Tajikistan travel guide
Following in the footsteps of ancient Silk Road traders, modern travellers come to Tajikistan to experience a magical journey across the ‘Roof of the World,’ a land of soaring mountain ranges, deep ravines and high-altitude deserts.
Although Tajikistan is one of the most remote countries in the world, even its most inaccessible nooks host life; the mountains and deserts are home to Kyrgyz nomads, who eke out simple, self-sufficient lives as they have done for generations. Intrepid travellers will endure some of the coldest temperatures on the planet to visit them, but these chilly conditions are tempered by the Kyrgyz’s warm hospitality.
An independent state since 1991, Tajikistan spent much of the last two centuries under Tsarist and Soviet rule. Ethnic Tajiks form the majority of the population, but there are also minority ethnic groups of Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz origin – a mix brought about by Stalin’s “divide and conquer” strategy.
Tajikistan’s landscapes are just as dramatic as its political history. In the mountainous west, lofty peaks plunge into deep valleys where villages cling precariously to the cliffs-side above fast flowing rivers. In these settlements, where most of the population are subsidence farmers, any available patch of land is terraced and cultivated with potatoes, cabbage and wheat.
Over in the east, the mountains plateau into a vast, high-altitude desert that looks like the surface of the moon. This is a hostile part of the world, as Marco Polo noted when he travelled through the region. “No birds fly here because of the height and the cold,” he wrote.
Most arrive in Tajikistan via its capital, Dushanbe, one of the prettier cities in Central Asia with its gilded palaces, leafy parks and neoclassical facades. Emerging from the shadows of Soviet rule, Dushanbe is desperate to impress; it boasts the largest teahouse and tallest flagpole in the world, which are, aside from a few museums and markets, about the extent of its attractions.
But Tajikistan isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey; a journey through history and geography, where warm a welcome awaits those intrepid enough to visit.
143,100 sq km (55,251 sq miles).
8,669,464 (UN estimate 2016).
57.2 per sq km.
President Emomali Rahmon since 1994.
Prime Minister Qohir Rasulzoda since 2013.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There are sporadic clashes between border forces and drug traffickers along the Afghan border, particularly in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. The most recent incident on 10 June 2014 resulted in a number of injuries. Dushanbe is relatively secure, but there have been occasional muggings and petty crime against foreigners. Women should avoid going out alone at night, and may suffer harassment even during the day.
There have been instances of sexual assault, including rape, reported to staff at the British embassy. This has included suspected use of ’date-rape’ drugs targeting foreigners. Don’t accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended.
You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK. Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you are going to drink, know your limit. Don’t accept lifts from strangers or passing acquaintances at any time.
Don’t venture off-road in areas immediately adjoining the Afghan, Uzbek and Kyrgyz borders, as there are both marked and unmarked minefields. Take local advice in the Tavildara region of central Tajikistan as there are a few minefields dating from the civil war in the mountains. Medical and rescue facilities are unreliable where they exist at all. Tourist facilities are under-developed and goods and services taken for granted in the UK may not be available.
The Tajik-Kyrgyz border is disputed. Localised violence erupts occasionally and the border can be closed at short notice, particularly near the Vorukh enclave. Tajik and Kyrgyz security forces clashed in this area in January 2014 leaving 8 wounded, and a Tajik civilian was killed in an exchange of gunfire in 10 July 2014. There was a separate incident near the villages of Kok-Tash and Chorkuh in August 2015. There’s a risk of further localised violence and border closures at any time.
Heavy snowfall in winter can cause delays and cancellations at airports, and can disrupt local travel, particularly in mountainous regions where there is an increased risk of avalanches. Contact your airline for current flight information before travelling, and take local advice on road conditions during or following severe weather.
Roads outside the main towns are poorly-maintained and often only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles. Conditions are particularly treacherous in spring due to the risk of avalanches and landslides. Many interior roads are only open in the summer months. It is possible to drive from Dushanbe to the north and Tajikistan’s second city, Khujand, via a tunnel south of Ayni that has recently opened. This road is particularly dangerous in winter due to icy conditions and drivers can be trapped for a long time if caught in an avalanche because of the remoteness. Check local road conditions prior to travel.
Local vehicles are poorly-maintained and driving standards are basic. Petrol stations are rare outside towns and there are no breakdown companies. Make sure you take all you need for your journey, allowing for delays. Emergency communications such as satellite phones are advisable for travel outside towns. Neighbouring countries may close borders temporarily.
Flights in Tajikistan may be cancelled at short notice or substantially delayed. Overloading on local flights is not uncommon.
Instances of harassment by officials at Dushanbe International Airport have been reported to the British embassy in Dushanbe. This typically involves requests for payment for allegedly incorrect documentation or other offences. Some reports state that airport officials have acted in an intimidating manner. You should ensure, through your hotel or directly with the Tajikistan Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR), that your documentation and papers are in order before passing through border control at the airport. If you suffer harassment or intimidation at the airport you should report this to your travel agent and/or the consular bureau at the airport.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Tajikistan.
A list of incidents and accidents in Tajikistan can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
It is now close to 20 years since the Tajik civil war ended. The political situation is generally stable, but you should remain vigilant in public places and be alert to any security announcements by the Tajik authorities.
You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people.