This mountainous land is the smallest country in Central Asia but is the traditional on ramp to the Silk Road from China. Three primary caravan routes ran through Tajikistan’s Tien-Shan and Pamir mountain ranges.
Only around 7% of the land is arable, nearly all of in the fertile Fergana Valley in the north, which produces the major agricultural crop, cotton, which, along with aluminum, are country’s major exports.
Tajikistan’s capital and largest city is Dushanbe, modern and European styled, with broad tree-lined boulevards and a spectacular backdrop of snow capped mountain peaks. The city features numerous squares and monuments commemorating the Persian influences of the past and its surroundings contain many recreational areas, mountain parks and gorges, one with a 100 foot waterfall.
The National Museum of Archaeology contains the 1600 year old ‘Tajik Buddha,’ now thought to be the largest statue of its kind in Central Asia. The museum also houses displays of Zoroastrian and Buddhist artifacts.
Khujand is the country’s second largest city and an ancient Silk Road trade center. Located at the entrance to the fertile Fergana Valley, Khujand is cited as the easternmost city established by Alexander the Great. As such, it has a rich history and many preserved architectural and cultural sites. It also happens to be a popular mountaineering center in a country where half the land lies higher than 9,000 feet above sea level and which has a number of peaks taller than 20,000 feet.
Near to the border with Uzbekistan is Penjikent, which lay on the only route from the East to Samarkand and flourished from the 5th Century. Arabs destroyed the city in the 8th Century and the ruins were discovered in the last hundred years. Today, the excavation site has been turned into a memorial reserve where tourists can visit a medieval citadel, palace, public buildings, dwellings and a necropolis.
Midway between Penjikent and Dushanbe lies the emerald gem Iskander Kul (lake). The lake is at an elevation of 7,000 among the 4,000 plus peaks of the Fan mountains, which contain many other hiking, fishing or skiing spots for Dushanbe’s residents.
To the east is the larger Kara Kul situated amongst high, barren highlands that, with their errie atmosphere and yak herds, are reminiscent of Tibet. The lake is often accessed from Kyrgyzstan, heading west from Osh.