As Seen in…
Places to visit in Tajikistan and on our Silk Road tours
Why visit Tajikistan?
Tajikistan is a land of a thrilling concoctions and contrasts: the dominant landscape of mountain valleys and scattered populations has developed into complex arrangements of vying clans, sundry languages and confusing origins. The dominant language is Persian, though the dizzying high lands of the Pamir plateau boasts a multitude of ancient tribal tongues which speak of millennia of influences.
At a crossroads on the network of silk roads, the consequent wealth has brought on its heels invaders and explorers: by the 5th century B.C. Scythian culture was dominant and this developed into a series of successful Persian-influenced empires – the Sogdians in the west being subjugated Alexander the Great in 327 B.C.. Huge cultural diversity followed, exemplified by ruins that tell of Kushan, Graeco-Bactrians, Sasamid and Tukic civilisations. By the 8th century A.D. Arab invaders from Mecca’s Umayyad Empire brought an entirely different ethos to the region and the defeat of the Chinese, whose vast empire lay to the north-east, at Talas in 751 cemented their lasting dominance: Islam became the central religion and Persian the main language.
The conquering powerhouse that was Genghis Khan swept across the Tajik people’s territories in 1219 and this led to a series of ever more stable khanates which perpetuated until the arrival of the Russians in the 19th century. In the intervening period, Marco Polo’s great expedition achieved the seemingly impossible: making a Silk Road link between Europe and India, the route which travellers now tread along the extraordinary Pamir Highway. This is true wilderness, where rarities dwell, such as the Marco Polo sheep – the world’s heaviest breed, sporting horns of imperial grandeur – grey wolf packs, brown bear and, the jewel in the country’s wildlife crown, the highly elusive snow leopard.
The Russians who first ‘explored’ and then sought to set up vassal states tried to penetrate the eastern massif in order to threaten the British Indian Empire in what was termed ‘The Great Game’. The inaccessibility of the Pamir region meant that it became a buffer zone, almost fabled in its reputation, with credible accounts of yeti told by returning soldiers! Tajikistan subsequently fell under the yoke of the USSR and its modern borders were formally drawn up in 1927, eventually leading to a brutally won independence after the civil war of the 1990s.
Today its inhabitants welcome once forbidden outsiders with instinctive warmth, opening their homes and yurts to share with visitors so that immersion in Tajikistan’s culture is an inescapable and unforgettable part of its charm.