Where you should go in Tajikistan?
Covered almost entirely in towering, mountainous terrain that rivals the Himalayas, Tajikistan can take a deceptively long time to tackle overland. The capital, Dushanbe, will be a necessary stop bookending your experience, as it’s the only destination in the country with an international airport. It’s also the only place in Tajikistan with more-than-modest accommodations; elsewhere in the country you’re largely relegated to no-frills guesthouses, basic hotels, and homestays.
Situated in western Tajikistan on the banks of the Varzob River, the capital’s notable attractions include the Dushanbe Central Mosque (Central Asia’s largest), which was completed in 2019, and the National Museum for Antiquities, where a worthy archaeological collection includes a 40-foot statue of Buddha. The city also offers tree-lined pedestrian avenues and impressive public parks, like Rudaki Park and Park Sharshara, which come to life with mingling locals around sundown. The more than 3,000-year-old Hisor Fortress, located about 20 miles from Dushanbe, is a worthwhile trip from the city by taxi.
Near the Uzbek border are the vast, UNESCO-listed remains of Sarazm, a small imperial nexus that flourished around 5,500 years ago and is one of the oldest human settlements in Central Asia. Modern archaeologists have unearthed ancient artifacts in five distinct zones at the site, which travelers can visit today. The “princess of Sarazm”—a large, fully intact skeleton found covered in beads, jewels, and gold—was excavated at Sarazm and is now on display at the antiquities museum in Dushanbe. Nearby, the elaborate ruins of an ancient Sogdian stronghold with painted frescoes, carved Shiva statues, and intact altars to Zoroastrian gods sit on the outskirts of the modern city of Panjakent. The sprawling, 1,700-year-old ruins are best experienced toward sunset when the golden hour casts its magical glow over the crumbling mud frescoes. In the morning, don’t miss the ramshackle Panjakent market where you can bargain for dried fruits or imported Chinese wares.
In the Fann Mountains, the Seven Lakes (or Maruzor Lakes) are turquoise—almost pearlescent—in hue and are scattered around tiny alpine villages. A day trip to the area is doable by car from Panjakent and will give you time to tackle a portion of the hike near the seventh (and most scenic) Hazorchashma Lake, which sits more than 7,870 feet above sea level. Another worthwhile stop in the northernmost Sughd province is the regional capital, Khujand. With its central Sheikh Muslihiddin Mausoleum, Masjidi Jami Mosque, Panshambe Bazaar, and Khujand Fortress, the photogenic city on the Syr Darya River is one of the oldest in Central Asia, dating back about 2,500 years.
You’ll need well over a week to properly explore the Pamir Mountains following the Pamir Highway, one of the world’s highest highways, reaching an elevation of more than 15,000 feet at its top point. The scenic mountain range crosses the Pamir region of Tajikistan and hugs the Taliban-free border with Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, where quiet farming communities wave to one another from across the river. In the Wakhan Valley, stop at the Khorog Bazaar, where several stands sell traditional woolen clothes and crafts. About 80 miles east of Khorog, the deep blue waters of Yashikul Lake, a freshwater lake situated more than 13,000 feet above sea level, are a sight you won’t want to miss.