Tajikistan is unlike anyplace else you'll visit. On a multi-day trek in the deserted, unspoiled landscapes in the Pamir Mountains in the southeast, you might go days without seeing humans, drinking from endless streams and rivers, occasionally stumbling on decrepit relics at the outer reaches of the former Soviet empire.
In the capital city, Dushanbe, Marian's Guesthouse is an oasis from the bleak, Stalinist architecture around it.
Tajikistan "homestays" that generally consist of threadbare, dingy sheets on top of a few old cushions or saggy, old mattress. Often you'll be sleeping in a group room, spread among adventuresome Germans and Swiss who have a fondness for Tajikistan.
Tajikistan is a land of enticement. The fruit, nuts, and vegetables are supremely fresh and almost all raised in backyard gardens. The whole country is inundated with watermelons in the summertime, heaped into huge roadside mounds. You can also find blackberries and plums, often made into sweet jams. Once you start eating real meals, however, the novelty deteriorates.
Expect a stream of fried eggs and fresh bread for breakfast. Lunch is typically a brackish soup with potatoes, chicken parts, and fresh herbs. Dinner is often the same, though it can include plov, an often delicious but greasy concoction of rice and meat.
Be sure to eat carefully and drink only bottled water.
Given how few Americans travel there each year, the process does not take long. Things can get more complicated if you want a multi-entry visa, so check the visa policies of nearby countries, especially China, which has typically blocked entrances from Tajikistan.
There are very few ATMa outside of Dushanbe, the capital. You'll have to bring a few thousand dollars cash, which can be easily swapped for Simoni, the Tajik currency, along the way. Even then, people will take your dollars. With an average per capita income of just $2,000, Tajiks are not picky.
Bring lots of baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Bring a very warm sweater/coat and hat and gloves for the colder mountain air. We came to rely on Icebreaker clothes for travel, which could be easily washed and dried and then stuffed in our packs.
And don't forget a Russian phrasebook, cigarettes for tips, small toys for children, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots.
Particularly in the eastern part of the country, you might find original Krygyz rugs, which typically use natural dies on two-ply felt and feature stark, simple geometric shapes. These can be had relatively cheaply — often for just a few hundred dollars. Buy as many as you can, because the people who know how to make them are quickly dying out.
Summer, the earlier, the better. The mountains can get very cold, even in the late summer, with mountain passes are closed by snow.
Turkish Airlines offers two flights each week from Istanbul. Spending a week in Istanbul makes a good transition zone.
Tajikistan is a great place for learning about the historic tinderbox of Central Asia. In Tajikistan, the mix of ethnicities — each with their own language, culture, clothing, and food — tend to leave each other in peace (well, at least lately). Call us or visit our website to learn more of the Travel Guides while in Tajikistan.