A BUDGET-FRIENDLY GUIDE TO TAJIKISTAN TRAVEL

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This year, I want to travel to Central Asia in the fall. I’ve never gone to the region, and it’s a long one that has piqued my interest. It appears natural, attractive, and untouched. So I was thrilled when someone approached me about writing a guest article on a country there. It was an opportunity to learn a little before I (hopefully) go. In this guest article, traveller and writer Paul McDougal describes what it’s like to travel on a budget in Tajikistan.

Tajikistan aptly and poetically called “The Roof of the World,” is a hiker’s dream. More than 93% of the country is classified as mountainous, with more than half of it rising beyond 3,000 meters (9,800 feet)! It’s a beautiful country with glacier peaks and alpine lakes ideal for multiday walks (but equally astounding on short jaunts too).

Travelling across Tajikistan demands a spirit of adventure, as the country is riddled with bad roads, inadequate services, and a severe lack of infrastructure. But, after over a month there, I realised that it’s simple and affordable to get past these issues with a smile and a shrug.

When visiting Tajikistan, many visitors spend more money than necessary. Most do so on a guided trip, which contributes to the widely held – and incorrect – belief that visiting the country is expensive. A ten-day planned tour purchased online can range from $1,500 to USD 3,500, which works out to about $150-350 each day.

However, if you travel alone, you can easily tour this country for around USD 45 each day.

So, what do you think about Tajikistan on a budget? Here’s how it’s done:

Transportation

Instead of arranging a trip through an internet agency, you have four far less affordable options to pick from:

1. When you arrive, find a multiday driver.

Local drivers may be arranged through hostels and guesthouses, and you can negotiate your pricing, route, and trip length. Travellers often spend $50-100 per day per person for this. The stronger your negotiating abilities (and the more obstinate you are), the more likely you will acquire a driver for less than $50 per day.

Drivers are available in Murghab, Khorog, Dushanbe, and other big cities. If you’re travelling the Pamir Highway (as most people do in Tajikistan), you may also locate drivers in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city.

2. Rent a 4WD vehicle on your own.

This usually costs roughly $100 per day for the vehicle, so if you’re travelling with a group, this is an excellent option. It provides you with independence and is beneficial to your budget!

This is fairly simple to arrange upon arrival. In both Osh and Dushanbe, all hotels, hostels, and guesthouses can put you in touch with businesses that can organise 4WD rentals. If you don’t want to spend extra money, don’t do it online.

3. Public transport

Long-distance public transport does not exist in Tajikistan. However, industrious locals have filled this need at a very affordable cost. Every day, they travel certain that every single place in their car is full before travelling from one city or town to another to do their daily business.

Ask your guesthouse where “the bus terminal” is to locate these travel alternatives. They will guide you to a car-clogged location (typically near a market) where drivers will be waiting to load their vehicles. It’s not uncommon to find yourself crammed into the rear of an outdated automobile with four other people on a five-hour journey using this way. These excursions are often around $10. It’s also a terrific opportunity to immerse oneself in local culture.

The cost of the journey is determined by its length. My most expensive single trip was USD 35 for a 12-hour, 600-mile journey from Khorog to Dushanbe. And it was in a 4WD vehicle.

A short note: If you’re travelling within a city or town, there are several little minibosses (marshrutkas) that will transport you from one destination to another along predetermined routes for as little as USD 0.20. However, they will stop anywhere along those routes to pick up new passengers and drop off others. And I mean anywhere: residences, outdoor markets, crowded streets – it’s all fair game.

4. Hitchhiking

I hitchhiked for the great majority of my travels in Tajikistan. Every day, locals hitchhike in Tajikistan – it’s a legal, accepted mode of transportation here because not everyone owns a car and, as previously said, public transportation is limited.

Don’t stick out your thumb when hitchhiking in Tajikistan. Wave your stretched-out hand up and down, parallel to the ground. Depending on where you’re hitchhiking, you could have to wait a while – on certain deserted sections of the road, you might have to wait thirty minutes to see one automobile. However, if that automobile comes to a complete stop and takes you, it will do it without fail. (You may be required to pay a fee.)

I felt nothing but optimism and warmth while performing this. People were delighted to take me and introduce me to Tajik food, beverages, and music. It is fairly uncommon for folks who pick you up to give you snacks, purchase a dinner for you, or invite you to their house. I used to give money in exchange for these delicacies, but it was never accepted.

5. Bed and breakfasts

Houses with the term “guesthouse” printed on them may be found in every town or city. Go inside and make a deal. It’s the simplest and most affordable method to save money while having a better experience. You’ll be served delicious cuisine and greeted warmly.

Locals in Tajikistan will let you stay in their homes for roughly $10-15 per night. This normally includes breakfast and supper. You may bargain for a slightly higher lunch price, or you can eat elsewhere. Most guest houses provide similar greetings and meals, so it doesn’t matter which one you select.

If you’re in a car with Tajiks (through hitchhiking or other methods), they’ll often take you to a guest house they know about. And it will almost always be a good one, so don’t be too concerned about scammers.

Even if you can’t find an official guesthouse, you’ll be able to stay at a kind local’s home for a nominal fee.

6. Hotels and hostels

If you go to the appropriate areas, these may be similarly affordable. Some hotels are highly expensive, however, places like the Pamir Hotel in Murghab provide affordable accommodations starting at roughly USD 15 per night. Some smaller villages, such as Jelondy, a renowned hot springs destination for locals, also have hotel rooms for under USD 10. (In general, if a town is a popular tourist destination for Tajiks, there will be a cheap hotel.)

Hostels are a cheap choice in larger towns and cities, particularly in Dushanbe. Green House Hostel, in particular, is a terrific, affordable centre that is always full of travellers. It’s a great location to get together with others to save money on transport.

7. Go camping

Camping is your third choice for lodging. Tajikistan is particularly camper-friendly in certain areas. I’m not sure what the regulations are for wild camping, but I’d be astonished if any exist. Although I did not camp in the bush myself, I met several individuals who did, and none of them had any problems. Of course, you should adhere to the standard norms of wild camping: do not camp in the same location for more than one night, do not camp on private property without permission, and do not camp in towns. You should also look into any potential hazards in the region where you want to camp. Otherwise, you will not attract any notice because camping is often accepted in this area.

Furthermore, guesthouses and hotels will sometimes allow you to pitch your tent on their property for as little as $2 or USD 3.

It should be noted that camping may frequently be an unpleasant experience due to inclement weather. Because most of Tajikistan is at such a high height, the temperatures may be uncomfortable and even dangerous — and the terrain can be too difficult to put tent pegs into under some situations. As a result, you should use caution while deciding where to camp.

7. Food

As previously said, you will most likely eat the majority of your meals at guesthouses. These will frequently include flatbread, salad, soup, and countless cups of tea. Plov (a pilaf-style rice dish with meat and veggies) and manti are two more popular food options (steamed lamb dumplings).

Outside of guesthouses, you’ll discover a more diverse and adaptable menu, including kebabs and fried noodles.

All of these morsels are available at a modest price in neighbourhood cafeterias. The cuisine is delicious and satisfying, and it is served in large servings for less than USD 2. If you eat at a more upscale restaurant, your bill will be closer to USD 5.

Takeaway stalls in larger towns and cities frequently sell kebabs and samosas (similar to Indian samosas) for approximately USD 1, while outdoor markets are a wonderful location to get fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as specialty pickles, sweets, and other items, for extremely cheap prices.

A fast meal tip:

Take hand sanitizer and toilet paper with you! Tajikistan is a sickly country. Even though I have the strongest stomach in the world, I became sick three times. You should also wash your hands as much as possible after handling money and avoid putting them in your mouth. Also, do not drink tap water!

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