People from India and 121 other nations can now get an e-visa for Tajikistan. The process is fairly simple. I got both my visas within one day, however, to be on the safe side you should give yourself a week. The problem with an e-visa is that if you want to leave Tajikistan and enter again (to go to Afghanistan, for example) you need a multiple entry visa. However, there is no option for a multiple entry e-visa and hence you need to apply for the e-visa twice. The second time should be done only after entering Tajikistan, because I have heard of people getting their second e-visa rejected when they applied twice for the e-visa without entering the country.
Visa Costs and Permits
A single entry e-visa for Tajikistan costs $50 with a validity of 90 days. If you plan to travel to GBAO (the autonomous region of Tajikistan) then you need to get a GBAO permit. The cost for the permit is 15-20 dollars and you can get it while applying for the e-visa. Again, if you plan to exit and then re-enter the country, you are going to need two GBAO permits as well.
When to Travel to Tajikistan
The months from June-September (the summer season) are the busiest in terms of tourism, however, some places can get too hot, reaching over 40 degrees Celsius. The winter season starts from October onwards. During the winter, many roads frequently get blocked because of snow, hence there are barely any tourists from October onwards. However, I traveled to Tajikistan in mid-November and managed to see the whole country, albeit we had to spend one night in the car due to heavy snowfall. Traveling in winter in Tajikistan is risky but hugely rewarding. Tajikistan somehow seems even more beautiful in the winter. Plus, we had most of the roads, views, and hospitality to ourselves! Although you do face some extreme weather conditions, the temperature was in most places below -10 and in the eastern part sometimes it went below -30 (known as one of the coldest regions in the world).
The currency of Tajikistan is called Tajik Somoni. One Tajik Somoni = 7.6 rupees or one USD = approximately 9.5 somoni (at the time of writing). Be sure to carry a lot of money with you (either USD or Somoni) because other than the capital and Khorog it is very difficult to find ATMs in other cities, especially in the Pamir Highway region. Also, another problem even in big cities like Dushanbe is that almost no places accept credit or debit card other than big supermarkets. USD is widely accepted along the Pamir Highway by guesthouses and taxis, however not in Dushanbe.
Tajik is the national language, similar to Farsi and Dari, and is spoken widely. Russian is the second language and almost everyone knows it from colonial times. Other languages spoken here are Uzbeki (10% population of Tajikistan are Uzbekis) and Kyrgyz.
Out of all the Central Asian countries, Tajikistan is likely the most religious. The main religion is Islam with 95% population Sunni and 3% Shia believers. 40% of the region which is Gbao accounts for most of the Shia population, as they are followers of the Ismali sect.
Food for Vegetarians
Tajik cuisine is similar to and influenced by the cuisines of Russia, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. Like Afghanistan, the national dish of Tajikistan is Kabuli Pulao (a popular one in India too!), a rice dish with shredded yellow turnip or carrot, meat, and olive oil or drippings. Every meal is served with bread and green or black tea, which is the national drink. Apricot jams are common too.
Being a vegetarian is really difficult in Tajikistan because Tajiki people love meat. Even in Dushanbe, it is difficult to find vegetarian versions of Kabuli Pulao and Beshmarak. In Pamir, the situation is much worse because nothing really grows in the region and the remoteness of the place means very few supplies come in (I survived by eating potatoes for over a week). Make sure you carry a lot of food from Dushanbe if you are a vegetarian.
Central Asian dishes include Shashkyl (kebabs that often include mutton and are served with ananas and bread), Plov (pilaf-style rice mixed with meat, onions, carrots, and other things), Manti (steamed lamb dumplings, often served with minted sour cream), and Laghman (Chinese-style noodles). Qurutob is also a national dish and is made of a mix of bread and onions in a yogurt sauce with vegetables and meat. Another popular dish in Tajikistan is called Beshmarak, which is boiled meat chunks served on a bed of large flat noodles.
The main Sim Card companies are T-cell, Megafon and Beeline. Megafon has the best coverage in the country, however, there are large parts of the Pamir highway where you have no network. To get better coverage, some people get two sim cards — one of T-cell and another of Megafon. Megafon is recommended for Eastern Pamir, while T-Cell is better in the Wakhan Valley. The cost for 5 GB is $10 and for 10 GB it is approximately $20.
Tajikistan might be a relatively small country but it has a huge amount to offer. You simply cannot see all the wonders of Tajikistan on a short trip. I recommend at least two weeks as a good amount of time for exploring the Pamir Highway and the Fann Mountains, as well as experiencing the cities of Dushanbe and Khujand. However, if you are also keen on doing some of Tajikistan’s spectacular hikes, you should plan on spending at least a month here. Of course, the timescale definitely changes if you’d like to travel the Pamir Highway by biking or hitchhiking. In this case, plan on a month again to be able to explore at a relaxed pace with either option.
Here is an itinerary to consider:
Dushanbe – 2 to 3 days.
Pamir Highway – 8 to 12 days (depending on whether you go to Osh and Afghanistan).
Fann Mountains – 2 to 7 days (depending on the hikes you choose to do. The Seven Lakes hike takes two to three days to do).
Panjakent – 1 day.
Khujand – 2 days.
How to Get to Tajikistan
If you are flying to Tajikistan then you will be flying into the main airport in Dushanbe, the capital city. There are two local airlines that operate from here: Tajik Air and Somon Air. The airlines have connections to Iran, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and India (Delhi). A round trip flight from Delhi will most likely cost around 30k to 40k.
Tajikistan does not have a great relationship with Uzbekistan and hence only one border is functional. This border is close to the city of Penjakent and takes you all the way to Samarkand.
There are many ways to travel from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan and vice versa, but the most popular one by far is to take the Pamir Highway. Khorog is connected all the way to Osh via the Pamir Highway. The additional two days it takes to reach Osh is well worth it because of the incredibly scenic journey.
Budget for Tajikistan (Exchange Rate at the Time of Travelling).
Two Visas and GBAO Permit $50 x 2 + $15×2 = $130 (9100 RS)
Hostel in Dushanbe (Three nights) $7 x 3 = $24 (1680 RS)
Food and Attractions in Dushanbe $10 x 3 = $30 (2100 RS)
Pamir Highway Taxi $1000/4 = $250 (17500 RS)
Shared Taxi $100 (7,000 RS)
Food and Lodging in Pamir $15-$20 x 8 = $160 (11200 RS)
Taxi to Iskanderkul $50 (3500 RS)
Taxi to Rachnapollon $8 + $20 = $28 (1960 RS)
Taxi to Khujand from Rachnapollon $11 (770 RS)
Stay and Food at Khujand $20 x 2 = $40 (2800 RS)
Total $723 (50,600 RS)