Vacation in Tajikistan
10 Things to Do in Tajikistan
During the times of the Silk Road, people would come to Tajikistan to visit the rich bazaars and many philosophers, poets, and scientists that called the region home. Today, Tajikistan’s tourism industry is booming as people rediscover this land of mountains, lakes, flavors and colors. Take a vacation in Tajikistan to discover the rich Zoroastrian and Islamic history of the region, the high mountains with roads that reach the altitude of airplane flights, and pure alpine lakes where you can forget civilization. Review this list for some ideas for your Tajikistan vacation, and although we’ve listed the top 10 things to do in Tajikistan here, there are far more things to fill your vacation, so get exploring!
1. Climb to the roof of the world in the Pamirs. Can you remember the highest you’ve ever climbed? Take a trip to the Pamir Highway (the M41 highway), which if it isn’t the highest road in the world, is certainly one of the most impressive. Though the route has been used for millennia, the road itself dates back to the Russian military at the end of the 19th century. The highest parts cross Khaburabad Pass (at 3,720 m or 12,205 ft) and Ak-Baytal Pass (4,655 m or 15,270 ft), and the highway passes through Murgab, the highest village in the former Soviet Union, which is at 3,612 m (11,850 ft) above sea level. A trip along the Pamir Highway takes you to some of the most stunning mountain views in the world, through deep gorges and up above the clouds. Make your Tajikistan vacation a trip you won’t forget, with a trip along the Pamir Highway.
2. Try your hand at bargaining in ancient Khujand. For over 2,500 years, this city on the Syr-Darya has been a merchant, a craftsman, and a warrior. Even as the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and the Russian tsar came and went, Khujand remained a center for development, trade and culture. Take a stroll through Panjshanbe Bazaar, one of the largest in the Fergana Valley, or visit the Historical Museum of the Sughd Region to learn more about the thousands of years of history that Khujand has witnessed. As the northern capital of Tajikistan, Khujand is the country’s second largest city, and a fantastic window into the history and culture of the region.
3. Walk through the streets of Istaravshan. The origin of this little city likely traces back to Cyrus, a Persian king from the 6th century BCE. Like many cities of its time and place, Istaravshan went through periods of growth and decline. During the Samanid dynasty, Istaravshan flourished, before being destroyed by the Mongols and rebuild by the Timurids. Make sure to visit the popular city-museum , where you can buy intricately-decorated handmade knives, fabrics with fine embroidery, exquisite ceramics and traditional shoes. Take some extra time to explore the historical mosques, madrasas, mausoleums and minarets that remind visitors of the Islamic past of Istaravshan.
4. Visit the Buddhist temple at Ajina-Tepe. For centuries, Ajina-Tepe was a pretty regular hill. Locals gave it its name, which means “hill of evil forces”, because the ground was so uneven and irregular, but not much was known about the hill itself. Starting in 1961, archaeologists came to research the site, and found an extensive Buddhist monastery, dating back to the 7th-8th centuries CE. There were remains of a temple and of living quarters for monks, with paintings and decoration covering many surfaces. However, the most impressive find was a statue of Buddha in Nirvana, measuring a total of 12 m (40 feet) long. Only the lower half, from Buddha’s waist to the soles of his feet, was found, but experts were able to recreate the whole statue, with Buddha laying down and resting his head on a cushion. The sculpture is now on display at the National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe, but visitors to Ajina-Tepe can still visit the original Buddhist monastery.
5. Take the plunge at Lake Iskanderkul. Tajikistan is rich in alpine lakes, with about 1,450 tucked in among the mountains throughout the country. There’s Lake Karakul, which at about 3,960 m (12,990 ft) above sea level, is held in what appears to be a meteor crater from 25 million years ago. Then there’s Sarez Lake, created in 1911 from a collapse in the Pamir Mountains that blocked the Murghab River, destroying the villages of Usoy and Sarez. But perhaps the most beautiful lake is Iskanderkul, named after Alexander the Great, in the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan’s west. Surrounded by mountains and forest, Iskanderkul is a striking shade of blue, and home to rabbits, foxes, wolves, bears, mountain goats, and even snow leopards. Flowing out of Iskanderkul is Iskanderdarya, which creates a 38-meter (125 foot) waterfall, known as the Niagara of the Fann Mountains.
6. See modern Tajikistan in Dushanbe. At the beginning of the 1900s, Dushanbe was a rather small village, named for its Monday bazaars (“dushanbe” means Monday in Tajik). In 1929, the city became the capital of the newly-declared Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, and grew rapidly as Tajikistan became a center for cotton and silk production. Now that Dushanbe is the capital of independent Tajikistan, new buildings, museums, and monuments have gone up around the city to commemorate the history of the republic. Visit the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan (home to the statue of Buddha in Nirvana), stare up at the world’s second-tallest flagpole, or just take a stroll through the wide boulevards and many parks. Make sure to take a break at a chaykhana, or tea house, and try some of Tajikistan’s best local dishes.
7. Travel back through history at Penjikent. Starting in the 5th century CE, Penjikent started attracting skilled craftsmen, as the town was growing because of its lucrative position on the Silk Road. Originally a group of small towns (its name means “five towns”), Penjikent became rich, as evidenced by the rich paintings found on the walls of ruined buildings. With the Arab invasion in the 8th century, the town was abandoned and the residents moved to a nearby location. The ruins of the older town have survived to this day, and have been the subject of plenty of archaeological expeditions (including one archaeologist who worked on them for 50 years). The current town is bustling with life and energy, and the current bazaar is an echo of the trade that has been going on in the region for millennia.
8. Stand where the Caspian tiger once reigned. Right on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is a unique park, filled with endangered habitats and species. This is the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve, which covers 460 square kilometers of tugay, or a type of wetland forest that gets it water not from rain but from periodic flooding. The area was once home to the famous Caspian tiger, which became threatened by hunting and agriculture. The last tiger tracks were found in the park in 1953, the same year that the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve was founded. Today, the park is home to Bactrian deer, which used to be the tiger’s main prey, plus a large number of endangered or threatened birds. With the tugay shrinking due to the continuing expansion of agriculture and dams on rivers, Tigrovaya Balka has become more important than ever.
9. Pay tribute to Rudaki, the Adam of poets. Rudaki was born in 858 CE, in a small village near Penjikent. He rose to become the first master of the modern Persian language, and left his lyrical and stylistic stamp on all of the poetry that was written after him. He became close with Nasr II, the Samanid ruler during the period, and spent a good part of his life with the king in Bukhara. He eventually fell out of favor, and died in his hometown in poverty in 941. Only a small fraction of his 130,000 couplets have survived to the current day, but those include the wonderful “Mother of Wine” and “Ode to Old Age”, whose refinement and lyricism defined Persian poetry for centuries to come. Rudaki’s mausoleum was only built in 1958, and Rudaki’s face was reconstructed from skeletal remains with the help of Mikhail Gerasimov, the famous archaeologist and sculptor. Today, Rudaki is celebrated as a cultural figure in Tajikistan and Iran, and his poetry and influence is well-respected across the Persian-speaking world.
10. See the riches of ancient Sarazm. Sarazm is one of the oldest human settlements in Central Asia, dating back around 5,000 years. Not only is the technology here quite impressive (with mills and mines showing quite advanced development), but the wide variety of artifacts found here shows that the people who lived here thousands of years ago were already adept traders, not only trading between settled farmers and nomadic herdsmen, but with practically the whole Asian continent. Sarazm is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, since it shows how global and developed the world was, even millennia ago. Tajikistan has always been at the center of civilization, even before civilization looked the way it does today.