Tajikistan

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Introduction to Tajikistan

Tajikistan is a patchwork of self-contained valleys and regional contrasts, forged together by Soviet nation-building and shared pride in a Persian cultural heritage that is claimed as the oldest and most influential in the Silk Road region.

It has emerged from post-independence turmoil to be safe, stable and scenically spectacular. Travel is a grade harder here than most places in the region, but if you are ready to take things as they come, Tajikistan offers the cutting edge of Central Asian adventure travel.

The Pamir region is easily the country's highlight, with peaks dwarfing anything found outside Nepal, and the Pamir Highway provides plenty of sublime high-altitude views. Anyone following this road has the added thrill of knowing that few 'foreign devils' have passed this way since the days of the Great Game.

The young capital, Dushanbe, still feels like an apartment awaiting its tenants. The economy survives on a drip feed from Moscow, while the Pamiris survive on the largesse of the Aga Khan.

Caution

The security situation in Tajikistan has improved dramatically since the end of the war in 1997, and it is now as safe to travel there as in most other parts of Central Asia. That said, the area bordering Afghanistan is still considered a place of heightened risk to travellers, as are the mined areas in the areas bordering Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Seek consular advice beforehand and local advice upon arrival.

Full country name: Republic of Tajikistan

Area: 143,100 sq km

Population: 6.44 million

Capital City: Dushanbe

People: Tajik (65%), Uzbek (25%), Russian (declining because of emigration), other

Language: Tajik, Russian

Religion: Sunni Muslim (80%), Shi'a Muslim, other

GDP: US$6 billion

GDP per capita: US$990

Annual Growth: 5.3%

Inflation: 46.3%

Major Industries: Aluminum, zinc, lead, chemicals and fertilizers, cement, vegetable oil, metal-cutting machine tools, refrigerators and freezers, cotton, grain, fruits, grapes, vegetables, cattle, sheep, goats

Major Trading Partners: CIS, the Netherlands, Switzerland, UK

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are not issued at the airport, nor at Tajikistan's border crossings. Border controls are rare but there are frequent internal checkpoints, and if you intend moving outside Dushanbe you must have impeccable documents. You can currently get visas at Tajik consulates in Moscow and Bonn. If you do arrive in Tajikistan without a visa, the immigration department of the Foreign Ministry in Dushanbe may give you one. Note that every Tajik town that you intend visiting or passing through should be listed on your visa. As a result of border tensions and smuggling, the army and militia do not appreciate the presence of foreigners, and if officials are not completely satisfied with your papers you will probably be deported.

Health risks: hepatitis, altitude sickness, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, malaria (A slight risk of malaria exists in the south)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +5

Dialling Code: 992

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Most Tajiks have more on their mind than splashy partying. Public holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), International Women's Day (March 8), Labour Day (May 1) and Victory Day (a commemoration of the end of WWII for Russia on May 9, 1945).

The spring festival of Nauryz ('New Days') is by far the biggest holiday. It's an Islamic adaptation of pre-Islamic vernal equinox or renewal celebrations and can include traditional games, music and drama festivals, street art and colourful fairs. Important Muslim holy days, scheduled according to the lunar calendar, include Ramadan, the month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting; Eid-ul-Fitr, the celebrations marking the end of Ramadan; and Eid-ul-Azha, the feast of sacrifice, when those who can afford to, slaughter an animal and share it with relatives and the poor.

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Best time to Visit

As summers are ferociously hot and winters bitterly cold, spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) are the best seasons to visit Tajikistan. If you do decide to battle the winter, be aware that many domestic flights are grounded and finding food can be a problem since lots of eateries close for the season.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Tajik Rubl

Meals

Budget: US$1-10

Mid-range: US$10-15

High: US$15-20

Deluxe: US$20+

Lodging

Budget: US$1-10

Mid-range: US$10-60

High: US$60-90

Deluxe: US$90+

Outside of Dushanbe and Khojand, services are scarce and costs highly unpredictable. As a rough guide, if you twin share in modest hotels, get your food from cheap restaurants and street stalls and travel by bus and train, you should be able to keep daily costs to around US$25-40 a day. Budgeteers relying on trains, streetside cafes or bazaars and truckers' hostels may need little more than US$10 a day. Foreigners often pay substantially more than locals for services, and there's not much you can do to avoid this. Watch for budget blowers like imported beer and chocolate bars.

Banks may not even have a currency exchange counter, but tourist hotels will often change money. It's often hard to get small bills, but you should try to avoid ending up with wads of large notes in local currency since few people can spare much change. In fact, in much of Tajikistan there is a physical scarcity of money so if you do find a supply of rubls and the rate is fair, consider changing enough for your whole stay. In the Pamirs, the 'economy' operates on a bartering system. Credit cards are most useful for picking your teeth.

Tipping runs counter to many people's Islamic sense of hospitality, and may even offend them. Shops have fixed prices but bargaining in bazaars is expected.

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Attractions

Dushanbe

With a cool backdrop of mountains, lazy tree-lined avenues and pale, oriental-fringed buildings, Dushanbe may be a good-looking city but personality-wise it's a dead loss, an historically isolated backwater that's boring by day and dangerous at night.

The large, covered Barakat market is what passes for the centre of activity in Dushanbe, though it's not particularly interesting; the city has many other makeshift bazars, but they're harrowing affairs composed of lines of people trying to sell whatever they can find at home - a pair of old shoes, coverless books, a dismantled washing machine motor.

The city does have two interesting museums: the professional Museum of Ethnography, which showcases Tajik art, and the Tajikistan Unified Museum, which has interesting exhibits on history, natural history and art. It's worth seeing a performance at Ayni Opera & Ballet Theatre; it has the finest interior in the city.

Khojand

Secure behind the Fan Mountains, Khojand has managed to escape the ravages of Tajikistan's civil war, and has always been safe for travel. It remains the wealthiest part of the country, producing two-thirds of the country's industrial output.

It's a comfortable, relaxed city with few spectacular attractions, but its pleasant river and grassy parks. Khojand's Panchshanbe Bazar is a typical Central Asian market that bombards with sights, sounds and smells. The modest mosque, medrassa and mausoleum of Sheikh Massal ad-Din are worth a look.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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