Tajikistan is a place so fascinating that even a plethora of words can’t truly encompass its beauty and magic. This hidden gem is the smallest country in Central Asia, however, don’t be fooled by its size. Visiting Tajikistan is on the top of the bucket list for many travelers around the world.
For thrill-seekers and nature lovers, Tajikistan’s wild, rugged, and endless landscape offers travelers unlimited discovery and the opportunity to unleash their true potential as explorers. Tajikistan lures adventurers to its epic wilderness, which features sparkling glacial lakes, majestic mountain peaks, and high steppes. This mystical environment captivates visitors with vibrant shades of gold, green, and blue. The haunting and desolate landscape evokes a sense of having it all to yourself and being the only living soul witnessing its natural splendor.
A large part of the country’s charm is how little it has changed over the millennia. Tajikistan’s exquisite land and unique culture have been strikingly well-preserved. It is a place where you can truly see the world from a different perspective. You’ll come across some of the remotest villages and towns on the planet and meet locals who rarely come in contact with the outside world, yet are warm and friendly to visitors.
Tajikistan provides a home to people who still proudly live a simple nomadic lifestyle in the farthest reaches of the country and cheerfully thrive despite the extreme seasons. Children play and women gracefully juggle pots atop their heads as they stroll around outdoor markets. Men strum on hand-carved instruments. Yaks wander freely, sharing the dirt roads with villagers. The smell of sugar and spices lingers in the air. Tajikistan is one of the best places to feel like you’re traveling back in time and experiencing ancient traditions in welcoming communities.
The secret’s out and Tajikistan’s attractiveness as an exciting tourist destination is on the rise like never before. Its beautiful elements and culture have grabbed the attention of passionate cyclists, alpinists, and hikers worldwide, who have named Tajikistan as one of their favorite countries to visit. Soon enough, many other avid travelers will do so too. Trust our word and don’t wait — book your tickets to this incredible place before its popularity soars!
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 (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 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. The ideal scenario is to buy both sim cards so that you are covered for much of the Pamir Highway.
Where to go in Tajikistan
Dushanbe is the capital city of Tajikistan and will most likely be the starting point of your trip. Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, but nowhere will you feel that way and especially not in the capital city. Dushanbe is an interesting mix of Soviet and modern architecture and features some impressive monuments. The city’s top attractions include Rudaki Park, Yakub Charki Mosque, Tajik Flagpole (the second highest in the world!) and Victory Park. Walking around Dushanbe is a great experience. The city is very green, well-organized, and beautiful.
Where to Eat in Dushanbe
Although Dushanbe means “Monday” in the local language it is by no means a boring city; it offers plenty of good restaurants and bars that keep people entertained every day of the week. The capital city is the best place to try local flavors and other diverse cuisines. Here are several recommendations:
Toqi Restaurant – One of the best restaurants in Dushanbe with authentic food and a traditional vibe.
Bukhara – A great restaurant to try local and Central Asian cuisine. Very popular with locals. The restaurant often features traditional shows of dancing and singing at night.
Rokhat Teahouse – Decent food and often the meeting point for locals.
Bukhara – The best place to try the local dish of Qurutob (a must!). Also, the best option for vegetarians who want to try local cuisine.
Dushanbe also has two Indian restaurants called Taj and Delhi Darbaar.
Where to Stay in Dushanbe
Greenhouse Hostel – The best hostel in Dushanbe. Cheap, close to the centre, and a great place to meet other backpackers. Often full of hikers, bikers, and alpinists during the summer months. Dorm beds are in the range of 60-80 TJS per night.
Yeti Hostel – Another great option in Dushanbe. Dorm Beds are 70-90 TJS and a private room is around 300 TJS.
Attractions close to Dushanbe
Nurek Dam – Nurek Dam is the second-highest dam in the world and probably the most beautiful as well. Nurek Dam is a great option for a day trip as it is only about 90 km away from the capital. However, people do not often do this day trip because it is the first stop on the Pamir Highway.
Hisor Fortress – Hisor has a nice fort perched on a hilltop. This attraction is only 35 km away from Dushanbe.
Safed Dara – This is a great destination for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. The town is only 45 minutes away from Dushanbe.
It is no wonder why this is Tajikistan’s most prominent attraction. Called “the roof of the world”, the magnificent Pamir Highway stretches from Afghanistan (Mazar-E-Sharif) to Tajikistan and ends in Osh, Kyrgyzstan (which is the second-highest border crossing). Pamir Highway’s striking environment certainly offers adventurers one of the most jaw-dropping and memorable road trips in the world. Nothing can prepare you for the immense beauty you’ll witness in this ancient region. The Highway crosses several stunning mountain ranges like the Hind-Kush and Pamir, as well as sparkling, crystal green rivers like Panj. Much of the way you can see picturesque Afghani villages dotted with colourful trees and mud houses just across the river. Another major aspect of the Pamir Highway is its unique communities, which are isolated yet welcoming. In all of my travels, Pamiri’s are amongst the friendliest people I have ever met. The Highway is not for the faint-hearted though, especially in the winter season. However, its rugged environment is part of its mysterious charm. Travelling this road offers the adventure of a lifetime and takes you to some of the remotest places on Earth. In my case also the coldest, because I decided to go in the winter.
Attractions in Pamir
The first stop on the Highway is the small town of Kalaikumb, often regarded as the gateway to the Pamir Highway. The town does not have much to offer other than being a stop on the journey to Khorog. Kalaikumb is 6-7 hours away from Dushanbe. The best option for accommodations here is Hotel Roma (although it is a guesthouse) and Darvoz guesthouse. Both charge $20 per night with breakfast and dinner included.
The journey from Kalaikhum to Khorog is 7-8 hours long. The capital of the Gorno Badakshan (an autonomous region) is a small but fascinating town. The people in Gorno Badakshan are Ismali Muslims and around the city, you can see the influence of Aga Khan, the imam of Ismali Muslims. People here are warm and well educated. It is very interesting to talk to locals and experience the difference between people from Dushanbe and Khorog. This is the last town where you’ll have access to essentials like ATMs and supermarkets.
Attractions in Khorog
Every Saturday Afghanis cross the border and set up a market in Khorog. Visiting the market is the perfect opportunity to interact with Afghani people and buy unique items. The Botanical Garden and Khorog City Park are both beautiful as well as being great places to observe the local life.
The drive from Khorog to Ishkashim is only three hours and the shortest of the entire trip. There is not much to do in Ishkashim apart from wandering another Afghani market. However, Ishkashim is a necessary stop for those who want to go to Afghanistan as this is the most favourable border crossing option. Ishkashim is also the gateway to the famed Wakhan Valley. (Read more about Afghanistan HERE). If you’re looking for overnight accommodations here, Hami’s Guesthouse is the best place to stay in Ishkashim and charges $15 per night including breakfast and dinner.
The Wakhan is incredibly beautiful with the mountain ranges of Pamir, Tien Shien, and Hind Kush visible in all their glory. Along the way you get to see stunning Tajik and Afghani villages just across the various rivers that you pass. The Wakhan also has a great history attached to it and as recently as 1873 both sides were ruled by the same Emir. The present corridor was created at the conclusion of the great games between Russia and Britain and acted as a buffer between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Attractions in Wakhan
Kaakha Fortress – This fortress is only 30 minutes away from Ishkashim and is a great lookout point for views of the river Panj and Afghanistan.
Yamuchan Fortress – Yamuchan is quite a remarkable fortress surrounded by the majestic Hind Kush mountains. The fortress was built 2000 years ago by the Kushan Empire.
Bibi Fatima Hot Springs – If you are planning to travel to Tajikistan in the winter, you must go to the hot springs, which are located in the town of Yamuchan. The temperature was -17 when I was in Yamuchan, which certainly led to a much-needed break from the cold and made the hot springs even more inviting.
The village of Vrang consists of a Buddhist stupa which is quite fascinating considering it is in Tajikistan. The stupa was made in the 4th century, unfortunately with no record of its origin.
This is the biggest town in wild Eastern Tajikistan. East Tajikistan is where Pamir’s outstanding beauty truly lies. The region is so rugged, wild, and remote that you feel as if you’re on another planet. Murghab is a small town but very fascinating because of the people. There is a Kyrgyz settlement within the town that has been established there for a long time. Interacting with the locals and seeing how they live and make ends meet is a valuable life lesson and unique experience.
The best place to stay in Murghab is the guesthouse Erali, which is $20 again for breakfast and dinner.
The road trip and landscape become more and more intense as you move towards Bulunkul. The views are spectacular and it is highly likely that you will not see even a single another car during the entire stretch. The town of Bulunkul is known for the lakes Bulunkul and Yashikul. Both lakes are beautiful but Yashikul is especially incredible. The weather in both the winter and summer is extreme with the range being -40 to 40 degrees. The shortage of electricity, water, and heating make it a challenging place to live in during winters.To add to that, the remoteness of the place means that people only get supplies once a month or longer. There are a few accommodations in Bulunkul in the form of guesthouses, all ranging from $15 to $20.
My personal favourite place in Tajikistan and certainly the most remote and extreme place I have been to.Karakul features the largest lake in Tajikistan and the second-highest navigable lake in the world.Photos truly do not do justice to Karakul as well as the whole drive from Bulunkul. The temperature was -35 when I was there and even then we managed to stay out for an hour to enjoy the view. The conditions are extreme in Karakul (I slept with five layers and three blankets). Despite it being one of the hardest places to live on Earth, the people of Karakul are so kind and warm. Again, there are few options in Karakul to stay, all offering pretty much the same rates ranging from $15-$20.
If you plan to travel to GBAO (the autonomous region of Tajikistan) than you need to get a GBAO permit. The cost of the permit is 15-20 dollars. You can get it while applying for the e-visa. If you plan to exit the country and enter again you are going to need two GBAO permits as well.
Mode of Transport
Hiring a taxi and a driver is the best option for exploring Pamir Highway at your own pace and not missing out on any locations. The price tends to be very steep, with companies charging $1000-1200 for an 8-10 day journey. Luckily, I travelled Pamir with friends so we divided the cost.
This is a very cheap option if you are travelling alone. However, you will not be able to explore at your own pace and will most likely have to travel long distances. Shared taxis go from Dushanbe to Khorog and from Khorog to Murghab and from Murghab to Osh. The journey takes just about four days and is marked with various stops along the way.
Cycling and Camping
Pamir Highway not only provides one of the best car road trips but also one of the best cycling routes as well. Many cyclists and adventurers have completed the entire stretch on bikes. Some even bring their own camping tents, which can be set up pretty much anywhere along the route.
In the past, people have managed to reach Osh by hitchhiking. However, this option tends to be very difficult, particularly during the winter months when there are barely any cars on the road.
The people in Pamir are friendly and welcoming and it is unlikely you would come across any challenges with local residents. Khorog was the only place I felt slightly uneasy because while I was there, the town was protesting against the government and security was everywhere. The only problems travelers might face are ones related to road trips and adventures. The roads do get very rough and narrow at many points. Another potential challenge is health-related; as you reach heights of 14000 ft. it’s possible to get altitude sickness. A great way to get accustomed to the altitude is to stay in towns along the way and let your body adjust before you move on to higher altitudes.
Best Months to Travel
For most people, the best months to travel to Tajikistan are June through September, when there are more opportunities for hiking and exploring the villages. Just keep in mind it can get extremely hot in some places during this season, sometimes reaching 40 degrees in certain places. According to my personal preference, the best time to travel to Tajikistan is from the beginning of October through November. During these months there are no tourists, the scenery is even more beautiful, and experiencing the Pamir Highway feels even more adventurous.
If you’re travelling here during the winter months you’ll need to plan ahead to take extra care of yourself. Make sure to choose ideal travel companions as well as a driver who is experienced enough to face the harsh, unpredictable weather and road conditions. The weather became extremely challenging when we were travelling from Bulunkul to Karakul. Our car got stuck in the snow, so we ended up having to spend the night in the middle of nowhere until help came the next morning. Be sure your car is equipped for similar situations, and of course plan on bringing plenty of warm clothes.
Being a vegetarian can be difficult when you’re travelling the Pamir Highway. I made a huge mistake of not stocking up properly; I literally had potatoes for lunch and dinner for 10 days! People were really nice and accommodating though. They made me different versions of potatoes and at one homestay they even made rachallete for me!
Non-vegetarians will find plenty of culinary options along the Pamir Highway. The different homestays serve up a variety of meat, soups, and local dishes, and I have heard only positive reviews about the food.
Travellers often overlook the Western part of Tajikistan because the Pamir Highway is so magnificent. However, the West is home to the Fann Mountains which are also incredibly beautiful and should not be skipped. Tajikistan has 1500 lakes and most of them are found in this region.Some of them are so spectacular that they stand out from some of the most famous lakes in the world. The Fann Mountains are also much more accessible and offer better hiking options than Pamir. In fact, the Fann Mountains are highly regarded by hikers and alpinists.
The stunning Iskanderkul Lake is right up there with the world’s most beautiful lakes and is a must-see location in Tajikistan. I will let the pictures do the talking!
Iskanderkul is only 2.5-3 hours away from Dushanbe, however, there is no direct public transport to the lake. There are a few chalets, guesthouses, and camping options available at the lake, so it’s possible to stay overnight once you’re here.
Setting out on a hike here is a great way to experience the beauty of the Fann Mountains and explore the sparkling lakes of Tajikistan. The hike from the starting point to the seventh lake is approximately eight hours, so the hike can be completed in about two to three days. The hike is not difficult and the trail only reaches an altitude of 2300 m. There are many small villages along the route, so this presents a great opportunity to interact with Tajiks (whereas the people you’ll encounter along the Pamir are mostly Pamiri, Wakhi, and Kyrgyz). The starting point is in a town called Rachnapollon. You can use a shared taxi from Dushanbe to Penjakent and from there you can take a taxi to Rachnapollon.
Khujand is the Northern capital and second-largest city of Tajikistan. It was founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, making it one of the oldest cities on the silk route. It is situated on the Syr Darya River at the mouth of the Fergana Valley, where it connects Samarkand with the Fergana Valley. This favorable location allowed Khujand to develop into an important center of trade, industry, and agriculture. The city is a great stop along the way to Uzbekistan and in many ways resembles the cities of Uzbekistan more than Tajikistan. Khujand is surrounded by picturesque apricot orchards, and in spring, the trees blossom and transform the gloomy winter mood into a cheerful one.
Attractions in Khujand
Panjshanbe Market – The Panjshanbe market is the heartbeat of the city, and is where everything and everyone from Khujand gathers.
Registan Square– This is the main square and the perfect place to feel the pulse of the city and observe the local life. The premier attractions are the beautiful mosque and mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin that resemble the world-famous ones in Uzbekistan.
Khujand Fortress and the Historical Museum of Sughd Region – The fortress has been taken over and destroyed by many invading forces, including Alexander the Great, the Mongols, and the Russian Empire. However, recent restoration has revived some of the ancient charm of the fortress. Inside the fortress is a historical museum that displays archaeological findings and a collection of artifacts from the Sughd region.
Arbob Palace – This palace was built in the 1950s in a Soviet style, but don’t dismiss it. It’s actually well worth a visit because of the inspiring story behind it. The interior was created by the best local craftsmen. The traditional ceilings are amazing. The grounds surrounding the palace are tranquil and beautiful, with an abundance of roses and fountains as well as majestic views of the mountains.
Where to Eat in Khujand
Omar Khayyam – This restaurant features a diverse menu, including several national dishes, Caucasian and Italian dishes, and good steaks. It is the most expensive place to eat in the city, so just make sure that you check prices before you order. I recommend ordering the Hachapuri and Japanese Salad; they are both delicious!
Where to Stay in Khujand
Somoni Hostel – The staff here were very kind, the beds incredibly comfy, and you have access to an individual light and socket. The breakfast was a nice extra touch and the whole place was exceptionally clean. The location is also excellent. It is right in the centre and close to a supermarket and several places to eat.
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 there. 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)