Despite all the gushing reviews of the few that visit, Tajikistan is still an under-appreciated destination. It’s true that travel here requires more effort than the average tourist is perhaps willing to muster, but the country gives a lot back to those who do decide to come this way. Sure, the roads are bad, the people are poor and the policemen corrupt, but your visit might help change that.
If nothing else, at least the view is terrific.
East Tajikistan Tourism: The Pamirs
The Pamirs are what gets people to travel to Tajikistan; the Roof of the World is a unique place – think Tibet without the Chinese, or Nepal without the Westerners. Capital of the region is Khorog. You get there via the Pamir Highway from Murghab or on a scary plane from Dushanbe. It’s surprisingly cultural, and it holds the second-highest Botanical Garden in the world at 3900m.
From here, endless trekking excursions can lead you to the surrounding valleys: the Bartang, Geisev, Wakhan, Darshai valleys and the Shokh Dara valley which leads up to the beautiful Turuntai-Kul. Langar is another place good for hiking. You can take a trip all the way south to the Ishkashim border market in Afghanistan, from where you can continue on to Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.
For culture and history, try (in chronological order) the petroglyphs spread around the area, the murals at Shakhty, the stupas at Vrang or the ancient fortresses of the Pamir Silk Road.
In the northeast, close to Kyrgyzstan and China, lies Murghab. From here you can access the Karakul and Rangkul lakes, the Gumbezkul valley, and the ancient sites at Jalang and Kok Jar, from where you can attempt to reach the Grum Grjimailoo glacier or the Fedchenko glacier, one of the biggest and most dramatic in the world (but shrinking).
Way off the beaten path lie Zor Kul and Sarez lake, the medieval mining village of Bazar Dara and the spectacular lands around Shaimak that lead over the Qolma pass into China.
Northern Tajikistan Tourism: Zerafshan and Fergana Valley
North from capital Dushanbe and south from border town Penjikent lie the Fann mountains, blessed with a collection of alpine lakes, spectacular yet accessible. Iskanderkul lake is the most famous of these lakes, and a must-see. Cross the Anzob pass and you will enter Sughd province, Tajikistan’s middle finger poking into Uzbekistan’s side. Capital Khujand is interesting enough, and an extra day should be afforded to visit historic little Istaravshan.
Southern Tajikistan Travel: Dushanbe and the plain
Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan. Tourism-wise, compared to the Pamirs it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s where the museums are and where the foreigners live, and it’s relaxed enough for a traveler to feel at home on the second day. There is some good hiking around Dushanbe; you can also see dinosaur footsteps and pay a visit to the Hissar fortress.
Further off there is the hidden valley of Yagnob, and the spa resort of Garm. Down south, on the plain, Kurgon-Teppa is Tajikistan’s garden city. Other noteworthy (but rarely visited) places with a long, distinguished history in the area are Vaksh and Kulob.
Just a short overview of the main points of interest in Tajikistan. Travel guidebooks can tell you more.
Special Interest Tourism
Obviously, trekking and mountain climbing are prime reasons to travel to Tajikistan. Wildwater kayaking is for fearless pros only. Skiing and heliskiing is another option for those into first descents and the like.
Horse riding and even yak riding are a more relaxed way to enjoy nature here. A small niche exists in botanical tourism and wildlife tourism – this last one sadly includes hunting for rare and endangered species.