Things to see and do in Tajikistan
Attractions in Tajikistan
Amble around leafy Dushanbe
There is a genteel ambiance along the boulevards of Dushanbe that is more akin to a French town than a Soviet era city. Yes, ugly concrete tenements can be found in the suburbs, but the city centre is home to a pretty collection of neo-classical buildings and leafy parks, which offer vistas of snow-capped mountains.
Call in at the National Museum of Antiques
Although not the prettiest of buildings, the Museum of National Antiquities (www.afcryukoku.ac.jp) has an excellent collection of archaeology exhibits. However, the highlight of any visit is the huge statue of a sleeping Buddha, which was excavated in 1966 and then relocated to the museum. Also on offer are several artefacts of Sogdian and Persian origin.
Check out ancient cave art
Located some 40km (25 miles) south of Murghab is the most important archaeological site in Tajikistan, Shakhty Cave. Its walls are adorned with decorative cave paintings dating back to 6500BC, depicting life in the Neolithic period. To find the cave, contact the Murghab Ecotourism Association, 102 Osh Street, Murghab (www.meta.tj).
Disapprove of Dushanbe’s ‘dictator chic’
The new 'Dictator chic' buildings in the city centre are outrageously opulent; visitors can only wonder how the government can justify building the highest flagpole in the world, the largest chaihana in the world and the glittering Palace of Nations when most of its rural population are without running water or a reliable quality of electricity supply. These edifices serve only to impress the tourist and are testament to the remarkable tolerance of the Tajik people.
Discover the natural beauty of Rangkul
To the north and east of Murghab lies the lake and village of Rangkul. The lake is particularly beautiful because of the shades of rock on the opposite shore and the lake is also an important transit location for bird migration. Rangkul village has a deep Kyrgyz heritage and tourists can pre-arrange through META a cultural performance of dance, poetry and music.
Drive the Pamir Highway
One of the greatest road trips in Asia, a drive down the Pamir Highway promises the full gamut of vistas; soaring mountains, desert plateaus and shimmering lakes. The highway goes through neighbouring Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but some of the best sights can be seen along the Tajikistan section; Karakul Lake, a meteorite crater filled with water, and the snow-capped Peak Lenin are amongst the highlights.
Explore Hissor Fort
Located 20km (13 miles) to the west of Dushanbe, Hissor Fort is built on a promontory overlooking the valley. The reconstructed stone gateway is the only present-day remnant of the buildings that stood on this site, but the earthworks tell a story of a once impressive structure that began construction in the Neolithic era and then saw destruction and reconstruction with the advent of every successive invasion. The 16C Madrassa opposite is also worthy of investigation.
Explore the Panj valley
The Panj River cuts a deep gorge for approximately 300km (186 miles) along the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. On the Tajik side of the river valley the Pamir Highway forges a precipitous route from village to village, but on the Afghan side an even more gut-wrenching path navigates sheer cliffs above foaming rapids – local Afghans steer this path with the seeming footwork of mountain goats.
Hike to the largest glacier in the world
The Fedchenko glacier – the longest glacier in the world outside of the polar regions – is located in the Pamir Mountains. The glacier covers approximately 700 sq km (270 sq miles) and specialist tour operators do offers treks to see it.
Marvel at Zorkul Lake
In the far south east of the Eastern Pamir lies the stunning Zorkul Lake. Christened 'Lake Victoria' by British military explorers in the 18th century, Zorkul is significantly smaller than its African equivalent, albeit just as scenic. Accessed via and off-road track, visitors must purchase a Zorkul National Park permit which can be bought in Murghab. Speak to Murghab Ecotourism Association, 102 Osh Street, Murghab for more information.
Stay in a Kyrgyz yurt
For an authentic Tajikistan experience, adventurous tourists can stay in yurts with hospitable Kyrgyz nomads. The Murghab Ecotourism Association, 102 Osh Street, Murghab (www.meta.tj) work with local Kyrgyz people and offer a range of homestays in the area.
Swim in the ‘Tajik Riviera’
The Kairakhum reservoir is Tajikistan's closest approximation to a coastline. Located 20km (13 miles) west of Khujand, the manmade lake is home to a few sanatoriums and pensions where visitors can relax in the sunshine and swim in the lake. The area is also popular with birdwatchers, having been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
Take in the Wakhan valley
In the 18th century, the Wakhan Valley became one of the most obscure geopolitical boundaries in the world as the British and the Tsarist colonial powers turned it into a no-man's land and passed it into Afghan territorial ownership.
Known as the Wakhan Corridor this wide and fertile valley runs for approximately 200km (130 miles) between Afghanistan and China, passing through Tajikistan. The Tajikistan stretch of the valley provides stunning views and the locals are used to visitors and welcome them with open arms.
Trek the Fann Mountains
Kissing the sky at 5,000m (16,404ft), the Fann Mountain are home to some of the highest peaks in Tajikistan, not to mention the beautiful Marguzor Lakes. Also known as the Seven Lakes, these turquoise lagoons are popular with hikers and photographers alike.
Iskanderkul (Alexander's Lake) is a particularly stunning lake, which, according to folklore, is where Alexander the Great lost his favourite warhorse – Bucephalus – which drowned in the lake. Locals say that on clear, summer nights the horse surfaces again to graze on the shoreline.
State National Tourism Company of the Republic of Tajikistan (SAYOH)Address: 1-2 Dekhoti Street, Dushanbe City, 734055
Telephone: (37) 234 5392.