teppa Buddhist Monastery, Childukharton Valley, and the The Mausoleum & Museum of Bibikhonum. Learn how to get to Qurgonteppa and more here.
Kulab is Tajikistan’s third largest city The biggest attractions here are to stock up at the massive bazaar before heading out on the Pamir Highway, and the Shrine to Mir Said Ali Hamadani.
Visiting Hulbuk Fortress in Pingan can be done as a day trip from Dushanbe or as a stop along your Pamir Highway adventure, as it is very close to Kulob. The main attraction is of course the 11th century Hulbuk Fortress. Read up on how to get to Hulbuk in this post here.
Trekking In Tajikistan
Tajikistan is a dream for trekkers and mountaineers. There are far too many treks to mention in this already forever long guide. To learn more about trekking in the country check out the following posts:
There are no shortage of festivals in Tajikistan. There are many that are only celebrated in one particular village and others that are celebrated nation-wide. Here are a few to list:
Navruz– This is the Persiam New Year that usually falls March 20-21 each year. The day is marked by celebrations all over the country.
Sayri Guli Lola Festival– Held in spring just after Navruz typically. The festival celebrates springtime and the tulips it brings with it. The song Naqshi Kalon is commonly played and celebrations usually include choirs, traditional music and dancing.
Victory Day– Celebrated on May 9 each year marking the Soviet defeat of the Germans in 1946 during WWII. The largest celebration happens at Victory Park in Dushanbe.
Ruz-i-Nour– Held on May 25, celebrated by Ismailis to commemorate the current Aga Khan’s first visit to the GBAO in 1992.
Imamat Day– Celebrated by Ismailis in the Badakhshan on July 11 each year. Commemorates the anniversary of the current Aga Khan taking over the Imamat of the Ismaili.
Roof Of The World Festival– Held in Late July in Khorog each year celebrating Pamiri traditions & culture. Features music, dancing and artwork from across the GBAO region.
Roof Of The World Regatta– Held at the end of July, this sailing competition takes place on lake Karakul. There are hopes to get Karakul marked the official highest navigable body of water in the world, beating out Lake Titicaca.
At Chabysh– Held in late July to early August each year near Murghab. The festival is centered around horse games, but also includes craft & art exhibits and yurts.
Eid al-Qurban– Eid al-Qurban or ‘Feast of the Sacrifice‘ is a huge holiday in Tajikistan as well as the rest of the Muslim world as it marks the end of the Hajj. The dates of Eid al-Qurban do float around year to year, but the holiday is usually celebrated in mid August to mid September. If you are in Tajikistan on the 3 days Eid al- Qurban is celebrated, you may very well be invited by a complete stranger to their family celebrations. On my first visit to Tajikistan I was wondering the streets of Dushanbe trying to find a good place to grab lunch when an older man walked to me and asked what time it was (in Russian). I responded ‘Sechas chas’ (one o’clock). He then told me I looked hungry and grabbed my arm and walked me down a street, down an alleyway (um, am I being kidnapped?!) that finally opened up into a courtyard. The man’s entire family that came from all over Dushanbe and the surrounding communities was there. The whole family then proceeded to feast for about the next 6 hours, setting plate after plate out that we dug into. His family members only spoke Russian and Tajik (my Russian was fairly limited and my Tajik was minimal) so one of his sisters called her cousin who was going to university in Khorog who spoke English and acted a s translator to fill the gaps in my Russian capabilities. This is why I love Tajiks, some of the friendliest and fun people in the world.
Independence Day– Celebrated September 9th each year, marking Tajikistan’s 1991 Independence from the Soviet Union. Independence Day is celebrated nationwide and usually includes parades, concerts, and fireworks.
Ruz-i-Mavlud– The Aga Khan’s birthday, celebrated on December 13.
Some of my Eid al-Qurban feasting buddies
Tajikistan Tour Operators & Guides
Tajik Companies Offering Tours Within The Country
Paramount Journey Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!
Women Rockin’ Pamirs First female guides in Tajikistan! Started by French NGO to get Tajik women into the guiding business. Offering trekking tours of the Pamirs.
Central Asian Based Companies Offering Tours In Tajikistan
Kalpak Travel– Offers group and private trips to the Fanns, the Pamirs, mountain biking in Tajikistan as well as trips to the greater Central Asian region. Mention the discount code: Nicki-Kalpack2017 when you e-mail them to book and receive 5% off your bookings!
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 company. Offering a 13 day tour from Bishkek to Dushanbe including the Pamir Highway.
Mir Corp US based company offering trips to Tajikistan in addition to trips they lead all over the former USSR and Balkans.
Untamed Borders Offering trips in Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Specializes in difficult to reach destinations.
AdvanTour Tour company that specializes in Central Asia tours, as well as areas of the former Soviet Union.
Crossing a rickety bridge on the way to Lake Sarez with Nurmuhammed from Sarez Travel
Tajikistan Travel Budget
Traveling Tajikistan on a budget isn’t too difficult to accomplish, however it’s not as cheap as backpacker meccas of Southeast Asia or Central America. Here are three different tiers of travel style budgets (these estimates are per person):
230 TJS/$25 USD Per Day
Staying in dorms & homestays, eating at the bazaar & chaikhanas, traveling by marshrutka & sometimes shared taxi, and trekking unguided.
450 TJS/$50 USD Per Day Per Day
Staying in decent double rooms & homestays in rural areas, eating at chaikhanas & international restaurants, traveling by shared taxi or splitting the cost of car & driver hire with other travelers, and going on an occasional guided trek.
900 TJS/ $100 USD Per Day
Sleeping in luxury hotels in cities & homestays in rural areas, eating at international restaurants when in cities and chaikhanas when in the rural, traveling by private car hire, taking guided and fully supported treks including equipment, porters and meals.
My personal budget when averaged out over my first trip in Tajikistan in 2016 averaged 750 TJS ($81 USD)/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 (I did hire a my own driver on the Pamir Highway). However, you can do this trip for a hell of a lot cheaper than this. Little did I know that I would be back in 2017, and back yet again in 2018.
In 2017 my budget (excluding my pricy tour to Lake Sarez) averaged less than 180 TJS ($20 USD)/day- On my second trip to Tajikistan I traveled by marshrutka & shared taxi everywhere I went and stayed in hostel dorms & homestays. Plus I spent nearly two months in Tajikistan so I didn’t have much on time restraints.
Tajikistan Travel Packing List
Inreach Explorer+– GPS & SOS beacon, that can also send and receive text messages. Delorme/Garmin offers some good monthly plans when in use.
Tajikistan and the High Pamirs by Robert Middleton & Hue Thomas. This is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from the history, great-game stories, travel information and more.
Central Asia by Lonely Planet. Handy to have with you, although don’t necessarily treat it like a bible. Things rapidly change and the currency can fluctuate so it’s not always dead on, however the new book for 2018 just released in June. The Central Asia Phrasebook by Lonely Planet I found this to be a handy item for Tajik, Russian and Kyrgyz phrases, not so much for the Wakhi phrase section.
‘Trekking In Tajikistan‘ by Jan Bakker & Christine Oriol. The much anticipated and hugely updated print version of Jan’s ebook. Jan has become a friend over the years and along with Christine have led trekking expeditions in the Pamirs, Fann and the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.
Pamirs.org: A great all-around resource for all things Pamir. From trekking, visa & permit information, cycling, sport and more.
Trekking in the Pamirs: Jan Bakker’s website with information on many hikes all over Tajikistan (not just the Pamirs!).
ZTDA: Zeravshan Tourism Development Association. Munira & Jamshed are very knowledgable about trekking, cultural experiences, handcrafts and more in the Zeravshan, Fann Mountains and Yagnob Valley. Office located in Kamoli Khujandi Park in Khujand.
PECTA: Pamir Eco Cultural Tourism Association. Zhendaya who is often working in the office in the City Park in Khorog is very helpful. Can arrange just about anything in to the Pamir and can arrange guides and/or porters.
META: Murghab Eco Tourism Association. Only provides advisory services. Working to develop tourism in the Murghab district.
Monk Bought Lunch: Travel blog by Stephen Lioy who has been asked in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a few years now.
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.
Indy Guide: Making travel in the whole of Central Asia & Mongolia easier by providing the largest community marketplace of Central Asian tour operators and drivers.
Internet & Mobile
Wifi can be found at many accommodations around Dushnabe, Khujand & Khorog, however the connection can be unreliable and weak at times. Sim cards are a bit of a pain in the arse to obtain, but are cheap with decent priced texting, calling and data. Tajikistan is strict about Sim cards being register to the buyer, so shops will not sell them to you unless you have paperwork showing you’ve been registered with OVIR. The much easier bypass is to make a Tajik friend and have them purchase and register it for you. Megafone has better coverage in the Sughd & Khatlon Regions, while TCell has much better coverage in the GBAO.
When I visited Tajikistan in 2016 social media apps like Facebook, Instagram & Twitter were all blocked, so I had to download a VPN in order to use them. When I returned in 2017 this was not the case, so know that some websites could be blocked at any time without any notice.
Tajikistan Travel Health & Safety
Tips for staying healthy:
The most common affliction to tourists is the usual travelers diarrhea. Sanitation isn’t of the highest standard in Tajikistan. Take the usual precautions you would in most developing countries and bring necessary medications as well as Imodium and a broad spectrum antibiotic.
Altitude sickness will affect some visitors. With 92% of the country being mountainous altitude sickness 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. Read more on altitude sickness here.
Do not drink the tap water. Bottled water is widely available. A water purification system is a great idea for trekkers and general for those who don’t want to contribute to Tajikistan’s plastic waste.
Malaria is sometimes present in far and remote southwestern Tajikistan.
Travel insurance is highly recommended. Tajikistan’s health care is not great, so should you fall ill or become injured badly enough you will need to seek treatment outside of Tajikistan. Shop plans at World Nomads.
Tips for safety:
Take the normal safety precautions that you would no matter where you’re visiting. Tajikistan is a relatively safe country. I never felt unsafe at any point in all my travels in Tajikistan. That said, always keep your wits about you. Probably the biggest annoyance I’ve personally encountered is younger men “falling in love” with you. From a porter that within about two hours of casually talking told me he loved me and asked if he could sleep in my tent, to a young man on my shared taxi to Pasor telling me that “your eyes are calling me”. A stern no will usually do the trick to stop this behavior.
There are reports of petty theft and occasional harassment. Keep a close eye on valuables in crowded areas.
Don’t flash money around (duh!).
In 2018 there was a terrorist attack carried out by men claiming to be members of the Islamic State in the Danghara District that killed 4 and injured 2 foreign cyclists. While something to be aware of, attacks like these are not typical in Tajikistan.
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 any trouble most of the time. 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 (sometimes dipping below -40ºC/40ºF) and heavy snows 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 & Pamirs). Many of those beautiful lakes in these areas 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 tension does occur. If you will be visiting the area make sure to stay up on the current events.
Landmines are a concern in remote border areas, especially in the Fergana Valley. Most have been cleared but be aware. If you aren’t sure find a local guide who knows the area well.
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. In 2012 there was instability in the GBAO region, so the country shut the region to tourists and evacuated any that were already there all out.
September 2018: There have been protests in Khorog and the central government in Dushanbe has begun a ‘crack-down’ on suspected criminals in the area. At times Tajikistan may close the GBAO region if things start to turn violent. This is something to be aware of and may force you to make alternative travel plans in Tajikistan.
Any Questions On Tajikistan Travel?
Ask your Tajikistan travel questions in the comments below.
https://i2.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/562A9380.jpg?fit=2000%2C1286&ssl=112862000Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Untitled-1-1030x667.pngNicole2019-03-15 06:00:282019-02-05 23:12:46Is Tajikistan Safe? The Short Answer: Yes
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