5 things you might not know about TAJIKISTAN

Our first trip to Tajikistan ran earlier this year, and we’re excited to be heading off there again three times in 2011 – it’s one of the last untapped strongholds of real adventure travel, with all the elements explorers hanker for: hypnotic scenery, compellingly different ways of life and a passport stamp that trumps all others. Here’s five things you need to know about a place that’s just begging to be explored.

It has huge mountains

Massive heaven-scraping mountains known as the Pamir, where the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Tian Shan ranges meet. Think Central Asia and many people conjure a flat, barren wasteland – there is plenty of that (remember the Aral Sea? It was drained for irrigation and now huge ships settle on sand dunes) but a variety of other climates and landscapes exist there too. The most spectacular, however, is the High Pamir, bordered by Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and China and home to the country’s highest mountain, Ismoili Somoni Peak, clocking in at a whopping 7,495 metres.

It is home to one of the world’s great road trips

The Pamir Highway runs from Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, to Khorog on the Afghan Border then up and over the High Pamir to remote Murghab on the Chinese border, before finishing at Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Roughly 1,000 km of road wends through some of the most mind-blowing mountain scenery in the world, though at the times the ‘highway’ is little more than a crumbling track.

Most of the inhabitants of the Pamir are Ismaili Muslims

The spiritual leader of this liberal branch of Islam is the Aga Khan, whose foundation supports many good works in Tajikistan and elsewhere. In the Pamir, however, the religious practice of Ismailis is somewhat influenced by earlier traditions of Zoroastrianism – Shrines in the Wakhan Valley in particular are adorned with sheep heads and horns, replete with altars for fire worship.

It shares the Wakhan Valley with Afghanistan

The Wakhan Valley is absolutely beautiful. Small subsistence villages dot its length on both sides of the border, beneath massive snowy peaks and waterfalls. Marco Polo once travelled its length – some of the beehive tombs he encountered can still be seen. There are also healing hot springs, ancient forts whose inhabitants once preyed on passing Silk Road caravans and legends aplenty.

It is home to some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet

It seems that living in extreme environments can make people particularly hospitable, especially when visits from travellers are rare. The Pamir is well off the regular tourist map and the inhabitants still take their hospitality cues from the prophets – all strangers are treated like honoured guests. Travelling here invariably involves being welcomed into local homes and sharing something genuine with the local people.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Have a read here – we’ve plenty more information on Tajikistan and other great Central Asian destinations.

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