Saturday, September 27, 2008

How to get to Tajikistan: Visa, Flights, Currency

It can be challenging at times to arrange your travel to Tajikistan so I write this in the hopes that people out there will find it easier to get to this wonderful, and at times difficult, country.

IMPORTANT: Patience is key :)

VISAS:
You do not need an invitation letter.
The easiest/quickest place to get a visa for Tajikistan, in my experience, is in Dubai, at the newly opened Consulate General of the Republic of Tajikistan. The Consulate is so new that none of the hotel concierge's know about it.

Consulate General of the Republic of Tajikistan (Dubai/UAE)
Dubai, Al-Safa-2, Plot 357
Street 4C, Villa Number 5
Email: dubaitajcons@gmail.com
Telephone: +971 4 394 5810
(click on map for large image):

The Consulate was able to give me a visa within a day. If you have a Western passport, I am sure it will be fine but please check the rules. You should ask for at least a 1-month visa. In Washington DC, minimum is 2 weeks I believe, but still, get a 1-month. (I originally got 2 wks, then plans moved slightly and my departure date was after my visa was set to expire).

Please note, if you are going to different parts of Tajikistan, you need additional visas. Make sure you tell the Consulate where you are going so they can advise you as best as possible. For example, going to Khorog and Gorno-Badakhshan requires a separate visa called a GBAO visa. The consulate in Dubai was NOT able to give me a GBAO visa and said I needed to get it in Dushanbe. The Tajikistan embassy in DC was able to give me a GBAO visa.

Naturally, additional visas have additional costs.


FLIGHTS TO TAJIKISTAN
There are 2 flights from the UAE to Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan).
One flight leaves from Sharjah and the other from Dubai. (Sharjah and Dubai are a short car ride from each other, prob 30 mins apart when there is no traffic).

TAJIK AIR: Sharjah to Dushanbe, flies once a week (Thurs early early morning)
Just call Mr Mohammedi +971 506 45 85 88 / +971 422 33 500
He runs a travel agency that deals with the Tajik Airlines flights for the UAE

SOMON AIR: Dubai to Dushanbe, flies once a week (Tuesdays)
www.somonair.com
Details from their website:
Somon Air
Republic of Tajikistan
734003 Dushanbe 100,
Rudaki Prospect
Tel: +992 44 640 40 40
Tel/fax: +992 44 640 12 34
E-mail: info@somonair.com
R. Khalikov
General Manager


Turkish Airlines also runs a twice a week service from Istanbul to Dushanbe: http://www.thy.com

I only flew on Tajik Air, aptly nicknamed Tragic Air, and so I cannot comment on the other airlines. Everything was fine on my flight there and back; there were no issues (I feel like I have to state this up front!) But when you come from the West (and most of the rest of the world for that matter) where you are told - no mandated - to wear your seatbelt, put up your food tray, turn off your mobile phone, and stop playing music on your iPod all during takeoff and landing, sitting on a Tajik Air flight is very different, and could be scary. Rules are lax. The flight to Dushanbe was a free-for-all where everyone rushed to get on the plane. Seats were not assigned on the way there, luggage was all over the place: in front of the seat, in the aisle, in the emergency exit. Quite frankly, would the emergency exit even work if it needed to be used? (the planes are "not as young as they used to be".) And here is the kicker that could speak volumes: apparently the airline's safety record is so bad that it is forbidden to fly into UK airspace. Ok, now that I told you the less-flattering details: Go. It is an amazing experience. Not once during the flight did anything happen that you would question the pilot's experience. The plane took off (albeit slowly), flew the 3-hour journey, and landed just fine without a hitch.

GETTING TO KHOROG
There is a small flight that flies from Dushanbe to Khorog. I had nothing to do with arranging this flight so I can not offer any firsthand advice except for point A:
a) find someone local to sort it out for you
b) go to a nice hotel and ask the front desk
c) alternatively, the same airport in Dushanbe that you land at, is the one where you buy the tickets to go to Khorog. Try and ask someone to show you the purchasing and collection desk - it is in the middle of the arrival and departure areas.
d) As the plane to Khorog is small, it is limited in altitude, and thus flies through the mountain ranges in certain spots. This is why flying is weather dependent. If there is too much wind or it is cloudy, the plane will not fly. As fall and winter approaches, naturally, the plane is less likely to depart.
e) Try and sort this out as soon as possible. You may not be able to buy the ticket till the day before but then go early: very early. It is a small plane with maybe 20 seats. It also seems those with connections jump the queue.
f) If you dont get a ticket or your flight is cancelled, you can try again tomorrow or there are taxis that will do the drive from Dushanbe to Khorog. People have described the drive as "amazing", "incredible" and "breath-taking" but it is "long" (approx 15-17 hrs) and "bumpy". Again, find someone local to help you sort it out if you need to.


GUIDE BOOK:
Lonely Planet Central Asia is the only travel guide I could find that covers Tajikistan:
http://www.amazon.com/Central-Lonely-Planet-Travel-Guides/dp/1741046149/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1222530449&sr=1-1

It is useful at times such as when you have to register with the government within a few days of arriving in Tajikistan. Buy the book.


CURRENCY:
I saw bank machines in Dushanbe but not in Khorog. I suggest bringing US$ (cash, not travellers checks). It is fairly cheap to eat and get around but you can spend US$25 a person on dinner at the nicer restaurants.
There are many currency exchange shops in Dushanbe so exchanging money there is not a problem. In Khorog there are money exchange spots too.
Also at a few restaurants I tried giving them US$, which they accepted, and gave the change back in Somoni (the local currency name).

LANGUAGE BARRIER:
If you speak Tajik or Russian, you will be fine. If you don't, things can be challenging at times. Very few people speak English. At the nicer restaurants, English will be fine - just getting to the location will be tough. The Lonely Planet guide book has a map which is not bad and many things are within walking distance in Dushanbe. At the nicer hotels, English will be fine too. Remember, what I said about patience? Bring lots of this.

FOOD:
a) don't drink tap water or brush your teeth with it in Dushanbe
b) food can be dodgy at times - be wary but accept it: your stomach will do somersaults at least once. Bring the proper meds as needed.
c) bring snacks with you: cookies, chocolates, etc

EXITING TAJIKISTAN:
Passport control may try and pull a fast one over foreigners saying your visa is not proper to try and elicit a bribe from you. They will put on a great act saying you cannot leave the country and if you miss the flight, it is your problem. They may ask for $100 or something ridiculous. My suggestion is don't pay and perpetrate this behaviour.

And if you go, post your stories here!

Enjoy and safe travels.

-S

3 comments:

Markus said...

Read the Odyssey guidebook "Tajikistan and the High Pamirs" (recently published, ISBN 978-962217773) by Robert Middleton and Huw Thomas and use for your trip the maps covering whole Tajikistan from Geckomaps (http://www.geckomaps.com/d/Tadschikistan_Tajikistan_Pamir.html)
and you will enjoy your trip in Tajikistan in full!

daulat said...

when is the GJ DARBAR in tajikistan ?
any idea?

Anonymous said...

Hello. My name is Zain.
I would like to go to Dushanbe, Tajikistan next month.

Would you mind giving me some information about how many times do Tajik Air flies from Dushanbe to Sharjah, Emirates, in a week and on which day so that I could make my return schedule, and how did you do on your return?

The Tajikistan Consulate in Dubai, do they speak English, and how much for two week to a month visa? And can I buy ticket before I make the visa?

thank you very much for your post. You can reply to me directly to my e-Mail zainal2adidin@yahoo.com

regards.