The capital, Dushanbe, is home to about one in ten of the country's inhabitants. Tree-lined avenues of pale buildings stand against a backdrop of mountains. The city, previously just a village, was made into the capital and built up during the Soviet period. There are several interesting museums. At the Museum of Ethnography, Tajik pottery, carpets, jewelry, and musical instruments are on display.
In the city center you will find the Barakat Market. Just about anything is on sale, reflecting the extreme poverty brought about by the Soviet collapse and the civil war. Many people are trying to sell their old clothes or any other old odds and ends that they can find.
Most of the country is mountainous. Eastern Tajikistan is completely covered by the Pamir range. A few thousand people farm in the mountain valleys, while another few thousand nomads pasture their sheep and goats on the high plateau. There are several other mountain ranges in Western Tajikistan.
Travel from one part of the country to another is always difficult and at times impossible. Roads, where they exist, are poorly surfaced, often no more than rutted tracks of frozen mud precariously perched on narrow mountain ledges. Landslides and avalanches are a constant danger. The high mountain passes are open only for a few months in the summer. At other times you have to take roundabout routes passing through neighboring countries. Towns in the mountain areas are small, few and far between. In the Pamirs there is only one town, Khorog, with a population barely exceeding 20,000.
Tajikistan faces power shortages every winter, despite having a greater hydroelectric capacity than any other country in Central Asia. Half of its electric output is reportedly used to power one factory, the Tajikistan Aluminum Plant (TALCO).
Disputes over energy and water usage complicate Tajikistan-Uzbekistan relations.
Rahmonov becomes Rahmon
In 2007 Tajik President Rahmonov dropped the Slavic-style “-ov” suffix from his name, and called on all Tajiks to do the same. How this break with Tajikistan’s Russian and Soviet past will impact on ordinary Tajiks remains to be seen. A majority of Tajiks live below the poverty line, and this cultural issue may not be important for most. More significant changes may be in store for the future. It is possible the official Cyrillic alphabet will be changed to a Latin script. Efforts may be made to develop stronger cultural or other links with neighboring countries with which it shares an essentially common language – Afghanistan and Iran. Time will tell.
Lowland Tajikistan is divided in two by the Fan Mountains. To their south lie the Dushanbe region and the southern province of Khotlon. To their north is Leninobod Province, a salient sticking out into the fertile Fergana Valley. Here is Khujand, the country's second largest city.
Unlike Dushanbe, Khujand is a very ancient city, founded by Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago, and has an old mosque, medrassa (religious college), and mausoleum. The goods in the bazaar suggest that Khujand is much more prosperous than Dushanbe. That is partly because it largely escaped the ravages of the civil war, although even before the civil war it was more prosperous.
Despite the poverty of most of its people, Tajikistan has significant natural resources. In addition to hydroelectric power, there are rich deposits of uranium, zinc, lead, and other minerals and metal ores. But the economy is in ruins. Everything is in short supply, and in many places trade is by barter rather than cash.
Older Tajik men wear long quilted jackets and embroidered caps. Women of all ages favor multicolored long dresses with striped trousers underneath and head scarves to match.
Most Tajiks can afford to eat only vegetable dishes, such as soup made from beans, milk, and herbs, flat bread, chickpea porridge, tuhum barak (egg-filled ravioli coated with sesame seed oil), and chakka (curd mixed with herbs). When meat—usually lamb—is available, it's often made into tushbera (steamed dumplings), served plain or with vinegar or butter. A popular drink is sher chay—tea with goat's milk, salt, and butter.