Tajikistan: detailed travel guide

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Tajikistan: detailed travel guide

Handsome Tajikistan is one of the most ancient states in the world, people founded it long before the onset of our era. He managed to carry many sights through the centuries, among them there are truly unique and unsurpassed natural beauty and traces of ancient civilizations. Today, tourists from the expanses of the former Soviet Union increasingly prefer to study Tajikistan, since it is easy to get to it, there is no need to apply for visas, and there is no less entertainment than on popular tourist routes.

Among the main reasons to visit this amazing country are:

  • ancient cities, monuments and buildings;
  • mountains of amazing beauty, which every climber considers it an honor to climb;
  • unique culture, national clothes and folklore;
  • rich oriental cuisine with a wide range;
  • no visa regime, fast flight.
Lake Iskanderkul in Tajikistan

Lake Iskanderkul in Tajikistan

Tajikistan is the smallest state in Central Asia. Squeezed between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China, small Tajikistan is landlocked. Most of the Pamir mountain range is located on its territory, the capital is the city of Dushanbe. More than ninety percent of the country’s territory is covered by mountains, and the poorly developed infrastructure does not allow mining, but the rocky depths contain many valuable resources waiting in the wings.

Among all Asian countries, only in Tajikistan do citizens speak the Iranian language (except, of course, Iran). Most of the citizens are Muslims, albeit in different directions. Among them, the most common are the Sunnis.

The population of Tajikistan is growing steadily every year, if in 2010 there were seven and a half million citizens, by 2018 it grew by almost one and a half million. Even in the late 1980s, when the migration of residents of the countries of the former Soviet Union peaked, the population continued to grow. Over the past eleven years, almost half a million people have migrated from the country.

Tajikistan is a multi-religious country where both Muslims and Christians get along well. The overwhelming majority of Christians are Orthodox. In the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, founded in 1925, one can meet Shiites – Muslims, who consider the head of the Muslim community not to caliphs, but to imams – these are the chosen descendants of the prophet. More than eighty non-Muslim organizations operate in the country, including Jews, Baha’is and Zoroastrians. There are also enough Orthodox citizens, there are officially six parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Modern Tajikistan dates back to the eight hundredth years of our era. Then the territory was ruled by the Samanid dynasty. This lasted until the fourteenth century, until the territory was conquered by the Turkic-Mongol people. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the country became part of the Russian Empire. After the Great October Revolution of 1917, the time of Soviet power came, and resistance units, called the Basmach units, rebelled in Tajikistan. Their goal was to expel the Bolshevik power from their land, the Basmachi military-political partisan movement then operated almost throughout the territory of Soviet Central Asia. The Bolsheviks defeated this movement just three years after its appearance, and soon the republic received the name of the Tajik Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic.

The years of Soviet rule became a time of recovery for Tajikistan, it developed in all directions: culture, economy, society grew like never before. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, splitting into 15 different republics, Tajikistan was no exception and was recognized as an independent state.

How to get to Tajikistan

By plane you can get to Dushanbe in just four and a half hours. Direct flights of Somon Air and UTair companies are regularly sent to Dushanbe airport, aircrafts of Air Astana, S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines, Turkish Airlines and many other airlines also fly with transfers. Also, Tajik national airlines operate flights to the cities of Khujand and Kurgan-Tyube. There are no direct flights from Ukraine and Belarus yet. You can also get to Tajikistan by rail, but it will take five days, and on the way you will have to cross the territories of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Visa and customs

Citizens of the former Soviet Union can enter the country without a long tedious visa application, it is enough to have an internal passport. It is worth remembering that it is prohibited by law to bring into the country amounts over five thousand dollars, and amounts over five hundred dollars must be included in the declaration at the time of arrival. It is also prohibited to export or import Tajik somoni into the country. Jewelry can be taken out of the country only if you have a document and a receipt confirming the purchase made in Tajikistan.

Currency exchange

The official currency is Tajik Somoni. The approximate ratio to the Russian ruble is one to eight, that is, one somoni is equal to eight rubles. With the dollar, the proportion is mirrored: one dollar amounts to almost eight somoni. American dollars, euros and Russian rubles can be exchanged at exchange offices, but not by hand. Trying to exchange currency on the street at a better rate, the likelihood of stumbling upon scammers and being deceived is too high. There are not many ATMs in the country, so it is better to give preference to cash over debit and credit cards. They are accepted only in the largest hotels and restaurants.

Climate and weather in Tajikistan

Tajikistan has a harsh continental climate with frequent droughts. In the lowlands, subtropics reign, in the middle of the mountains the climate is moderately warm, and cold begins on the tops of the rutting heights.

The average summer temperature ranges from twenty to thirty degrees Celsius, in winter the optimum temperature is zero degrees. At the highest points of Tajikistan, the temperature in winter often drops to minus thirty, and in the Pamirs, sometimes to minus fifty. In summer, the temperature in these areas, as a rule, does not exceed plus fifteen degrees. From mid-autumn to spring, storms are common here, and sandstorms occur in summer on the flat parts of the country, lasting up to a week.

Mountaineers choose the second half of the summer to travel to the mountains, as this period is considered the most favorable and safe. From the very beginning of spring, valleys begin to bloom in the southern parts of Tajikistan, turning into long picturesque landscapes with a wide range of colors.

Cities and regions of Tajikistan

Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslikhiddin in Tajikistan (XVII-XVIII centuries)

Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslikhiddin in Tajikistan (XVII-XVIII centuries)

The division of the territory of the state of Tajikistan into parts takes place with the help of the official laws of the republic, adopted on November 4, 1995. As a result of this law, Tajikistan was divided into the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, as well as such administrative units as viloyat, shahr, nokhiya, shahrak, chamoati dehot, deha (in decreasing order of importance).

However, guests of the country will be more interested in the cities of Tajikistan significant from a tourist point of view:

  • Dushanbe
  • Khujand
  • Kurgan-Tyube
  • Penjikent
  • Kulyab
  • Khoro
  • Istaravshan
  • Hissar

What to see for tourists in Tajikistan

Over its centuries-old history, Tajikistan has been ruled by representatives of different cultures, and after each of them there are many buildings that have become the country’s cultural heritage. In addition to man-made sights, the republic is proud of its extraordinary multifaceted nature. Lakes, mountains, thermal springs – it is difficult to visit everything in one trip. Trade routes connecting the West with the East and stretching for thousands of kilometers left a big mark.

The capital of Tajikistan – the city of Dushanbe, has the status of the capital only since the last century, but its history goes back centuries. This is the largest city in the country, once in it, you need to visit the square named after Sadriddin Aini, the square of the eight hundredth anniversary of Moscow, the Putovsky square (now Ismail Somoni), the Gissar fortress, the theaters named after Mayakovsky and named after Lakhuti, as well as the ethnographic museum. Ancient manuscripts of the rulers of Tajikistan have been preserved in the Republican Library named after Ferdowsi.

In addition to Dushanbe, cities rich in sights include:

  • Sheikh Muslihiddin Mosque in Tajikistan

    Sheikh Muslihiddin Mosque in Tajikistan

    Khujand, a city – a fortress, built at the beginning of our millennium. The Khujand fortress has survived to this day and attracts tourists from all countries of the former USSR. In addition to it, the city has a large mosque and a monument to Kamol Khujandi. More: sights of Khujand.

  • Penjikent, whose age is more than five thousand years, invites tourists to visit the remains of the ancient village of Kainar, as well as the Rudaki mausoleum. More details: sights of Penjikent.
  • Istaravshan has recently celebrated its 2500th anniversary. This is a real city – a museum. There are dozens of large ancient mosques, as well as the mausoleums of Khazrati Shoh, Khudoer Balami and Chor-Gumbaz. More: sights of Istaravshan.
  • Hissar. People settled in the territory of modern Gissar about forty thousand years ago. Until today, a unique reserve with the Hissar fortress at the head has been preserved in it. More: sights of Gissar.
  • Kulyab witnessed the emergence of the Great Silk Road, and to this day remains one of the most important political, commercial and cultural centers of Tajikistan. Guests of the city willingly go to the city history museum. More: sights of Kulob.
  • Kurgan-Tyube appeared already in our millennium, but the exact date of its appearance is unknown. Not far from it is a unique landmark – the Buddhist monastery Ajina Tepe. More: sights of Kurgan-Tyube.
  • Khorog. Due to its subtropical climate, Khorog is green and cool, which is its undoubted advantage. It is proud of its unique botanical garden and Kofir-Kala fortress. More: Khorog sights.

Travel along the Pamir Highway, which is more than seven hundred kilometers long, is popular with tourists. This road borders Afghanistan and China and is one of the longest paved roads in the world. Traveling along the Pamir Highway will become one of the most fascinating and picturesque journeys in the life of even experienced tourists, but do not forget about the dangers. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the road has not been properly maintained and over time has simply fallen apart. Road petrol stations are extremely rare, and you can’t even dream of car services, so before sending it you should make sure that the car is in good working order, stock up on gasoline, oil, water and provisions.

Syrdarya river

Syrdarya river

In the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region there is a unique natural spring – the hot mineral spring Garmchashna. The health resort of the same name is located not far from it. According to ancient legends, the water from there has healing properties, several thousand years ago pilgrims went to this source, considering it a saint.

The world organization United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has included several protected areas of Tajikistan in the list of World Heritage Sites: the Garmchashna spring, Lake Zorkul, Fan Mountains and several reserves.

On the Pamir mountain, the pearl of Tajikistan, traces of ancient peoples’ residence appear before tourists. At different heights of the mountain there are several settlements with a thousand-year history and rock paintings, fortresses and the ancient city of Bazar-Dara. Ore was mined in this city in the tenth century. About one and a half thousand people lived in Bazar-Dar, after themselves they left several houses, a temple, a bathhouse and several other buildings. The Yamchun fortress was one of the first to be built in the Pamirs; it was created to control the movement of merchants and defend against raids by robbers about three thousand years ago. The second fortress was Kaakha, it was built in the fourth century AD and looks like Yamchun.

Arch near the park of the poet Khujandi and part of the citadel

Arch near the park of the poet Khujandi and part of the citadel

Separately, it is worth mentioning the Sarez Lake located in the Pamirs. It was born not so long ago – at the beginning of the twentieth century, after a powerful earthquake. The length of the lake is nearly sixty kilometers, and the depth reaches five hundred meters. The lake with extraordinarily beautiful landscapes is both one of the most beautiful sights and a serious danger for the country. The fact is that with the destruction of the dam that appeared after the earthquake, most of Tajikistan will be flooded, and with it the territories of several neighboring states. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the world community drew attention to this problem, but it has not yet been solved, since there are no funds in the budget of Tajikistan to strengthen the dam.

Getting around Tajikistan

The most popular public transport is fixed-route taxis, which can accommodate four to twelve people. As in most countries of the former Soviet Union, the driver waits for the vehicle to be full, and if the passenger is allowed funds, he may not wait and pay for all available seats, then the minibus will go faster. Also, the largest cities in Tajikistan have a bus service.

The system of railway traffic in the republic is poorly developed, trains run only in the directions Dushanbe – Khujand and Kurgan-Tyube – Khujand, crossing Uzbekistan.

Domestic flights are operated by Tajikistan Airlines and Somoni Air and fly between the largest cities. However, this type of travel cannot be called the most reliable, since due to the climatic features of the area, flights are often canceled and delayed, most often in winter.

Car rental as such does not yet exist in Tajikistan, but private taxis are widespread. Drivers are usually accommodating and agree to take tourists to any destination for reasonable money. The average cost of a car with a driver is fifty US dollars for a whole day. To protect yourself, it is better to ask for help from the employees of hotels and bus stations, they often cooperate with private individuals and will be able to advise a trusted driver. Before setting off, it is worth evaluating the capabilities of the car in order to avoid unwanted breakdowns on the road.

Tajikistan cuisine

Food market in Tajikistan

Food market in Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, as in the rest of the East, life is hard to imagine without pilaf. It has been cooked for hundreds of years, and during this time more than four hundred variants of its preparation have been invented. It is cooked in an oven, over direct fire or charcoal, rice is replaced with chopped noodles, and the range of spices is innumerable.

Nourishing cereals are also prepared on the basis of rice. They taste like pilaf, but more water is added to them, so that the rice does not crumble, but sticks together. Tajiks prefer meat of lamb, goat or horse meat, beef is less common. Islamic laws do not allow them to eat pig meat.

Popular meat dishes also include kebabs, which are common throughout Central Asia. Even kebabs made from vegetables are usually poured with fat to improve taste and more satiety.

A distinctive feature of oriental dishes is their abundant sprinkling of spices and herbs. In ancient times, this was done not so much for taste as for disinfecting food from microbes. Nowadays, condiments are an integral part of Tajik culture. More than a hundred different aromatic spices from plant and herb seeds can be purchased in local markets.

Any meal is impossible without the local fermented milk drink Ayran, made from katyk with the addition of water. Kumis and many other milk-based drinks are also common. Every Tajik housewife knows how to perfectly prepare refreshing green tea.

There is also a great variety of soups. They are made from rice, noodles, potatoes, always with the addition of sheep and horse meat, seasoned with various herbs.

For dessert, the locals prepare triangular-shaped “sambus” pies from unleavened dough. They can be either sweet or stuffed with meat.

Souvenirs in Tajikistan

The main achievements of the Tajik industry can be safely attributed to embroidery and fabrics. Items of national clothing will be an excellent souvenir. The famous robes embroidered with colored threads are famous for their unique properties – they are not hot in summer and warm in cold weather.

Men’s ethnic outfits are embroidered with different colors and patterns depending on the area and consist of:

  • a shirt that looks like a tunic,
  • pants – harem pants,
  • long robe,
  • wide belt, more like a scarf,
  • skullcaps
  • soft leather boots.

The women’s toilet is more modest, they have long wore tunic-like dresses, different depending on the area of ​​residence, and wide trousers to the calves. On their heads, they most often wear a scarf, as the laws of Islam command, or skullcaps. National leather footwear is famous for its comfort and durability. Boots, sandals or galoshes that are worn separately or worn over boots and are designed specifically for mountain climbing.

In Tajikistan, many carpets, bed linen and tablecloths are made, sewn from silk or “floss”. They are distinguished by high quality handmade and beautiful variegated colors. Patterns, as a rule, represent various geometric shapes, as they were made before the beginning of our era.

Women will appreciate the jewelry with unpretentious ethnic patterns. Women have worn bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings here for many centuries, with the help of them the wealth and social position of women in society were indicated.

Local craftsmen, by hand or using a machine, sculpt ceramic pots in which the local food is especially tasty. Woolen products are made from the wool of the yaks living on the Pamir Mountain: socks, scarves, hats and mittens.

Safety

Despite the fears of tourists, Tajikistan is considered a fairly safe country to visit. However, guests of Tajikistan should remember a few simple rules of behavior on the streets, as in most other countries, especially those in which Islam is the current religion.

  • Hissar fortress

    Hissar fortress

    After sunset, it is better not to walk on the streets alone, especially if not in the capital and not on tourist routes;

  • It is not recommended to have large amounts of cash with you, you should not wear large expensive jewelry, so as not to attract the attention of intruders;
  • In no case should you drink water from the tap; you can use it only after boiling or buy it in bottles in stores. As in most eastern countries, the water filtration system in cities is questionable, and cholera epidemics periodically occur in the country. Fruits and vegetables also need to be rinsed with treated water, and in cafes and restaurants, ask them not to add ice to drinks;
  • Islam is a conservative and strict religion, therefore Muslims pay great attention to appearance. Guests of Tajikistan, especially women, should remember this and, if possible, wear closed clothes, girls should abandon tight-fitting and short skirts and shorts, not open their shoulders and décolleté. Not so long ago, the country’s authorities at the legislative level obliged young girls to wear closed clothes on the territory of schools and universities. There are no such strict requirements for men, however, they need to remember the local rules regarding appearance.