• IMAGES OF TAJIKISTAN

  • IMAGES OF TAJIKISTAN

    Two small kids wandering the wide dusty streets of Karakul in northern Tajikistan

A PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY THROUGH TAJIKISTAN

Among all the Central Asian ‘stans’, for us, Tajikistan immediately stood out. It grabbed our attention from that first glimpse through the airplane window; dry and dusty mountains beckoning us with their harsh exoticism.

But those first sights, while both exciting and enticing, belied the true nature of this hugely varied country. From fertile valleys to arid high plateaus, Tajikistan’s geography served up so many diverse scenes of striking beauty. The mountains especially were a revelation, particularly the Fanns in the country’s northwest. A combination of stark peaks, steep-sided juniper filled valleys, and stunning high altitude lakes make this region one of the world’s top trekking destinations – not to mention a photographer’s dream.

Our journey along the Pamir Highway continued to reveal Tajikistan’s complex character. From the more populated deep valleys of the Pamiri west to the high uplands of the Kyrgyz east, the people and culture are as fascinating and varied as the landscape itself.

Since spending a month in Tajikistan, we’ve felt an ever present desire to return. It has a unique beauty, people of a welcoming nature, and deserves to be travelled to. Here you’ll find a collection of our favourite Tajikistan photos, a series of images summing up our lasting impressions of this stunning Central Asian country.

Click into each image to see it full size and read more about it.

MOUNTAIN LAKES

Tajikistan is a place like no other when it comes to mountain lakes. Crystal clear mirrored surfaces at dawn give way to vibrant shades of emerald green and azure blue, as light is refracted off the fine-grained particles of rock in the water. Seen from the hills above, these lakes appear opaque and full of colour, but lakeside at the break of day, they produce the most magical of reflections. The best concentration of lakes can be found in the Fann Mountains, although many others are dotted throughout the extensive Pamir region.

During Soviet times, the Pamir region was an autonomous province within Tajikistan known as the GBAO. This special status helped it develop in numerous socio-economic ways, and a greater than average number of academics and professionals came from this area. The same autonomous status continues today, although the economy fares less well. The capital of the province is Khorog, a town of roughly 30,000 people. The focus on education is still present, with the existence of several schools and a university, but the town is poor compared to much of Tajikistan, and the main source of income is provided by the Aga Khan Foundation.


Geographically, the Western Pamirs are characterised by a series of valleys that cut deep through the mountainous landscape. All major rivers flow to the Panj, which forms much of the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It’s along the Panj and the M41 (Pamir Highway) where the majority of people live, with numerous settlements found at regular intervals – the largest being Khorog. These villages and towns are populated largely by Pamiri farmers and the culture is heavily influenced by the fact that many belong to the Ismaili Muslim community a community united in their allegiance to the aforementioned Aga Khan.

The relatively fertile lands of the Western Pamirs allow for the cultivation of a variety of crops, such as wheat and barley, and the area is famous for apricots (Tajikistan’s national fruit). It’s a fascinating part of the country, still visibly marked in many ways by history, both old and new.

Getting up in the air and gaining a different perspective can be surprising. The layout of the land often appears vastly different, resulting in an abstract image or simply giving a clearer appreciation of the surrounding geography. As the light changes, colours can be unexpected too, most notably in Tajikistan’s lakes. One thing’s for sure: a view from the air is like no other.

As anyone who travels knows, kids are nearly always guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and Tajikistan is no different. We find this to be particularly true in places where certain modern distractions aren’t available, the Fann Mountains for example, where we met the same kids two days running (they even kept us company on the trail for an hour or two). The sight of foreigners rolling by invariably stokes emotions ranging from curiosity and fascination to amusement and hilarity. Said emotions tend to be infectious, and make for highly memorable experiences.

For us, the mountains are where it’s at. Dramatic displays of the planet’s violent past that puts your own place in the world into perspective – they can make us feel small in the very best of ways. And as far as mountain landscapes go, Tajikistan’s are hard to beat. The generally dry climate at altitude makes for impressively barren vistas, punctuated by pockets of life where rivers or lakes lie. When mountain sides are bare, wind erosion turns rock to fine dust and sand, creating interesting shapes and features. The colour palette is often muted, but in some cases like the Pshart Valley, vibrant hues are exposed. Tajikistan’s mountains are never far from our minds.

One of the things that make the Fann Mountains such an attractive destination is the life you encounter along the way. Mud brick houses cling precariously to dusty slopes, donkeys trot by burdened with dried bushes, and goats are never far away. Seasonal herders invite you to share yogurt, bread and tea, while kids follow along beside you, on donkey or on foot. Villages appear throughout, some big, some small, and it’s possible to witness beekeepers in action – a practice that’s common in Tajikistan as a whole. We even came across a local outdoor ‘swimming pool’, which some kids took great delight in showing off.


It feels like a land that’s caught somewhere between the past and a very different future. Traditional farming practices still seem to be the main way of life, but community based tourism is growing and the younger generation in particular are learning English at school and from foreign visitors. Indeed, one eleven year old boy who spoke remarkably good English convinced us to stay at his family’s homestay rather than look for a camp spot. As the area becomes more popular, it will be interesting to see how it develops in the years to come.

One of the most remote, least populated parts of Tajikistan that we visited. A detour from the main Pamir Highway route, these are places that few travellers visit. In the three to four days we spent here, we met only three cyclists and a handful of locals. At over 4000 metres, the air is dry, cold and thin, but the views are fantastic. Close to Zorkul and other lakes, birds flit merrily from here to there, furry red marmots scamper about, and yaks munch on golden grass.

 At Jarty Gumbez, a guesthouse, hunting lodge and small collection of homes form a cluster of buildings either side of the Istyk River. Hot springs bubble to the surface and are used for heating and bathing. The area is known for Marco Polo sheep – hence the hunting lodge – but it was easier to spot remains on the ground than the few animals we saw bounding into the distance. Iron Age Saka kurgan (burial grounds) give the place another point of interest while walking the surrounding landscape, where goats roam and more little marmots bolt for their holes.

From Jarty Gumbez to Murghab the ‘road’ travels through a veritable moonscape: rock, dust and gravel painted in pastel hues. Rusty and abandoned, the old Shor-bulak observatory is an impressive sight on the way. When we arrived back on the M41, it was a little like stepping out of a dream.

Murghab is the biggest town in far eastern Tajikistan, and at 3650 m, it’s the highest too. It is also the administrative and economic centre of the Eastern Pamirs, but with a population of only 4000 people, it’s not exactly a bustling metropolis. Originally a Russian military outpost, the modern town was developed during Soviet times as a rest stop on the Pamir Highway.

These days, it continues to be just that. Many people talk of Murghab as a place to whizz through, but we took the opposite view. Wandering among whitewashed buildings was a pleasure as we observed the town’s daily life: people pumping water from the well, kids on their bikes, men and women performing a multitude of odd jobs – we even ran into a loose cow, ambling aimlessly down an alleyway. In the short time we spent here, both of us suffered from a nasty stomach bug, yet it failed to dampen our deep appreciation of the place.

The Eastern Pamirs cover a larger area than the Western Pamirs but only contain a fraction of the population. The people living here are mainly Kyrgyz herders and the culture and way of life is distinctly different from that in the west. The semi-arid high plateau landscape is broken up by a variety of mountain ranges topped by sharp serrated peaks, with high altitude lakes a notable feature. The air is cold and thin, particularly where the Pamir Highway travels over its highest point, the Ak-Baital Pass at 4655 m.

Outside of Murghab, the villages are small, feeling like distant outposts in an inhospitable and unforgiving land. That of Karakul, on the shores of its namesake, is reminiscent of Murghab with its whitewashed walls and light blue painted windows and doors. The village of Rangkul, close to a lake of the same name, is a lonely and windblown frontier settlement in spitting distance of the Chinese border.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Tajikistan photos and that it’s been a good introduction to the country. If you’re thinking of heading there yourself, check out our Tajikistan page for guides, videos and other posts. Have you been to Tajikistan? Do these pictures make you want to go? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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A house front in the village of Karakul in Tajikistan, shining in the early morning sun.

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Casey
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These photos are stunning! I especially love the trekking ones, it looks like an amazing place to hike. Tajikistan was never really on my travel radar, but it is now 🙂

Fran
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Fran

Beautiful photos, thankyou

Images Of Tajikistan
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