10 things to see & do
Where impossibly blue glacial lakes reflecting ice-capped pinnacles meet an amalgamation of warm and welcoming cultures whose legendary hospitality knows no bounds: this is unbridled Tajikistan.
What you need to know visiting Tajikistan
• Those wanting to take on the Pamir Highway (or anywhere in the Gorno Badakhshan) will need to apply for a GBAO permit, which can be easily applied for with your e-visa.
• Tajikistan is an Islamic-majority country, so erring on the side of conservative dress is best, though not compulsory.
• The best time to visit Tajikistan is from June to September. Being a mountainous nation, trekking in the Pamirs or Fanns is likely the biggest draw and these are the months when high mountain passes are mostly snow-free. If you’re coming to only visit the cities in lower-lying areas (Dushanbe, Fergana Valley, destinations in Khatlon Region) the fall and spring months of April, May, and October are more suitable as temperatures are much more comfortable.
• Tajiks, much like their Persian cousins in Iran practice taarof, a form of etiquette. You will surely experience taarof in way of locals inviting you into their homes, offering grandiose meals, and even gift-giving to which your host will refuse payment. It’s always advisable in this situation to hide some money in the home or leave payment with the eldest child as a thank you.
The most epic trekking
you’ve never heard of
The Fann Mountains
Dotted with crystal clear lakes fed by tumbling glaciers set in amphitheater after amphitheater of craggy peaks, the Fann Mountains are easily one of Tajikistan’s best assets. With hikes that range from simple day trips along dusty old roadbeds in the Haft Kul to multi-day treks tying together the highlights of the range, to hardcore mountaineering possibilities among 5,000+ meter mountains, the Fanns offer up a trek suited for just about any type of traveler.
Once a popular destination among Soviet alpinists, interest in the area came to a halt with the dissolution of the USSR and subsequent kick-off of the brutal Tajik Civil War. Now that the dust has settled, the Fanns are rising once again.
POPULAR ROUTES IN THE FANNS
- The Lakes Loop
- Haft kul
- Zimtut to Iskanderkul via Dukdon Pass
- Artuch to Chukuruk Lake
Take a wild ride
along the world’s
most epic road trip
The Pamir Highway
Welcome to the Bam i Dunya: The Roof of the World. What was once a key route of the Silk Road that navigated the difficult terrain of the Pamir Range, the dusty trail was turned highway by the Soviets in the 1930s as a means to transport troops and provisions rather than the silk, horses, spices, and wares of days past.
The Pamir Highway is the gateway to Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast that houses the bulk of the peaks that comprise the Pamirs, that have beckoned countless explorers to endless adventure
Must-see stops along the Pamir Highway
- Hulbuk Fortress
- Shurabad Pass
- Qala i Khumb
- Bulunkul & Yashilkul
- Alichur & Ak Balyk
- Ak Baital Pass
Experience the culture of ancient Sogdiana
The Yagnob Valley
Wild, remote, and resilient, the Yagnob Valley is home to over 2,500 years of living history. Going back to the times of ancient Sogdiana, the empire once encompassed a large swath of Central Asia at its zenith in the 6th century BC. The Sogdian Empire would fall in 722 AD when Divashtich, the King of Panjakent was chased out of the remains of Sogdiana by the general Al Harshi as he lead the Umayyads in their conquest of Transoxiana. As a result, many Sogdians followed Divashtich to the Zerafshan Valley where he was later captured by the Umayyads. Realizing that the Zerafshan Valley was penetrable, many Sogdians made the journey south across the Zerafshan Mountains to settle in the rugged and narrow Yagnob Valley where they knew they would be free to practice their ancient religion and Sogdian traditions.
The Yagnobi, a people descended from Sogdiana, remained isolated in the confines of the Yagnob Valley for several centuries until the 1820s when expeditions began to arrive in the area. Sadly, many Yagnobis were torn from the valley, starting in the 1930s during Stalin’s Great Purge and forced to resettle in lower-lying areas of the Fergana Valley to labor in the heat of the Tajik summer. Many Yagnobis died as a result.
By the 1980s, as the Soviet Union began to slide apart, many Yagnobis started moving back to the valley. As of today, the Yagnob Valley is still sparsely populated, though several settlements have had a handful of families return where it’s possible to hear the Yagnobi language spoken and witness pre-Islamic Sogdian traditions practiced.
VILLAGES AND RUINS TO VISIT
Get glimpses of
The Wakhan Valley
Bound by the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains and dotted with Ismaili shrines, and Silk Road caravanserais and fortresses, the Wakhan Valley is a truly fascinating area of the country. The Panj and Pamir Rivers form a natural border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, giving glimpses of picturesque, terraced Wakhi villages clung to mountainsides on the Afghan side that are so close you can yell across to the people living in them. For some, this is temptation enough to stop by the Afghan consulate in Khorog and pick up an Afghan visa to go explore the other side.
While most tend to cross the Tajik Wakhan Valley in 1-2 days, it’s advisable to give yourself a few days to explore the area. Getting to experience the warm culture of the Wakhi, trekking into the surrounding mountains, and exploring the fortresses and caravanserais that stipple the Wakhan are true highlights along the dusty valley
STOPS ALONG THE WAKHAN VALLEY
- Garm Chashma
- Namadgut & Khaakha Fortress
- Darshai Petroglyphs & Gorge Hike
- Yamchun & Zulkhomer Fortresses
- Bibi Fatima Hot Spring
- Vrang Buddhist Stupa
- Zong Vishimqala
- Trek to Pik Engles Meadows
Appreciate Silk Road
The Tajik Fergana Valley
The Tajik Fergana Valley cities of Istaravshan and Khujand are your best opportunities to see the blue-tiled architecture the Silk Road is famed for. From Khujand’s bustling Panjshanbe Bazaar, blue-domed Masjid i Jami, and lovely Khujandi Park to Istaravshan’s beautiful smattering of mosques and madrasas, the Fergana Valley will offer up plenty to keep most travelers happy. While not as impressive in terms of scale compared to Uzbekistan’s Silk Road giants of Samarkand and Bukhara, the cities of Tajik Fergana feel quaint and draw nearly no crowd in comparison.
Travel beyond to smaller towns in the Fergana Valley and you’ll feel truly off the beaten path in northern Tajikistan. Konibodom, Isfara, Guliston, and Shahriston are all great places to add to a road trip through Tajikistan’s gnarl of Fergana territory.
THINGS TO DO IN KHUJAND
- Panjshanbe Bazaar
- Masjid i Jami Mosque & Madrasa
- Sheikh Musil al Din Mausoleum
- Khujand Citadel
- Kamoli Khujandi Park
- Kamoli Khujandi House Museum
- Ismoil Somoni Park
- WWII Monument & Eternal Flame
THINGS TO DO IN ISTARAVSHAN
- Abdul Latif Mirzo Sultan Madrasa
- Mug Teppe
- Chor Gumbez Mosque
- Hauz i Sangin
- Hazrat i Shoh Mosque
- Sary Mazar
- Istaravshan Bazaar
- Shahr e Kuhna
An adventurous diversion
The Bartang Highway
The Bartangi people who inhabit the valley are among the most hospitable in all of Tajikistan. Invitations into family homes are the norm, and don’t be surprised if you’re offered a lesson on the Bartangi language, a Pamiri dialect. A great opportunity to experience the Bartangi culture is to cross a swinging bridge over the mighty Bartang River to make the trek up a side valley carved by the Jizeudara River to the gorgeous little village of Jizeu. For those looking for a more adventurous multi-day trek, journey to the village of Pasor and make the hike to the otherworldly Khafrazdara Valley and onto the toe of Grum Grijmailo Glacier.
The Bartang River cuts the barren rock walls of this narrow valley, whose name translates out to ‘narrow passage’. Tens of villages are strewn along the Bartang Valley as it meanders northeast from the village of Rushan at the junction of the Pamir and Bartang Highways, eventually meeting with the Tanimus Valley and joining the Pamir Highway once again near Karakul. Road tripping up this bone-crunching ‘highway’ is an exhilarating detour from the Pamir Highway, but the real adventure is nestled into the Bartang’s side valleys that branch off in seemingly every whichway.
BARTANG VALLEY EXCURSIONS
- Jizeu Village Trek
- Savnob Village
- Barchidev to Lake Sarez Trek
- Trek to Khafrazdara Valley & Grim Grijmailo Glacier
- Explore the Ravmed Valley
Live out your Great
Shaimak and the Eastern Pamir
Heading south from Murghab, Tajikistan’s wild-wild-east town near the borders with Kyrgyzstan and China, a wild journey bumping down jeep tracks along the Ak Suu Valley will take you through otherworldly, and sometimes lunar landscapes, past semi-nomadic family yurts, and to the end-of-the-world village of Shaimak.
With precarious Ak-Tash Mountain looming over its low-slung, blue-trimmed white hovels, Shaimak sits at a particularly strategic point on the map. A point in which one could see into Afghanistan’s Little Pamir, Pakistan’s Khunjerab National Park, and China’s Taghdumbash Pamir all at the same time. While these days Shaimak feels like it’s on the edge of the world with these jaw-dropping views into its neighboring territories, it once was a strategic spying point as Russia and Britain vied for power in Central and South Asia in the 19th century.
The entirety of the eastern Pamir is fascinating, barren, and inhospitable, yet, people live here, albeit quite sparsely. Much of the eastern Pamir sits high on the Murghab Plateau, with many of the lower lying areas sitting at 3,500 meters or more. Life is hard in this frontier land, where many families spend summers living in yurts high in jailoos grazing their livestock and wintering in more established towns and villages such as Murghab and Alichur to escape the brutal elements.
Not many travelers veer far from the Pamir Highway in these parts, but those who do will be rewarded with hiking into lunar landscapes in Khargush and Koi Tezek Passes, colorful mineral swirled mountains in Pshart Valley, and warm Kyrgyz hospitality in the summer jailoos of Sary Goram. Not to mention the plethora of hot springs sprinkled throughout the arid High Pamir to relax in.
OTHER STOPS IN THE EASTERN PAMIR
- Kyzyl Rabot
- Ak Bura Crater
- Shakhty Petroglyphs
- Konye Kurgan
- Jarty Gumbez
- Sary Goram
- Pshart & Madiyan Valleys
Between hiking in the idyllic Fann Mountains and the world’s most epic road trip down the Pamir Highway, Dushanbe is a welcoming oasis to recharge before setting out on your next adventure.
Not much more than a village, Dushanbe was named after its popular Monday Bazaar until 1929 when the village was crowned the capital of the Tajik ASSR (Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) and renamed Stalinabad. Stalinabad grew rapidly following its new status of capital, though in 1961 its name was reverted back to Dushanbe. In 1990, as the USSR crumbled, the city would go on to host numerous riots that eventually gave way to the Tajik Civil War that followed Tajikistan’s independence.
After the conclusion of the war in 1997, Dushanbe has slowly but surely rebuilt itself, with leafy boulevards, a newly built bazaar, an artificial lake and so much more.
THINGS TO DO IN DUSHANBE
- Rudaki Park
- Mevlana Yakub Charki Mosque
- Bayrak, the world’s second-tallest flagpole
- Kokhi Nowruz
- Ayni Ballet & Theatre
- Victory Park
- Mehrong Bazaar
Try the delectable Tajik
Tajikistan is not particularly known for its cuisine, but if there is one uniquely Tajik dish you must try when you visit, make it qurutob.
So what is qurutob?
The dish starts with a layer of thin and crispy fatir bread, shredded into strips and placed in the bottom of a wooden bowl. Next, this fatir layer will be smothered in a creamy yogurt-cheese sauce made of qurut- a dried ball of yogurt, that is a common staple throughout all of Central Asia. The qurut is watered down and made into a gooey sauce that is topped with sautéed onions. Finally, fresh chopped tomatoes and herbs are plopped atop this yogurty mountain. Occasionally, meat is added to garnish the dish, but qurutob is served up vegetarian-style most of the time.
Where to get the best qurutob?
In Dushanbe, ask any taxi driver around lunchtime to take you to Qurutob Olim to give the Tajik dish a whirl.
In Khorog try Nan Melaan, which is located right on the Pamir Highway in the middle of town. Do try to get there before 2 pm as they tend to run out by afternoon.
Get way off
the beaten path
The Rasht Valley
There are a number of multi-day treks in and from the Rasht Valley that are possible to do, though care needs to be taken in areas with known unexploded ordinances that are typically marked with signs.
Once a civil war opposition stronghold, the Rasht Valley has remained off of most Tajikistan traveler’s radars. The scars of war have mostly healed in the Rasht Valley, with towns rebuilt and a paved road all the way to the Kyrgyz border (though it’s only a bilateral crossing).
You’ll pass through several towns and villages as you continue along the Rasht Valley. North of the village of Jafr the mountain views of the Peter the I Range are jaw-dropping as you continue along the main Garm Road toward Jirgatol.
WHERE TO GO IN RASHT VALLEY
- Gardan i Kaftar Trek
Gaze at the
Experience Tajik Hospitality
With about 93% of its land covered by mountains, Tajikistan is a country of vertiginous beauty and remote peacefulness. Still, its stunning wilderness hosts an extremely rich kaleidoscope of ethnicities, reminiscences of an ancient and equally rich history. Since 2004, Orient Adventure offers an ideal doorway into Tajikistan’s fascinating culture and legendary hospitality. Be it a tour to the ancient cities of Khujand and Penjikent, or an excursion to the iconic “roof of the world” Pamir Highway, you can be sure – wonderment reaches its highest peaks in Tajikistan.
The smallest of the Five Stans, Tajikistan is also the most untouched and undiscovered of all. Glacier-carved valleys, star-filled skies and almost 2,000 lakes to reflect the shimmering beauty of the mountainscapes are there to feed your lush for new adventures. Dushanbe-based operator Javohir helps the intrepid ones create itineraries and unforgettable memories across the country’s idyllic treks. Life at the crux of the ancient Silk Road has changed little over the centuries, and so has the ice-melting warmth of the local people. A life-changing adventure awaits you in Tajikstan.