Tajikistan’s climate is continental, and varies dramatically according to elevation, so when to visit Tajikistan depends on where you are going. It is the wettest of the central Asian republics, but again rain and snowfall depend on location, from the relatively dry valleys of Kafiristan and Vakhsh (500mm a year), to the Fedchenko Glacier, which receives in excess of 2,200mm of annual snowfall.
Temperatures in Tajikistan’s lowlands range on average from -1°C in January to as much as 30°C in July. The climate is arid, and artificial irrigation is required for agriculture. In the eastern Pamirs it is far colder: winter temperatures frequently fall to 20° below freezing, and the average temperature in July is just 5°C.
Tajikistan explodes into life in the spring. As the snows subside and the higher parts of the country once again become accessible, the lower mountain slopes and pastures are a riot of colour. Tajiks celebrate Navruz, the Persian New Year, on the spring equinox, 21 March, with feasting, dancing and adrenalin-charged games of buz kashi, Tajikistan’s answer to polo.
In the summer months, when temperatures in Dushanbe and the lowlands soar to uncomfortable levels, the Pamirs come into their own: you can drive the Pamir Highway without the risk of snow from June to September, and at the same time climb the higher peaks. Glacial meltwaters have slowed, the rivers are no longer in spate and, though an occasional blizzard may still catch you unawares, you can join the shepherds as they drive their flocks up into the mountains to grow fat on the grasses of high pastures.
Tajikistan marks its Independence Day on 9 September, and the crops in the Fergana Valley and other agricultural areas are harvested. The fresh fruits at this time of year are divine. Nights in late September will already be cold in the Pamirs, and from October roads in the higher mountains will be impassable due to snowfall and ice. As the autumn progresses the emerald-green trees that form ribbons through the bottom of each river valley turn almost overnight to a fiery red and orange. In Tajikistan’s lower regions, which include most of the north and southwest, there’s a bite to the air come nightfall, but bright sunshine still warms up the day.
The winter is hard in Tajikistan, with many communities cut off and, if the harvest has been poor, dangerously short of food. For those with money, however, the snowfall marks the start of the ski season, and the Takob ski resort becomes busy with day trippers from Dushanbe.