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Tajikistan Travel Tips

4.0 stars

Insider advice for your Tajikistan vacation


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Dushabe - Goulya's Outdoor Adventures 4 stars
This outdoor hiking club is a great thing to take advantage of if you're ever in Dushanbe on a Sunday and want to get out of the city and into the mountains. The club is run by Goulya, a very enthusiastic local entrepreneur who regularly scouts new routes and provides the group with guides, coffee and cookies on the hikes. The club is very popular with expats and children are always welcome. In recent weeks we've hiked in Varzob, Karatag, Luchob and Begar.

To make a reservation, call Artyom (93 5050567) or just show up at the corner of Rudaki and Karamova (near the Agriculture University), in front of the billiard "Zvezdnaya noch." A big yellow mini bus is there to transport those without their own wheels, but it costs extra – $11US for the hike, $20-25US for the hike and transport depending on petrol costs.


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Dushane Eats : Morning Star 3 stars
This very comfortable NGO run café offers high quality Western breakfasts and lunches and, most importantly, cakes. I can highly recommend both the German chocolate cake (a chocolate and coconut triple layer cake) and the carrot cake. They also have specials listed on a chalk board in the corner that should always been consulted before ordering - I missed out on an ice cream mint cake when once forgetting to. Here you can also find good sandwiches and soups and very expensive Starbucks coffee. In addition, they have a nice play area for children and wireless Internet for the rest of us. The café is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-4pm.

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Dushanbe Eats : Dehli Darbar 4 stars
Located across from Kohi Vahdat on Rudaki, Delhi Darbar has the best Indian food in the Dushanbe and at fairly reasonable prices. The food is good, the staff is friendly and, best of all, the seat nearest the heater (air conditioner in the summer) is also the closest to the television which plays Indian music videos and films to entertain you while you eat. They have a long vegetarian menu and a 24 somoni ($7US) all you can eat buffet on Friday nights. Unfortunately the lassi is a bit disappointing. Delhi Darbar is open from 12pm-12am and can be found across from Kohi Vahdat on Rudaki St.

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Best backgrounder for all of Central Asia 5 stars
I'm very much a proponent for understanding the places you go as far as you are capable. This sounds obvious, but increasingly, I find people blitzing through large chunks of the world, spending a few days per country, oblivious or unable to understand what they're seeing. I've definitely been guilty of this in the past.

One book I've read that helped put Tajikistan and much of Central Asia in some much-needed context is "Land Beyond the River: The Untold Story of Central Asia" by Monica Whitlock, the ex-BBC bureau chief for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. She discusses the past two centuries of the region's history, focusing in particular on on Samarkand, Tashkent and Dushanbe through the stories of a few compelling characters. This book will give you a much better sense but in no way complete (it can't) a picture of what life was like in the Soviet Union or why the Tajik Civil war dragged on so long.


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Visas for Tajikistan 3 stars
It used to be much easier getting visas for Tajikistan. For tourists considering a visit, please note that you CANNOT get visas upon arrival at the airport anymore. In the past, visitors from Japan, European coutries and North America could obtain visas without advance applications.

Now, ALL tourists or visitors must apply in advance at a Tajik embassy. (Citizens from Russia, Kazakstan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan do not need visas to enter Tajikistan.) Many, including citizens from the UK, now require a Letter of Invitation. Check pamirs.org or your Tajik embassy for more info. Currently, you can apply for a GBAO (Pamirs) permit at the same time as your visa - I've heard of people successfully getting both at both the Vienna and New Delhi consulates.

Please don't let these new visa regulations deter you from visiting Tajikistan however. This is standard bureaucracy, which doesn't take away from the fact that Tajikistan is full of the most incredible travel ever. Well, at least that I've experienced.


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Homestays 5 stars
Hotels are hard to find outside of Tajikistan's main cities. Throughout my stay in Tajikistan, I never stayed in a hotel. Rather I was always invited to stay at people's homes, either in a formal or informal situation.

In Dushanbe and Khorog, such homestays can be very comfortable, with the owners having support and training from various NGOs like ACTED, and MSDSP. A western bathroom and breakfast are often standard. Sometimes, bathrooms will be outhouses or a cloth closet with a bucket and a tube leading out of it. Costs generally hovered around $10 and extra meals cost $1-3. Khorog rates, due to its relative remoteness, were always higher.

Tajiks are incredibly hospitable, and you will regularly be invited to share a meal and stay the night by complete strangers. It's a very rewarding thing to do, as you learn much more about their culture. Payment will be repeatedly refused but you should pay the same rates elsewhere. Just repeatedly insist, or if you're uncomfortable doing that, you can also just roll it up in the mattress you slept in the night previous. Another form of 'payment' I often added was sending back photos that you took of the family.

Bed bugs are a hazard of informal homestays. In such situations, you might consider sleeping in your own sleeping bag.


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Maps & Guidebooks 3 stars
Buy your maps and guidebooks before coming to Tajikistan or Central Asia in general. It is hard, even in Xinjiang, to find any kind of Lonely Planet. If you must find a guidebook in the region however, you might try bookshops in hi-end hotels, but expect to pay for it.

The Lonely Planet is quite brief in its section on Tajikistan but will do for basics. If you plan to stay a while and really get to know the place, I would recommend the Odyssey Illustrated Guide on 'Tajikistan & the Pamirs.' For the Pamirs, there is a terrific map (1:500,000) with a concise legend by cartographer Martin Hauser distributed by Gecko Maps. It's available online (just Google around) or in Dushanbe, at the Bactria Center 'Yak shop.' Stationery stores throughout the country also sell maps of Tajikistan, but quality I found, was quite poor. They're designed for classrooms and not necessarily for road-finding.


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Money, ATMs & exchanging 3 stars
Bring your money in US Dollars only in cash. Make sure that they are recent issue notes, as crisp as possible - older cash is often rejected by money exchangers. If for any reason you are changing your Tajik somoni back into dollars, make sure you're getting real USD bills. Exchange rates were bad for Chinese RMB and hard to find for Kyrgyz som in mid-2006.

It is still impossible to cash a travellers cheque anywhere in Tajikistan. There are plenty of ATMS in Dushanbe but I have not heard of any elsewhere. (Khojand and Kulob might have some in the coming years; if you know of any, please post that info below! ). In Dushanbe, you can find the ATMs for Visa/Mastercards at the TSUM store, Hotel Tajikistan, the National Bank of Tajikistan, Hotel Avesto and a stand-alone on Rudaki Avenue just opposite Lenin Park.

Don't expect many places to accept credit card payments, apart from high-end hotels. Everything is fairly cheap though, especially outside of Dushanbe.


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