However you choose to travel, Tajikistan is not a particularly easy country to reach. Land borders open and close somewhat erratically, flights are irregular at the best of times and cancelled at the first sign of of bad weather, and wherever you arrive from by train you'll require a passport full of visas and the patience of a saint. If you travel in 'stan' countries most likely you will enter Tajikistan from outside Central Asia. With a limited number of flights your most likely entry point woild be one of the overland border crossings.
Entering Tajikistan - As long as your documents are in order you shouldn’t have any major problems. Expect a certain amount of delay and chaos, even at the airport, where visa queues can take an hour. Uzbek–Tajik border crossings are hostage to the current state of political relations between the two republics (which are often poor) and sudden unannounced closure.
Air - The vast majority of visitors arrive in Tajikistan on a flight to Dushanbe and this is, on balance, the easiest way to travel. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, you will need to have a visa before boarding the plane and may be prevented from flying if you do not. It is likely that if you take a flight originating in Europe or the US you will need to get a connection in one of the regional hubs (Almaty, Istanbul or Moscow). Direct flights to Tajikistan tend to come only from the Middle East, Russia and the other CIS countries.
The most popular routes into Tajikistan are the twice-weekly flights with budget airline Air Baltic (www.airbaltic.com) via Riga and on Turkish Airlines (www.thy.com) via Istanbul, though both arrive at an ungodly hour (plenty of taxis meet the flights). Tajik Air (www.tajikair.tj) is the national airline, though most consider the new Tajik airline Somon Air (www.somonair.com) a more reliable option. Sample one-way fares include Moscow (US$320), Dubai (US$280), Tehran (US$230) and Urumqi (US$350). One-way flights to Istanbul cost US$445 with Tajik Air or US$550 with Turkish Airlines. Regional flight connections to/from Dushanbe are limited to Bishkek (US$200, four weekly) and Almaty (US$188, four weekly). Ariana has a weekly flight to Kabul (US$160). There are no flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent; most people fly to Khojand (US$65) and then travel overland to the Uzbek capital (five hours). From Khojand there are weekly flights to Moscow.
Tajik Air pretends to operate domestic flights from Dushanbe throughout the country, but in reality this is limited to Khorog (US$80) and Khojand (US$65). Flights out of Khorog are notoriously unreliable so if you are headed to Dushanbe to catch an international flight, budget an extra day or two in the capital and be prepared for a possible 16-hour overnight drive.
The arrivals procedure is relatively straightforward. When you enter the terminal building collect an immigration form (a long, thin slip usually covered in advertising for the Beeline mobile phone network), fill it in and then wait in the immigration queue. Everything will get stamped, and part of the slip will be returned to you. Don't lose it as you'll be expected to hand it over when you leave. The baggage hall is the usual scrum, and there is a bottleneck near the exit as you have to have your baggage sticker checked and then pass everything through the X-ray machine.
Train - There is a certain romance attached to train travel, and if you have the time to sit and watch the world pass by at a leisurely pace (very leisurely in the case of the old Soviet rail network), it is still a viable way to reach Tajikistan. Regardless of where the train originates, you will need to ensure you have a valid transit visa for every country en route, as well as a visa for Tajikistan.
Ticket classes are categorised in the Russian style. First-class or deluxe accommodation (spets vagon) buys you an upholstered seat in a two-berth cabin. The seat turns into a bed at night. Second class (kupe) is slightly less plush, and there are four passengers to a compartment. Third class (platskartny) has open bunks (ie: not in a compartment) and, if you are really on a very tight budget indeed, a fourth-class ticket (obshchiy) gets you an unreserved and very hard seat. Bring plenty of food for the journey, and keep an eye on your luggage, particularly at night, as theft is sadly commonplace.
There are three main train routes to Tajikistan. There are three trains a week in each direction between Moscow and Dushanbe, a weekly service between Moscow and Khujand, and a twice-weekly service between Samara (Saratov) and Khujand. All these services pass through Tashkent; the Dushanbe train also passes through Samarkand. Tickets to Moscow (second class) start from just over US$200 and the trip takes four days.
The train timetable for the whole Russian rail network (including central Asia) is online at www.poezda.net. The Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com/silkroute.htm) also has detailed information, including personal observations, about train travel in the former USSR.
If you are coming to Tajikistan from China, it would theoretically be possible to take the new train line from Uriimqi to Almaty, change for Tashkent and then continue on to Dushanbe or Khujand. We have not, however, taken this route or met anyone who has, so if you do manage to ride it successfully we'd love to hear from you.
Land - As is the case throughout Central Asia, there is almost no cross-border bus transport between Tajikistan and its neighbours, so you have to take a combination of minibuses and taxis to get to and from the borders. Still, land border might be the most preferred way to enter Tajikistan, not because customs and immigration make it a particularly easy or pleasant experience, but because of the freedom having your own transport gives you once you finally make it inside. However, border crossings open and close regularly, often with little warning, and some crossing are open only to locals and not to foreigners. Keep your ear to the ground and, if in doubt, contact a tour operator or Tajik consulate before confirming your travel plans.
Bus, Minibus & Shared Taxi - The bus/minibus network is limited to towns around Dushanbe, southern Tajikistan and villages around Khorog. Outside these areas you’ll find shared taxis making the mountain run from Dushanbe to Penjikent and Khojand, as well as shared 4WDs and minibuses heading east to Khorog. Beyond this, you’ll need a combination of hitching, vehicle hire and luck. Taxis are available in Khojand and Dushanbe for both local and long-distance runs and are the best option if you can afford them.