Accommodation in Tajikistan: it’s not a good deal, to be honest. There are some jewels in between the mud, but the majority of places suffer from the typical Tajik disease of asking too much and giving too little. Be independent if you can, with a tent and a camping stove. If not: be ready for anything and watch what you eat.
For general tips on toilets, hospitality, breakfast and a selection of top places to stay on the Silk Road, see the overview page.
Couchsurfing & people inviting you in
Couchsurfing is a possibility in Tajikistan. Obviously, there will be few hosts outside of Khujand and Dushanbe. If you are a cyclist, you will almost certainly visit the amazing Warmshowers host Vero in Dushanbe. She is still there in 2017 but packing up after that, leaving a gaping wound in the heart of the overlanding cycle community.
People are often found to be very hospitable in Tajikistan, and many travelers have found themselves invited in to stay the night. Or have they? Here it is important to understand the Persian rules of politeness, and the concept of tarof.
Tarof governs the rules of hospitality: a host is obliged to offer anything a guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it. This ritual may repeat itself several times (3 times minimum) before the host and guest finally determine whether the host’s offer and the guest’s refusal are real or simply polite.
If you accept on the first go, you might have saddled your host with an unwanted guest and an extra mouth to feed. So make sure the offer is genuine.
In certain parts of the Pamirs, food is at a premium. But when you offer to pay your way, all money is refused. Pamir experts advise you should try to give money anyway: tuck it in the hands of a child, stuff it under a pillow, fold it in an envelope. A family might go hungry for days proudly feeding an unsuspecting cyclist or cheap-ass hitchhiker.
Of course, you could say, that is their problem: they invited me in, it’s their own fault they don’t want to accept payment. You would also have a point: giving beyond your means is indeed part of tarof, and compensating their proud hunger with money is perhaps only a typically Western response to that. Not a popular opinion, though.
In trying to wrap our head around this dilemma, we find ourselves at the edge of a cultural faultline. Crossing it takes time, empathy and a self-questioning attitude.
Possibly the best way to enjoy Tajikistan’s marvelous landscapes. Be sure to stock up on food for the more desolate parts, and to keep warm in the higher reaches. Beyond that, enjoy the ride! Gas canisters for camping stoves are sold at the Green House Hostel in Dushanbe, not sure where else. Kerosene is also sold at the nearby Green bazaar.
Homestays and ecotourism
The homestay and ecotourism business in Tajikistan is mostly run by large development agencies. Like pretty much everyone else who has spent time in developing countries, I have a very low opinion about these organisations and the people working for them. Homestays in Tajikistan are another case in point.
For 12$ a night you would get a decent bed, a hot shower and a clean toilet in most parts of the world. In Tajikistan, this gets you a dusty room, a bucket of cold water and a nasty hole in the ground (if there is a hole at all).
Without heading into details, in my opinion, large development organisations fail to make an impact in Tajikistan, and it would be better if tourism was left to private enterprise.
Most of the time, you can ask around in villages and have other people outside of the aid circuit also offer you a place to stay with similar comfort for a more reasonable price.
If you do feel like staying at aid-sponsored homestays (there are others as well, you can distinguish them by their prices), watch out with the food. A lot of travelers come down with worms, amoebes, dysentery, … after eating in homestays. In other words: lots of time on the toilet (if there is one).
Airbnb and apartment rental
Airbnb, Homeaway, VRBO and Flipkey all have spaces for rent in Tajikistan. Apartments also get rented out on other hotel booking sites like Booking.com. These apartments are generally owned by real estate moguls and you are unlikely to share a space with others or even see the owner. A decent alternative to more traditional accommodation options.
Electricity black-outs are an issue in winter in Tajikistan. Ask in advance if this is likely to happen in your apartment block. The center of Dushanbe generally does not have issues, anywhere else is in the danger zone.
Hotels & hostels
The quality of hotels is generally low in Tajikistan. Expect to get less than what you paid for. Dushanbe and Khorog have some expensive international-standard options catering to the humanitarian crowd.
Bargaining is totally acceptable. Give it a go. Hostels exist in Dushanbe and Khorog. Quality is mixed but there are a few good ones. Like with hotels, you can bargain.
Hot water is a typical summer issue in the FSU that is often outside of the control of hotels. When the utility company decides to switch it off, they are left standing. Ask politely if there will be hot water. Electricity black-outs also occur in winter in Tajikistan. Ask in advance what kind of measures your hotel has in place. Heating, on the other hand, is unlikely to be a problem. In summer, air-conditioning is not an excessive luxury in West-Tajikistan. At all.