Getting to Know Tajikistan, or Traveling on the “Roof of the World”

Kurbonidin Alamshoev, journalist, historian, member of the Board of Directors of the Pamir Ecological and Cultural Association, and director of the Kuhoi Pomir NGO, told us about Tajikistan’s ethnic and cultural landmark, the Pamirs, and why it is worth a visit.
Natalya Zainullina

Kurbonidin Alamshoev:

Kurbonidin Alamshoev:

“I, myself, am from the Pamirs. And throughout my life I have never stopped admiring this amazing place. The Pamirs are beautiful – they call them ‘the roof of the world,’ ‘the foot of the sun,’ or mountain Badakhshan. And never have I met a person who was on top of a mountain or walked at the foot of cliffs or by the shore of a crystal lake, and wasn’t enthralled by the stunning view that opened up to him.”

Cultural Treasures

The Pamirs have for years been a place of pilgrimage for travelers, athletes, and researchers. Besides the astonishing views that visitors can enjoy here, they can also learn a great deal about the history, ethnography, and the everyday life of the mountain communities that live here.

For example, it is worth taking a trip to a kind of special local house – the chid (or chud). A quite ordinary one-story building made of clay, stone, and wood (poplar or apricot), with a flat roof. But it is more than just a house, it is a temple filled with spiritual traditions and mysteries. The interior decorations of Pamiri homes have their own symbolism. In these homes, nothing is accidental. The first thing you see as you enter the house is a large room with five pillars running from floor to ceiling. This refers to the mountain world where the prophets and saints that are mediators between God and men live. The pillars symbolize five Muslim saints and before Islam they were named after Zoroastrian deities. Chids help locals continue with their collective life skills, pass on the material and spiritual culture of their ancestors to new generations, and preserve their identity and the ancient Pamiri languages and customs. All rituals, from childbirth to funerals, take place in these traditional houses. The Pamiris lived in enclosed highland valleys, squeezed in between the Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges. This is what has helped them maintain their culture and way of life.

The Pamirs are also famous for their jurabs – these are long socks knitted from pure natural wool by local artisans. The patterns, colors (only natural dyes are used to color the wool) and symbols reflect the ancient history of the Pamiris.


Tajikistan’s Pamir National Park is an amazing corner of our planet. With its snow-capped mountains, rugged peaks, quiet lakes with crystal clear water, wide valleys, and waterless deserts, it is a stunning place to visit and a source of joy and inspiration for anyone. The Mountains of the Pamirs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sky is clear 250 days a year in the Pamirs, making it convenient for travelers to plan a trip all year round. Since Soviet times, the Pamirs have been a popular destination for mountain climbers and hang-gliders. With summer temperatures ranging from 25 to 38 Celsius, this time of the year brings a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables such as the sweet and high-calorie mulberry from the Yazgulam valley, the soft and nourishing nuts from the Vanj valley, the delicious and unforgettable apples from the Porshinev jamoat, the fragrant tomatoes grown in Darmorakht, the big apricots from Sokhcharv, and the ground mixture of mulberry and walnuts, or pikht, from the Rushon district. All of these are available in small stores or at the market. In the past, the Great Silk Road passed through these mountains, and trade here is lively even today.

Kurbonidin Alamshoev:

“The Pamiris live in remote places, and everything about them has always fascinated me... And so I began to write about the history, ethnography, and culture of our people. For example, I wondered how it is possible that eight languages are spoken in the Pamirs. Our native languages are Shughni, Rushani, Wakhi, Ishkashimi, Yazgulami, and Oroshori, all of which are ancient Persian languages. The Tajik language spoken in the country today is considered new and is a logical extension of these languages. Today I work on a variety of ethnographic projects and created the organization “Pamir Mountains,” which has been accredited by UNESCO as an NGO for intangible cultural heritage. My role is to provide information about the Pamirs and promote ecotourism in the region.

“The course under the UNESCO and EU partnership project Silk Roads Heritage Corridors in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran: International Dimension of the European Year of Cultural Heritage was very exciting and versatile. It included informative lectures and recommended literature and I learned a lot about the specifics of guide work. I also met interesting people from different countries. It was a fascinating experience. After the course I came up with the idea for a new project that will help people learn a lot about my home country.”

Must-See Places

The Pamiris say: “To be here and not see Murghob is like not seeing the Pamirs at all.” When we say the “roof of the world,” our first thought is Murghob in the Eastern Pamirs. A trip to Murghob is truly extreme, not only because of the severe climatic conditions (with average annual temperatures minus 5–7 Celsius), but also because of constant power outages, transport issues, poor quality of roads and communication, and the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. But it is worth coming here despite all the difficulties. Murghob is home to many historical sites such as ancient caves with wall paintings. Many tourists come here every year to admire the rare Apollo butterflies. It is impossible to imagine Murghob without kutas, a wooly mountain cow. This animal is indispensable in the highlands―the Pamiris use it as a pack animal and weave carpets and palas rugs from its wool, the cows also give the fattest milk and meat that is unlike any other meat.

Visit the international cultural and tourism festival “Pamirs – the Roof of the World,” which aims to present the cultural diversity of the region, the nation, and the world at large and strengthen mutual understanding through the art of promoting peaceful coexistence and universal values.
The next destination is Ishkashim, the valley of mineral waters, ancient languages, and old fortresses. Three languages are spoken here―Porsi (Tajik), Wakhi, and Ishkashimi. The region is also known for a fairly large number of Buddhist and Zoroastrian temples. In Tajik Ishkashim it is worth visiting the ancient fortresses of Kakh-Kakha, which was built in the 4th century BC, and Yamchun, dating back to the 3rd century BC. Not far from the fortress there is the hot spring of Bibi Fotimai Zakhro. Ishkashim artisans are famous for embroidery and knitting and you can buy souvenirs made of eco-friendly materials.
Remember the simple rules that will help you travel in the Pamirs:
Negotiate all fees and payments in advance.
Take pictures of local people with their consent only.
Bread is sacred for mountain communities because they work very hard to have it. So the Pamiris don’t like to see it thrown away.
Never step over the dastarkhan table or blow your nose during meals.
Smoking and drinking alcohol are forbidden in public places.
The Pamiris do not like when visitors pay excessive attention to local women. Vulgar jokes are unacceptable and can provoke conflicts.
Exporting precious stones from Tajikistan is strictly forbidden and punishable by law.

Tajikistan’s Cultural and Natural Sites on UNESCO World Heritage List

Sarazm, which means “where the land begins,” is one of the oldest settlements in Central Asia situated between a mountainous region and a large valley. Sarazm has also preserved evidence of trade and cultural exchanges between people over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan to the Iranian highlands, the Indus valley, and as far as the Indian Ocean. Archeological excavations are currently underway on the site.

The Mountains of the Pamirs National Park covers over 2.5 million hectares in the east of Tajikistan, at the center of the so-called “Pamir Knot,” a meeting point of the highest mountain ranges on the Eurasian continent. The park has 170 rivers, more than 400 lakes, and at least 1,085 glaciers, including the longest mountain valley glacier outside the Polar region. This natural site is also home to rich flora species typical of the south-western and central Asian floristic region as well as nationally rare and threatened birds and mammals such as Marco Polo Argali sheep, snow leopards, and Siberian ibex. Subject to frequent strong earthquakes, the park is sparsely inhabited and offers a unique opportunity for the study of plate tectonics and subduction phenomena.

Illustrated by Roman Zakharov
This material was prepared within the framework of the project "Silk Roads Heritage Corridors in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran - International Dimension of the European Year of Cultural Heritage", implemented by UNESCO with financial support from the European Union

The content is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union


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