Epic road trips, Silk Road ruins, and legendary hospitality. Tajikistan’s tourism sector may be young compared to the rest of Central Asia, but it’s equally prepared to offer unforgettable experiences and unbelievable adventures far from the crowds of mass tourism.
Well-known for mountain and adventure tourism, Tajikistan is also home to a complex historic and archaeological heritage (with two UNESCO-listed sites and an additional 10 on UNESCO’s tentative list) that spans nearly 6 millennia of human history and represents most of the world’s major religions. Once a major thoroughfare of global trade along southern branches of the ancient Silk Road, the country’s storied mountain routes have long since exchanged their trader and merchant caravans for travellers looking for culture and adventure. No matter whether visitors are looking for easy views from the window of a 4×4 or week-long treks over high mountain passes, Tajikistan has it and it’s even better than expected.
At the geological meeting point of the Himalaya, Tien Shan, and Hindu Kush ranges, the Pamir Mountains offer a high-altitude playground that covers nearly 45% of Tajikistan in an endless tempting maze of beautiful valleys and majestic peaks. The most popular way to explore this massive territory is by road-trip along the M41 ‘Pamir Highway’, which traces ancient Silk Road trading routes from the city of Khorog to Kyrgyzstan’s Alay Valley and Osh city.
From the botanical gardens of Khorog (the second-highest in the world) to Karakul Lake and the remote border post beyond, the Pamir Highway twists and turns nearly 500km through Badakhshan National Park via a swath of mountain viewpoints, breathtakingly beautiful lakes and hot springs, and historic sites such as the 3rd-century Yamchun Fortress (which locals claim hosted Marco Polo on his Silk Road travels). Climbing as high as 4655m at the Ak-Baital Pass, these dizzying elevations are not for the faint of heart (or faint of breath!), but what they ask in effort and patience to explore they more than make up for in incredible views and an unforgettable travel experience.
While some visitors tackle the entire trip in as few as three or four days, others linger for weeks to explore picturesque side valleys at Jizeu and Bartang or experience the lifestyles of shepherds in the high-altitude pastures near Murghab. No matter how much time travelers plan for the region, it’s never enough to see and experience all that the Pamirs have to offer. Whether on a guided tour, public transportation, or even by bicycle – travelling overland along the Pamir Highway brings to life the history and landscapes of Central Asia in a way that few other journeys are able.
Across rural Tajikistan tourism infrastructure is primarily community-based, relying on local families for accommodation and giving visitors the chance to interact directly with the people that live and work in remote mountain communities, offering an authentic insight into local lifestyles often not possible in more popular destinations. In addition to offering travellers an inside perspective on the country and its culture these community-based programs also ensure income from tourism stays directly with locals and, in turn, encourages others in the community to expand into the tourism sector.
For many visitors, these close interactions form the strongest impressions of travel in Tajikistan, forging strong connections between travellers and locals that leave indelible memories that last long beyond the end of a trip.
The Zeravshan Tourism Board provides homestay bookings and travel information in the Fann Mountains from their office in Penjikent while in the Pamir Mountains the PECTA office in Khorog assists travellers. In these and other areas, Tajikistan’s culture of hospitality often means that independent travellers will be invited to overnight in local homes regardless of whether a formal homestay system exists.
In the northeast of Tajikistan, the Sugd region is an ‘off the beaten track’ destination that has been growing in popularity since the reopening of the border with Uzbekistan’s Samarqand in 2018. From the UNESCO-listed archaeological site of Sarazm to the pilgrimage site of Mazar-i-Sharif and mausoleum of historic and widely-reknown poet Rudaki, the region offers a range of attractions. For many travellers the primary appeal is the wide variety of trekking routes that cross the Fann Mountains between remote villages and past alpine lakes in the shadow of the Fann’s towering peaks.
Iskanderkul lake – named in honor of Alexander the Great to commemorate the time his armies are said to have spent here in their ancient conquest of the region – is popular both for relaxed holiday weekends from Dushanbe and as a trailhead for hikers setting off on long treks around Chimtarga Peak, the highest in the Fanns at 5489m.
The string of turquoise ‘Haft Kul’ (literally: Seven Lakes) stretches up a long narrow valley dotted by small villages and namesake lakes – travellers can visit each in turn by car or hike high-altitude livestock routes between villages, overnighting along the way with local families to experience village life. Possible even as a day-trip from regional center Penjikent, this is one of the best places in Sugd for travellers to easily immerse themselves in the province’s beautiful natural surroundings.
The Kulikalon Valley – a lake-scattered glacial moraine below Chimtarga – serves as a starting point for dayhikes from the village of Artuch and multi-day routes to the lakes of Chapdara or across the range to Iskenderkul. For hikers, rock climbers, and mountaineers alike the area has massive potential for outdooor adventure.
About the Author: Stephen Lioy is a Tourism Development Consultant for USAID’s Competitiveness, Trade and Jobs activity.
Read more at www.stephenlioy.com
With the youngest and fastest growing population in the region , Tajikistan has been repeatedly mentioned in the list of “top reformers” in the Doing Business Report, making it to the Top 20 in the latest report . While ensuring a stable 7% average economic growth in the last decade , the country has introduced 97 investment incentives and established 4 free economic zones, the residents of which are exempt from all types of taxation except income and social taxes. While this has ensured 110-fold increase of investments in the last 16 years , the country is currently on the way to introducing a new and more private-sector-friendly tax code in addition to continuous structural business regulation reforms.
Energy, Mining and Agriculture sectors present promising investment opportunities. While only tapping 6% of its 527 billion kWh per year potential, Tajikistan is a “blue sky, open field” for green investments that could provide clean and renewable energy far beyond Central Asia. Mountainous terrain has enriched the country with 400 mineral deposits,, including estimated gold deposits of 429 tons  and silver deposits of 65,812  tons, placing Tajikistan in the global top 3 of countries with the biggest silver reserves . Moreover, while the country is already an established dried-fruits exporter, its favorable climate ensures early ripening, giving it competitive advantage in trading fresh horticulture produce.
For potential investors looking into doing business in Tajikistan, The Tajikinvest’s B2B platform and Ministry of Trade and Economic Development’s Trade Portal are valuable sources of information about the opportunities, requirements and procedures of investing and trading in Tajikistan.
To take part in upcoming CATF X please go through registration procedure. Your password will be sent on your e-mail, specified in registration form. It will allow you to have full access for on-line webinars, web site tools and all materials, provided during the Forum and available after its’ completion. All webinars will be arranged in ZOOM.
NOTE: In case you are registering as Speaker/Moderator, please make sure you enter the same e-mail as registered in your ZOOM account!