Tajikistan is the smallest country in the "stans" region and covers 55.300 square km. It borders Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the west. The northern region is situated in the Fergana Valley and is densely populated. Almost 90% of the country is mountainous.
Around 6 million people are living in the Tajik Republic, out of which 70% are ethnic Tajiks. Within ethnic Tajiks are also the Pamiris, who live in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province. They speak a different language and belong to the Ismaili Shia branch of Islam. Other ethnic groups include Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Kazakhs, Uyghur, Russians.
The official language is Tajiki, which belongs to the Iranian branch of languages. However, unlike other Iranian languages, Tajiki is written with Cyrillic script. You will understand many signs, menus, tag if you know how to read Cyrillic.
The second widely spoken language is Russian. After the Soviet Union, many people still understand and use it. Older people are more fluent in Russian and English is becoming more popular amongst youngsters.
Uzbeki is spoken in the region of Khujand.
The major religion in the country is Sunni Islam (95%). Pamiris living in the Gorno-Badakhshan belong to the Ismaili Shia sect. There is a small number of Christians (mostly belonging to Russian Orthodox), Zoroastrians. Bearing in mind that you're in an Islamic country we advise to dress conservatively and to obey the usual precautions.
Best Time to Visit
The best time depends a lot on what you plan to do and see in the country. If you want to spend time both in the lower-lying cities and Pamir mountains, then the best time is summer. The mountain passes are only accessible from June to September, but you should be ready for up to 40°C temperature in cities like Dushanbe, Khujand, Kulab. Many outdoor activities are available in this season, so if you're seeking for adventure, then summer it is.
In autumn (September-October) the weather is rather cool with nice colorful sceneries, unexpected rainfalls. So it can be considered the best time to visit cities. Trekking is also possible, but Pamir -not accessible. Wintertime (November-March) is cold, many roads are closed, however, you can go skiing, snowboarding in the mountains.
Do you need a visa?
Most nationalities need a tourist visa to enter Tajikistan, however, the good news is that you can apply for e-visa and enter the country quite easily. E-visa can be applied through the official website of the Tajikistan e-visa. Don't use any other websites besides the official one! The applying process is usually easy and you get the visas delivered to your email within 2-3 working days. However, we advise applying as soon as possible, because there might be delays.
If you also plan to visit the Pamir mountains you will need to apply for the GBAO (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) e-visa. This is an autonomous region that requires a special permit in addition to the Tajikistan e-visa. You can apply for both the Tajikistani visa and GBAO single entry visas together online. The cost for the Tajikistani visa is 50$ and for GBAO permit is 20$.
Money in Tajikistan
The national currency of Tajikistan is somoni (TJS). Tajikistan is mostly a cash-only country. There are ATMs in the big cities, however, there are a lot of chances that they might not work or not accept your card. So we advise having money in cash in any case.
ATM's are available in Dushanbe, Khujand, Penjikent, Khorog, Isfara, Istaravshan, Qurghon-Teppa and also in some smaller cities. Currency exchange with dollars and euros is widely accepted in the country. Always try to use officially authorized currency exchanges to be on the safe side.
What to eat in Tajikistan?
Like most of the Central Asian countries, here also the nomadic culture met the Soviet Union. Meals are usually simple, meat-based, sometimes spicey. The best places to try traditional Tajik food are chaikhanas or bazaars. The national dish of Tajikistan is kurutob or qurutob, which is a mix of bread and fried vegetables and onions in a yogurt sauce. Other common dishes are plov, laghman, shahslik, shurbo, amnti, sambusa (samsa in Uzbek), which are almost found everywhere in Central Asia. The Tajik bread is called "non"-flatbread that will accompany your every meal.
It will be a bit difficult for vegetarians/vegans as most of the dishes include meat, especially outside of the cities. Though there will be no problem finding fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts in local markets. Melons and watermelons are very common in the summertime, almost everywhere with a mouth-watering sweet taste.
Where to stay in Tajikistan?
Because of the mountainous nature of the country and low infrastructure, the accommodation standards differ here a lot. In the big cities, there is a variety of choices for accommodation, however, out of them, your choices are limited with guesthouses, homestays, etc. There some Soviet-style hotels and apartments for rent. Luxury, upscale hotels are not typical for Tajikistan. There some 5-star hotels in Dushanbe only. You can have a homestay with the Tajik family or spend your days in mountain yurt, but it might get you out of your comfort zone. If you're ready for this then the adventure awaits you, if not stay in the big cities and only try to go for day-trips.