Tajikistan



Tajikistan is a landlocked country on the ancient Silk Road in Central Asia. The nation's majority culture is non-Turkic, unlike its neighbors to the north and west and east. Tajikistan is the poorest country out of the former Soviet states, owing to its remote geography and a devastating civil war that wracked the country from 1992 until 1997. But travelers here will find a land of stunning beauty, replete with soaring mountains, quaint pamirs (U-shaped valleys or plateaus surrounded by mountains), turquoise alpine lakes, Silk Road cities and ruins, and a charming and hospitable people. For those looking to experience a true adventurer's dream in the Roof of the World without the throngs of tourists in Nepal and Pakistan, Tajikistan is the place to be.

Regions

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Tajikistan regions - Color-coded map
  Ferghana Valley
The Tajik portion of the Ferghana Valley includes the nation's second-largest city as well as numerous ancient Silk Road cities like Isfara and Istaravshan.
  Karategin
The Tajik heartland, home to the capital, Dushanbe, as well as numerous small hot springs in the mountains like Gharm.
  Khatlon
Tajikistan's diverse southwestern province, home to most of Tajikistan's ancient Buddhist sites, and the center of the rebellion that led to Tajikistan's disastrous post-Soviet civil war.
  Pamirs
One of the world's highest mountain regions, with soaring landscapes, trekking, climbing and an incredible drive down the Pamir Highway.
  Zeravshan Valley
Beautiful valleys amidst the majestic Fann Mountains, and ancient ruins by Panjakent.

Cities

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  • 1 Dushanbe (Душанбe) — the capital and largest city by far, with a little more than a million inhabitants and almost all of Tajikistan's international scene.
  • 2 Bokhtar (Бохтар) — formerly known as Qurghonteppa, the largest city in Khatlon, and the political heart of the rebellion in Tajikistan's civil war.
  • 3 Isfara (Исфара) — an ancient Silk Road town in the center of the Ferhghana Valley on the Kyrgyz border.
  • 4 Istaravshan (Истаравшан) — an old city home to the well known and beautiful Abdullatif Madrassah and Mosque.
  • 5 Khorugh (Хоруғ) — largest city of, and gateway to, the Pamirs.
  • 6 Khujand (Хуҷанд) — founded as Alexander the Great's northernmost city, the center of Tajikistan's Ferghana Valley region, and the nation's second largest city.
  • 7 Konibodom (Конибодом) — in the heart of the Ferghana Valley, on the Uzbekistani border.
  • 8 Kulob (Кулоб) — the country's third largest city.
  • 9 Panjakent (Панҷакент) — a large town in the Zeravshan Valley near Uzbekistan, home to the most impressive pre-Islamic ruins in Tajikistan.

Other destinations

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  • 1 Pamir Mountains — with passes between 3,200 and 4,500 m (10,500 and 14,800 ft), and Lake Karakol.
  • 2 Zeravshan Valley — valley including the Fann Mountains, one of Central Asia's prime trekking and climbing destinations.

Understand

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Spelling

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Capital Dushanbe
Currency Tajikistani somoni (TJS)
Population 8.9 million (2017)
Electricity 220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko, AS/NZS 3112)
Country code +992
Time zone UTC+05:00, Asia/Dushanbe
Emergencies 112
Driving side right

There is no universal system for transcribing Tajik into English. Having been part of the Soviet Union, Russian spellings are often used for transcribing place names into English, but this has become less common as Tajikistan has begun to establish its own identity. The most commonly seen spelling differences will be the interchangeability of O's and A's, A's and E's, and G's and H's. Sometimes consonants can be doubled. As an example, the Hisor mountain range can appear as Gisor, Gissar, or Hissar as well.

Street signs for major cities – at least those concerning toponyms – are written in both Tajik and English. Occasionally, these signs will write Ғ, Қ, and Х as G, K, and H, instead of Gh, Q, and Kh. The letter ъ, which represents the glottal stop, is usually written as an apostrophe ('), but may also be omitted when transcribing.

Climate

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Tajikistan is very hot and sunny most of the year. In the west, north and south of the country there is a temperate inland subtropical climate (but palm trees do not grow). The hottest part of the country is the southern region – Khatlon Vilayat. The climate of this part of the country is generally similar to that of neighboring Uzbekistan and the far north of Afghanistan. This can be compared with the climate of northern Greece, central Italy, northern Spain or partly southern France, central Turkey, or with the climate of northern California or Colorado.

The hottest months in this country are June, July and August. July is especially hot, and the temperature is considered normal from +45 to +55. Nevertheless, such temperatures are easier to tolerate here, since the air here is very dry, not humid, as, for example, in India, Thailand, Malaysia and similar countries. It is most comfortable to visit this country from mid-May to early June or from August to early September, when it is not cool, as in winter, but also not very hot, as in the height of summer. But it is worth considering that in April and May, as well as in September and October, rainy, cloudy and windy days are not uncommon. There will definitely be no rains and cloudy days only in the summer months. It may snow in Tajikistan in winter, but it usually melts after a few days, remaining only in mountainous areas.

The climate of the eastern country (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region) and other high-altitude areas is worth mentioning separately. There is severe weather here, when it is very hot during the day, and with the onset of darkness, extreme cold begins. For example, in summer during the daytime the temperature can be +35-45, and at night +5. In winter, the night temperature in the mountains can reach -25.

The Tajik portion of the Ferghana Valley is consistently about 1°C colder than in Dushanbe at any given point of the year. Being at the mouth of a long valley with a wide open desert to the west, the area around Khujand is usually very windy, which makes the temperature feel even cooler. Snow is usually uncommon in northern Tajikistan, with cities like Khujand and Isfara getting only a few days of snow a year.

Terrain

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Iskanderkul Lake in the Zeravshan Valley is a popular destination for foreign tourists and Tajiks alike.

Tajikistan is 93% mountainous, and is home to a handful of peaks over 7,000 m (23,000 ft). The eastern region of the country is dominated by the Pamir mountains, which themselves are the northernmost extension of the Hindu Kush. Running across the middle of the country are the Alay mountains (which splits Tajikistan from Kyrgyzstan) and the Turkestan mountains (which separates Khujand and the Tajik portion of the Ferghana Valley from the south). Smaller notable ranges include the Gissar/Hisor range near Dushanbe, the Zeravshan range, and the Fann mountains near Panjakent. The Tian Shan range clips Tajikistan in the northeast and makes up most of the country's border with China.

There are three main valleys/flatlands in Tajikistan: the Tajik portion of the Ferghana Valley includes the cities of Khujand and Isfara, and are more tied with the neighboring Uzbek and Kyrgyz portions of the valley than they are with southern Tajikistan (mainly because the mountain passes between Dushanbe and the Ferghana Valley often become impassable in the winter). West of Dushanbe is the picturesque Zeravshan (Zerafshan) Valley, in which the jewels of Tajikistan lie: Panjakent and the Seven Lakes. The southwest of the country around Kulob and Bokhtar/Qurghonteppa is mainly flatlands comprised of cotton fields and what little intensive agriculture the Tajik climate can host. In the Pamir region, small U-shaped valleys dot the land along riverbanks, and up near Lake Karakol there are some "flatlands" (in reality high-altitude mesas).

The country's lowest point is at the Amu Darya on the Afghan border (300 m), and its highest point is at Qullai Ismoili Somoni (7,495 m).

History

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The ruins at Sarazm (near modern-day Panjakent) are the oldest in Central Asia, and some of the oldest in the world.

Early history

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The ancient site of Sarazm near the Uzbek border was inhabited since as far back as 3900 BCE, possibly making it the oldest city in Central Asia, and one of the oldest in the world (it was a contemporary of Ur and Argos). We have no idea who occupied Sarazm; artifacts discovered seem to relate to some other regional sites, and there were obvious fire-altars (although whether they were Zoroastrian or not is still unknown). It is highly unlikely, though, that the people at Sarazm were related to modern-day Tajiks, since the Indo-Iranian migrations are believed to have started around 2000 BCE, almost 2 full millenia after Sarazm was established.

The earliest people in the region in the region for whom we have names were Indo-Iranian nomads or semi-nomads called the Saka/Scythians by today's scholars. By the 6th century BCE, a different group of Indo-Iranian people called the Sogdians emerged. These Sogdians organized political units in greater Central Asia based around towns or fortresses on key trade routes (like their "capital" at Panjakent), but they never unified into a greater political empire. Buddhism spread out of South Asia through Afghanistan and Tajikistan on its way to China, and even today some Buddhist remains can be found at archeological sites and museums throughout the country. By the 8th century CE, various Turkic confederations migrated into Central Asia, displacing and absorbing the local Sogdians and forever altering the ethnic makeup of Central Asia. But due to the remoteness and hostile environments of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Persian-speaking peoples were able to retain their individual cultures without being fully absorbed by their Turkic neighbors. The Battle of Talas (751) between the Arab Caliphate and Tang China in what is now Kyrgyzstan introduced Islam as a religion of victory to the Turkic and Iranian peoples of Central Eurasia, and the conversion of many Central Asians (both Turkic and Iranian) by Sufi mystics forever altered the religious landscape of the region.

The region covering today's Tajikistan was part of various versions of the Persian Empire for much of its history. This region has been an important place for flourishing Persian culture and language. The success of Persian-speaking/writing polymaths, poets, and religious thinkers during the Umayyad Caliphate established Persian as the language of the arts in the Islamic world. (Arabic became the language of God, Persian of art and love, and Turkish of war, per historian Kenneth Harl.) The great Central Asian cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva were historically populated by a mix of Turkic (mainly Uzbek) and Tajik peoples, and both peoples lay claim to those cities' legacies. All three cities existed as independent khanates by the 1700s; the Khanate of Bukhara controlled the western half of today's Tajikistan. During the late 1800s, the "Great Game" between Imperial Russia and Great Britain led the former to annex eastern Tajikistan (the Pamirs) and the Ferghana Valley and turn the Khanate of Bukhara into a protectorate.

Under Russian rule

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With the Russian Revolution in 1917, Central Asia experienced the Russian Civil War. The main Central Asian component of the civil war was the Basmachi revolt, which was eventually brutally suppressed by the victorious Bolshevik Soviets. As 'punishment' for the revolt, the nominally-independent Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara were absorbed into the Soviet Union, and in the 1930s under a policy of "national delineation", borders were drawn in Central Asia. Ostensibly, these were to give each major ethnicity (as defined by the Soviets) a Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), but the way the borders were drawn were to deliberately weaken the political power of any of the SSRs (hence the mess that is the Ferghana Valley) – during this process, the three main Central Asian cities (Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand) were carved into the Uzbek SSR, which has influenced current Tajik national identities and foreign relations. In 1990–1991, Tajikistan suddenly found itself independent.

Modern history

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Tajikistan has experienced three changes in government and a five-year civil war since it gained independence from the USSR in 1991. In March of 1992, a violent crackdown on protests in Dushanbe combined with regional ethnic tensions led to a civil war. A peace agreement among rival factions was signed in 1997 and implemented in 2000. The central government's less-than-total control over some areas of the country has forced it to compromise and forge alliances among factions. Attention by the international community in the wake of the war in Afghanistan has brought increased economic development assistance, which could create jobs and increase stability in the long term.

Economy

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Tajikistan is the poorest and least developed former Soviet republic. In 2022, remittances accounted for 51% of Tajikistan's GDP, making it the most remittance-dependent economy in the world.

The main resources of Tajikistan are water, aluminum, cotton, electric power, fruits, vegetable oils, and textiles. Drug trafficking is a major source of income in Tajikistan, especially in the areas around the Afghan border.

Visitor information

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Get in

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A map showing the visa requirements of Tajikistan.

Visas

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Visa for Tajikistan with special GBAO permit (2014)

Nationals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia and Ukraine do not need a visa for visits up to 90 days.

From 1 January 2022 Tajikistan has implemented a 30-day visa-free policy for passport holders of 52 countries. See the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for details.

Following the trends of other Central Asian countries, visas are increasingly easy to obtain, particularly for nationals of wealthy countries. This policy is designed to stimulate tourist activity in Tajikistan. There is no longer a requirement to register with OVIR for tourist visits under 30 days. Letters of invitation are no longer needed on arrival at Dushanbe airport, but are needed to prearrange a visa from the UK and US embassies.

Evisas for 60 days are available for US$30 for citizens of most wealthy countries. You may apply for a GBAO permit along with the evisa for an extra US$20. The evisa can be used at all land borders and airports, and is typically approved within two working days. Some people have reported teething problems with the evisa system (see Caravanistan), but for the most part the system works well and saves a page in your passport. Remember to print the e-visa before arrival, they will not accept a digital copy. Black and white is fine.

You may apply for a visas in advance at a Tajik embassy or online (see above), or if you are a citizen of a country that has no Tajik embassy, you may purchase one upon arrival at Dushanbe Airport. To save time you can complete and print a form before arrival. It is best to use the Tajik form, bring two passport photos, a handful of photocopies of your passport and cash. The process takes around 10 minutes. Tourist visa in Tajikistan costs US$25 in Dushanbe International Airport and in consular representatives abroad. A separate permit is required if you wish to travel to the GBAO region. It is easily obtained when applying for a visa or in Dushanbe, cost is US$50 locally or at consulates in Central Asia, but is usually free in Europe.

If crossing a land border then get a visa prior to arrival. The embassies in Vienna and London are the most professional. You may struggle to get a visa at some consulates who will simply say “get it at the airport” (e.g. Kabul), which isn't useful if you want to arrive by land.

By plane

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Dushanbe International Airport

National carrier Tajik Air and the new private airline Somon Air are the country's two airlines. From Dushanbe, flights are available to numerous cities across Russia, including Moscow (Zhukovsky airport), Saint Petersburg, Samara, Sochi, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Perm, Krasnoyarsk, Orenburg, Irkutsk, Nizhnevartovsk, Surgut, Kazan & Yekaterinburg.

Aside from Russia, the main international destinations to/from Tajikistan are:

  • Istanbul — Turkish Airlines, Somon Air
  • Dubai/Sharjah — Somon Air, Tajik Air
  • Frankfurt — Somon Air
  • Tehran — Somon Air, Iran Aseman Airlines
  • Almaty — Somon Air, Air Astana

Flights between Jeddah and Dushanbe are set to begin in March 2024 through Somon Air. Also starting in 2024 are flights between Khujand and Dubai/Istanbul, giving travelers more options when planning how to get in/out of the country.

Periodically you can find flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent or Samarkand, but these happen less routinely than flights to the above destinations.

The airport in Khujand has service to about a dozen Russian cities through 8 carriers plus a weekly China Southern Airlines flight to Ürümqi. There are also routine Dushanbe-Khujand (and vice versa) flights every day for about 400 somoni.

By car

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Caution Note: In 2021, hostilities between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan erupted over border disputes. While there is no active conflict as of 2024, the land and air borders between the two countries are closed until further notice. Travelers wanting to visit both countries will have to go through a third country to do so.
(Information last updated 15 May 2024)

While relations with Uzbekistan are the best among Tajikistan's neighbors, it is the most crossed by travelers and the roads to these crossings are in much better condition than those leading to Kyrgyzstan or Afghanistan. The journey from Tashkent to Khujand takes about 2½ hours and is frequently travelled by private cars and marshrutkas (minibuses) which will take you along for a small amount (under US$10). The short (60-km) trip from Samarkand, Uzbekistan to Panjakent is also frequently travelled by private cars and marshrutkas. As of 2019, the border crossing near Panjakent is open without hassle, after being closed due to strained relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. If you want to go to Tashkent from Khujand, you have to cross the border at the Oybek post; if you want to go to Samarkand from Khujand you'll want to cross at the Qushtegirmon/Bekobod crossing. There are marshrutkas and taxis from Khujand to Oybek. Taxis cost from 50 to 100 somoni depending on time of a day.

In winter months, snow blocks the passes connecting Dushanbe with the north of Tajikistan. To travel between Dushanbe and the north during these months, you need to head south and cross from Termez (in Uzbekistan), which will take you around the west & south sides of the mountains and take you to Dushanbe.

From Kyrgyzstan, there are a couple of options, mostly from Osh and none make for a very smooth journey. The rugged, remote Pamir Highway (see next paragraph) is the slowest, but most popular. From the crossroads at Sary-Tash, a road leads west for 500 km through the Karategin Valley to Dushanbe. A little rugged near the border, but not nearly so as the Pamir Highway. As of May 2019, the border (crossing the border near Kara-Myk village) is completely closed to foreigners. Reasons for this are speculative but according to locals, there are a few villages near the border with extremist activity and foreigners aren't taken kindly to; best not to go anywhere near, or at least be discreet if you do. A third option is from the Batken region to Isfara. This road passes through several Uzbek exclaves and used to be a complicated process necessitating multiple-entry visas, but as of May 2019 the drive is just like any other marshrutka ride.

A scenic, albeit rough, journey into Tajikistan is via the Pamir Highway which runs from Osh to Khorugh to Dushanbe. Just about the only highway in the GBAO region, this route ranges from smooth tarmac full of buses, trucks to a single-lane road carved into a cliff. The border crossing lies at 4280 m and peaks at the Ak-Baital Pass at 4,655 m. The journey takes 2–3 days from Osh-Khorugh and three on the rougher stretch from Khorugh to Dushanbe, longer if you want to stop and enjoy the scenery. Minivans travel the route from Osh to Murghab every few days for US$15; hitch-hiking on Kamaz trucks and ZIL petrol tankers is also possible anywhere en route for US$10. A 4-wheel drive is necessary and large portions of the highway are impassible in winter and frequently blocked by mudslides in spring.

The US has funded a couple of bridges connecting Tajikistan with Afghanistan. Roads from Bokhtar, Kulob, & Dushanbe lead to the main crossing at Nizhnii Pyanj. From there, a road leads south to Kunduz. There is a bridge at Khorugh leading to Feizabad, Afghanistan, and a few mountainous roads elsewhere in the GBAO leading to Afghanistan.

A border crossing with China was opened in 2004. The crossing and connecting roads link the Pamir Highway with the Karakorum Highway and provides a link to Kashgar (Kashi) to the north and Pakistan to the south. As of 2010, it remains closed to foreigners.

By boat

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A ferry operates across the Pyanj river between Afghanistan and Tajikistan that costs roughly US$10 one way. However, the opening of the US-funded bridge over the Pyanj will likely end this service, which crosses roughly three times per day and does not run on Sundays.

By train

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There are two international connections to Tajikistan: Moscow-Dushanbe (2 per week) and Moscow-Khujand (once weekly), both visible on the Russian Railways website. Passengers are only supposed to board them only at stations in Russia and in Kazakhstan. There are only service stops on Uzbek and Turkmen territory. Trains to Moscow are popular with migrant workers.

The Moscow-Khujand train crosses Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan so one simply needs respective transit visas.

The Moscow-Dushanbe train takes around five days and crosses Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan again. The Turkmen part is virtually inaccessible for non-Tajik citizens as Turkmenistan does not issue transit visas "from-then-again-to Uzbekistan" and one would need a standard non-transit visa (Tajiks don't need any papers for transiting Turkmenistan with this train). One could in principle leave the train before it enters Turkmenistan, take a bus/taxi and re-board it again once it re-enters Uzbekistan.

Get around

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The tree-lined Rudaki Avenue in Dushanbe

By minivan or shared taxi

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Scheduled minivans run between the major cities but otherwise hiring a vehicle or sharing one with other passengers is the only way to travel around the country. Prices are generally per person, not for the vehicle, and divided by the number of passengers. You can always pay for the entire car too if you are either in a rush or don't want to share with strangers. The nice thing about shared taxis is that the drivers will almost always drop you off at your destination, rather than a set point in the city like a marshrutka or minibus will do.

SUVs can be hired and leave daily from Khujand's large minibus terminal located just outside the city. Prices are negotiable but should be in the range US$60 per person. Check that the vehicle is fit for long road travel, and inspect the spare tire.

By marshrutka

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Marshrutkas are similar to minivans in design but that act more like buses in that they have set routes they travel. Most Tajik cities will have a plethora of marshrutkas that run different routes. A marshrutka ride within a town usually costs 2.5 somoni per person and is paid when you get on the vehicle (although marshrutkas to and in Isfara will collect fares when you leave the vehicle). These are often the fastest form of transportation in cities, as they only stop when people want them to (either when they're hailed like taxis or when someone inside says stop), as opposed to buses that call at every stop. To tell the driver to stop, simply say "dored" (stressed on the second syllable). Some drivers will slam on the brakes then and there, while others will glide to a stop at the next available pull-off.

By bus

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In Dushanbe and Khujand, there are city bus networks. Neither city network has published maps of the routes (either on buses/at stops or online), so you'll need to ask locals or the driver if the bus goes where you need. Buses display major stops on their routes on the readerboard above the windshield and doors.

Officially, you can only pay for a bus via a special bus card (which can be acquired for free at Dushanbe City offices), to which you can add funds at orange ATM-like kiosks. In practice, most bus drivers also will take coin and small bill payments (don't try to break anything above a С20, though). In Dushanbe, the cost for a single ride is С1.8 by bus card and С2 in cash.

No bus routes connect cities.

By plane

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The flight between Khujand and Dushanbe in the winter. The country is highly mountainous and flying becomes the only safe way to get between the north and south in the winter.

As the country is broken into many isolated areas by mountain passes that are closed in winter, travel during this time is by air only, if the planes are flying. Tajik Air and Somon Air operate several daily flights to Khujand (roughly 40 minutes) and Khorugh, a thrilling plunge through mountain peaks. This flight does not go if it is windy. Khujand can get horrible fog in the winter, which can cause flights to be delayed or canceled. If your flight is canceled due to weather conditions, your ticket will be valid for the next available flight (usually rescheduled for the next day). Ticket vendors next to the Green Market in Dushanbe can provide a reliable estimate of their timetable. Make sure you arrive early for your flight. Also, passports and visas will be checked on domestic flights, so bring them with you.

Neither Tajik Air nor Somon Air have websites that allow for booking. Rather, you must go to the airport or an "Aviakassa" in the city and book tickets there. This is true even for international flights run by these carriers.

By train

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Tajik railways have no website. There are two confirmed trains running in Tajikistan: Moscow-Dushanbe (2 per week) and Moscow-Khujand (one weekly) that can be taken locally. Both timetables are accessible through Russian Railways website. There are 2 trains every week (Tuesday and Saturday) from Dushanbe via Bokhtar to Kulob (leaves Dushanbe at 08:00). There are also 2 trains a week from Dushanbe via Qurghonteppa (Bokhtar) to Shahrtuz. The rolling stock are still the old Soviet ones. The trains are very slow, often only 25 km/h but a good opportunity to meet local people and to enjoy the landscape. It is forbidden to take pictures of train stations and the rolling stock.

By car

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An international driving license is required. The traffic culture is very different from that in the West. Traffic is dangerous for both pedestrians and drivers. Vehicles are often in poor condition and lack seat belts or are not used. Traffic rules are not respected and speeding is common. Traffic is slowed down by safety checkpoints. Driving in Tajikistan is a case study in how close cars can get without hitting each other, and horns are used often to message other drivers, even moreso than in other countries. It is illegal to make a right turn at a red light unless otherwise marked, even if it would be safe to do so.

Even though Tajikistan is about the same size as Bangladesh, driving times are often considerably longer than one might expect. Most of the Tajik roads, in addition to being in poor condition, follow rivers or other natural mountain passes rather than bypassing them with tunnels or bridges; all the zigzagging around mountains adds hours to the trip.

Roads are in poor condition and often only passable by off-road vehicles, except in Dushanbe and Khujand, the two largest cities (and even there, roads off the main roads aren't always paved). In particular, roads in the Rasht Valley and Pamir are in poor condition. Access to these parts of the country is disrupted by snow in winter and landslides in spring. The road between Dushanbe and Khujand passes through the reopened Anzob tunnel, which has been rehabilitated, but is dangerous, especially in winter, due to slippery conditions and occasional avalanches.

There are very few Western-style guardrails on mountain passes. Most "guardrails" are in reality large cinder blocks or boulders placed on the valley-side of the road when there are turns.

Due to the poor condition of the roads, avoid driving outside the towns during the dark hours. Road lighting is generally limited to the main streets in urban areas. There are few petrol stations and garages outside urban areas and fuel quality can vary. Due to the sparse network of petrol stations, it is also advisable to fill up with fuel in reserve tanks. It is advisable to take a satellite phone with you in case of an emergency. Road conditions should be checked in advance with the authorities.

Talk

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See also: Tajik phrasebook, Russian phrasebook

The national and official language of the country is Tajik, which is one of several dialects of Persian. It is written using the Cyrillic script, which was introduced to the country by the Soviets in the 1930s. Speakers of Dari (Afghan Persian) or Farsi (Iranian Persian) should have no problems with getting around. Tajiks are very fond and proud of their language; therefore, learning a few words of Tajik will most certainly endear you to the locals.

Russian is the main language of inter-ethnic communication and is held in high regard; Russian is a compulsory subject in Tajik schools, and is widely used in avenues such as government and commerce. Families of former Soviet officials or descendants of immigrants from Russia might have Russian as their primary language, even if they identify as Tajik culturally.

Uzbek is spoken in the northern parts of the country.

Although younger, well-educated Tajiks and those working in the service industry know enough English to have a basic conversation, very little of it is spoken, even in Dushanbe. Some knowledge of Tajik, Russian, or both is therefore essential for the independent traveler.

See

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Sarazm

There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tajikistan: the proto-urban site of Sarazm in Panjakent, the Tajik National Park encompassing the Pamirs in the east of the country, and the Zeravshan Valley (including the site of Ancient Panjakent). The mountains of Tajikistan are among the highest in the world with three peaks higher than 7,000 m and more than half of the country is over 3,000 m above the sea level.

Do

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Tajikistan is a remarkable place, and there is plenty to do, from the Silk Road mystique of places like Khujand and Istaravshan, to the stunning, untouched mountain scenery of the Pamirs and their accompanying allure of trekking routes and unclimbed peaks. The Fann Mountains could be a good alternative to the Pamirs. They are easy to reach and provide good trekking options.

Buy

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Money

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Exchange rates for Tajikistani Somoni

As of January 2024:

  • US$1 ≈ С11
  • €1 ≈ С12
  • UK£1 ≈ С14

Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com

The somoni (Tajik: сомонӣ) is the national currency of Tajikistan. It is subdivided into 100 diram (Tajik: дирам). Wikivoyage uses С placed before the amount in all our articles. However, when you're shopping locally, you may see a variety of notations placed before or after the amount (most commonly just the letter С).

Banknotes come in denominations of С1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 and you may find С0.01, С0.02, С0.05, С0.10, С0.20, С0.25, С0.50, С1, С3 and С5 coins in circulation. It is much more common to find С1, 3, and 5 coins than it is to find their bill equivalents. It is extremely rare to find any dirams smaller than С0.20 (and the С0.25 coin as well); if you are lucky enough to come across any of these, they'd make great souvenirs.

Tajikistan is by and large a cash-based society. ATMs are becoming more and more common across the country, but they are still by and large limited to bank ATMs. The only credit card company that is universally accepted by Tajik ATMs is Visa. Other credit card companies (like Discover, MasterCard, etc.) are virtually unknown in Tajikistan. It might be a good idea to have US dollars or euros with you to change in a bank. Bank ATMs also offer dollars.

It is illegal in Tajikistan to pay in anything other than somonis. This is especially important if you enter the country by crossing a land border – make sure you have some somoni with you before you try to find a way into town.

It is relatively uncommon when paying in cash to receive exact change. Oftentimes, prices are rounded up or down to the nearest whole bill/coin (e.g. if you pay for С136.80 worth of groceries with С140, the cashier will keep the extra С3.20). If you do want exact change you can ask for it and you'll usually get it. Receipts are also hit-or-miss.

500 somoni banknote

Shopping

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Botanical garden in Dushanbe

Tajik markets are divided into two types: bazaars and brick-and-mortar stores. Haggling is not only accepted but encouraged in the bazaars, but rarely practiced in the stores. If a price isn't marked on the item, you can ask "Чанд пул аст?" (Chand pul ast?). Most of the non-food items sold in both stores and bazaars are made in China or Turkey; finding authentic Tajik items can be challenging.

Almost every mikroraion (neighborhood) will have some sort of grocery store; these can be treated like convenience stores for travelers wishing to stock up on cheap food.

  • Traditional Tajik padded coats. Comfortable and perfect for the colder weather in the mountains. The ensemble can be completed with a hat and sash.
  • Mercedes Benz (~US$7,000) cars and Land Cruisers from Dushanbe's Sunday Car Market. Also available: Russian cars, jeeps, minivans and an assortment of other models.
  • Vodka. Ruski Standard is the best one by far.
  • Rugs and carpets. The good ones are imported from Afghanistan or Uzbekistan. See also Carpet shopping.

Eat

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Qurutob "bread salad", the national dish of Tajikistan

Food in Tajikistan is a cross between that of Central Asia and that of Afghanistan & Pakistan along with a bit of Russian influence. If you like Russian food, you will probably have a good culinary experience. If you find Russian food bland, you may have a rough time here.

  • Osh (plov, pilaf): Ubiquitous Central Asian dish is made with rice, beef or mutton, and carrots. All fried together in vegetable oil or mutton fat in a special qazan (a wok-shaped cauldron) over an open flame. The meat is cubed, the carrots are chopped finely into long strips, and the rice is coloured yellow or orange by the frying carrots and the oil. The dish is eaten communally from a single large plate placed at the centre of the table. Plov is generally referred to as "osh" in Tajikistan.
  • Qurutob (Қурутоб) is a traditional dish that is still eaten with hands from a communal plate. Vegetables and flaky pastry in a yogurt-like sauce made from dried cheese (qurutob), it is sometimes described as "bread salad". Before serving the dish is topped with onions fried in oil until golden and other fried vegetables. No meat is added. Qurutob is considered the national dish.
  • Laghman: a pasta soup dish served with vegetables and lamb or beef. Try the stir-fried Uyghur varieties available at several restaurants in Dushanbe.
  • Sambusa: baked pastries
  • Shashlik: shish-kebab. Grilled-on-coal fish, liver, chicken, mutton and beef.
  • Tushbera soup: like ravioli, or pasta with meat in it
  • Ugro soup: handmade spaghetti soup served with cheese cream and basilic
  • Jiz-biz: fired freshcut lamb or mutton on its own juice
  • Dolma: steamed rolls with grape leaves and meat inside, served with sour cream and red pepper)
  • Mantu: steamed dumplings with meat inside, served with sour cream and fried onions
  • Shurbo: fresh vegetable soup with lamb or beef, served with green onion and basil
  • Many types of bread like chappoti, kulcha, nan, fatir, qalama, etc.
  • Damlama: like an English stew, steamed lamb or beef with vegetables in its own juice
  • Khash: soup with sheeps' legs, joints and tendons
  • Melons and watermelons are extremely popular among locals and are very cheap in local markets

Take care with street food and do not eat unwashed vegetables and fruits. It's best to soak them in distilled water and cook thoroughly.

The national cuisine is becoming more popular in Tajikistan, including dishes such as Shurbo, Oshi Palov, Mantu and Sambusa.

Dietary issues

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Vegetarians in Tajikistan are blessed and cursed: on the one hand, the Tajik national dish, Qurutob, contains no meat whatsoever and can be found quite easily in most restaurants. On the other hand, its essentially the only thing on the Tajik menu that lacks meat. Travelers who are fine eating the same meal every day will have no problem with this, but travelers who want variety in their meals might.

Most Tajik foods, including Qurutob, may be cooked using animal-derived oils.

Osh/Plov is usually served with meat and/or eggs, but they're cooked separately and added on top at the end, so vegetarians can easily pick off what they don't like. You can also try ordering plov "bé gusht" (without meat). There still may be animal oils used while cooking the rice.

Vegans will have a hard time in Tajikistan, as dairy, eggs, and animal oils might not be considered "meat" by Tajik chefs.

Travelers with other common dietary restrictions will face varying degrees of success in finding adequate meals. Tajiks are well aware of most common allergies, so tell your waiter or chef if there's something you need to avoid in the meal. Even then, it's still recommended you bring anti-allergy medications (such as epipens) with you – especially as the Tajiks might not all be aware of the concept of cross-contamination.

Gluten-free travelers will face difficulties, as most of the non-meat dishes consumed in Tajikistan are bread-heavy. Plov is gluten-free since it's just rice.

Drink

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  • Green tea — Tajiks customarily enjoy drinking unsweetened (or sweetened) green tea all throughout the day. Hence, it is the country's national beverage.
  • Compote — A distilled fruit punch.

Water in Tajikistan has two dangers: one is the quality, which is vastly below Western or East Asian standards – it should not be consumed. The other is the relative frequency with which the water is shut off from buildings (including restaurants). Travelers should drink bottled water and avoid ice (and drinks made with ice, like milkshakes and smoothies). Travelers should also be prepared for possible water shutoffs while they're there. Long-term travelers should consider buying 5- or 10-liter jugs of water (like those found at office coolers) for when the power or water goes out (usually the two act in tandem) or for washing vegetables with.

Sleep

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Ferdowsi Park in Dushanbe Tajikistan

Sleeping options in Tajikistan include the following:

Hotels

In Dushanbe, there are a few large hotels, including the Hyatt Regency and the "Tajikistan" in the central city. Most are ex-Soviet era and tend to be over-priced and in poor condition. There are a couple of newly built hotels offering western standards of accommodation for around US$70–220 per room.

MSDSP guesthouses

The Aga Khan's Mountain Societies Development Support Programme has a network of guesthouses in places like Kalaikhum and Khorog, offering a good standard of accommodation. Full board is around US$40 per person

Formal homestays

The French NGO ACTED is establishing a network of homestays in the Pamir region, around Murghab. For around US$10 per person per night you get a comfortable bed in a family home. The facilities are basic, i.e. no running water and an outside toilet, but guests can expect comfortable clean rooms, good local food and a very warm welcome.

Independent guesthouses

In Dushanbe, Khorog, and Murghab there are a small but growing number of independent guesthouses. These are similar in standard and price to the ACTED homestays.

Online accommodation

Many cities of Tajikistan offer free accommodation in homestays through couchsurfing.com

The app/website "Somon.tj" is the Tajik version of eBay, but it also lists apartments for rent. Some renters allow short-term rentals (some daily, some weekly, etc.) for a very low price, but knowledge of Tajik/Russian is required to use it.

Work

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Tajik Technical University

Finding work in Tajikistan can be a difficult experience. This is largely due to the following factors: low salaries, emigration, and the fact that jobs tend to not be widely advertised.

For a country that depends entirely on remittances (they constitute 20-40% of the country's GDP), do not expect Tajikistan to be some economic utopia; many Tajiks often emigrate to countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, and so on since there are limited opportunities for success in the country. Rates of pay are lower compared to its neighbors.

Also, due to the higher standard of living, some families from Tajikistan live and work in neighboring Uzbekistan, as well as in Turkey, the UAE, and European countries.

If you are a native speaker of English, have a TEFL/TESOL certification, and some prior teaching experience, you're likely to find a job in one of the many schools in the country, since there's a huge demand for English teachers in Tajikistan. Don't expect the process to be that comfortable if you're not fluent in Tajik, Russian, or both; you need to be knowledgeable in one of those languages to adapt to the country's cultural climate.

Stay safe

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Perhaps surprisingly, Tajikistan is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of petty thefts and tourism-specific crimes. Travelers here are treated with respect, and outside of the bazaars pickpockets are not common. Of course, travelers should still bring with them their common sense, but Tajikistan is much safer in this regard than most of Europe and Latin America.

Some factional fighting spilling over from nearby Afghanistan (as well as local warlordism) can occur in Tajikistan. Visitors should keep abreast of the security situation and not take any unnecessary risks. Generally, the Pamir region and areas close to the Afghan border have the potential to be the most volatile.

After sunset, it is not advisable to walk around outside alone; generally, do not travel unaccompanied to rural areas.

Of significant concern is the inability of Tajikistan's law enforcement entities to provide adequate and immediate assistance. Lack of manpower, low salaries, and inadequate training all contribute to a lack of professionalism among law enforcement entities. Police officers in Dushanbe have been known to ask for bribes from expatriates and tourists, even when no crime has been committed. It is always best to travel in groups if you are traveling at night and avoid areas heavily patrolled by the police (including Rudaki Park) if you have been drinking. If you are asked for a bribe, play dumb. Even if you speak Russian or Tajik, it is best to pretend like you do not understand the officer's request. They will usually lose patience and leave you alone. Never argue with or provoke the police. If you are the victim of a crime, consult with your embassy. Your embassy may be able to help you locate stolen items or to renew your passport.

Even in Dushanbe, power outages (and with them, water shutoffs) can strike at any time, and can last upwards of a few days. Consider having one or two portable chargers fully charged at any given point in case of a power outage so you can recharge necessary electronics.

In some places it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in prison.

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Tajikistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

The number of items that can be exported may be limited. It is illegal to export or possess unprocessed stones and metals and jewelry without a hallmark (mark of authenticity). Even if visitors have a receipt confirming legal purchase of such items at a store in Tajikistan, the items must be declared upon departure.

Natural disasters

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Tajikistan is prone to earthquakes.

Solo female travel

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Traveling in Tajikistan is generally safe for solo women who have already experience of traveling solo in other countries. However, there are a few points to keep in mind when visiting Tajikistan, including:

  • Dress code: especially outside of the capital Dushanbe, it's advisable to cover shoulders and avoid wearing shorts or short skirts. Wearing a headscarf is not necessary and is discouraged by the local authorities, but keep one on you when planning to visit a mosque (on paper, only men can visit Tajikistan's mosques, but some have been known to let female tourists in on occasion).
  • It's not unusual to be catcalled on the streets of Dushanbe and the best policy is to simply ignore the calls.
  • Some people recommend wearing a (fake) wedding ring and pretending to be married with children to avoid unwelcome male attention.
  • When visiting a nightclub, always go accompanied as single females in night clubs are often considered to be prostitutes.
  • The Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) has female guides for when you want to go trekking and you don't feel comfortable going alone with a male guide.

Stay healthy

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The healthcare system in Tajikistan is best described as severely underdeveloped.

Do not drink tap water. There is no working purification system, and outbreaks of typhoid are common, and even cholera (rarely). Other preventable endemic illnesses are hepatitis A, rabies, poliomyelitis and tick-borne encephalitis. The occasional anthrax case comes in, but it's rare nowadays. There are, during the hot season, a few pockets where malaria can occur. HIV is a growing health threat in Tajikistan. There is now an English-speaking comprehensive primary care clinic in operation by the name of Prospekt Medical, right behind the Embassy of China. In the Pamir mountains, the risk of altitude sickness is substantial. In case of ANY accident, call your embassy. Health insurance and medical evacuation insurance are strongly recommended.

For long-term visitors, it's not a question of "will you get food poisoning", but "when". Be prepared for it.

Longer stays may consider the hiring of private drivers and home security guards. Rent out secure known owners' places.

Air quality in the winter (and sometimes in other seasons) in the cities can be horrendous, with practically everyone using coal-powered heating. The increase in coal pollution combined with mountains that trap the pollution means there are often high levels of particulate matter in the air. It is recommended that you wear an N-95 mask while traveling outside during times of poor air quality. If you are spending considerable amounts of time in Tajikistan, it's a good idea to acquire an air purifier for your place of residence.

Respect

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  • Tajikistan is a fairly conservative society, and women should be fairly modest in public. Headscarves and face-coverings are exceptions and not the norm. For men, shorts will generally attract disapproving stares, even in larger cities like Dushanbe. Although some Tajiks can be extremely friendly, it is not uncommon for people to be equally rude. Tajiks in general are very welcoming to tourists. While you should be wary of scams in the larger cities, do not be alarmed if young people approach you to say hello and practice their English. When speaking to older Tajiks, place your right hand over your heart: this is a sign of respect reserved for older men or women in Tajik society.
  • Only men are allowed inside the mosques in Tajikistan. Women usually pray in their homes or at work in private areas; it is expected that Muslim women visiting the country as tourists do the same. However, some mosques in the larger cities have been known to allow female tourist groups to enter to tour the mosque, although prayer still seems to be restricted to men. That being said, women are allowed in some mosques if they're 1) asking a religious question, 2) traveling with a male companion, and 3) visiting outside of the normal prayer times.
  • Unlike some of its neighbors in the region, same-sex activity is legal in Tajikistan. However, social attitudes towards LGBTQ+ issues are quite conservative and there are no laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination or harassment, so LGBTQ+ visitors should exercise caution and avoid public displays or acknowledgements of their non-hetero lifestyles. It is common for Tajik men to walk hand-in-hand or with arms draped around each other's shoulders, but that is not seen as anything sexual.
  • Tajiks are very offended if you compare their country with neighboring Afghanistan. They admit that they are culturally and historically close, but consider their country, unlike Afghanistan, "more civilized and modern", as well as "several times safer".
  • Many Tajiks have a favorable view of Russia and Russians, since almost every Tajik family has at least one relative who has been or is in Russia for work or study. Tajikistan also has a fair share of Russians living in it (especially in Dushanbe). Opinions regarding Russia and the situation in Ukraine vary between Tajiks, but it's best to avoid those conversations.

Connect

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Tajik telecom companies charge for internet usage by the amount downloaded. This is especially important to note for persons planning on living in Tajikistan and paying directly for the service, for example US$50 per month for up to 1GB of downloads. You will need to have a Ministry of Immigration registration form to purchase private internet service.

With most of the major internet service providers, you have to pay a certain amount in somoni by the first of each month in order for the service to renew monthly, even if you officially have a "X-month" plan. Luckily, this can be done at any orange kiosk in any city or village in any part of the country. All you have to do is enter your Tajik phone number (which you'd get when you get a SIM card) and then put however much money you want into the slot. If you are planning on being away from civilization around the start/end of a month, take this into account and plan ahead.

It is wise to download a good VPN for Tajikistan. The government is known to restrict and lift internet or site-specific access seemingly at random. According to local advice, Megafon is the only network provider that works in the Pamirs. US$1 for the SIM card, then US$10 for one month of unlimited social media use and 3GB Google. Take a local and their passport with you to buy a SIM card, the process is a lot simpler.

Officially, all publicly-accessible websites (e.g. Wikivoyage) are accessible in Tajikistan, however, it's wise to avoid anything that you might consider politically or culturally iffy. Internet speed varies greatly from day to day.

Cope

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Embassies

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  • United States — 109A Ismoili Somoni Avenue, Zarafshon, Dushanbe 734019, tel: +992-37-229-23-00, fax: +992-37-229-2309. The consular section is open M–F 08:00–17:00, and closed on US and Tajik holidays.
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