Murghab Travel Guide + 4 Things To Do In Murghab
Updated August 2023, Murghab Travel Guide + 4 Things To Do In Murghab, Tajikistan was originally written in March 2020
Welcome to the wild wild east! Murghab is a peculiar, rugged frontier town located in Tajikistan’s Eastern Pamir at a staggering elevation of 3,650 meters. Murghab wasn’t much anything aside from an area that Kyrgyz nomads wandered through until the 1890s when the Russian Army established an outpost here that became known as Pamirskiy Post.
While there aren’t a lot of things to do in Murghab itself, the town does serve as a good base for further exploration into the Eastern Pamir from. Travelers taking on the Pamir Highway between Osh and Khorog will pass through Murghab coming from or heading towards Karakul Lake and the Kyzyl-Art Border Crossing (unless you make the Bartang Valley detour that spits you out near Kok Jar).
Updates to note in summer 2023: Murghab is even more sparse than it was in years past owing to the ongoing border closure with Kyrgyzstan and the exodus of many ethnic Kyrgyz and Pamiris from Tajikistan. There are less guesthouses and homestays than in years prior. Food options are even more limited before due to the Kyrgyz border closure. Transport options are thin as well, so if not visiting with your own means of transport you may want to plan some extra days in the event it takes time to find a ride out of town.
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Things To Do In Murghab
The Murghab Bazaar is comprised of shops inside shipping containers. People have gotten quite creative with them creating unique window facades on the fronts of their shipping container shops. Toward the middle are two metal yurts, one of which is signposted ‘мясо’ selling fat tail sheep and other meats inside.
There is a shipping container selling local handicrafts out of it such as Pamiri socks, purses, stuffed animals, and more.
A big, white Lenin Statue will greet you on the southern end of town as you arrive into Murghab.
This little mosque down the hill from town is buzzing on Fridays.
Try Some Yak Milk Ice Cream
On the ‘backside’ (from the main row in the Murghab Bazaar) of a shipping container (very close to the Megafone shop in the southwest corner of the bazaar) is a small ice cream shop. You know you’ll have found it if you see the wicker fence around it. A woman and her son sell yak milk ice cream here.
Pull up one of the chairs outside and grab a large bowl (the biggest one is 5 TJS) and enjoy a unique ice cream here. And don’t worry yak milk ice cream doesn’t taste too awfully different than standard ice cream.
Things To Do Outside Of Murghab
North of Murghab
Pshart Valley: The Pshart Valley is striated with colorful mineral-laden mountains, sitting just north of Murghab. To reach the Pshart Valley you’ll need to head west off the M41 just north of Murghab. Ask around in the Murghab Bazaar to arrange transport there.
Rangkul: North of Murghab and the Pshart Valley a road forks off of the Pamir Highway toward Rangkul. In Rangkul the main draw is to visit the high-altitude lakes and deserty sand dunes.
There are yurt camps out here and camel trekking is possible. Most days a shared car departs Murghab Bazaar for Rangkul.
Ak Baital Pass: 4,655 meter Ak Baital Pass is the highest point of the Pamir Highway. Keep an eye out for Marco Polo sheep in the surrounding peaks as you pass through. Snow, even in the dead of summer is not unheard of here.
Karakul: Karakul is Tajikistan’s largest lake, with a shoreside village of the same name. It’s the last major stop along the Pamir Highway before the Kyrgyz Border at Kyzyl Art Pass. The lake was created by a meteor impact.
A night in the village to explore around the lake is worth it (in my opinion), though most travelers only stop for lunch in the village and for photo stops before continuing on to Murghab.
Plan your stay: The Karakul Travel Guide
South of Murghab
At Chabysh: Held the second week of August each year about 5 kilometers south of Murghab, At Chabysh celebrates the Kyrgyz horse sports. The most popular being the brutal Kok Boru/Buzkashi. Kyrgyz music and traditions are also a major part of the festival.
During the festival head to the Murghab Bazaar to find shared taxis departing toward At Chabysh.
Madiyan Valley: Madiyan Valley is much more rugged in appearance than Pshart Valley to the north. Taking the tracks west off the M41 just south of Murghab will bring you into Madiyan Valley.
Eventually, you’ll reach the settlement of Ak Tal and from there it’s possible to trek (with a river crossing) to Madiyan Hot Springs.
Ak Suu Valley
Kunye Kurgan Tombs: 7 kilometers east of Murghab on the Murghab-Tashkurgan Road is the small village of Kunye Kurgan and nearby beehive tombs.
Ak Bura Meteor Crater: Just off the Murghab-Tashkurgan Road south of Kunye Kurgan and the village of Subashi is Ak Bura Crater. Follow the tracks veering to the southwest off the Murghab-Tashkurgan Road just after the main road bends toward the south to reach Ak Bura.
Shor Bulak Observatory: Shor Bulak Observatory is a bit further southwest of Ak Bura Crater along a set of jeep tracks. The Shor Bulak Observatory itself is closed to foreigners at this time.
Qolma Pass: By continuing eastward on the Murghab-Tashkurgan Road You’ll eventually climb your way up to the Tajik-Chinese Border at Qolma Pass. Read more about the Qolma Pass Border Crossing here.
Toktymush: A little east of the tracks leading to Ak Bura and Shor Bulak the Murghab-Tashkurgan Road forks. At the forth a turn southward will take you on the Shaimak Road and to the village of Toktymush. Toktymush is a small settlement perched on a hill above the Ak Suu River.
Shaimak: Shaimak was an important and strategic point during the Great Game as Russia and Britain vied for power in Central and South Asia. From Shaimak you can see into China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan all at the same time.
Other Destinations in the East Pamir
Jarty Gumbez: A Marco Polo sheep hunting camp and hot spring a turn south off the M41 between Naizatash Pass and Murghab. In summer months it’s possible to stay at the hunting camp.
Shakhty Cave Drawings: Shakhty Tash is home to a cave with Neolithic cave drawings that date back to sometime between 7-12,000 years ago. The red ink drawings depict a boar hunt. You’ll pass Shakhty shortly after making the turn off on the way to Jarty Gumbez. You’ll need to hike about 5 minutes uphill to reach the cave.
Bash Gumbez: Bash Gumbez is a village located about 7 kilometers off the Pamir Highway, accessible by a track leading off the highway at kilometer 858. The main attraction of Bash Gumbez is the caravanserai and the Chinese Tombs 3 kilometers from the village.
Alichur: Alichur is a dusty village just past Khargush Pass on the M41. Several homes serve as homestays for those that opt to overnight here. Several hikes can begin or end from Alichur.
Ak Balyk: Ak Balyk is a beautiful holy spring, a short 12 kilometers east of Alichur.
Where To Stay In Murghab
East Pamir Eco Tour Guesthouse is a great option for travelers and in my opinion, is one of the best places to stay in town. It’s just a short jaunt from Lenin Street and the bazaar so the location is central. The family here serves up the most delicious food I’ve had throughout the entire Murghab Plateau, they have an indoor (shared) toilet and shower, and Amina, the daughter of the owners speaks really good English. A bed, including dinner and breakfast, will set you back 170 TJS per night. They also operate a full-on tour company too, check out their tours and more here.
Another favorite is Erali Guesthouse, located a short walk uphill from Lenin Street offering sweeping views of Murghab below. You’ll feel more like family than a guest here which is a definite plus. You’ll pay 140 TJS/night for a dorm bed with dinner and breakfast. It’s best to call them at least a couple of hours in advance at +992563751421618.
Likely the cheapest place in town to stay is Tulfabek Homestay, offering dorms beds for a cool 45 TJS night, including dinner and breakfast. The homestay is tucked in off of Lenin Street, but almost every driver and Murghab local knows where it’s at. You can call to book at +992935389159, or try your luck just showing up and seeing if they have space.
Situated conveniently right on Lenin Street the Pamir Hotel is a well-known landmark. They have an array of room options from the cheap 100 TJS/night dorm beds with shared bathrooms to the more luxurious private rooms with ensuites for closer to 200-300 TJS per night. There is a restaurant on site.
Getting In & Out Of Murghab
Toward Alichur & Khorog: Getting a shared taxi from Khorog is usually quite easy with a few shared taxis leave from a lot just beyond the University of Central Asia campus to the east of town. Shared taxis depart Murghab Bazaar bound for Khorog most mornings.
If you’re traveling from Murghab to Khorog, I recommend arranging a seat in a car the day prior and ask for them to pick you up from your homestay in Murghab. A seat in a shared taxi should cost about 120 TJS.
Getting to Alichur is quite easy as most shared taxis headed for Murghab from Khorog and vice versa will drop you there, getting out may take a little time. Ask around Alichur if any cars will be departing in the direction you need, or try to hitch along the main road.
Toward Shaimak: Most people visit Shaimak as a Pamir Highway detour, veering off from Khargush Pass after visiting the Tajik Wakhan from Khorog and continuing to Zorkul, Jarty Gumbez, Shaimak, and eventually up to Murghab, by hiring a 4WD and driver with a group of travelers. If you are planning to visit on a linear trip from Murghab you can expect a return 4WD hire to Shaimak and back to ring in around $200 USD.
On occasion shared taxis do depart Murghab Bazaar, plan for 100-150 TJS per seat depending on how many passengers turn up (thanks to Alex from Lost With Purpose that went to Shaimak this summer for the updated cost info!).
Toward Rangkul: A shared taxi typically leaves Murghab Bazaar each afternoon for Rangkul for about 25 TJS per seat (each way). The shared taxi typically returns to Murghab in the morning.
On The Bartang Highway: The Bartang Highway is a wild detour from the Pamir Highway. From the north, the Bartang Valley is accessible by taking jeep tracks west of the M41 just south of Karakul Lake.
They bump west to pass Shurali geoglyphs, Jalang Crater, and Kök Jar. From here the track bends south along the Tanymas Valley (coming from Fedchenko Glacier) and swings southwest to the village of Ghudara and from there to Pasor and beyond into the Bartang Valley.
Note that at times the northern Bartang Valley is not possible due to landslides or flooded rivers.
Enquire with local agencies if you plan to do it with your own vehicle or on a bicycle. It’s possible to arrange this trip with a local operator as well. I recommend contacting Pamir Guides as Saidali and his team are Murghab natives and know this area quite well and have been guiding in the Eastern Pamir for many years.
To Osh, Kyrgyzstan Via Karakul, and Kyzyl-Art Pass: If you are completing your Pamir Highway adventure, your next step is to depart north toward the Kyrgyz Border at Kyzyl Art Pass. En route, you’ll pass through 4,655 meter Ak Baital Pass, and Karakul Lake & Village.
From Karakul, the road climbs up towards Kyzyl Art to cross into Kyrgyzstan and enter the country at Bördöbo. From there you’ll continue to Sary Tash, from which you can head west toward Peak Lenin or continue north to Osh.
A couple of shared taxis depart Murghab Bazaar in the morning bound for Osh. I recommend arranging transport the day before and having them pick you up from your guesthouse in Murghab.
From Osh, I’d recommend staying the night in nearby Murghab-Baza from where the shared taxis to Murghab, Tajikistan depart. Cars tend to leave between 3-5 am. Plan for the journey to cost 200-250 TJS or 2,000 KGS.
It’s possible to arrange to only go to Sary Tash or Karakul. Note that getting out of Karakul may take a little time.
To China via Qolma Pass: There is officially no public transport or shared taxis over Qolma Pass. You’ll need to arrange a ride with a local company to (or from the border), the same can be said about the Chinese side too.
You could try your thumb at hitching with trucks headed over the pass. You cannot take private vehicles over Qolma Pass. Officials on either side of the border know this and will put you on a Kamaz Truck making the border crossing.
Have Any Questions About Murghab Travel Or About Any Of The Things To Do In Murghab & Around?
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