The challenge with Tajikistan is not selecting what to include in an itinerary but rather what to leave out: time is always a limiting factor, particularly when the hours spent travelling from A to B can be a significant part of your trip. If your time is short, select a city and make it the hub of your journeys. If you have longer to play with, think of getting to your destination as part of the adventure, sit back and enjoy the views.
The monument to Rudaki, Tajikistan's answer to Shakespeare, stands on the main street of the same name © Truba7113, Shutterstock
Just a couple of days is sufficient time to explore the main sights of Dushanbe. Start with a stroll along Rudaki to orientate yourself, and head for the National Museum for an overview of Tajikistan’s history and to see the remarkable sleeping Buddha from Ajina Tepa. Take lunch in the square outside the Ayni Opera and Ballet Theatre, and while you’re there buy a ticket for the evening’s performance. Spend the afternoon in Central Park looking at the monuments to Rudaki and Ismoili Somoni, and also the dazzling Palace of Nations, or take a tour of the ornate Navruz Palace.
The imposing structure of the Palace of Nations can be seen from across the city and is home to both President Rahmon and many government ministries © Kalpak Travel, www.kalpak-travel.com
Return to the theatre to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the live orchestra, all washed down with Georgian champagne. On the second morning, head to the north of the city for the botanical gardens. Take lunch at the attractively painted Chaykhona Rokhat and then give your ears a treat with the sounds of traditional instruments at the Gurminj Museum. Finish up with souvenir shopping in Green Bazaar and the creaking old TsUM department store.
One of Tajikistan's wealthiest cities, Khujand has an almost cosmopolitan air © Milosz Maslanka, Shutterstock
One full week should give you ample time to get out of the city and to start exploring. Spend a day in Dushanbe, then head north to ancient Panjakent and Sarazm, taking an ethnographic tour of the valley with local company Pamir Travel while you’re there. From Panjakent head to Khujand with its attractive mosque, fort and lively bazaar, then return via the tiled mosques and madrasas of Istaravshan. Be sure to spend a night camping on the shores of Iskanderkul before you get back to the capital.
The turquoise blue Iskanderkul Lake, surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Fann Mountains, is an understandable favourite with tourists © Pavel Svoboda Photography, Shutterstock
A fortnight will allow you to go trekking. Visit Dushanbe, ancient Panjakent and Sarazm as above, but then head for the Seven Lakes. Paramount Journey will provide you with a knowledgeable, English-speaking local guide and all the equipment you need, and you can then trek the five-day route through the Fann Mountains to Iskanderkul.
Nature has been kind to Tajikistan, bestowing the country not only with breathtaking beauty but with a moderate climate too © Raven Valentine, www.life-through-pictures.co.uk
The physical landscape of Tajikistan is defined by its mountains and lakes, and there’s no better way to appreciate their beauty and scale than on foot. Finish with Khujand and Istaravshan. You may also have time for a short diversion into the Yagnob Valley to meet the modern descendants of the Sogdians.
The Wakhan Corridor is a remote spit of land with majestic scenery, where the borders of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Tajikistan meet © Michal Knitl, Shutterstock
With a month at your disposal, the Pamirs open up to you. As two borders into southern Kyrgyzstan are now open, you can loop around most of Tajikistan. From Dushanbe, head east along the Rasht Valley into the wilderness with its wildlife and occasional forts and shrines. Leave Tajikistan at Jirgatal and re-enter south of Sary Tash, from where the entirety of the dramatic, remote Pamir Highway awaits you. Cross the Pamirs at a leisurely speed, being sure to stop in the town of Murghab on the Murghab Plateau, and on arrival in the university town of Khorog, soak up the cosmopolitan air, the museum and botanical gardens.
The hot springs of Garm Chashma, just south of Khorog, are a great way to relax tired muscles after a bumpy drive along the Pamir Highway © Tourist Development Centre Tajikistan
A loop further south will take you to Garm Chashma, the ruby mine, and the northern edge of the Wakhan Corridor. Follow the Amu Darya River along the Tajik–Afghan border to Khatlon, with its ancient sites of Ajina Tepa and Takht-i Sangin, and the reconstructed Khulbuk fort, before meandering back to Dushanbe via the resorts on the Nurek Reservoir.
To discover what else you can see and do in Tajikistan, check out our new guide: