They don’t call Tajikistan the “roof of the world” for nothing.
Introduction to TajikistanMost people have never heard of Tajikistan, let alone know where to find it on a map. This is partially due to it being on the frontiers of the former Soviet Union, a place that was rarely visited and often restricted. It could also be because the nation-state of Tajikistan is a relatively new political entity. After decades of Soviet Communist rule, Tajikistan and the Tajiks have been in the process of reviving their ancient Persian-based culture. In a sense, all Persian-speaking peoples owe a large debt to the Tajiks for maintaining many aspects of the Persian language and cultural identity.
There are reasons to love this remote, historical, beautiful and mountainous land. Being of Persian descent, I find Tajikistan to be one of the most fascinating places on Earth. It’s a paradise for trekkers, historians and those who love exploring cultures very different from those in the West. Due to low or non-existent light pollution in most areas, the night skies over Tajikistan are filled with an innumerable number stars. The Tajik people are also some of the most hospitable in the world. If your intention is to see an old, traditional society slowly integrating itself into the modern world, Tajikistan is a place that you should visit.
My hope is that through this and the following pages, you’ll get to know something and Tajikistan and the Tajik people. Perhaps it will even inspire you to make a journey there yourself.
History of Tajikistan
Tajiks and their land have a very old and fascinating history. Though today the geographical boundaries of Tajikistan may be small, the influence of Tajiks on the history Asia and the rest of the world can’t be understated.
Top Places to See and Things to Do
Most people arriving in Tajikistan will have traveled thousands of miles just to get there. Here are a few of the more interesting places that any traveler should do their best to explore.
DushanbeThe capital city is probably the best starting point for any Tajik trek. Not only is Dushanbe the seat of the Tajik government, but it’s also the country’s largest city. The Soviets called it the Paris of Central Asia while Lonely Planet describes Dushanbe as “Central Asia’s best looking capital.” 1 Perhaps this is due to the city’s tree-lined boulevards and majestic mountain backdrop.
Paris it’s not, but Dushanbe is a center of culture and the arts. The city has several really interesting museums and restaurants as well as many beautiful parks that one can wander through. The people are also extremely friendly. If you do come to Tajikistan, you should plan to spend at least a couple of days here.
The Fann MountainsNorthwest of the capital are the spectacular Fann Mountains. The area is filled beautiful valleys and dozens of turquoise colored lakes, making it one of the region’s most impressive trekking areas. One of the most popular areas is Haft-Kul, an expanse containing seven lakes. Along with natural beauty, one can also see traditional Tajik villages and meet the warm and hospitable people who live among these mountains.
Traveling along Tajikistan’s Route M41, commonly known as the Pamir Highway, has the potential to be one of the most exhilarating road trips ever. Built by the Soviets in the early 1930s to transport military personnel, the Pamir Highway will allow you to meander through some of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world. While starting in the Tajik province of Badakhshan, the road goes extends seemingly miles without end deep into neighboring Kyrgyzstan’s Alai Valley.
Supposedly founded by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BCE, Istaravshan is one of the oldest urban areas in Tajikistan. Actually, Istaravshan is more like a museum than a city. It’s a very traditional place where you’ll be able to go back in time by passing through mazes of adobe-colored houses, old but beautifully-tiled mosques and the highlight of the town, the lively central bazaar. Visible from the city is Teppe-i-Mug, a hill where once an old fortress existed. Beyond this is some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world.
The Tajik side of the Wakhan Valley is one of the most remote areas on Earth. It’s also one of the most beautiful. Bordering the Hindu Kush mountains and Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, the valley is an ancient mosaic of old Silk Road fortresses, shrines to local Ismaili Muslim saints and picturesque little villages. 2 This though is an area though that’s really hard to navigate and it’s highly recommended that you hire a travel company or a guide to help you venture through it.
Nestled within the Fan Mountains, Iskander-Kul is a picturesque lake area that’s popular with hikers. For those wanting to do something a bit more relaxing, the area around Iskander-Kul is great for picnics and camping. It’s just a really beautiful area.
Jizeu Valley (Jisev)
Similar to Iskander-Kul (see above), the Jizeu Valley is like a mini Shangri-La. The area is plush with trees and little lakes and rivers. Most of the area is untouched and parts of it can be hard to get to (there aren’t many roads here). It’s a place where you probably won’t get any reception on your mobile phone, which honestly is a good thing. You can tune out the world and really appreciate nature and the great outdoors.
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