Once part of the ancient Persian and Arab Empires, Tajikistan spent most of the past 200 years as part of the Russian Empire, and then of the Soviet Union, before emerging as an independent state when the USSR collapsed in 1991. After independence, Tajikistan experienced a five-year civil war as the Communist-dominated government struggled to combat an insurgency by Islamic and democratic opposition forces.
In the two decades since it became its own state, Tajikistan has struggled with underdevelopment and instability . The country remains strongly dependent on Russia, both for its economy and to help counter security problems. Tajikistan is also expanding its ties with China: Beijing has extended credits and has helped to build roads, tunnels and power infrastructure. Chinese firms are investing in oil/gas exploration and in gold mining.
Dushanbe is the largest city as well as the cultural, political and economic heart of the country. Prior to the arrival of the Soviets, it was a small village at the foot of the nearby mountains that hosted a bazaar on Mondays (Dushanbe means "Monday" in Tajiki Persian). As such, there are few historical monuments present. That said, the parks, tree-lined Rudaki Avenue, as well as modern and Soviet architecture make it an engaging place to visit. It's a very green city, with many alleyways to duck into, and a lot of fun is to be had shopping in Dushanbe's numerous bazaars, reflecting the strong Persian influences in the city's past.
Hisor is a town about 20 kilometres west of Dushanbe. Surrounded by high mountains, it was once an independent Khanate. Located on the outskirts is the remains of an 18th century fortress. It was the summer residence of the Emirs of Bukhara when Dushanbe was nothing more than a market place for local farmers. It was the Soviets, who destroyed Hisor and made Dushanbe the new capital. The fortress is nicely restored, and the entrance gate gives an impression on how grand the fortress once was. If you go on the weekends, you will see many wedding parties coming for photoshoots.
Situated in the Fergana Valley, Khujand is the second-largest city in Tajikistan. It is another ancient city, whose history dates back to the time of Cyrus and Alexander the Great. Khujand is still thriving, and today it has Tajikistan's biggest market, Panjshanbe Bazaar and the adjacent Maslihaddin Mosque.
Flight over the mountains
Ninety-three percent of Tajikistan's territory is mountainous, and the mountain glaciers are the source of its rivers. The most famous mountain chain are the towering Pamir Mountains. Around half of its land lies at 3000 meters above sea level or more. I flew in and out with Tajikistan's national airlines, which was one the best ways to enjoy the stunning mountain views. By the way, when flying with Tajik Air or Somon Air, expect your flight departure to be delayed by at least 2 hours.