Remote mountain ranges and an ancient people.
Initially, Tajikistan comes as a complete surprise to visitors. While the bulk of the inhabitants of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to the north are Asian with a strong Mongolian element dating from the 13th century Golden Horde, the Taijks are Persians who look back to the 9th century Saminid period as their roots. Before independence in 1991, Soviet administrators had less success in suppressing Islamic fundamentalism in Tajikistan than was the case in the other Central Asian union republics, and the current government is on guard against extremist influences from neighboring Afghanistan. The country has the unfortunate distinction of being on a transit route for Afghan opium and travelers can expect to have their luggage carefully searched upon departure. Yet such considerations should not discourage one from visiting this country as the Tajiks are among the most helpful and welcoming people anywhere. The mighty Pamir Mountains filling the eastern half of Tajikistan are among the world’s finest mountaineering regions, experienced only by a select few. In the west, the capital Dushanbe is a pleasant city with an excellent Museum of National Antiquities and numerous nocturnal cafes with local singing and dancing. Landcruisers cross two mountain ranges in a day on their way north from Dushanbe to Tajikistan’s second city, Khojand (formerly Leninabad), where onward road connections to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are available.