I have been working at the embassy for over two months on Communications and Digital Diplomacy. If you have been following UKinTajikistan’s Facebook and Twitterpages, you may have seen that we have been posting a lot about tourism lately.
I think the development of tourism in Tajikistan is essential to the country’s future, but this is not the only reason I wanted to write about reasons to visit Tajikistan.
While watching the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, I was surprised to see how many people on Twitter and Facebook had never heard about Tajikistan. I saw lots of tweets saying “What is Tajikistan”, “is it a fake country”, “why do they even exist” and even the hashtag “#madeupistan”.
Although it is sad to hear these kinds of comments about your country, it reflects an unfortunate reality – Tajikistan is not yet well-known around the world: it is a small, young country and does not get a lot of media exposure. This got me thinking of reasons for tourists to come and visit Tajikistan.
Here they are:
Yes! You read it correctly. People are the single most important reason you should come to Tajikistan. Not mountains or nature, both of which are undeniably marvellous, nor fresh food or the quality of fruits and vegetables during spring and summertime.
I have met tourists who come here tempted by visiting the breathtaking landscapes and exploring the boundless opportunities to spend time in nature, but who instead have discovered that the heart and soul of this country consists of its people and their hospitality.
One of my foreign friends told me a story that was remarkable, even by my own standards of being Tajik. He travelled north, to Kanibadam city, and spent a night there in one Tajik family’s house. During the night, when he was about to go to sleep, he heard a knock. When he opened his door, the host was standing there with a bottle of vodka and sliced onions, determined to welcome him into the family properly. Although my friend wasn’t an avid vodka drinker, he was so impressed by this example of hospitality that he couldn’t reject the drink (or the onions!).
I hope I will live to the day when the word ‘Tajikistan’ will be used as a synonym for ‘mountains’ by tour companies, because it is literally covered with them. You see mountains almost everywhere: even along the skyline of Dushanbe itself. For a hiker, climber and other adrenaline junkies and nature enthusiasts, Tajikistan has a host of exciting activities on offer, be it trekking, kayaking, 4×4 driving, mountain climbing and more.
Although the independent Republic of Tajikistan is just 23 years old, Tajik civilization dates back as far as 3,000 years. Major civilizations that existed in these territories, like the Sassanid Empire, Chinese Civilization, Arabic culture and religion, USSR have all have influenced Tajikistan’s national identity. There are a lot of medieval mosques and Soviet-style buildings, monuments and the remains of ancient cities throughout Tajikistan. So for enthusiasts of history and culture, Tajikistan is rich in both.
Dushanbe, Khujand and Khorog might not resonate in tourists’ minds as much as London, Paris or Madrid, but there are unique and charming characteristics to many of our Tajik cities. You can always find museums, opera shows and theatres, but you can also discover traditional chai-honas (teahouses), Qalas (castles), and beautifully designed mosques and holy sanctuaries.
Tajik culture is in many ways influenced by its varied past. But as an example, the popular sport of buzkashi is claimed to have originated here, and visitors should definitely take time to watch a match while they are here (it doesn’t get more dramatic than one moment being part of a watching crowd and the next scattering in all directions as the horses and players suddenly start charging towards you). There is a lot of regional variety in terms of handicrafts and traditional artwork; Pamiri socks and Panjikent suzanis are popular gifts and souvenirs for relatives back home.
This one is tricky. I have met some people who love Tajik cuisine and others who did not get along with it. If you are in the first group, you can enjoy dishes as varied as plov (similar to Persian pilaf), the ubiquitous shashlik and qurutob (a dish that consists of layered crispy bread, yoghurt, tomatoes and onion and sometimes meat). I personally think that Tajiks prefer flavour over spiciness, but every household has its preferences so fiery dishes are still easy to come by.
The cost of living in Tajikistan is very low. One click on expatistan.com will show you that living in Dushanbe (which is the most expensive place to live in Tajikistan) is 2-3 times cheaper than in other capital cities around the world. Other Tajik cities are even cheaper. The best time to enjoy Tajikistan would be summer: the markets are full of cheap fruits and vegetables, which any tourist will enjoy and appreciate.
#Bonus reason: People
Yes, I already mentioned it as the number one reason to come to Tajikistan but I cannot emphasize it enough. The only way to fully understand what I mean would be to come to Tajikistan to meet its people yourself.
So, Tajikistan might not be as well-known as Sochi now is after the Olympics and upcoming Paralympic Games. But I hope that within my lifetime, the country will be on the tourist map and that nobody on Twitter (or whatever the latest social media trend will be) thinks it is a made up country with “no reason to exist”. And I also hope that anyone reading will comment on why they would like to visit Tajikistan, and those who have already been can leave their own reasons to come and experience our country and its people.
Photo Gallery courtesy of Explore Tajikistan