Trans Eurasia travel

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Most of western Tajikistan has a continental climate that varies dramatically according to elevation. It has hot summers and cold winters. In the mountains, summers are warm, but winters are very severe, with heavy snow falls. For 300 days in the year there are clear blue skies. In the Ferghana valley in the north and the plains of the south, summers are very hot, temperatures rising to 40 degrees plus. It is the wettest of the central Asian republics, but again rain and snowfall depend on location, from the relatively dry valleys of Kafiristan and Vakhsh (500mm a year), to the Fedchenko Glacier, which receives in excess of 2,200mm of annual snowfall.

Temperatures in Tajikistan's lowlands range on average from -1°C in January to as much as 30°C in July. The climate is arid, and artificial irrigation is required for agriculture. In the eastern Pamirs it is far colder: winter temperatures frequently fall to 20° below freezing, and the average temperature in July is just 5°C.

Be aware that the country is subject to occasional earth tremors that can induce rockfalls, and mountain roads can be blocked by avalanches, especially in spring. Always allow extra time when planning journeys.

The best times to visit:

Northern, central and southern Tajikistan sizzle in summer (June to September), with temperatures over 40°C. Unfortunately this is the best time to visit the mountains. Spring (March to May) brings mild temperatures but frequent heavy showers. April is the best time to visit southern Tajikistan in bloom. In winter (November to February) temperatures in Dushanbe hover near freezing, while temperatures in the Pamirs plummet to between -20°C and -45°C.

March, April, September and October are probably the best times to visit. The best time of year for trekking is mid-June to early October, with September perhaps the optimum month. The Pamir region is best visited from July to late September, though the Pamir Hwy technically remains open year-round. During early summer (June and July), meltwater can make river crossings dangerous in mountainous areas.

A good idea is to arrange a visit in the spring as well. The country awakes at Navruz (20-22nd March). The weather becomes pleasantly warm, flowers bloom and local people celebrate the festival throughout the country with traditions dating back to Zoroastrian times. This is the time to see buzkashi - the crazy competition of horsemen struggling to grab a dead goat. Walks and treks are possible virtually everywhere, apart from those at high level.

When to visit

Tajikistan explodes into life in the spring. As the snows subside and the higher parts of the country once again become accessible, the lower mountain slopes and pastures are a riot of colour, and Tajiks celebrate Navruz, the Persian New Year, with I casting, dancing and adrenalin-charged games of buz kashi.

In the summer months, when temperatures in Dushanbe and the lowlands soar to uncomfortable levels, the Pamirs come into their own: they are unreachable at other times of the year. Glacial meltwaters have slowed, the rivers are no longer in spate and, though an occasional blizzard may still catch you unawares, you can join the shepherds as they drive their flocks up into the mountains to grow fat on the grasses of high pastures.

Tajikistan marks its Independence Day on 9 September, and the crops in the Fergana Valley and other agricultural areas are harvested. As the autumn progresses the emerald green trees that form ribbons through the bottom of each l iver valley turn almost overnight to a fiery red and orange. There's a bite to the air come nightfall, but bright sunshine still warms up the day.

The winter is hard in Tajikistan, with many communities cut off and, if the harvest has been poor, dangerously short of food. For those with money, however, the snowfall marks the start of the ski season, and the Takob ski resort becomes busy with day trippers from Dushanbe.