While Tajikistan is famous for its mountainous terrain, it’s also brimming with history so valuable to the world’s understanding of ancient civilizations that it’s gained the recognition and support of UNESCO. Cities like Sarazm, known to have been founded by 3500BC, and Khujand, an ancient Silk Road city with over 2,400 years of history, still bear witness to our ancestors who settled this region. Even Tajikistan’s natural wonders pay homage to these bygone eras –Iskanderkul Lake, aka Lake of Alexander the Great, was said to be visited by this world conqueror during his travels.
After breakfast, your guide and driver will meet you at hotel reception for your private Dushanbe city tour, beginning with a drive to the sites at Hissar Historical and Cultural Reserve (30km, 50min/25km, 45min):
- Hissar Fortress (15th century), where the impressive gates of a castle, once the home of a Bukharin emir, still amaze with their stateliness
- Kukhna Madrasah (17th century), a spacious religious school that functioned until the early 20th century, it now contains a small history museum
- Khistin Caravanserai (19th century), an unusual caravanserai constructed of burnt brick The site also includes a mosque and an additional madrasah.
Drive back to Dushanbe to continue your tour:
- Excursion to the National Museum of Tajikistan, housed in an artsy 4-storey building and holding more than 40,000 expositions on Tajikistan’s history, nature and art, including a 12-meter statue of Buddha discovered on Tajikistan territory
- Continue your tour with Haji Yaqub Mosque (19th century), Dushanbe’s landmark mosque that can hold up to 3,000 people
- Rudaki Park, a beautifully manicured park filled with fountains, flowers and finely manicured foliage, with a tasteful monument of Rudaki in the center
- Gurminj Musical Instruments Museum, dedicated to celebrating and preserving the musical heritage of the Tajiks and Pamiris through a collection of national instruments, music lessons and periodic concerts
- Ayni Opera and Ballet Theatre (1940s), whose gorgeous outer décor is accentuated by the pristine lawns that surround it
- Statue of Ismail Somoni, a classy tribute to the founder of the Tajik people towering 25 meters high in the city center
- Mehrgon Market, one of Dushanbe’s newest attractions, this large indoor bazaar is housed in an ornately designed and decorated atrium.
Tour duration: approximately 5 hours. Overnight in Dushanbe.
Depart Dushanbe in the morning and drive to Khujand (300km, 5hrs) via Istaravshan. The route will take you through the Anzob Pass, which runs 3400m above sea level, and through a mountain tunnel that stretches for 5 kilometers. Arrive in Istaravshan and have lunch at a teahouse before beginning your city tour of Istaravshan’s most popular sites:
- Istaravshan Bazaar - housed chiefly in a 3-story building, it’s impressively large and authentic.
- Hazrat Shah Architectural Complex (18th-19th centuries) - includes Hazrat Shah Mausoleum, Khudayar Valami Mausoleum and Namazgah Mosque. Admire the brightly painted ceiling and learn about the family of Hazrat Shah, whose brother Kusaim ibn Abbas is buried in Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand.
- Mug Teppe - this renovated fortress perched atop a hill marks the location of one of the oldest habitations in Istaravshan and provides a great overlook of the city.
Continue driving to Khujand. Upon arrival, you’ll check in to your hotel and have free time in the evening. Overnight in Khujand.
In the morning, begin your city tour of Khujand, one of the oldest cities in all of Central Asia. The tour includes:
- Khujand Fortress first built in the 5th century BC, rebuilt in the Middle Ages and again reconstructed in recent times, the Khujand Fortress was once one of the most impenetrable castles in Central Asia.
- Historical Museum of Sughd housed in the Khujand Fortress, this museum brings the region’s history to life with moving depictions of Alexander the Great’s conquests and unusual artefacts preserved from the territory of historical Sughd.
- Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin Khujandi (12th century). This impressive two-story mausoleum commemorating Sheikh Muslihiddin, a 12th century ruler and poet, is situated in a memorial complex that includes a mosque, towering 20-meter minaret and an assortment of lesser mausoleums.
- Payshanba Bazaar (Thursday Bazaar). Walk about this bright and colorful oriental market, rumored to be the best in Tajikistan, where you can sample fresh fruits and mingle with shoppers from Khujand and the surrounding villages.
- Somoni Park. A welcoming stretch of land and popular gathering place for local residents, Somoni Park displays a prominent statue of Ismoil Somoni plus fountains and bright mosaics that depict the city’s history.
Tour Duration: 4-5 hours.
Drive to the ancient city Penjikent (260km, 4hrs). Overnight in Penjikent hotel.
In the morning your driver and guide will pick you up from your Penjikent hotel to start your day tour of Penjikent and Sarazm in Sughd Province. Your tour will include:
- Republican Museum of History (Rudaki Museum), which has eight exhibition halls on archaeology, nature, history, culture, lifestyle, Tajik customs and the life of Rudaki, the founder of Tajik-Persian classical literature
- Central Mosque and Olim Dodkhoh Madrasah (17th century, renovations in last two centuries) originally from the Middle Ages and rebuilt in recent times, it now serves as the city’s main mosque and a popular gathering place for locals
- Penjikent Bazaar – a bustling bazaar at the junction of the city’s main roads, complete with all the standard goods and Tajik souvenirs
- Ancient Penjikent (5th century BC), a labyrinth of walls and passages decorated with amazing murals, the site includes foundations of houses, Zoroastrian fire temples, a cemetery and reconstructed living spaces
Continue you tour and drive to the settlement of Sarazm (15km, 15min), a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010, this archaeological site bears testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia. The sprawling ancient city is divided into three sections and still holds intact structures of palaces, temples, altars, homes, city walls and paved roads.
Tour duration: approximately 4 hours.
Drive to Iskanderkul Lake (160km, 3hrs). Check in to the guesthouse upon arrival. Overnight at Iskanderkul Lake.