17th January 2014 Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Visit Tajikistan – “That’s great. Where is Tajikistan?”

The following is a post by Professor Philip Riddle who is a tourism adviser and former head of VisitScotland.

That’s the most common response I got when I told friends and relatives I was coming here as a tourism advisor with UK charity VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). A good first lesson if your job is to promote tourism – step 1, get the place on the map, and ensure people realise it’s a country they can go to and not a kind of curry powder or martial arts form.

Figure 1 -  Looking east down the Wakhan corridor
Looking east down the Wakhan corridor

After six months, I’ve developed a bit of a reluctance to tell people where Tajikistan is though; not that it’s not a country with fantastic tourism potential.

The mountain landscapes are probably the most spectacular in the world. The people are generous and hospitable. The streets and hills are generally safe to walk in (but please read the FCO Travel Advice on safety and security in Tajikistan) and, with the exercise of some caution, there is good, fresh food and drink. Furthermore, with tremendous support from the British Ambassador and the Embassy staff, we’ve developed a complete tourism reform programme that has just gained Presidential sign-off. Given the right government backing, the doors could now be open to strong growth in tourist numbers. This will be great for the economy and essential, really, with Tajikistan being the poorest of the ex Soviet  “stans” and having limited natural resources.

Figure 2 Iskandar Kul in the Fann mountains
Iskandar Kul in the Fann mountains

So why the reluctance? This stems from knowing that economic development brings its inevitable camp followers. This is a country that is blessedly free from the western media onslaught urging you to buy and consume at every turn. There are no burger or coffee chains; there is very little advertising; you’re not defined by the branding on your clothes; people somehow manage to interact without the intermediary of electronic gadgets; there is no 24 hour, live news streaming.

Tajiks still build their lives more around people than things. They are generous and hospitable, tolerant and charming. I know it can sound a bit disingenuous, to go on about authenticity and simplicity from the security of our western creature comforts, but the costs of progress are brought home to you here.

Figure 3 Generations looking ahead
Generations looking ahead

Not all is sweetness and light of course. This ex-Soviet country still needs to address problems around sometimes stifling bureaucracy, , weak accountability and adherence to the rule of law. There are massive economic pressures. There is no oil and gas and almost 50% of GDP comes from the remittances of migrant workers in Russia. With China to the East, Russia to the north and Afghanistan and Iran to the south it is also not without threats and pressures from the outside.

In my opinion, the best we can hope for is to help Tajikistan manage the transition to being a freer, more stable and wealthier society. And to do this I hope we can communicate as much learning from our mistakes as from our achievements in the west. It would be great to have the best of both worlds, from west and east, rather than the worst of all worlds. The country deserves a break. Throughout history the Greeks, the Persians, the Arabs, the Turks, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Russians and others have rampaged across these mountains with their “we’re here to help” message… Now it’s the turn of that all conquering horde – western tourists. Please come, but help everyone you meet here to value the good in what they have as well as in what they might have. 

This is a guest blog, and the views of the author do not necessarily represent those of the British Government.

2 comments on “Visit Tajikistan – “That’s great. Where is Tajikistan?”

  1. As a scotsman who visited in 2011 I can echo the findings in the article above, and I think that with all the resorts in the varsob valley it would make a fantastic summer resort, and the fantastic mountains that it would make a great ski resort perhaps with a longer opening season than some of the european counterparts.

    Biggest problem is to get there, i found that western airlines seemd to charge a much greater premium for setting up connections to get all the way to Dushanbae from the uk, whereas relatvies in russia where able to book flights all the way for a fraction of that quoted on the likes of KLM, expedia skyscanner. I suspect this is because there is no cross agreement between some of the western airlines and the smaller baltic/soviet airlines that fly into dushanbe.

    I look forward to a future visit and hope the flights are easier 🙂

  2. Dear Professor Philip Riddle ,
    what a great , easy-to – understand guest blog. Congratulations !
    Well , Sir ,if you ǘe developed a bit of a reluctance to others – I must admit, that I did nearly the same. Sorry.
    Nevertheless : In my opinion this described mountain landscape NOT PROBABLY the most spectacular onr ‘cross the entire earth, to me it ‘s the most FANTASTIC .
    To conclude: Thanks a lot for yr. LAST LINES : So far I didn ‘t know
    of how many (at least 7 ones ) have had “Rampaged” Tajikistan.

    “All people can ‘t live in peace if yr. neighbour don ‘t want it. …Es kann kein Mensch in frieden leben wenn der Nachbar es nicht will.
    Thomas Mann , in Exil in London during WW 2. Best wishes, Ingo-Steven

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