Mountains of Tajikistan


Posted: 02/10/20 | February 10th, 2020

This year, I’m going to try to visit Central Asia in the fall. I’ve never been to the region and it’s long one that’s held great appeal to me. It seems raw, beautiful, and unspoiled. So, when someone reached out to write a guest post on a country there, I was excited. It was a chance to learn a little before I (hopefully) go. In this guest post, traveler and writer Paul McDougal breaks down what it’s like to travel Tajikistan on a budget.

Aptly and romantically known as “The Roof of the World,” Tajikistan is a hikers’ paradise. More than 93% of the country is defined as mountainous — and more than 50% of that sits at over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet)! It’s a striking country, full of glacial peaks and mountain lakes that are best for multiday hikes (but equally astounding on short jaunts too).

Traveling around Tajikistan requires a sense of adventure, as the nation is also dotted with poor-quality roads, rudimentary facilities, and a massive lack of infrastructure. But, after spending almost a month there, I learned that it’s easy and affordable to get around these problems with a smile and a shrug.

Many tourists spend more money than necessary when in Tajikistan. Most do so on an organized tour, which is why there’s a prevailing — and inaccurate — idea that it’s expensive to visit the country. A ten-day organized tour booked online can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 USD, equivalent to a hefty $150-350 a day.

But if you travel independently, you can easily navigate this country for about $45 USD per day.

So, how do you see Tajikistan on a budget? Here’s how:

Transportation

road tripping in Tajikistan


Instead of booking a tour through an online agent, you have four much more affordable ways to get around to choose from:

1. Find a multiday driver when you arrive
Hostels and guesthouses can put you in contact with local drivers, with whom you can negotiate your own rate, itinerary, and trip length. Typically, travelers spend $50-100 per day per person for this. The better your negotiation skills (and the more stubborn you are), the greater the chance you’ll get a driver for closer to $50 a day.

Drivers can be found in Murghab, Khorog, Dushanbe, and other larger places. If you’re traveling the Pamir Highway (like pretty much everyone else in Tajikistan), you can also find drivers in Kyrgyzstan’s second-biggest city, Osh.

2. Hire a 4WD yourself
This typically costs around $100 per day for the vehicle, so if you’re traveling with a few people, this is a great choice. It gives you freedom and it’s good for your budget!

It’s very easy to organize this upon arrival. All hotels, hostels, and guesthouses in both Osh and Dushanbe can put you into contact with agencies that can arrange 4WD rentals. Don’t arrange this online, unless you want to spend more money.

3. Public transport
Long-distance public transport doesn’t really exist in Tajikistan. However, enterprising locals have filled this gap in a very affordable way. Every day, before they travel from one city or town to another to go about their daily business, they always ensure that every single spot in their vehicle is filled.

To find these travel opportunities, ask your guesthouse where “the bus station” is. They’ll direct you to a car-crammed area (usually near a market) where there will be drivers waiting to fill their cars. Using this method, it’s not unusual to end up squashed into the back of an ancient car with four other people on a five-hour trip. These trips typically only costs around $10. And it’s a great way to immerse yourself in local life.

The price of the trip depends upon its length. The most I paid was for any single trip was $35 USD for a 12-hour, 600-mile voyage from Khorog to Dushanbe. And that was in a 4WD.

A quick side note: If you’re traveling within a city or town, there are many small minibuses (marshrutkas) that can take you from one destination to another along prescribed routes for the measly price of around $0.20 USD. But along those routes, they’ll stop anywhere to take on new passengers and drop off others. And I mean anywhere: houses, outdoor markets, the middle of busy roads — it’s all fair game.

4. Hitchhiking
For the vast majority of my trips in Tajikistan, I hitchhiked. Local people hitchhike in Tajikistan every single day — it’s a valid, recognized method of transport here as not every has a car and, as mentioned above, public transportation is scarce.

When you hitchhike in Tajikistan, don’t stick out your thumb. Keep your stretched-out hand parallel to the ground and wave it up and down. Depending on where you’re hitchhiking, you will probably have to wait a while — on some barren stretches of road, you might wait thirty minutes to see one car. But, if that car has an empty spot, it will stop and take you without fail. (You might have to pay a little money.)

I experienced nothing but positivity and warmth doing this. People were happy to take me and…

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