Travelling around southern Tajikistan is quite easy, aside from a few rough 4×4 roads and river crossings to reach isolated nature areas.
Note: this page offers descriptions of your transportation options. For exact directions, price estimates and maps, visit our ‘Directions’ page. [Under construction]
Types of transportation in southern Tajikistan
Buses: Asian Express has regular departures from its Dushanbe terminal to most cities and towns in the south. They are slower than cars, but far safer. The buses are new and generally pleasant.
Private cars: If you are a foreigner or a local who owns a car in Tajikistan, you probably don’t need our advice. Except this: you need 4-wheel drive for some of the locations listed on the website. Each location description will list what sort of difficulty is involved.
Hired driver: If you are travelling with a driver, just keep in mind to negotiate every single possible term ahead of time if there is not a clearly stated standard charge (e.g., “We would like to stop numerous times for photos,” “We want to stay for approximately two hours in location X,” “Petrol is or isn’t included in this price,” etc.). Drivers in Tajikistan, if hired from the street, can occasionally be eccentric, unreliable or ignorant of roads outside their regular routes (so you may have to navigate). However, most hotels, hostels and tour companies should have a list of reliable and safe drivers with clear terms.
Shared taxis: Shared taxis travel on exact routes, and drivers repeat the trip throughout the day, just like a bus. They are cheap (example: 10 to 15 Somoni to get 100km from Dushanbe to Qurghonteppa) and they are quick once on the road. The drawbacks:
(1) they can be crowded, as they all fit three people in the back seat – OK in a Mercedes, not so comfortable in an Opel Astra,
(2) they don’t leave until they find 4 people, so you may wait for a long time until the driver finds a full load of passengers, but you can offer to pay for an empty seat (this also helps with the crowding problem),
(3) fast and dangerous drivers are everywhere, but the shared taxi guys are some of the worst (pick the older drivers, as they are generally safer and slower), and
(4) these drivers do not stop for anything (photographs, a break, buying drinks, etc.).
Marshrutkas: These mini-vans go everywhere (slowly), and are good options in the city or for short trips in good weather (at a very low price). But the extremely cramped and crowded mini-vans are very uncomfortable in hot weather. The large, newer Mercedes vans are nicer, but the Chinese tangems are extremely cramped and the Hyundai Starex vans are not much better.
Kamaz and Gaz-66 Trucks: Monster trucks for the most difficult locations, usually fording angry rivers. Sometimes it’s a Kamaz, sometimes a Gaz-66, and always a bumpy ride – but lots of fun if you are into that sort of thing:
Bicycles: avoid the south during the height of summer, it is far too hot to be cycling up a hill. Spring and fall are quite pleasant, aside from dealing with dangerous drivers. Few locals use bicycles, but you will see more in the south than in Dushanbe.
Motorcycles: the roads in the south can be perfect and then suddenly…. a hole in the road. But you should be used to this by the time you reach Tajikistan.
Train: there are no railways connecting Dushanbe to the south. The section between Vahdat and Yovon is under construction, and there will eventually be a connection. There is a railway that goes across the south, from Kulob to Qurghonteppa and then westward along the Afghan border and into Uzbekistan (note: Uzbekistan has closed this route in the past). However, I only know of one group of foreigners who attempted to buy tickets. They were rejected by a very confused railway ticket office, who eventually decided after some debate that foreigners are prohibited from this route. Everybody taking this route is a labour migrant on their way to Russia.
Walking: If you are trying to walk between cities/towns, you will be considered a little crazy. And in some areas in the south you will be offered numerous rides. But many of these offers are from people who are trying to make money (drivers stop all the time to make money picking up passengers). Planning to walk the foothills? There are no obstacles, but there is a lack of water. Brings lots.