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.