Geography and climate
Tajikistan is nesteled in the south-eastern part of Central Asia. In the West and North it borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in the south with Afghanistan, and in the East, in the most mountainous area – with China.
There are several types of climates prevelant in Tajikistan determined by the altitude of a location and character of relief formed by the mountains. The climate with very hot summer and mild winter dominates in valleys, located at the altitude of 350-500m. Long summer (more than 200 days) is typical for this climate and small number of precipitation– 150-200 mm. Climate with hot summer and cool winter is typical for foothills of Kuhistan, south – western down hills and more high elevated valleys. Mild climate is typical for mountain ranges of Central Tajikistan and Southern Pamirs at the altitude of 1,500-3,000 m. Here summers are cool, winter is cold and during autumn-winter period there is much precipitation. Cold climate reigns at the altitude of more than 3,000m. Summers are short and winters are long and frosty. High-mountain and desert climates are typical for the Eastern Pamirs. Precipitation in this area is only 600-1000 mm, mainly during the summer season. Summers in the Pamirs are dry and short while winters are severe, with little snow and long. In the high altitudes permafrost of up to 1.5 m can be found.
Tajikistan is a country dominated by high mountains and beautiful raging rivers. Almost all areas of the republic (more than 90%) is covered with mountains, which are part of mountain systems of the Pamirs, Tien Shan and Gissar-Alai with altitudes from 300 to 7,495m. In the South-Eastern part of the country, the Pamir mountain offer some of the most spectacular scenery. The lowest pass in the Pamirs is Kamaloyak at 4,340m which is a the same level as Mount Blanc – the highest peak of the European Alps. The highest peak in the Pamirs is Peak Communism, which was renamed to Ismoili Somoni, at 7,495m altitude.
In the North – Western part of Tajikistan there are further mountain ranges including the Turkestan (its Northern slopes snow-line lies at the altitude of 3,500-4,000m.), Zerafshan and Gissar. The famous and picturesque Fan Mountains, known for their striking formations and colossal height (5,495m) are located in this area. The north of the country is occupied by Ferghana kettle. It is surrounded by Kuramin range and Golodnaya steppe. Year-round snow and ice lie at the altitude of more than 4,000-5,000m. These snowcaps provide the vallies of Tajikistan and the neighboring countries with fresh water, as the glaciers and snow melt feed the rivers. The silhouette of the mountains of Tajikistan is any photographers’ dream of magic panoramic views on a bright sunny day.
Glaciers and Rivers
The scenic glaciers of Tajikistan are famous in Asia with the Fedchenko glacier being the largest with an impressive length of 77 km, and a width of 1,700 to 3,100m) .
Rapid rivers, rush at the bottom of deep gorges and canyons from their source high in the Pamiri mountains. The massive mountain rivers are a precious resource for Tajikistan and its neighbouring countries. Most of these rivers flow into the Aral Sea basin and only some of them flow into Karakul Lake or into Tarima basin (China). There are more than 900 rivers in Tajikistan, with the biggest among them being Amudarya, Sirdarya, Zarafshan, Kafarnigan, and also Vakhsh and Pyanj rivers, originating in the high mountains and being fed by the waters from ancient glaciers.
One of the biggest rivers is the Pyanj river which covers a distance of 921km, along the southern border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The Vakhsh river stretches over 525km and at the confluence of the Pyanj and the Vakhsh rivers, Amudarya forms which is the largest river of the country. Another large river is the Sirdarya, which crosses the Northern parts of Tajikistan with a length of 105 km. The fast-flowing Zerafshan River flows through the centre of the country and in the South the Kafarnigan River eventually joins the waters of the Amudarya.
There are a few noteworthy lakes in the country. They are mainly located in the mountains of Central Tajikistan and in the Pamirs. One of the biggest and most interesting lakes is Lake Karakul, located in the Eastern Pamirs at the altitude of about 3,900m. With a 52-kilometer (32 miles) diameter, this landlocked lake has no outflow and therefore is high in salt content. It covers a circular depression in the mountains of some 380 km2 which was caused by a meterorite which hit the earth some 5 million years ago. It's name 'Karakul' meaning 'deep-water lake' refers to its depth of up to 230 meters. To the British colonialists in India, this lake was known as "Lake Victoria of the Pamirs,"
Lakes Sarez and Yashikul that were formed as a result of earthquakes and landslides are surrounded by steep banks and are rich with fish. Lake Sarez is one of the deepest lakes with a depth exceeding 500m however, unfortunatley access is currently restricted and visitors are not allowed in this area.
Among the most popular lakes in the Fan Mountains in the West of the country is Lake Iskanderkul – a result of both its legendary beauty and the ease of access. A good asphalt road winds up the valley to the lake which has its name derived from Alexander the Great – in Persian called “Iskander”. He camped at Iskanderkul’s shore during one of his campaigns en route to India. According to one of the many legends originating from this time, Alexander’s famous battlehorse Bucephalus drowned in the lake – and to this day may be seen racing over its surface at full moon. The lake empties into the river Iskandariya which near the source forms an impressive waterfall of 40m height. A platform allows spectators to stand right above the thunderous torrent.
The Allaudin lakes are located in the very heart of the Fan Mountains close to the highest peaks of the area. They are embedded into a unique landscape consisting of huge boulders (the result of a massive rockfall thousands of years ago) and a carpet of grasses, moss and flowers. The ice cold water is crystal clear and of a deep green colour. Allaudin lakes are a popular starting point for trekkers and climbers and arguably one of the most beautiful spots in the Zerafshan region.
The unique mountain relief and diversity of climates define the richness and peculiarity of the flora in Tajikistan. Among the local species are – saxaul tree, pistachio, archa, wormwood and grasswort. Mediterranean plants can also be seen like – hawthorn, wall nut, fig and plane trees. Cultivated crops include rye and wheat which are grow widely in Tajikistan. More than 5,000 plant species are counted in the mountains and valleys of Tajikistan. One of the distinctive features of local flora is the prevalence of semifrutex plants, steppe shrubs, desert and highland vegetation.
Tajikistan’s location in a desert zone with dry climates and mountain relief, define the features of its soils. Soils are dominated by sierozem – a type of soil found in cool to temperate arid regions that is brownish gray at the surface with a lighter layer below. Sierozem is rich in carbonates – providing valuable nutrition for plants and together with artificial irrigation this type of soil produces good harvests of divers crops, mostly of cotton.
The fauna of Tajikistan is very diverse as it needed to adapt to the peculiarity of the mountainous regions and low lands as well as to the climates. Typical animals found in the Northern regions include – brown bear, hare, badger, weasel, ground squirrel, and ibex or wild goat . Many Central Asian and Indian-Tibetan species such as – Asian leopard, Himalayan snowcock, and Tibetan wolf are found here. From India, animal species have spread throughout Tajikistan such as the porcupine, swallow, and oriole, and from Afghanistan species such as – moufflon, starlin, cobra, monitor lizard, mosquito and termites are also found here.
The natural conditions are favorable for the development of mammals. There are some 70 species of predators and hoofed mammals and about 46 species of reptiles. There are many different insects in Tajikistan - with more than 10,000 species and about 350 bird species. Some animals like the wild boar, hare, fox, badger, mountain partridge, and Indian goose are game animals. Unregulated trade led to a sharp decrease of some of the animals’ population. Hunting is restricted and nature reserves have been created in the country in order to preserve valuable and threatened animals.