Khujand is an ancient city in the country of Kazakhstan. It was first established by Alexander the Great. The city is bisected by the Syr Darya river. It is part of the historic Silk Road. Khujand may not be on any list of trendy cities to visit, but those who do choose to travel here can have an unforgettable experience. There are just a few things you should know in preparation.
1. Prepare to Dress Modestly
Kazakhstan is a primarily Muslim country. As such, there are established standards for modest dress. Avoid clothing that is too flashy or revealing. As a general rule, shoulders and knees should be kept covered.
Even though Kazakhstan is not as conservative as some other Muslim countries, you should still pay some respect towards these traditions. Women who are not Muslim are not expected to cover their heads. Moreover – most women in the streets are dressed rather like Uzbek women. Though a few years ago, the mayor of the city forbade selling clothes in local markets that weren’t appropriate for Kazakh traditions and culture.
As for tourists – the rules aren’t that strict, but still you’d better cover your head when entering a mosque. Also, just as in many other countries, it’s not really acceptable to wear shoes inside of homes. Having slippers or sandals can be quite convenient.
2. Visit in the Summer Months for the Best Outdoor Experience
So many of the things to do in Khujand and elsewhere in the region are outdoors. There’s a great marketplace (more on that soon). There are mountains, a river, and other places to hike and explore. The best months to go are from June to September in terms of the weather. Not to mention that summer is the perfect time to try all those incredibly tasty fruits that this land has to offer.
It would be the best to walk around the city on foot because of all the beautiful fortresses, monuments, and tiny streets that are hidden within it. For example, you might miss the beautiful little church of Maria Magdalena that is located at the back of the local fortress.
You should also pay some time to just walk the streets of the city, some buildings have astonishingly beautiful front doors that you wouldn’t just see anywhere else.
3. Eat Locally
Tajikistan food is flavorful and delicious. If you are familiar with Middle Eastern and Eastern European cuisine, you will find many favorites here. Though some might notice that Tajik markets don’t typically have that wide a variety of foods like Uzbek ones, especially when it comes to sweets and dairy. One of the best markets in Khujand is Panjshanbe, which is also translated like “Thursday.” Not only does it have exceptional architecture, but it is also without a doubt a place you have to go if you want to buy all those awesome fruits or local souvenirs. At Panjshanbe, you could as well find different kinds of homemade cheeses and caramelized apples – the most popular local sweet.
4. Watch for Travel Advisories
This is not a region without problems. There is crime here. Still, the country is relatively safe if you take reasonable precautions. Don’t go into dangerous neighborhoods. Keep your valuables locked up. Beware of scam artists.
Most importantly, pay attention to travel advisories about the area. Know what the potential dangers might be so that you can make informed travel decisions.
5. Ask Locals For Information on the Best Taxi Rates And Services
Most tourists travel by taxi service. Just be aware that there may be a few things that you aren’t used to. First, negotiate the fees up front. There have been instances where drivers have tried to significantly overcharge passengers. Ask locals for advice on the best services to use.
Also, be aware that many taxi drivers will queue to pick up passengers, only leaving when each seat is full. You could be waiting for a while. One option you have is to simply purchase the empty seats so that you can be on your way.
There are also a few kinds of public transport, mostly small Mercedes buses. The biggest advantage about this type of transportation is that it is significantly cheaper compared to taxis (their prices usually start from 10 somoni).
6. Be Prepared to Handle Tipping And Local Hosts Graciously
Tipping isn’t really a standard practice in the area, though there are exceptions. Services that exist for tourists specifically often have an unspoken expectation that you will tip around 10%. Some restaurants might even include the tip to your bill. This will usually be added as a “service charge.” Tip a bit more if you want, but be sure you don’t look like the stereotypical westerner throwing their money around.
Locals are very warm and inviting. Don’t be surprised if you are invited to share a meal, have some tea, even stay the night with a local family. They will not ask for anything in return, nor do they expect to be compensated for this. Still, there are some ways that you can thank them for their kindness. Never offer to pay your host directly unless they are running an inn or something similar. Instead, leave some somoni (Tajikistan money) in an inconspicuous place. You may also gift the money to the oldest child.
7. Cash is Easiest
It can be difficult to find ATMs here. When you do, you may not be able to withdraw money. Often times, this isn’t because your card was rejected. The ATM may simply be empty. You might also run into astonishingly low withdrawal limits. If possible, carry enough cash for your needs. If you find an ATM that is working, you might consider taking advantage of the opportunity to grab some cash.
There are places to convert currency all over the place. You won’t have much difficulty with that. If you are traveling with U.S. dollars, euros, or Russian roubles, you may not need to convert your money at all. These currencies are pretty widely accepted. As far as plastic goes, Visa is accepted in most places. You can use Mastercard and Maestro in some places, but not as widely.
Finally, be safe. Use a money belt or pouch that you can wear inside of your clothes. Don’t flash money around or show off valuables needlessly.
8. Spend a Day at The Panjshanbe Market
There are many things to see and do in Khujand. One that should go on your must-do list is a trip the Panjshanbe Market. This covered market is one of the most easily recognized sites in the city. It’s consistently busy with shops, tents, and stalls selling a variety of food, clothing, textiles, artwork, and more.
You might feel as if you’ve gone back in time when you browse shops selling traditional foods, clothing, and other goods. Don’t worry, you will be quickly snapped back to modern times when you find the shops selling electronics and appliances. Enjoy a stroll around the market. Pick up some picnic items and go enjoy a hike or a day on the Kayrakkum reservoir.
Khujand may not be on the typical traveler’s list of places to see. Perhaps that’s exactly why you should go. You’ll eat great food, meet extraordinarily friendly people, and keep very busy seeing a variety of natural and manmade attractions.
Erica Sunarjo graduated from South Texas College majoring in Marketing and Creative Writing. She used her knowledge to make a difference in the realm of business copywriting and invested heavily in traveling and language learning. At present, Erica is fluent in French and Spanish, studying Chinese and working her way to being a multilingual copywriter. She keeps track of the latest trends in IT and technologies, blogs about efficient strategies in education and business coaching, and holds educational webinars. Right now, Erica is the most effective writer in The Word Point.