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.
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.
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.
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.
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.