Where the ‘Great Game’ spies and explorers once ventured, Tajikistan's dramatic highland landscapes are now testing playgrounds for hardy climbers, trekkers and adventure travelers. The marvels of the Wakhan Valley, the starkly beautiful 'Roof of the World' Pamirs and the breathtaking lakes and pinnacles of the Fan Mountains all contribute to making Tajikistan arguably one of Central Asia's most exciting destination.
The Pamir Highway (M41) is the remote high-altitude road from Khorog to Osh whose classic central section crosses Tibetan-style high plateau scenery, occasionally populated by yurts and yaks. It was built by Soviet military engineers between 1931 and 1934 to facilitate troop transport and provisioning.
Fan Mountains: The Fannsky Gory are a favored place to trek and climb, being only a couple of hours from both Samarkand and Dushanbe. The main M34 between Dushanbe and Khojand winds through the fringes of the range, offering superb views. Iskander-Kul is a gorgeous mountain lake 24km off the main road at the eastern end of the range with endless hiking opportunities. Until a tunnel is completed under the Anzob Pass the route into the mountains is closed from November to May.
Penjikent is famous for its millennium-old archaeological site and as a springboard for Haft-Kul.
National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan: The archaeological collection here is excellent. In many cases the originals from which copies were made, are seen in the outwardly far grander new National Museum. Notably, the 13m-long sleeping Buddha here is the real one as removed from Ajina Teppe in 1966, when Soviet archaeologists sliced it into 92 pieces. Dating from the Kushan era (around 500AD), it is the largest known Buddha figure in Central Asia.
Wakhan Valley: The Wakhan offers up a seemingly endless parade of scenic superlatives. Vivid green villages counterpoint towering valley walls, which open regularly for glimpses of the dazzling white Hindu Kush Mountains marking the Afghanistan–Pakistan border. A sprinkling of castle ruins and ibex-horn shrine-walls, even a Buddhist mini ziggurat-stupa, add zest. And while you are here you might be tempted to nip into Afghanistan. Beware that without your own wheels, transport is pitifully infrequent. Consider hiring a 4WD in Khorog or Murgab.
Madiyan Hot Springs:
Incredibly isolated, and usually unmanned (thus de facto free), the springs consist of two covered concrete basins fed by water that is so hot as to be only just bearable. This mixes with a cooler inflow when water levels are high enough. The springs building and two battered greenhouses is a 10-minute steep walk down across the river on precarious rail-planks.
Abdirashut Orozbaev organizes camel-treks on at least three routes in the Rang-Kul region.
Yak House: Of the traditional Pamiri and Kyrgyz crafts sold here, the most impressive are pure-woolen shoulder-bags and colorful felt shyrdak squares. The shop is within the beautifully designed, circular Murgab House, symbolically incorporating architectural elements from both Kyrgyz yurts and Pamiri houses.
At Chabysh: Aimed at reviving and strengthening the horsemanship traditions of the Kyrgyz Pamirs, this annual festival features traditional horse sports interspersed with musical turns and poetry recitations.
The Roof of the World Festival includes music and dance performances, workshops, crafts exhibitions and documentary film shows organized by local and international organizations, with participants from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.
Ecotourism: Natural zakazniks or reserves, which include Zorkul, Romit, Mozkul, Dashti Jum, the Tajik National park, Zarafshon, Iskanderkul, Nurek, Childukhtaron, Sangvor, Mozkul, Oktash, Karatau, where the unique ecology, landscape and natural monuments are preserved in their primordial state.
Sanatorium-resort recreation: There are about 200 mineral and thermal springs in Tajikistan. The famous ones are Khoja Obi Gharm, sanatorium Shaambari, health improving resort Garm Chashma, Zumrad and Khavatag.
At the sanatorium, various treatments for cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, urinary tracts, gynecological disorders, gastrointestinal disturbance, liver and dermatitis are provided.
Calcium deposits from the springs form chalky sedimentation with interesting shapes on the hot springs of the resorts Garmchashma, Bashor and Shahdara. These formations are beautiful, especially in the Garm Chashma spring situated at the altitude of more than 2000m above sea level and which can be noticed from afar due to the unique whiteness of the calcium deposits.
Cultural tourism: The territory of Tajikistan is located on the key historical routes of the Great Silk Road, which was not only used for trading goods but also to share and exchange ideas and cultural traditions between the East and West.
Today, in some of the oldest cities of Tajikistan – Khujand, Istaravshan, Penjikent, and Kulyab, which have significantly changed over the last few years – the ancient historical, cultural and handicraft traditions are still preserved and practiced. Tourists with an interest in ethnographic details can study historical traditions, cultures and people’s life styles, as well as learn the basics of ancient forgotten crafts under the supervision of skillful masters.
Photography journey: Many a photographer’s dream journey is discovered in the massif mountain regions of Zarang, Obi dara, Shohi Zarband, Surkhi Pamdara, and in the habitat of the famous markhor, the wild-goats of the region. In these mountains, markhors can be approached closely with minimal influence on its usual behavior in the natural habitat. Wild animals, including argali, wild boars, snow leopards, pheasants and snow cocks, marmots all live in the reserves of Tajikistan.