Population: 6.3 million (UN, 2005)
Area: 143,100 sq km (55,251 sq miles)
Major languages: Tajik, Uzbek, Russian
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Tajik somoni = 100 dirams
Republic of Tajikistan is Central Asian territory known more for its remoteness, seclusion, and inaccessibility to travellers than its land marvels. As such, it is one of the few landlocked countries in Central Asia we know very little of. Tajikistan is vital to the world for their production of cotton. However, if truth be told, Tajikistan is also the crucial element to the Euro-Asia drug trade as Afghanistan’s first stop for smuggling drugs to Europe and Russia.
The country has a brutally bloodstained past, but optimism slowly inches the nation to the future. After a death count of around 50,000 in the civil war of 1990 that made it the bloodiest corner of former Soviet, the present atmosphere of Tajikistan is rather peaceful and holds immense potential for tourism. Since that harshly violent time of the civil, nothing much has changed though. The republic remains the poorest country in Central Asia as the nation attempts to move on with their daily lives, incompetent and incapable still for full independence from Russia’s control from which they derive financial and military backing.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
Tajikistan, 39 00 N, 71 00 E, is Central Asia’s smallest country (by area), with the distinctively rugged mountainous ranges of the Pamir and Alay intensely veiling its terrain. The undulating facade of this mountainous republic hailed the country the “roof of the world” with more than half its entire terrain of 143,100 km2 at 3,000 metres above sea level. So high, the country almost embraces the skies with its highest altitude 7,495 metres credited to the Qullai Ismoili Somoni, whereas the lowest elevation, at 300 metres above sea level, the Syr Darya. There are also the plush Fergana Valley to the north and Kofarnihon and Vakhsh in the south. The mountainous regions have the cold semi-arid climate with snow-capped peaks the whole year round. The country endures roasting hot summers with temperatures of up to 100 °F, and mild cooling winters with temperatures plummeting to a low of -40°F.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
The most exciting and interesting part of the trip to this young, almost newly instituted nation are meeting and knowing the people, the Tajikistanis. Since its declared independence from the Soviet in 1991, not much in the country has changed. The nation constituted by the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Russians, and Kyrgyz peoples still cling to Soviet ideologies, incompletely able to stand alone, much like their dependence on Islam, the religion of the state, which has had a perpetuating hold on their society for over 2,000 years hence. Sunnis are the majority, while only 5% forms Shia. One cannot overstate the tense tense religious atmosphere in these parts, and with immense adherence to Islamic traditions, Christians are a minority. TAJIK is the official language of Tajikistan spoken by a huge percentage of the 7,349,145 population, and RUSSIAN, like Tajik is generally spoken and used in government and business.
FOOD & ATTRACTION
A good life is quite a hard concept to realize for the Tajikistanis. Units in college and good grades mean cotton farming 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 100 kilos of harvest, respectively. but small programs are being launched to help the nation improve its quality of life. Being in Tajikistan is a moving and exciting adventure of a lifetime for the traveller because of the magnanimous locals who treat their guests as rare and fragile jewels. The locals of Pamir offer a certain special hospitality that their modest lifestyle can offer, even at the checkpoints, but it takes a 16-hour utterly painful and literally mind-boggling drive in the underdeveloped roads from Dushanbe, all the way up to Pamir, but it is heck worth it. Dushanbe, the capital, is the most beautiful Central Asian city, despite poverty of the Tajikistanis.
The Pamir range is eye candy and by itself will take your breath away, not by thinned out oxygen that comes with its towering altitudes, but with its extra special views high above the skies that Hindu Kush appears too close at times. Wakhan Valley to the South is the site for the Silk Trade route for centuries, and this is apparent with archaeological bits and pieces sprinkled over the land, such as Buddhist wats, Islamic mausoleums, hermit caves, petroglyphs, and forts from the 3 B.C. Besides the resplendent natural scenery, there is of course, the food.
As the traveller will have had his fill of the eye delights of the majestically mountainous country, one must not neglect one’s hunger, and Tajik local hospitality will ensure the traveller of a table piled high of bread, dishes, and confections. Sitting on topchans out in the cool breeze under the shady with all the good stuff, there can absolutely be no way to enjoy a lunch as this. First served is tpakkshak, a noodle soup appetizer dressed in minced herbs, followed by the national dish, plov. Yes! It’s that same rice-based plov with all the fixings ubiquitous to Central Asia and somehow similar to the preparation of the Spanish rice dish paella or valenciana, or even risotto, but belongs to another palette category. In Uzbekistan, plov is cooked with raisins and chickpeas. In Kyrgyzstan, plov is prepared consistently with mutton, whilst in Tajikistan, its simple accompaniments are rice, onions, carrots, beef or mutton, cumin, and more cumin. Otala is also a noodle dish accompanied by beef and chickpeas with less soup content. And as a gastronomic norm, the meal is ended with some refreshing fruits such as watermelon, or sweet candies.
For some reason, perhaps of religious tradition, women in Central Asia are rarely seen in public. In the presence of guests, women are pocketed in the kitchen, while men do all the entertaining and hosting. The youngest girl in the family is the universal server. So if you enjoy a man’s company, you’ll surely enjoy a Tajik meal. Time won’t take too long before Tajikistan basks with a new reputation as Central Asia’s most exciting country-the place to be says most that have been here. Travel is no fuss with a organized visa and (proof of) accommodation. For the moment, Tajikistan’s charms appeals to travellers with the luxury of travel-and-error to boot.
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