Khujand is the second-largest city in Tajikistan. It has a population of around 200,000 people.
It is similar to Osh in Kyrgyzstan, as Khujand is cut off from the Tajik capital Dushanbe by the Zarafshan Mountains.
Culturally and geographically, Khujand remains a part of the Farghana Valley, even if national borders are now blocking the way.
Nowadays, it is the capital of Tajikistan’s northernmost Sughd province.
When visiting Khujand, it has the feel of being slightly more prosperous than the capital Dushanbe. In a way, Khujand is more welcoming and a little more laid back. This may be because its geographical location as Khujand avoided much of the fighting during Tajikistan’s civil war.
The city has a slow pace feel as you head through its suburbs, passing low-level buildings almost as if a collection of villages had been tied together.
These are then punctuated with soviet style factories and university buildings until reaching the centre.
Khujand city centre is a lively place with a collection of restaurants and shops radiating out from the bustling market area.
Khujand is considered by some to be one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. Khujand is possibly the site of Cyropolis (city of Cyrus), an ancient city founded by Cyrus the Great.
Cyrus was constructed in 544 BCE, marking the northeastern border of the Achaemenid Empire. If this is true, it would make even more sense that Alexander the great would latter include it in his list of conquests in 329 BC, making it the furthest Greek outpost and thus renaming it aptly Alexandria Eschate (Alexandria the Furthest).
It was to survive throughout the Hellenistic period (323 BC until 31BC) holding out against increasing nomadic attacks.
Khujand is considered a key city because of its location on the Great Silk Road connecting Samarkand with the Fergana valley, thus offering a perfect staging post.
As history moved on and Khujand’s importance grew, it was captured by the Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate early in the 8th century. Passing through Islamic hands of various caliphates and further Islamic empires Khujand, it stood strong even holding out against the Mongol hordes until its luck ran out.
In 1220 the forces of Chinggis Khan overran the city and destroyed it because of its earlier resistance.
Although, a city of this importance couldn’t stay down for long, once again growing into the commercial, cultural and scientific centre at the heart of this Central Asian region. It passed between various Turkic Mongolian dynasties right until the end of the Shaybanid dynasty when it became part of the emirate of Bukhara 1785 -1920.
In 1866, as with most of Central Asia, Khujand was occupied by the Russian Empire the city became part of the General Governorate of Turkestan, under Tsarist Russia.
Khujand eventually transferred from The Russian imperial rule to that of the Soviet Union.
In 1936, Khujand became part of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic and its name changed to Leninabad. Its future now officially tied to Tajikistan.
Leninabad was a name that remained until just after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1992 when it reverted to Khujand.
The weather in Khujand has a desert feel about it. It reaches the high 30s in the summer and hovers around 0 during the winter.
The best times to visit are spring and autumn.
Care must be taken when driving as in the spring month’s roads from Dushanbe can be treacherous with the snow full and rain in the valleys.
How to get to and travel around Khujand.
-----> To Dushanbe.
Shared taxis to Dushanbe/ minivans will take around 5-6 hours these are caught from the western bus station.
The drive to Dushanbe is amazing and a real journey, care should be taken though due to the journey being affected because of seasonal weather and Tajik driving. This journey will take you through the notorious tunnel of death.
Once in Dushanbe or coming from most busses stop just past the Cement Factory, if using a personal car they may take you to or near your destination.
There are flights to and from Dushanbe they normally fly twice a day and take 45 minutes they are operated by Somon Air.
-----> To Panjakent / Istaravshan.
Buses/ cars to and from Panjakent (5 hours) and Istaravshan (1,5 hours) all also operate from the western bus station.
-----> To Tashkent.
There is a cross-border bus to Tashkent which departs from the Northern bus station, shared taxis will also depart taking travellers to the Oybek border.
At the time of writing, bus number 33 went from the city centre to the bus station.
-----> To Samarkand.
There are now 3 ways to get to Samarkand.
1. Via Panjakent: the drive is long but worth the journey if you have the time. Be sure to spend at least one night in Panjakent.
2. Oybek border crossing: a lot quicker than driving to Panjakent (but not as adventurous).
3. Train journey: This has now also become possible if your schedule fits the journey takes around 8 hours.
-----> To Russia.
Most international flights from and to Khujand involve Russia, it is surprising how many Russian cities this small airport services. Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan and Krasnoyarsk are all regular destinations.
What to do in and around Khujand?
For a relatively small city, there is quite a lot to see and do. Below we have listed some of our top picks.
Construction of the Panjshanbe market building finished in 1964 and is worth the visit alone, especially if you’re interested in Architecture.
Combining Soviet classicism and oriental styles, the large central build is quite amazing.
Always crowded and busy, this bustling market is one of the largest in the region. It's visited by not only the city residents but those from outlying villages.
It has also seen an influx of goods and traders since the thawing of ties between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in early 2018.
This large Mosque and memorial complex share Registan Square with the market and are well worth the visit.
The Mausoleum was erected on the tomb of Muslihiddin Khujandi. This 12th-century ruler of Khujand was also a poet, scholar, legend has it a miracle worker.
The original tomb has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the first noticeable destruction by the Mongols. The Prayer halls of the mosque are also worthy of your attention if the imam allows visiting the older of the two with its ornately carved wooden pillars is a real gem.
Khujand’s ancient fortress has been heavily renovated, if not completely rebuilt.
It houses the interesting history museum on-site and has a pleasant local park surrounding it.
The Park is best visited on holidays or weekends to get a real local feel.
The museum is not huge and has minimal explanations in English. It has guides who can bring the place to life. It covers a range of Khujand’s history from ancient time’s right up to the Soviet period. For those interested in the Soviet Union, the museum still has a bust of Stalin within its collection and a small souvenir shop selling soviet antiques.
And we mean big.
It was the largest Lenin statue in Central Asia.
Why is he here, you may ask yourself?
One only has to remember that Khujand was named Leninabad, so a big statue for a city for the big man.
This Lenin is 22 meters high, although he no longer takes pride of place in the city centre. He is now in a riverside park (pobedy) further to the west of the city centre.
This restaurant serves lunch and dinner and is located inside and outside.
It serves the best shashlik in town and other great meal options. The menu offers some vegetarian choices, although these are a little limited.
Seating is good if you are travelling as a larger group book in advance as it can get busy.
When it is busy, be prepared for a wait as good shaslik takes time to cook, sometimes 20–30 mins.
Central Asian food is all about sharing and enjoying your social evening.
Located across the road from the history museum, this restaurant offers a good range of options although some meals can be a little more costly.
The menu has Italian, European, central Asian and local dishes. There are also some vegetarian choices available, although we have noticed at certain times as with many restaurants in the region that not all of the menu may be supplied.
This restaurant is best visited in the evening as lunchtimes are a quieter affair.