Bartang Highway Guide
With flashes of green alluvial plains nestled along the Bartang River, sandwiched between stark and barren walls of rock- this is the Bartang Valley. The Bartang Valley is one of the most remote and desolate stretches of the famed Pamir mountains in Tajikistan. If you’re looking for an adventurous deviation from the famous Pamir Highway the Bartang Highway has all the makings of a true expedition into the wilds of Tajikistan. With some of the Pamir’s most hospitable people, premier trekking, and beautiful villages a trip up the Bartang Highway surely won’t disappoint. To truly discover the beauty of the Bartang Valley and find the hidden gems- you’ll have to venture out beyond the highway. The most popular trip into the Bartang Valley is the short trek to the beautiful little village of Jizeu.
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Want to join me in the Pamir in 2018?
Okay, this won’t take place in the Bartang Valley.. but if you’re interested in experiencing life with Kyrgyz nomads in Tajikistan’s Eastern Pamir, seeing the Chinese Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan and exploring the super remote Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan check out my group tour I’ll be leading with Inertia Network in June of 2018!
How to get to the Bartang Highway
The Bartang Highway runs in a northeasterly direction from the village of Rushan just off the Pamir Highway (M41) all the way up past Kök Jar and Shurali where shortly after it meets again with the M41 near Karakul.
Villages along the Bartang Highway
Village after village dot the Bartang Valley as you make your way along the highway. Some are no more than a scattering of a handful of homes, others are a little larger.
Rushan- The jumping off point for most Bartang Valley adventures. Rushan is located just off of the Pamir Highway, 65 kilometers north of Khorog. The village has a couple petrol stations, several shops, chaikanas (teahouses), car service, bank and homestays. If you end up spending the night here try Mubarak Homestay +992 934052304 or Rushan Inn Guesthouse +992 935550049. Homestays can arrange transport to the drop off point for Jizeu. You can also head to the taxi stand and try to catch a marshurtka, or attempt to find a shared taxi headed up the valley to your final destination.
Yemtz- Small village with one shop.
Jizeu**- Stunningly beautiful village just a short 2 hour hike from the Bartang Highway. 7 of the 14 homes in the village are homestays. Only accessible on foot.
Padrud- Small scattering of houses along the highway.
Khijez- Small village with one shop.
Ravmed**- Another village only accessible by foot. Ask around for homestays as there are a couple in the village that are unmarked. Ravmed is a common stop on treks from Jizeu to Basid.
Dasht- Another scattering of houses along the highway.
Siponj- One of the larger villages in the valley. A few shops are scattered about.
Darjomj- Village with a small shop.
Basid- Small village surrounded in beautiful green forest, with a shrine to go check out. There are a couple homestays in the village, although ask around to find out location. There are great trekking opportunities from here.
Chadud- Small village.
Badara*- Tiny village 9km off the road. A couple of homestays are on offer but ask around the village to find out which houses. Two more shrines to check out here and an ice-house. There is one shop in the village. Several hikes start here that go out to the high pastures.
Vrinjavn- Small village.
Yapshorv- Small village that leads into Rashorv.
Roshorv*- Just off the Bartang Highway. Has one shop.
Nisur- Village where the road forks to turn toward Barchidev.
Barchidev*- An adorable village at the jumping off point for Lake Sarez (permit and local guide required). Nurumuhammed who owns Sarez Travel– the company that arranges Lake Sarez permits and trips to the lake runs a homestay out of his family’s home +992 934072546.
Savnob- One of the most scenic villages in the Bartang Valley with a couple of shops.
Rukhch- Small scattering of homes.
Pasor*- Small village just off the highway and start of the trek that leads into the Khafrazdara Valley and continues onto Grum Grijmailo Glacier.
Ghudara- A decent sized village at the end of the Bartang Valley itself. If the roads allow you get beyond Ghudara it should be possible to continue to Karakul and the Pamir Highway via Kök Jar and Shurali. The road beyond Ghudara (further north) may be impassible at times by 4×4 vehicles.
Kök Jar***- View point from up high in Kök Jar Pass of the vast rocky area and views of the meteor crater.
Shurali***- Just north from Kök Jar. Location of the geoglyphs- an ancient solar calendar made of large stones.
Dangi***- Turn off for Jalang.
Jalang*/***- The beautiful summer pasture for the Kyrgyz nomads in the area. You may even be invited to spend the night in one of their yurts. Near to Karakul Lake.
Karakul***- The largest lake in Tajikistan and nearby village of the same name.
*Just off the Bartang Highway but still accessible by road/4×4 track.
**Accessible only by foot from the Bartang Highway.
*** No longer in the Bartang Valley but continue along a jeep track to connect the route to the M41.
Sites to see along the Bartang Highway
To discover and experience the true gems in the Bartang Valley you’ll need to stray off the main highway itself. Here are a few of the most stunning sites along the valley.
The most popular and well known trip in the Bartang Valley. This short, yet somewhat steep 2 hour hike will take you to cross the raging Bartang River by cable bridge and continue up trails on loose shale to one of the most stunning villages in Tajikistan with pools of crystal clear water reflecting a mirror of the Pamiri sky.
Where the River turns Red
Between the villages of Vrinjavn and Yapshorv a stream of red water enters the Bartang River. The red color is due to sediments in the water.
A potential disaster waiting to happen, yet beautiful none the less. This Lake was formed due to the damming off of the Murghab River when and entire mountainside dislodged, forming the Usoi Dam and subsequently filling the valley with water. Special permits are needed to visit here and local guides are required. Contact Sarez Travel to arrange a trip out here.
The above mentioned dam that caused the valley to fill with water from the Murghab River creating Lake Sarez. The Dam is massive and sight all in itself.
Grum Grijmailo Glacier
A 34 kilometer (68 km roundtrip, 21/42 miles) will bring you face to face with Tajikistan’s Grum Grijamilo Glacier from the village of Pasor. Pass through the beguiling Khafrazdara Valley to get here. Expect the trek to take 3-4 days. Click here to get the info sheet on the trek from PECTA (also useful for visiting the Khafrazdara Valley mentioned below).
One of the most beautiful valleys and lakes on Earth. About 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Pasor at altitudes sometimes over 4,300 meters (14,000 feet).
While no longer technically in the Bartang Valley this is a site you’ll pass either on your way out or into the valley from the northeast. Site of a large meteor crater.
Home to ancient geoglyphs. A solar calendar made up of large stones.
Getting around the Bartang Valley
There are several ways to get to and around the Bartang Valley- By hired 4×4, shared taxi/marshrutka, or by bicycle. If hiring a private 4×4 expect prices to ring in at around 0.70¢ to 0.90¢ per kilometer- and remember the entire length of the road is 400 kilometers. For shared taxis expect the easiest places to arrange them from to be from Khorog, followed by Rushan. There is a Khorog-Basid UAZ minibus on most afternoons (don’t expect it to go on Fridays though) for 40TJS per seat. Every few days in the afternoon there is usually a Khorog-Pasor shared taxi for 120 TJS per seat- but ask around at the main taxi stand at the bazaar in Khorog. Getting a taxi to the cable bridge at the Jizeu trailhead will set you back 150 TJS from the taxi stand in Rushan, just slightly more from Khorog- a word of the wise: pre-arrange a pickup for when you plan to leave Jizeu. It’s a long walk back (hitching is difficult due to the infrequent traffic on the Bartang Highway), and there’s almost no shade. If you’ve forgotten to or didn’t- find Gulsha in Jizeu Village as he can usually arrange a car to come meet you for about 250TJS.
At the time of writing (December 2017) the exchange rate was $1 USD = 8.81 Tajik Somoni. USD are fairly widely accepted in Tajikistan in addition to the local currency.
Services along the Bartang Highway
Services in the Bartang Valley are few and far between. It is best to come fully prepared as this is a pretty wild and remote region.
The last possible place to fill up on gasoline is in Rushan (Karakul if beginning from the north), so make sure you have enough gasoline to get you through the 400 kilometer length of the road.
Between the turn off for Badara and the village of Vrinjavn there is a Chaikhana (teahouse) along the highway. It is not signed, however it is marked on maps.me (you’re welcome). I was made aware of it by locals.
Food and Goods
Shops don’t typically have signs along the valley and in villages. If you do find yourself in need of anything stop into a village and ask around- likely there will be one home that acts as a shop that may have a couple items on purchase (by items I mean likely the breakfast of champions: expired Chinese beer and Snickers Bars).
If you find yourself broke down along the Bartang Highway head to the nearest village and start asking around. Bartangi people are incredibly helpful and welcoming and may be able to sort out a part or help you patch up until you can exit the valley. The shared taxi I took back from Pasor broke down around Chadud, it did take several hours and a jaunt to Chadud and then onto Basid but we managed to get the taxi repaired and continue on our way with the help of the locals.
Trekking along the Bartang Highway
Like much of Tajikistan, the Bartang Valley has several beautiful hikes to offer. From short 1 to 2 day treks to strenuous multi day treks, the valley has something to suit just about any level of hiker. A very handy map to have on hand is the Pamirs Map by Markus Hauser, purchase it online here, or pick one up at the PECTA office in Khorog. Another handy tool I used out here was the Inreach Explorer + to map out treks by GPS and the SOS beacon gives some peace of mind.
One of the most popular treks in the Pamir and in the country. A short hike that can be done as one long day trek, however it is best to spend at least one night up in Jizeu village to experience the remote lifestyle and Bartangi hospitality. Expect the trek to take about 2 hours on the way in, mostly uphill. Get dropped off for Jizeu (the shared taxi drivers all know it). Cross the cable bridge and follow the trail- it is occasionally marked by spray painted rocks. In a couple of hours you’ll find yourself in a beautiful Pamiri village. Just beyond the village is a crystal clear lake. Of the 14 homes in the village, 7 are homestays. I recommend Lola Homestay after my stay there in 2016.
Jizeu-Ravmed Valley-Basid Trek
Homestays in Jizeu can help arrange guides and pack animals for the trek over the pass into Ravmed Valley onto Khijez and eventually on to Basid. Ravmed, Khijez, and Basid all have homestays available.
Khafrazdara Valley and Lake
From Pasor trek for 1-2 days to arrive in the beautiful Khafrazdara Valley with beautiful lakes surrounded by jagged mountains. This trek takes place all completely above 3,050 meters (10,000 feet). Another day further trekking will take you to face the Grum Grjimailo Glacier. The final lake is located about 24 km (15 mi) from Pasor, making it a 48 km (30mi) hike roundtrip. Click here to get the info sheet on the trek from PECTA (also useful for visiting the Grum Grijmailo trek mentioned below).
Grum Grijmailo Glacier
34 kilometers (21 miles) past Pasor you’ll find yourself at the face of the immense Grum Grijmailo Glacier. All high altitude. Follow the same trail mentioned to reach Khafrazdara Valley.
High Pastures around Basid & Badara
Numerous hiking trails around both villages of Basid and Badara will take you to the high pastures nearby to explore the green fertile lands. Ask around in either village for recommendations.
Barchidev to Lake Sarez
The stunning Lake Sarez is worth the all day trek from Barchidev to witness- with perfect reflections of the Pamiri clouds above. You’ll leave Barchidev early in the morning and arrive over the Usoi Dam at the monitoring station on the shore of the lake by late afternoon. Contact Sarez Travel to arrange necessary permits and guides to visit the lake. It has been known for visitors who don’t arrange necessary permits to be fined large sums of money for being found out there.
There are some necessary permits to visit this part of Tajikistan. For starters, most nationalities do require a visa to enter the country. There is an e-visa available to many nationalities for $50 USD, you can apply here.
You need a GBAO permit to visit any part of the Pamirs, thus making it necessary for the Bartang Valley. It is easiest to apply for it when you apply for your visa. You can apply for it at the same time you apply for the e-visa for $20. Otherwise apply at an embassy when applying for the visa.
Tajik National Park Permit:
You do ‘need’ this to visit many areas along the Bartang Highway, and for many treks around Karakul, Murghab, Yashilkul and more. You can apply for one in Khorog for 15 TJS per day at the PECTA Tourist office inside the Central Park. I was told you could also pay for the permit if you run into local KGB (police or national park rangers) while out and about. I bought a permit this year since it costs pennies per day and I never once was asked for it.
Lake Sarez Permit:
To visit Lake Sarez from Barchidev you do need a permit. The only way of securing this permit that I can 100% vouch for is through Nurumuhammed at Sarez Travel for $50 USD per day. I never could find reliable information if a permit is necessary if approaching from the south (trekking from Bachor and Yashikul), if you do know- let me know in the comments and I’ll add the information.
Languages Spoken throughout the Bartang Valley
Bartangi is the language spoken in villages along the Bartang Valley. It is a distinct dialect of Shughni, and can differ from village to village. The last estimate found from 1990 ranged from 2,500 to 3,000 speakers. Tajik is spoken by most in the area, Russian speakers are scattered about and it is possible to find a person here or there with English, French or German language skills.
Cell Phone coverage
Surprisingly there is mobile coverage in the valley along the highway. Megafon will work off and on, although once past Basid it rarely picked up a signal. Tcell has better coverage- but don’t expect it to work everywhere.
In general the Bartang Highway is a safe place to visit in regards to crime. Just use common sense and the same precautions you would traveling anywhere.
Earthquakes: The Bartang Valley, as well as much of Tajikistan is earthquake prone. This is why I carry that SOS beacon with me. Locals in Pasor village told me about a large earthquake that struck Gudara in 2016- above an 8.0 on the Richter scale.
Getting Lost: This is a possibility on some of the treks if you’re inexperienced. Hire a guide if this is the case.
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I’ve spent a good chunk of time exploring Tajikistan over the last couple years, so check out these posts to help you start planning your trip!
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Fann Mountains Guide- Wanna visit the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan’s premier trekking destination? Look no further.
Tajikistan Travel Guide- The ultimate guide to traveling Tajikistan.
Solo Female Travel in Tajikistan- What it’s like and what you need to know before you ladies out there travel solo to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
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