Tajikistan – Stans 2

April 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia, Nature

We continue our tour of the “new” backpacker circuit in Central Asia with a stop in Tajikistan. A relatively small nation, it borders several of the other ‘stans as well as well as China to the east. Tajikistan is probably most well known for its great outdoors and rugged mountains, only one of the many the experiences to be had here.

Photo credit - Irene2005

Photo credit - Irene2005

The Pamirs

The Pamirs are some of the highest mountains in the world, and man has been fascinated with them for centuries, so you’ll find solar calendars carved into the landscape, remains of earlier settlements, and petroglyphs throughout various trails and treks throughout the region. Don’t miss Karakul Lake; it’s often frozen, but the highlight relates to the lake’s name which means “black lake” – it often is a near mirror-reflection of the stunning landscape surrounding. Khorugh is somewhat of a gateway city, though you’ll want to travel with a driver given the tough driving conditions.

See also – 6 Scenic Drives in Asia6 Breathtaking Asian Hikes

Photo credit - Alan Cordova

Photo credit - Alan Cordova

Capital Pleasures

The Tajik capital is Dushanbe, and it’s an interesting one. There isn’t loads of museums and sightseeing, though the city is part of the former silk road. Dushanbe is not a place to go wandering around at night by yourself. All the off-putting things aside, there’s several good restaurants as well as shops and markets (though take care to wash any fruit and veg bought at a market before eating). A nice stop is the rebuilt fort, Hissar, which is a few miles outside of the city. And then there’s of course the beautiful Opera building, which wouldn’t look all that out of place in a European capital.

See also – Exploring UzbekistanDubai’s Coastal Paradise

Photo credit - Engle & Smith

Photo credit - Engle & Smith

Tajik Food

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I am lucky to say I’ve had Tajik food outside of Tajik, which is a difficult find! To do Tajik food properly consists of several different rounds of flavors to tease and tempt your palette. You’ll start with a round of sweets, such as halwa – a dessert-like treat that can be filled with any number of things, such as seeds, beans, or nuts. Other sweets, dried fruits, and nuts complement this ‘starter.’ Soup comes next, such as a lovely shurbo, made with a sheep broth, or something with laghman, a hand-pulled Chinese noodle. This course typically comes with meat, as well as flat bread (called non), the same bread you’ll find throughout the region.

The centerpiece of the table is the plov, an elaborate rice dish made with meat and vegetables, typically carrot or turnip. Tradition states that plov be eaten with your hands, but not everyone does this anymore. Finally, tea is an important gesture of hospitality at the Tajik table and you’ll be offered tea before, during, and after any meal.

See also – Middle Eastern Cuisine10 Unusual Asian Delicacies

If You Go

Tajikistan is very much open for business and the country has made visa applications a relatively painless process. You can apply in advance (required if you will arrive by land border) or pick one up at the airport; the neat and tidy Ministry of Foreign Affairs website has plenty of information depending on the details.

If you’re flying in, the main entry point is through Dushanbe, with limited flights coming in – from Russia, Istanbul, Urumqi, Dubai and a just few others. Check out CheapFlights.co.uk for some excellent flight deals heading to Dushanbe.

Given the location and neighboring countries, Tajikistan is a place to be vigilant about safety and if something doesn’t feel right, do something about it. Water is not safe to drink, and be mindful of altitude sickness if heading far up into the Pamirs.

If you want to explore the countryside, you’ll need to hire a vehicle with a driver to get around. There is minivan service between the major cities, though you’ll find many reports of successful hitchhiking, particularly on petrol tankers headed cross-country (though we can’t vouch for the safety of this, nor the language skills likely necessary!)


Unearthing Asia is a travel zine focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. Don’t miss out on the best travel ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of top Vietnamese noodle treats. You can also check out some excellent cape verde holidays information!

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.

The Stans Part I – Kazakhstan

March 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Attractions, Crossroad of Asia, Culture

You’ve heard of the ‘stans, even if you don’t realize it. They are quickly becoming the new backpacker circuit in Central Asia, offering great off-road touring, expansive nature, and that slight twinge of discomfort in not knowing how safe really things are, which the more adventurous travelers just can’t get enough of. So here’s your four-part quick guide on the ‘stans, starting with Kazakhstan.

Photo credit - Martijn Munneke

Photo credit - Martijn Munneke

Photo credit - upyernoz

Photo credit - upyernoz

A Russian Legacy

Kazakhstan is the largest of the ‘stans and the world’s nine largest country, bordering on Russia which is just to the north. This part of Asia was under the Soviet Union’s control until 1991, and the communist legacy has left an indelible impression on the country. At first glance, the empty rusting ships that sit on the Aral Sea look like the poor victims of global warming, or perhaps the oddly placed film set. However, it was the Russians who diverted rivers away from this massive lake to irrigate cotton fields. It is a must-see.

Then there is the ever-present radioactive threat from former Soviet nuclear dumps; many villages are death traps where radiation levels are thousands of times higher than safe. Similar to the Aral Sea, across the country entire villages laid empty and abandoned, left to rot.

Photo credit - Irene2005

Photo credit - Irene2005

Photo credit - Colleen Taugher

Photo credit - Colleen Taugher

Almaty Joy

Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and its former capital. It is a popular stop with tourists and expats because of the great urban vibe yet snow-capped mountains within eyesight on a clear day. Some of the best views are from Koktobe , which can be reached by cable car.

You cannot tour the presidential palace in Almaty, but the architecture is worth a visit. Across the street is the National Museum, which has explores Kazahk history. But when you’re finished, it is market time. Barakholka in the northwest section of town is famous for bargain discounts on knock-off products; it is busiest on weekends, especially Sunday, the perfect opportunity for people-watching. Zelyony Bazaar is another loud, crazy place where you can find great spices to take back as souvenirs.

For getting out of town, be sure to check out the Turgen Gorge, famous for its waterfalls. There are several walking trails through the forests as well as hot springs. There is so much near Almaty, hence why it makes such a great tourist base.

Photo credit - livepine

Photo credit - livepine

Photo credit - Dan..

Photo credit - Dan..

Tian Shan Mountains

It seems like most tourists I know who visit Kazakhstan head for the Tian Shan mountains. But why not – its exactly what many countries don’t have: endless miles of desolate mother nature, waiting to be explored and show off its hidden gems. Big Almaty Lake is must-see for sure – the blue of the lake is unreal. But what about the Tian Shan Astronomical Observatory? Better see it while you can – with a lack of funding, its future remains unclear. Or the Alma Arasan ski resort? Or the Kosmostantsia meteorological research center? As if another world, the Tian Shan feels like its stuck in another time. Just read this Tian Shan experience for what a preview of what these mountains are like.

If You Go

Nearly all visitors require a visa to enter Kazakhstan. However, many readers will be eligible for a simple application procedure which will grant you a tourist visa you can obtain at any Kazakhstan diplomatic mission. For details and the application, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan website.

Most will find the people of this country warm and friendly as hospitality is part of the Kazakh culture; the biggest problem is a corrupt police force. Be sure to always have your paperwork on hand in case you are asked for it.

Given the size of the country, you’ll likely make heavy use of local transport. Trains and buses are the most common and most economical; you can also use air transport for a few key routes (planes are new and safe), and within cities using local taxis are cheap and fairly easy.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other travel inspirations to Central Asia – Backpacking in EgyptBeach Fun in IsraelMiddle Eastern Cuisine

Unearthing Asia now offers travel packages throughout the region of Asia. Check out our promotional offers of Luxury Private Villas in Bali, perfect for Honeymooners or those looking for a little romance. We also have great offers for hotels in Singapore, resorts in Phuket and many more.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.

A Backpacker’s Guide to India

India is one of the most varied and beautiful countries in the world – a heady mix of beautiful beaches, lush rice fields, holy temples and hectic cities. Its city streets are a riot of color, and its peaceful natural landscapes and breathtaking architecture inspire even the most jaded traveler to find his inner guru.

With cheap food, welcoming locals and hundreds of hostels in India, it’s no surprise this country is a well-trodden stop on the backpacker trail, but visiting such a massive place can be overwhelming – do you start off by trekking around the Himalayas, seek out a hippy-chic beach break or dive in to the dusty streets of Mumbai?

Here is a guide to the destinations that should be at the top of every backpacker’s list!

Goa. Photo credit - Christopher Chan.

Goa. Photo credit - Christopher Chan.

Goa – More than a Hippy Paradise

Goa has been a hippy paradise since the 1960s, when bohemian travelers would head for hedonistic holidays on the 105km sandy coast. The area is still popular with backpackers, who have left a trail of good Goa hostels in their wake.

Most people come for the sun and surf, and trance-y beach parties under the stars. But there’s far more to Goa than meets the eye – this former Portuguese enclave is peppered with historic churches, interesting architecture and a cuisine all of its own.

The Himalayas. Photo credit - FreeBird.

The Himalayas. Photo credit - FreeBird.

Scaling the Heights of Himalayas

The mountain scenery of the Himalayas in the North of India is worth braving even if you are afraid of heights. In the winter ski-enthusiasts flock to the snow-capped peaks, and in the summer adrenaline junkies can try their hands at trekking, rafting, and paragliding. A chairlift to the top promises breathtaking views of one of the most dramatic landscapes in India.

Mumbai. Photo credit - lecercle.

Mumbai. Photo credit - lecercle.

Chaotic Mumbai

Mumbai is one chaotic city – everything seems to be crammed into this sprawling metropolis, from the slum housing to the slick skyscrapers and glamorous restaurants. But the glitzy home of Bollywood is well worth a visit, with ancient Bazaars for bartering, more colonial monuments than you can shake a stick at, and cricket at the Oval.

You may not want to mingle with Mumbai’s mega-moguls in the expensive bars and nightclubs, but there’s something for everyone away from the crowded center. Beach bums can unwind at Chowpatty beach, before marveling at the Shiva sculpture and temples carved out of the rock at Elephant Island.

Calcutta. Photo credit - RickyDavid.

Calcutta. Photo credit - RickyDavid.

Colorful Calcutta

Despite its poverty-stricken reputation, Calcutta is a fascinating and vibrant city to visit. The home of Mother Theresa, Calcutta has a rich cultural and intellectual heritage, and as the former home of the British Raj, is full of remnants of colonial architecture, from the Victoria Memorial to the Palladian Villas.

North Calcutta is fiercely Bengali, where you’ll find the bust streets of Shambazar thick with colorful market stalls, the city’s oldest church and an impressive Marble Palace. More scenes of local life abound at the Kali Temple at Kalighat.

Delhi. Photo credit - Rob & Ale.

Delhi. Photo credit - Rob & Ale.

Delhi, a tangle of Old and New

The capital is a captivating tangle of old-world villages and ultra modern residences, and you’ll find some of the most fascinating ruins jostling alongside modern shopping malls and cinemas in New Delhi. Check out the ruined 13th century palace along the banks of the Yamuna river, Qtab Minar in the south of the city and Huaz for more awe-inspiring relics.

Delhi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and has racked up an exhausting list of cultural sights – make sure you see the Red Sandstone Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutub Complex of Mosques and Minarets, a UNESCO world heritage sight with beautiful gardens.

The Taj Mahal in Agra. Photo credit - Stuck in Customs.

The Taj Mahal in Agra. Photo credit - Stuck in Customs.

Impressive Taj Mahal at Agra

An industrial and sprawling city, Agra draw hordes of tourists for the magnificent Taj Mahal, which more than lives up to the hype. But Agra is also home to other impressive architecture left by the Mughal emperors, with grand forts and grand riverside tombs such as the ‘Baby Taj’ Itimad-ud-Daulah.

If you visit Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal on the same day you get a Rs 50 reduction in the ticket price- great for cutting the costs of cultural excursions!

Kerala. Photo credit - Negi.

Kerala. Photo credit - Negi.

Kerala’s Calm Shores

After a hectic city tour, Kerala’s calm shores and sleepy backwaters makes a welcome change. Pace of life is chilled in the heart of Southern India, and the lush green forests are abundant with wildlife. The network of rivers and canals characterize Kerala for most travelers, with lagoons leading to rice paddies, coconut groves and secluded villages.

You can spend a few days stretching out on a slice of golden sand, take a boat trip to traditional towns, or head inland to the hilly Ghats for trekking and spotting exotic animals. The local cuisine is an attraction in itself– food is flavored with cardamom from the spice plantations, served in a banana leaf and eaten by hand, and washed down with coconut milk.

About the Author. Lauren Smith. Lauren writes for HostelBloggers, the Insider’s Guide to Budget Travel. She wants to travel the world on a shoestring, and tries to cram in as much backpacking as possible when she’s not at work!