The smallest Central Asian country, Tajikistan's history can be traced back to a time when it was a part of the Persian Empire. Much later, in the 20th century, it became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union and only gained its independence in 1991. Landlocked and covered by mountains, more than half of the country is above 3000 metres with the Fann Mountains, lying to the north of the capital Dushanbe, being one of the most impressive ranges. There are more than 100 significant peaks in this range, culminating in Chimtarga (5489m / 18,008ft). Here, too, amongst a network of interconnecting high valleys, there are numerous lakes where semi-nomadic Tajik shepherds graze their flocks of sheep and goats. There are lots of opportunities for trekking and climbing in the Fann Mountains. Access to this area can be either through Dushanbe or through Tashkent in neighbouring Uzbekistan. The advantage of this latter approach is that the Silk Road town of Samarkand can more easily be included in the itinerary.