Episode 3: 48 Hours in Tajikistan
48 Hours in Tajikistan: Dushanbe, Fann Mountains and World's Tallest Flagpole
Travel to Tajikistan probably isn’t your first choice when thinking about a weekend away from Dubai. My first reaction when we booked Tajikistan was… "what have we gotten ourselves into...?"
It is definitely a destination to consider, so let us convince you why we think Tajikistan is the hidden gem of Central Asia.
Between the unexpected language barrier, money issues (see Tips below), cleanliness of the streets, gorgeous landscapes and incredibly friendly people, we had our share of everything that makes a weekend trip like this so special.
So here goes, we'll try to pack as many helpful tips below as possible so you can enjoy an incredible 48 hours of travel to Tajikistan as well.
Travel to Tajikistan - Questions & Answers:
How to travel to Tajikistan from Dubai?
The best way to travel to Tajikistan from Dubai is by plane. We took a very convenient flight with Somon Air from DXB to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Comfortable and efficient, the flight cost us AED 1,300 each ($330). Somon Air is the new national airline of Tajikistan and while they remain a majority domestic airline, we were surprised at how clean, comfortable and easy the flight was. Considering it was an airline we had never heard of before and our ticket confirmations were all in Tajik, we were skeptical.
We let out a sigh of relief when we arrived to DXB and saw the flight on the departures list, confirming the airline actually existed.
What is the weather like in Tajikistan?
We went to Tajikistan in July, and the weather was absolutely beautiful, especially coming from oven-like Dubai. Think 25 degrees during the day, going down to 20 during the night. No humidity, and sun all day long!
If you are going to head up to the Fann mountains, and you'd be insane not to, bring a long sleeve shirt, especially if you go at night. The mountains were topped with snow, even in the middle of the summer.
What to do during 48 Hours in Tajikistan?
1 - Visit the World's Tallest Flagpole
Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan, and while it’s small, it is very lively. The "tallest flag pole" is Trip Advisor’s number 1 attraction, but don't be fooled, it’s worth going to see just to people watch! While the flag and flag pole are interesting themselves it really is the amazingly beautiful setting of the park, the perfectly taken care of gardens, statues, lakes and people strolling that make it so fun to walk through. Drinks and snacks are sold by multiple vendors and you won't need more than a couple bucks to enjoy an afternoon. If you aren't careful, you might get dragged into a Tajik wedding celebration so bring you dancing shoes!
2 -Trek to the Seven Lakes
Hiking and trekking are very popular in Tajikistan. Although they are more suited to a longer stay, it is recommended to tackle the seven lakes trek - made up of seven lakes around the mountains, each one a different color. While a trek will take more time, getting up into the mountains even for a couple hours is an absolute must.
3 - Explore the Hissar Fort
Hissar Fort is only 30 minutes away from Dushanbe city centre, and is an absolute must do. The architecture is gorgeous and the history about it fascinating. We had no idea what to expect but were floored when we arrived to see such an incredible ancient fort, from the 1200's, looking so beautiful and with such a well preserved setting. Getting lost in the old fort and surrounding buildings is very interesting and there is even a watering hole from a natural spring and horseback riding for the kids. See our video for more!
4 - Climb the Fann Mountains
The Fann Mountains are beautiful, and if you have the time we strongly recommend to get up there, if only to admire the view over the valley. If you are scared of heights like me (Anne), it’s a bit of a love/hate moment, but it’s worth it. Stop on the way at one of the artisanal honey making stands along the road and taste organic Tajik honey - honestly the best we’ve ever tasted. Bee careful of bee stings (see what I did there...)
5 - Stroll through Rudaki Park
Rudaki Park (named after the famous Tajik poet) is the central heart beat of Dushanbe and left us quite speechless after getting lost in its seemingly endless sections. With so many statues, buildings, monuments and gardens we just kept walking and walking and walking for hours as the afternoon sun glistened off the golden statues.
6 - Bar Hop Tajik Style!
Go bar hopping in Dushanbe! Thats right, there are a couple and there are tons of fun! We found an amazing Irish place called "Public Pub" right off Rudaki Street which ended up being a perfect place for us to wind down, enjoy a couple drinks, watch France beat Germany in the Euro and meet a couple of very friendly local Tajik guys who were so excited we had come for the weekend just to explore! In this same area there are many wonderful and lively restaurants and bars to enjoy and the drinking laws are much more relaxed in Tajikistan, even though it is a majority Muslim country.
7 - Be a Child at Boghi Poytakht
Plan a trip to Boghi Poytakht Park and the Botanical Garden, both located close to each other on the outskirts of Dushanbe, which is already a small city. The botanical gardens are vast and relaxing to visit while Boghi Poytakht Park is a bustling amusement park complete with roller coasters, a huge ferris wheel and is even connected to a gigantic water park - which we were gutted to run out of time to visit.
8 - Get Lost at the Green Bazaar
Make sure to stop by the Green Bazaar in central Dushanbe, which is open seven days a week before you go. This local market is one of the main hubs in Dushanbe to socialize, sell your good, buy groceries and find literally anything else you could ever want to buy. We got lost in the endless maze for a couple hours and really enjoyed it. No being hassled, no one trying to sell anything, just observing life as it passed us by.
Where to stay in Tajikistan?
There are only two 5 star hotels in the capital city, one of them being the Hyatt Regency Dushanbe, where we decided to stay. Not only is it perfectly located 10 minutes away from the airport and 5 from the city centre, it’s also very comfortable and the staff is extremely friendly. Bonus point, all taxi drivers know where the Hyatt is, which is a plus when no one speaks English, this helped us out A LOT!
The staff was extremely happy and helpful in planning our short time in Tajikistan, called us taxis, arranged tours, called ahead to restaurants and were the best when it came to our little money exchange crises. They also have a 24 hour money exchange on site, however they only change EUR, USD, GBP and RUB.
There are endless budget hotels and guesthouses in Dushanbe offering rooms for as little as $5 a night, depending on your level of comfort. Tajikistan really surprised us by how modern, clean, friendly and advanced everything was, especially in Dushanbe, so if you've been backpacking through Central Asia for a while and want a nice, cheap city to relax in for a bit and recharge those batteries, Dushanbe will be a total paradise.
Where to have a drink in Tajikistan?
We stumbled upon the one and only Irish pub in Dushanbe, and can’t recommend it enough! The atmosphere is great, the drinks cheap and the people from all around the world. In the same street we heard there is a really nice German bar - we didn't have the time to try it but if you wander around we guarantee you will find some hidden gem bars with local beer for as little as AED5 ($1.5).
While beer might not be the first alcohol you think of when you are visit a former soviet country, the local weissbeer was extremely good, on tap, and very cheap. And don't miss the meats - any kind will not disappoint.
What to wear in Tajikistan?
Tajikistan is 99% Muslim, but it is a very laid back interpretation of the religion, if we can say that. It’s advised to wear trousers at all times and to avoid shorts and skirts for ladies, but no one will stop you and you won't feel uncomfortable in whatever you wear. Jeff wore shorts our whole time and never once felt uncomfortable, while I always brought something to cover up with but didn't feel the need to always have it on. Remember that Tajik people are not used to tourists and so it’s always better to do as the local do.
I would say as a general rule that you should cover knees and shoulders, for both men and women. Colourful clothing is more than welcome and you will be surprised at the reds, oranges, flowery and printed patterns all the locals wear! In an attempt to avoid the type of strict religious uprising that launched a civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990's, the government forbids woman from wearing black Abaya's and men from having long beards and while these are just exterior things, I think it does help to make outsiders, who have maybe never been to a Muslim country before, feel more welcome.
Travel to Tajikistan - Our tips:
Always bring USD or EUR
If you come from Dubai, or any other airport really, it’s very unlikely that you will find Tajik Somoni, the currency of Tajikistan before you arrive. Don’t make the same mistake as we did and assume that we will find a currency exchange bureau opened in the middle of the night when we landed in tiny Dushanbe airport. Although we had plenty of AUD, we could not get Somoni in Dubai and instead of changing them to USD we wished for the best - which backfired.
Make sure you change some of your currency to US Dollars, at least enough to pay for your visa and to your hotel. Most countries can get a visa on arrival in Tajikistan, we paid $25 each for USA and EU passports.
Negotiate with taxi drivers
Most taxi drivers we used appeared to be “non official”. This is pretty common practice in Tajikistan and isn’t an issue, provided you set the price before you get in the car. A trip anywhere within Dushanbe shouldn’t be more than 30 Somoni (about $5). That being said, all taxis that were called for us by the hotel were professional and used a meter, and were told by the hotel exactly where we wanted to go - which made a world of difference.
Remember, there is very little English, so unless you are staying somewhere like the Hyatt, which everyone knows, make sure to bring the business card or location map of the place you are staying so you have a chance of getting home at night. As we got lost through the city during the day and ended up needing a taxi back at night we were very turned around and thankful our taxi new our hotel and just how to get there.
Learn basic sentences in Tajik/Russian
Tajik people speak Tajik (very close to Persian) and Russian. Very few of them speak English, as tourism is still very new and most people have never really encountered tourists. While they are very welcoming, it’s better to know how to say the name of your hotel, as well a few common phrases.
- Hello! - "Salom!"
- I need to go to... - "Man ʙojad ʙa"
- The airport - "In furudgoh"
- The hotel - "Mehmonxona"
- How much? - "Cī qadar?"
- Do you speak English? - "Şumo ʙo zaʙoni anglisī gap zada metavoned?"
- Do you accept Dollars? - "Ojo şumo dollar qaʙul mekuned?"
Traveling to Tajikistan - Fact sheet:
Currency: Tajik Somoni (1 TJS = 0.13 USD)
Time zone:UTC+05:00 (Dubai time +1 hour)
Language: Tajik (Persian written with the Russian alphabet) and Russian - Almost no English is spoken.
So there you have it, our complete guide to 48 hours in Tajikistan. If you ever have the chance to visit you really must, we were surprised by this country at every single turn and cannot wait to plan another 48 hours in Tajikistan very soon!