The challenge with Tajikistan is not selecting what to include in an itinerary but rather what to leave out: time is always a limiting factor, particularly when the hours spent travelling from A to B can be a significant part of your trip. If your time is short, select a city and make it the hub of your journeys. If you have longer to play with, think of getting to your destination as part of the adventure, sit back and enjoy the views.
TWO DAYS Just a couple of days is sufficient time to explore the main sights of Dushanbe. Start with a stroll along Rudaki to orientate yourself, and head for the National Museum for an overview of Tajikistan's history and to see the remarkable sleeping Buddha from Ajina Teppa. The neighbouring Ethnographic Museum is also worth an hour of your time. Take lunch in the square outside the Aini Opera and Ballet Theatre, and while you're there buy a ticket for the evening's performance. Spend the afternoon in Central Park looking at the monuments to Rudaki and Ismoili Somoni, and also the dazzling new Palace of Nations. Return to the theatre to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the live orchestra, all washed down with Georgian champagne.
On the second morning, head to the north of the city for the botanical gardens. As the day progresses work your way back down Rudaki to the mosque, with an optional diversion to the house museum of Mirzo Tursunzoda. Take lunch at the attractively painted Ghaykhona Rokhat and then give your ears a treat with the sounds of traditional instruments at the Gurminj Museum. Finish up with souvenir shopping in Green Bazaar and the creaking old TSUM department store.
ONE WEEK One full week should give you ample time to get out of the city and to start exploring. Spend a day in Dushanbe, then head north to ancient Penjikent and Sarazm, taking an ethnographic tour of the valley with local company Pamir Travel while you're there. From Penjikent head to Khujand with its attractive mosque, fort and lively bazaar, then return via the tiled mosques and madrasahs of Istaravshan. Be sure to spend a night on the shores of Iskanderkul before you get back to the capital.
TWO WEEKS A fortnight will allow you to go trekking. Visit Dushanbe, ancient Penjikent and Sarazm as above, but then head for the Seven Lakes. Hire a guide and trek the five-day route through the Fann Mountains to Iskanderkul, then finish with Khujand and Istaravshan. You may also have time for a short diversion into the Yagnob Valley.
ONE MONTH With a month at your disposal, the Pamirs open up to you. As two borders into southern Kyrgyzstan are now open, you can loop around most of Tajikistan. From Dushanbe head east along the Rasht Valley into the wilderness with its wildlife and occasional forts and shrines. Leave Tajikistan at Jirgital and reenter south of Sary Tash, from where the entirety of the Pamir Highway awaits you. Cross the Pamirs at a leisurely speed, being sure to stop in Murgab, and on arrival in Khorog soak up the cosmopolitan air, the museum and botanical gardens. A loop further south will take you to Garm Chashma, the ruby mine and the northern edge of the Wakhan corridor. Follow the Amu Darya along the Tajik-Afghan border to Khation, with its ancient sites of Ajina Teppa and Takht-i Sangin and the reconstructed Hulbek fort, before meandering back to Dushanbe via the resorts on the Nurek reservoir.