We took a trip to this amazing part of the world with "The Traveller" - the ex-British Museum travel company now owned by Steppes. We travelled from West to East as recommended in a previous review and benefitted generally from the slow acclimatisation. Unfortunately we were told at the last minute that the route into Tajikistan via Penjikent was not open and that we would have to enter from Tashkent to Khojand and the Dushanbe. This involves some very high passes, inspiring scenery, but hairy bends and drops (not for the faint haearted and not the best introduction!).
There is only one current guide to Tajikistan and the Pamirs - a new edition is due shortly. Distances travelled are long. Many sites are remote. A good local guide is essential - particularly for visiting historic sites, Each place we went had some fascinating things to see. In Khojand, preparations were underway for an anniversary - look out for the statue of Lenin being spruced up and surrounded by a beautiful park. The museum in Dushanbe was very rewarding and clear - once we were able to explore it by ourselves. The tour took us to the south with the Amu Daryr River and to the area where the spectacular Oxus treasure (a British Musem highlight) was discovered. Then we travelled east and the scenery got more and more dramatic, the towns and villages smaller and smaller, and the imagination began to run riot on what it must have been like 2000 years ago when camel and donkey trains took goods on one ot the most difficult of the many Silk Routes from China to the west. And then, there we were! On the opposite side of the river was Afghanistan! And a pack horse train taking goods along minute narrow paths cut into the side of 1000ft+ cliffs - just as they had always done! Absolutely the highlight of my trip.
We stayed, as previous reviews say, in homestays - pretty basic. Sadly - presumably because we were on a group tour, we got little chance to make contact with the home owners or their families. A pity that, because as we have found in previous countries, it is very interesting and instructive.
The High Pamirs were desperately bleak and, even with vast subsidy from the Aga Khan Foundation, very poor and down trodden. But they made up for that with spectacular mountain scenery - snow capped peaks and rushing water wherever one looked. And, as a highlight of a different sort, we moved from 30C heat to minus 5C snow and had to help push the tour bus up the hill!!
Getting out of the country towards Osh was a bit of a problem - and if you want to play safe, you will need special travel insurance for the small sliver of Kirghistan in which travel is not advised by the FCO.
Over the past 15 years, I have been travelling, with tour companies, across as much of the Silk Roads as is "safely" possible. Sadly, this journey was marred by poor preparation and information from The Traveller and a local guide who provided little background information about his country and its historical sites. But..
Go! Tajikistan is an unknown very poor part of the ex-Soviet Union and needs to be better known. Great scenery. Fascinating sites. And an insight into life as it has been led in that part of the world for thousands of years. But do choose your tour company and guide carefully.
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