A Persian-speaking outpost in a predominantly Turkic region, Tajikistan is in many ways the odd one out in Central Asia. With its roots in ancient Sogdiana and Bactria, the modern country is a fragile patchwork of clans, languages and identities, forged together by little more than Soviet nation-building and the shared hopes for a peaceful future. That peace was shattered in the 1990s, when a brutal civil war claimed over 50,000 lives, turning the remote mountainous republic into the bloodiest corner of the former Soviet empire. Though the wounds are still raw, a decade after the war most Tajiks are moving forward with their lives, as if awakening from a bad dream, and a mood of guarded optimism has returned.
The good news is that today Tajikistan is safe, stable and scenically spectacular. The Pamirs – ‘the Roof of the World’ – are easily the country’s highlight, offering breathtaking high-altitude scenery, excellent ecotourism options, humbling mountain hospitality and the Pamir Highway – one of Asia’s greatest road trips. The Wakhan Valley is a walker's dream, Dushanbe is considered one of Central Asia's prettiest capitals, while the ancient city of Penjikent gives an interesting glimpse into the region's Silk Road past.
Once the playing fields of ‘Great Game’ spies and explorers, Tajikistan is now the playground for cutting-edge adventure travel. For fans of remote mountain scenery, or anyone who ranks places like northern Pakistan or western Tibet as their favourite destinations, Tajikistan will glimmer as the most exciting republic in Central Asia.
Anyone following this road has the added thrill of knowing that few ‘foreign devils’ have passed this way since Francis Younghusband, the consummate ‘Great Game’ player, was expelled from the Pamirs by the Russians in 1891, marking the region’s closure to the outside world for the next 100 years.