Tajikistan Travel Guide- Everything you need to know

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

Tajikistan Travel Guide

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.

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 June 2017, the exchange is now:
$1 USD=8.8 TJS

€=9.9 TJS

£=11.4 TJS

$1 AUS=6.5 TJS

$1 CAD=6.5

1 RUB=0.16 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.

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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*The links to books and maps on Amazon, flights on Expedia and Skyscanner and tours through Paramount Journey, G Adventure and Intrepid are affiliate links, if you choose to purchase these items through the links provided I am compensated at no extra cost to you! These links help offset the cost of the blog..and me being a starving artist!

This entry was posted in Asia, Central Asia, Tajikistan

8 thoughts on “Tajikistan Travel Guide- Everything you need to know

  • Diana December 14, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I’ve never wanted to go to Tajikistan until I started reading your posts about it. Holy cow it’s beautiful! Looks like my kind of place and I’m definitely adding it to my list!

    • Nicole December 16, 2016 at 5:53 am

      Go! You won’t be disappointed, I promise. I just loved it, I can’t wait to back!

  • Lila December 16, 2016 at 3:55 am

    Such an excellent detailed guide. The Indian version is called Samosa and I love it 🙂

    • Nicole December 16, 2016 at 5:54 am

      Thanks for the correction!!

  • Katie Featherstone December 26, 2016 at 2:57 am

    This is a wonderful guide, thank-you so much. I don’t think we will ever be needing the Lonely Planet anymore with bloggers upping their game so much.

    • Nicole December 26, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Thanks! I wanted to get a most up-to-date guide put out there for anyone planning a visit, the LP can get a bit outdated in that part of the world since everything seems to change so quickly!

  • Megan | Red Around The World January 20, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Ahh, this sounds like such an amazing trip! The photos are amazing!

    • Nicole January 20, 2017 at 11:32 pm

      Tajikistan and Yemen are officially my two favorite places now! Tajikistan I think is the easiest place in the world to photograph because everything there is beautiful. Definitely going back.

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