Outside of hotels in Tajikistan, it is very much possible to arrange homestays as well. Local tourism groups can help arrange these, and you will get to spend a night in a local family's house, as other tourists have done in the past. Now, I could describe to you how to arrange such a stay, and what it is like. But, truth be told, I did not arrange for a homestay during my visit. Instead, I was kind of forced into one.
On the long, arduous ride from Khorog back to Dushanbe, there happened to be a woman who spoke decent English in the car. The first few hours of the trip were pretty innocent, her just asking me where I was from, what I was doing there, where I was going, etc. But, as time passed, she wanted to know where I was staying when I arrived in Dushanbe. The truth was that I did not arrange anything, as I was actually a few days ahead of schedule and made no reservations because I did not know what day I'd arrive back in Dushanbe.
Knowing that me having no place to stay was a bit of a problem, especially since we were arriving at midnight, she started calling hotels in the city for me to stay at. Places were either booked solid, or only had expensive rooms available. I told her I would try to get room at one of the cheaper places when we got there. She didn't seem to think that would be such a great idea.
Our discussion got the attention of a Tajik husband and wife in the car, who this lady knew. She apparently explained to them the situation, and they responded back to her in an affirmative way. The lady then turned to me and said, "It has been decided, you will stay with them for tonight." Say what!?!? I insisted that I could not impose on them like that, and that I would find another place to say. But, they seemed determined to not let me not stay with them. I honestly felt a little scared at this point, not sure if they had other intentions or not.
After the long, 17 hour ride from Khorog to Dushanbe, we arrived at 12:30am. The other passengers got out of the car with all their belongings. We then jumped into a taxi, along with our driver from the 17 hour ride. He got out a few blocks later, while we continued over a bridge to an area west of downtown Dushanbe. It was dark, quiet, and all the houses looked like decrepit,failed, Soviet structures.
We soon arrived at one of these buildings, and they motioned it was time to get out. There appeared to be a stairwell, and then a young woman emerged from the pitch black darkness that was this stairwell. The man from the long car ride motioned for me to grab one end of this huge, gigantic, heavy bag he had brought, and then the girl who emerged from the dark would take the other end. Since I was supposedly getting a free night at their apartment, I was more than happy to help carry their stuff in...all while carrying my own 30 pound backpack.
It turned out we were walking to the top, fifth floor with this bag...all in complete darkness with a complete stranger helping with the bag. At the top of the steps was their apartment, a small, Russian-looking place with 2 small bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and bathroom/washroom.
There were two girls sleeping there, and when we arrived the man told them to vacate the second bedroom. I insisted I would sleep on their living room floor with my sleeping bag and mattress pad, but he refused to listen to me. The two girls left the room, after changing the bedsheets, and then I was motioned to go inside and get some rest. The girls ended up sleeping on the floor of the living room, while this strange, American tourist took their bed.
The next morning I awoke to find the husband and wife preparing a feast meant for 50 people. I had 3 eggs, breads, meats, cheeses, and lots of tea. It was quite awkward, though, as the man spoke no English, and his wife only a few words.
After breakfast, they basically told me to grab some belongings to take a shower with, and I would go to another relative's house to bathe (because they had better water). They insisted I leave most of my other stuff at their apartment, though. This, again, made me feel a little uneasy, and I was certain they would sell it all. I guess I was just being a cynical New Yorker not expecting to meet extremely friendly people.
I followed the man out of the apartment to the street, where we jumped in a shared taxi/minibus. After a few blocks we jumped out again and took another taxi/minibus to another ominous Soviet building. This one had an elevator, though. I hesitated to step in, as I was trying to be a gentleman and offer the man to go first. He, though, interpreted it as me being afraid of elevators.
There was no one home at the relative's apartment. So, the man and I each took turns bathing before settling down in their living room to watch hockey on TV. He offered me more food, a big bag of grapes, and so I obliged. Soon, though, the relatives began to come home, each with different levels of English ability, and they began to ask me more and more questions. And then...the food came pouring into the living room.
I don't think I have ever been offered so much food in my entire life. Fruits, meats, teas (one tea with a stick of butter in it), nuts, breads...you name it. I think all we did that day was eat and they showed me their home.
Later in the evening, one of the younger girls who gave up her bed for me told me to follow her and we left for an impromptu tour of Dushanbe. Again, we took a few shared taxi/minibuses to Dushanbe, walked through the center of town, and then met up with her cousin. Her cousin spoke fluent English.
Her cousin explained some of the sights of Dushanbe as we walked down the main street. We eventually reached an outdoor food/restaurant area, found a place to eat, and then ordered more and more food. They really like to eat there.
With our bellies full, and the time getting late, we took a taxi back to the apartment. We arrived around 11pm, talked a bit with the husband and wife, and then settled in for the night.
Three hours later I woke up, packed my bag, said my goodbyes, and then the husband took me outside to meet his friend who would drive me to the airport. We stood in near silence as we waited for his late friend to arrive, and then said our goodbyes as best we could before I got in the car. He gave me a big bear hug, and refused to take any of the money I offered him for all the food and hospitality (looking back, I should have just left it in the room). I drove away, realizing that I had one of the best experiences I have ever had while traveling.