Pamir Highway Guide
Updated October 2021, The Ultimate Guide To The Pamir Highway was originally published in January 2017
As we made the colorful twists and turns down out of Shurabad Pass with my first glimpses across the River Panj into Afghanistan, I knew this surely wouldn’t be my last adventure along the famed Pamir Highway. What was historically an important route along the Silk Road was turned highway by the Soviets between 1931 and 1934 as a means to transport troops and provisions rather than the yaks, silk, and horses of the past.
Looking to do the ultimate road trip? Look no further than the Pamir Highway, or the M41 as the Soviets had named it.
So what gives me the gall to write about it? I’ve now done the full route between Dushanbe and Osh twice. Some legs of the Pamir Highway I’ve done several times.
In June 2018, I spent a chunk of time exploring some off-the-wall and extremely remote locations in the Eastern Pamir- Shaimak, Toktomush, and Sary Goram. 2019 brought me to explore the Karategin (Rasht Valley) among other places.
After a year off in 2020 (thanks, pandemic), I finally returned to Tajikistan in 2021, this time adding the Wakhan Valley trek to Pik Engles Meadows, a summit on Kyzyldong, traversed the Shokhdara Valley, the hike over Gumbezkul Pass, a soak in Madiyan Hot Springs, exploration of the upper Tamymus Valley, and a summit of Karakul Lake’s Aral Yuj peak to my list.
So, needless to say, I have done the route by private 4×4 hire, shared taxi, and hitchhiking, the only area I don’t have any expertise in is cycling it.
Need help kickstarting your planning? Check out the perfect 10 day Pamir Highway itinerary
There’s not really an official beginning or end of the Pamir Highway. So, unofficially I will say that it extends from Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan, transits a brief stint of southeastern Uzbekistan and traverses Tajikistan to end in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
For most of you, your M41 adventure will extend between Dushanbe and Osh, with most time spent between Khorog and Osh. There are several variations of the Pamir Highway journey that can be done (the true M41 passes through the Gunt Valley), such as the Wakhan Valley, Bartang Valley, or Shokhdara Valley.
- Money Matters
- Dushanbe to Osh or Osh to Dushanbe?
- Tajik Visa
- GBAO Permit
- Other Permits
- How To Travel The Pamir Highway
- Dushanbe to Qala i Khumb
- Qala i Khumb to Khorog
- Khorog to Murghab
- Murghab to Osh
- A Weird Thing About Time In Eastern Tajikistan
- Pamir Highway Budget
- Tours & Guides
- Packing List
- Pamir Highway Safety
In this article, you’ll find prices quoted in Tajik Somoni, Kyrgyz Som, and US Dollars. Currently (December 2021) the exchange rates are:
$1 USD = 11.36 TJS
$1 USD = 84.77 KGS
Note that the US Dollar is widely accepted, especially in Tajikistan. Some drivers and accommodations will actually prefer dollars over Somoni.
As of 2019, getting Somoni out of ATMs in major towns and cities isn’t much of an issue (it used to be that Tajik ATMs were out of money at least 90% of the time). I would advise carrying some USD in with you just in case. In Kyrgyzstan, ATMs are widespread in cities and towns, and many dispense USD in addition to KGS.
Note: There are NO ATMs in Murghab or any other communities in the eastern Pamir. I recommend stocking up on cash in Khorog or Osh, depending on the direction you take.
ATMs can be found in Osh, Khorog, Qalaikhumb, and Dushanbe.
Dushanbe to Osh or Osh to Dushanbe?
Ultimately this is pretty much just up to where you want to start and end. Many people find flying into Bishkek or Osh from their home country to be much cheaper (for me the prices to Dushanbe are always nearly the same) and will start from Osh.
Others will start from Osh and make a clockwise road trip through Tajikistan (first heading into northwest Tajikistan visiting Khujand, the Fann Mountains, and finally onto Dushanbe and will come back to Osh via the Pamir Highway), while others will take this approach in a counter-clockwise direction. It’s completely up to you.
Before my first trip, I had read on a blog (the only one I could find on the Pamir Highway) that you should opt to go Osh to Dushanbe because the views are better, but I’m here to say that the views are equally stunning both directions.. not to mention: you can, in fact, turn around and catch the view that you are driving away from. I know, crazy concept!
Price-wise costs will likely be nearly the same, so decide what route works best for your travel plans and go with it!
Most visitors will need a visa to enter Tajikistan, good news is: most nationalities are eligible for an E-Visa which is super simple, you can apply online here.
The e-Visa will set most people back $50 USD, applying in an embassy, prices can range somewhat. When applying for an e-visa you can also apply for your GBAO permit for $20 additional.
If you’re planning to apply for visas on the road check out Caravanistan’s embassy reports.
If you want to take a trip down the Pamir Highway you will need a GBAO Permit. This will cost you $20 additionally when applying for an e-visa. If applying at the embassy it should cost somewhere around the same amount.
If you didn’t apply for the GBAO permit on your visa or e-visa, or you came to Tajikistan with a visa on arrival, it’s possible to get a GBAO permit at the OVIR office in Dushanbe (Mirzo Turzunzade Street 5). The turnaround was 20 minutes in September 2021 and cost 20 TJS for the permit.
Other permits for travel in the Pamirs (however are not necessary if you don’t plan to visit these places) are the Tajik National Park Permit and the Zorkul Permit. These are only necessary if you plan to visit areas in the Tajik National Park or if you plan to go off the Pamir Highway to visit Zorkul. Both can be applied for at the PECTA office inside the Central Park in Khorog.
How To Travel The Pamir Highway
You have a few options here. You can opt to hire a private 4×4, go via shared taxi, organized tour, cycle, hitchhiking… In this guide I will only be covering the true Pamir Highway route, meaning it won’t include the Wakhan, Shokhdara, or Bartang Valleys. Those are included in separate travel guides.
Note that it is easy enough to camp along the Pamir Highway if you are, say, cycling or hitchhiking. Just take normal precautions and ask permission if it looks like you’re on someone’s private land.
Temperatures can get downright cold at night even in the summer, so be prepared. Otherwise, plan to stay in the homestays scattered along the Pamir Highway.
Probably the best option for taking in the scenery if you don’t plan to stray too far away from the main road/routes if at all, although this is the most expensive way to do it aside from an organized tour.
The going rate for a 4×4 hire (Landcruiser or Pajero) with a driver I’ve seen anywhere between 0.70¢ to 0.90¢ USD per kilometer on offer. The length of the M41 between Osh and Dushanbe is roughly 1,335 kilometers, so the full trip will likely cost around $1,000 USD plus about $20/day for the driver’s accommodations- more if you plan on taking side trips.
If you can wrangle together a group of 4-6 travelers this can cut costs dramatically. The best places to look for other travelers are via the forums on Caravanistan or putting a notice on the board at the PECTA office (if planning to hire from Khorog to Osh) when you arrive in Khorog.
If you thought there was public transport along the Pamir Highway you are sorrily mistaken. The closest things to it are shared taxis and marshrutkas.
A shared taxi is quite literally just about anyone with a vehicle sitting in the shared taxi lot headed for _____. They leave when full. Marshrutkas are usually shitty Chinese minibusses called tangems with next to no suspension that depart when full (meaning 7 people, sometimes more if a family of 8 decides to jump in while 6 of you are waiting for the last passenger to leave).
The most common routes are Dushanbe to Khorog, Khorog to Murghab, and Murghab to Osh (or vice-versa). Prices (roughly) are as follows:
- Dushanbe-Khorog: 400 TJS to Khorog, 350 TJS to Dushanbe (in summer 2021)
- Khorog-Murghab: 150 TJS
- Khorog-Rushan: 120 TJS
- Khorog-Shazud: 20-50 TJS. (Shazud to Bachor via taxi/4×4 is an additional 100-150 TJS)
- Murghab-Osh: 200-250 TJS
In my experience with shared taxis and marshrutka I’ve never had to haggle for the price as drivers had given an honest price when I asked the cost, but I did know the relative costs beforehand (asked local friends), and I speak enough Russian/Tajik to argue. If the price they give is higher than the usual range, haggle.
Hitchhiking is relatively easy along the Pamir Highway although plan to pay something and be prepared for possible long wait times. It isn’t impossible to do it for free but most drivers do expect a few Somoni.
It’s a good idea to pack a tent, some food, and cold weather gear in case you don’t manage to find a ride and need to camp somewhere and wait until morning. I always give a few Somoni when hitchhiking even if I’m not asked for payment. Many times they will refuse payment out of hospitality, so usually at that point, I’ll hide 40 TJS or so between the cushions.
You can hitch on Kamaz trucks along the Pamir Highway as they make way between Dushanbe and Kashgar and other destinations beyond in China. I have hitched on Kamaz trucks a number of times in Tajikistan and it’s always been an easy experience, getting picked up relatively quickly.
Most cars will stop to pick you up if they have room. These could be shared taxis already trundling the route or just some locals trying to get to another village or town. It’s customary to offer a few Somoni as a thank you, though many times they’ll try to refuse payment. I’ve managed to hitch countless rides this way without having to wait too long.
From Khorog to Murghab you can find them in Tank, just 22 kilometers east of Khorog. The trucks aren’t allowed to transit the city during the daytime and they do expect payment. From Murghab to Khorog these Chinese trucks will stop overnight 2 km northeast of Murghab and depart around noon.
Hitchhiking tends to get a bit more difficult when you stray off the M41 such as parts of the Wakhan Valley, Shokhdara Valley, and Bartang Valley can get a bit testing at times waiting for a ride (I’d say the Bartang and Shokhdara more so). Hitching the Khargush Pass between Langar and Bulunkul is notoriously difficult, though not impossible
There are several companies that offer organized Pamir Highway Tours. Kalpak Travel, Pamir Highway Adventure, Sarez Travel, among many others can arrange tours. Most organized tours I’ve seen advertised come in between $1,200 and $4,000 USD per person, of course depending on the length of tour and levels of accommodations in cities.
Whether you’re driving in your own car or motorbike from Europe or East Asia as part of a greater Silk Road adventure, plan to rent in Kyrgyzstan or buy a vehicle once you’re in the region. I’ve never self drove the Pamir Highway, but have read in the past that renting or even buying a vehicle is easier from Kyrgyzstan than Tajikistan (I can’t say how true this is from personal experience though!)
Renting a Pajero or Landcruiser, I was told by people I met in Khorog cost them $120 per day for the rental from Osh. A smaller vehicle like a Lada will for about $50 per day. If you’re looking into buying a vehicle over there Caravanistan and its forums would be a good place to start your research.
This is a bucketlister for many cyclists. The majority of other travelers I’ve met in Tajikistan have been cyclists. I do not have any expertise in this as I have never personally cycled the M41, so I’ll turn you over to some blogs that do! Good blogs to visit are We Love Mountains, Blanca on a Bike, and Traveling Two.
Looking For A Little More Information On The Pamirs?
Check out these guides:
Tajik Wakhan Valley Travel Guide
Solo Female Travel In Tajikistan
Dushanbe City Guide
Bartang Valley & Highway Guide
Jizeu Trek: The Pamirs Best Overnight Hiking Trip
How To Get To Lake Sarez
How To Get To Khafrazdara Valley & Grum Grijmailo Glacier
Rasht Valley Travel Guide
How To Cross The Qolma Pass Between Tajikistan & China
10 Reasons To Visit The Pamirs
THE ULTIMATE PAMIR HIGHWAY GUIDE
Dushanbe to Qala i Khumb
There are two routes to get you between Dushanbe and Khorog- the Northern or the Southern Route. So which should you choose, the Southern Route or Northern Route? Well, that’s entirely up to you.
The Northern Route stays on the true M41 the entire way from Dushanbe to Khorog, whereas the Southern Route strays off of it and rejoins it in Qala i Kumb. The northern route is shorter but notoriously more difficult.
Ahh, civilization and the bustling capital of Tajikistan. It’s fairly Soviet-esque but still uniquely Tajik, though this is rapidly changing with a lot of Soviet-era buildings being wiped out to make way for massive high-rises.
Dushanbe has a number of accommodations from expensive Soviet-era hotels, hostels to homestays. My go-to any time in Dushanbe is Hello Hostel. It’s in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks from Rudaki (the main road), and the staff is amazing.
Don’t know what to do in Dushanbe? Check out the Dushanbe City Guide
Where To Stay In Dushanbe
- Budget: Hello Hostel
- Budget: Greenhouse
- Midrange: Taj Palace Hotel
- Splurge: Hyatt Regency
- Splurge: Serena Dushanbe
Check out my post for the best restaurants in Dushanbe
Where To Get Shared Taxis To The Pamir Highway From Dushanbe
Head to the Badakshanskaya Avtostansiya at 149 M. Nazarshoev, just behind the Hilton (formerly Sheraton) Hotel. Walk through the gates and continue walking, people will likely ask where you are wanting to go and point you to where the Khorog bound taxis wait.
Most shared taxis will depart Dushanbe for Khorog (or Qala i Khumb) early morning between 5 am and 8 am. Few will depart on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday so you may have to wait a bit until yours fills up.
There is a small chaikhana here to grab breakfast at right next to the taxis as you wait.
Expect a shared taxi to take anywhere from 14 to 20 hours between Dushanbe and Khorog at a cost of 300-350 TJS.
This is the most common route and the route that most of the shared taxis use. This way will take you south to Kulob first passing the Nurek Reservoir before beginning the ascent up the Shurubad Pass, once over the pass you’ll descend down onto the River Panj with views into Afghanistan.
Worth a short stop to stretch your legs and take in the beautiful scenery.
Not much of interest to most in Tajikistan’s third-largest city aside from the nearby fortress and the 14th century Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani Shrine in Hulbuk.
If coming from Dushanbe the top of this pass Shurubad Pass will be your very first (of many!) GBAO checkpoints, or last if coming from Osh. You will wind down out of the pass to the border with Afghanistan and follow the River Panj until Qala i Khumb.
The Northern Route Of The Pamir Highway
This is the road less traveled. You will stay on the M41 the entire way between Dushanbe and Khorog.
From Dushanbe, you will first head east toward Vakhdat and continue to Obigarm where shortly afterward the road will make a turn toward the south to Tavildara, up and over Sagirdasht Pass before descending down to Qala i Khumb. Note that the Sagirdasht Pass is typically closed from October until May due to snow.
Tavildara is a small town along the M41. It’s a great jumping-off point for adventures off the M41 into Garm and the Rasht Valley.
Looking to hike in the Rasht Valley? Check out the Gardan i Kaftar Trek
This 3,252 meter (10,670 feet) monstrosity is typically blanketed in snow from October to May, sometimes longer. In the brief summer, it is possible to cross over the pass. Lots of beautiful and colorful wildflowers in spring and summer and great camping opportunities.
Qala i Khumb to Khorog
The Pamir Highway from Qala-i-Khumb all the way to Khorog stays along the River Panj, giving you sometimes pretty close glimpses into Afghanistan’s Badakshan Province.
Qala i Khumb
You’ll feel like you’ve hit civilization once you reach Qala i Khumb, there are several shops, restaurants, and accommodations.
For accommodation, Darvaz Guesthouse is a good and inexpensive option as well as Roma Jurayev. There are pricier options like the Karon Palace Hotel. You can book some guesthouses online via PamirTop, though it’s easy enough to get a guesthouse arranged once you arrive. Local kids will likely see you on the street and guide you to a relative’s place.
There isn’t much in the way to see in Qala i Khumb, I spent three days there in the fall of 2019 after completing a trek in Rasht Valley and taking the Northern Route of the M41 to town. People in Qala i Khumb are friendly and it is a great place to relax for a day or two.
Vanj sits just off the M41. If you plan to pay a visit to Tajikistan’s largest glacier, Fedchenko from the village of Poi-Mazar this is your jumping-off point.
Rushan is your jumping-off point for adventures further into the Bartang Valley. You can opt to get dropped in Rushan rather than continuing onto Khorog. Try Homestay Mubarak +992 934052304 or Rushan Inn Guesthouse +992 935550049 for accommodations.
If you want an amazing side adventure to the Pamir Highway the Bartang Valley has tons to offer. Check out the Bartang Highway Travel Guide for more information on the valley. The most popular trip into the Bartang Valley is the trek to the picturesque village of Jizeu.
Everything you need to know: The Bartang Valley
Khorog to Murghab
I’m focusing on the true M41 for this section of the Pamir Highway route. If you’d like to learn more about the Wakhan Route check out the Wakhan Valley Guide and for the Bartang Valley check out the Bartang Valley & Highway Guide. I will be releasing a separate guide for the Shokhdara Valley.
Khorog will always have a special place in my heart. I have spent a lot of time here, more time than any other sane tourist probably would have. It’s a fairly compact city and is easy enough to get around on foot, although there are two marshrutka routes.
Khorog is a great place to base yourself for trekking in the Central & Western Pamir, Bartang Valley, Wakhan Valley, Shokhdara Valley, and more. It’s also where you’ll want to pick up an Afghan Visa if you plan to cross the border into the Afghan Wakhan Corridor.
The best things to do before you leave Khorog is to at least spend an afternoon in the shaded Central Park and a visit to the Botanical Gardens. There are several restaurants in Khorog, my favorites are Nan-Melan for Qurutob, Cafe Luni to grab a coffee and sambusa, Delhi Darbar for Indian food, and World Cuisine for a pizza. There is a nice chaikhana in Central Park on the riverside.
Khorog has a decent-sized bazaar in the middle of town where you can stock up on just about anything.
Plan your time in Khorog: The Khorog Travel Guide + 6 Things To Do In Khorog
Where To Stay In Khorog
There are several accommodation options in Khorog, my favorite being Do Nazarbek Hostel. Nazarbek is very friendly and helpful and treats you like family, and although it’s listed as a hostel each room is a double with a private toilet and shower.
Where To Get Shared Taxis/Marshrutkas
To Murghab (via the Gunt Valley)
Murghab shared taxis and marshrutka used to leave from the lot next to the Khorog Bazaar (you may still find one or two here) but have since moved to a lot just beyond the University of Central Asia campus, just east of Khorog to help eliminate traffic congestion in town. A marshrutka to Murghab should cost 120 TJS, shared 4×4 taxis will cost 150 TJS.
From the same lot, you’ll also find marshrutka bound for Shazud (for those planning to visit Bachor) will cost 20 TJS per seat and 50 TJS in a shared taxi and takes about 3-4 hours (Hiring a taxi from Shazud to Bachor should cost about 120 TJS on average additionally).
To Wakhan Valley
Wakhan bound shared taxis usually can be found across a footbridge over the river from the parking lot where you grab taxis to Murghab and the Bartang Valley. Sometimes you can find them on the main road through Khorog as well. Shared taxis bound for the Wakhan Valley’s Ishkashim should cost 50 TJS and take 3 hours, and expect to pay 120 TJS for the 7-hour drive from Khorog to Langar.
Those planning to head into the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan can pick up a visa at the consulate here in Khorog and grab a shared taxi bound for Ishkashim. You may have difficulty finding transport on Sundays out of Khorog as nearly everything is closed that day. For more info on the Wakhan Valley check out my Wakhan Valley Travel Guide.
Shared taxis bound for Dushanbe used to leave from the lot next to the bazaar, but have moved as of 2020 to a lot just beyond the airport about 4 km from the bazaar. The easiest way to reach the Dushanbe shared taxi lot is to grab a Raksh Tax (dial 3333) or hop on either marshrutka #1 or #3 westbound.
Expect to pay 350-400 TJS for a seat in a shared 4×4. The journey will take anywhere between 12-16 hours on average.
To The Bartang Valley
Go to the same parking lot alongside the bazaar where the Murghab-bound taxis wait. Prices will vary depending on where you’re going. Most will only go to Rushan or Jizeu for those planning to do the trek, expect to pay 120-150 TJS for the journey.
Taxis going beyond in the Bartang Valley will cost more. A private 4×4 to Pasor or Gudara can likely run $150 USD each way. Learn more about the Bartang Valley here.
To Shokhdara Valley
To get to the Shokhdara Valley-bound cars, you’ll need to cross the footbridge over the river just like you would get to the Wakhan bound taxis, opposite the river from the bazaar. Once across the river, there is a lot over there. If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place, ask- people in Khorog are extremely friendly and helpful.
Have Afghanistan on your mind as you plan a trip across the border in Tajikistan?
Bachor is located off the M41 via the village of Shazud. From Bachor, you can trek to Yashilkul, Bulunkul, or make a loop of the stunning mountain lakes beyond Bachor. Technically you’re supposed to have a Tajik National Park Pass out here, but I was never asked for it.
Looking for more hikes? Check out the 10 best treks in Tajikistan
Jelondy is home to a few hot spring pools that many from Khorog will make an occasional weekend family trip out of. Jelondy is also the beginning (or end) of the trek to Tayrumtaikul Lake between Jawshanguz (Shokhdara Valley) and Jelondy.
This 4,272 meter pass will make you feel like you’re on the moon with its lunar landscapes and high altitude. From Koi-Tezek Pass it’s possible to turn off and follow jeep tracks a few kilometers to the south to a shepherding camp from which you can make the ascent up 5,700 meter Kyzyldong– a high-altitude, yet non-technical climb.
This small village just off the Pamir Highway and allegedly the coldest place in all of Tajikistan (a record low temperature was recorded at -60ºC!). Bulunkul isn’t much to write home over, but the morning reflection of the swirled mountains in the morning is worth it. It’s also the gateway to Yashilkul.
A 4km drive or walk from Bulunkul, and a much bigger lake. You can do some treks out of Yashilkul, but you do technically need that Tajik National Park Permit to visit (I was never asked for mine at Yashilkul).
Plot your time in the East Pamir: The Eastern Pamir Travel Guide
A predominately Kyrgyz community that consists of scattered white homes, a small handful of homestays, a restaurant, and a mosque. Alichur doesn’t see many travelers stay overnight, so curious locals will likely give you a tour of their village.
One of my absolute favorite places in Tajikistan and it’s ironically easy to access. Just north of Alichur, it will be on your right side if you are Osh bound, on your left if Dushanbe bound. Whatever you do, stop! Especially in the morning, the water is crystal clear. But don’t get in it or pee in it- it is sacred. Ak-Balyk means ‘white fish’ in Kyrgyz.
Just a few kilometers of the Pamir Highway, Bash Gumbez is nearby to an old Chinese tomb.
Just south of Murghab extending toward the west sits Madiyan Valley. If you follow the jeep tracks up far enough there is a hot spring out here. The valley is also the endpoint of the hike up and over Gumbezkul Pass and from Pshart Valley.
Murghab to Osh
This is the final stretch (or the beginning if you’re starting in Osh). Murghab to Sary-Tash is a strange adventure through lunar landscapes, but beyond Sary-Tash you begin to descend towards the Ferghana Valley.
Welcome to the wild-wild East! This is your best base to explore the Eastern Pamir from. It’s equal parts weird and wild really, from the shipping container bazaar, the dead goat polo At-Chabysh festival, to the Soviet-era remnants- Murghab will keep you occupied for about a day.
There are chaikhanas in town, but most people just eat at their homestays. Not to miss is the yak ice cream on offer on the backside of the Murghab Bazaar.
Plan your stopover in Murghab: The Murghab Travel Guide + 3 Things To Do In Murghab
Where To Stay In Murghab
My favorite place to stay in Murghab is Erali Guesthouse. The family who runs the guesthouse is so sweet, especially the Mom who will cook up your meals, invite you to her kitchen to see how she makes bread, and even sit down for a glass of chai with you.
I’ve randomly ended up at Tulfabek Guesthouse a couple of times I’ve passed through Murghab, it’s a great value at only 45 TJS per night including breakfast.
One thing to note about Murghab is that electricity is irregular. Don’t be surprised if it’s out or so weak it’s nearly impossible to charge anything while you’re there.
- East Pamir Eco Tours Guesthouse
- Erali Guesthouse (+992 93563751421618)
- Tulfabek Guesthouse (+992 935389159)
- Pamir Hotel (+992 93050586321762)
Shared Taxis From Murghab
From the bazaar expect a couple of 4×4 shared taxis will depart to Osh/Sary-Tash. If you want to guarantee a seat best to arrange the day before. You can expect to pay 200-250 TJS (or about 2,000 KGS coming from Osh to Murghab)for the 12-hour ride to Osh.
Some evenings drivers will go homestay to homestay asking if anyone is looking for a shared taxi in the morning (the last time I was in Murghab this was how I ended up arranging my shared taxi), you can also ask at your homestay and they will likely make a call and get you square to leave in the morning.
Expect to pay about 120 TJS for the 7-9 hour drive to Khorog. A few vehicles to depart daily toward Khorog from the bazaar.
A shared taxi departs the bazaar in the late afternoon behind the Aida Cafe. A seat will cost 20 TJS.
Departures For Qolma Pass
You will need to get private transportation to reach Qolma Pass (border crossing with China). I recommend contacting Pamir Highway Adventure to arrange a 4×4. You will also need to arrange a pick-up to take you to Kashgar or Tashkurgan on the Chinese side of the border. Learn more about crossing the Qolma Pass here.
Departures For Wakhan Valley
You will find it easiest to hire a private 4×4 to reach Khorog via the Wakhan Valley. You can contact any of the operators listed in the Tours & Operators section below. For more info in the Wakhan Valley, check out my Wakhan Valley Travel Guide.
This rainbow swirled valley sits just north of Murghab and can be combined with the previously mentioned Madiyan Valley via Gumbezkul Pass.
White Horse Pass in Kyrgyz. This pass goes up and over 4,655 meters, be on the lookout because many times Marco Polo sheep can easily be spotted from the highway. Don’t be surprised if it’s snowing up here, even in mid-summer.
Karakul is a large lake created by a meteor impact and with a twilight zone-esque village of the same name at its shores. There is a scattering of homestays in Karakul and some even have signs posted on the highway as you cross through the village.
Plan your visit: The Karakul Travel Guide
This is the second-highest border crossing in the world at 4,282 meters. Wave goodbye to Tajikistan and hello to Kyrgyzstan (or vice-versa). There are some beautiful color-striped mountains in this no-mans-land between Kyzyl-Art and Bordobo.
Everything you need to know: The Kyzyl Art Border Crossing
This is the Kyrgyz side of the border crossing, not too far from Sary-Tash.
Home to a couple of shops and a small handful of homestays. Hostel Muras is a good place to start. Plan to head off 30 kilometers west to Sary-Mogul for the best views of Pik Lenin or to stay at the yurtstay at Lake Tolpur.
Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city in a flat valley with a giant rocky mountain in the center of it. Osh is ancient, interesting, and has a strange vibe.
Occasional ethnic tensions come to a head here as it sits in the gnarl of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan coming together in the Ferghana Valley. But, Osh is normally completely safe to visit.
Things to check out here include the large and sprawling Osh Bazaar, Suleman Too, Cave Museum, Animal Market, and of course the Lenin Statue. There are a plethora of restaurants here, my favorite being Izyum- if you need a break from Central Asian fare.
Plan your visit to Osh with my Osh Travel Guide
Where To Stay In Osh
Where To Grab Shared Taxis In Osh
Shared taxis bound for Tajikistan (Pamir Highway) usually can be found at the Murghab-Baza taxi stand and sometimes at the Argomak taxi stand, expect to pay about 1,500 Kyrgyz Som per person in a shared 4×4 for the 12-hour ride. You can also speak with your guesthouse and ask for them to arrange for you.
For transport to most elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan by marshrutka or shared taxi head to the Main Minibus Station. If bound for Batken to continue into Tajikistan’s Ferghana Valley cities of Isfara, Khujand, and Istaravshan head to the Batken Minibus Stand. You can also stop by Visit Alay (The CBT Osh) office, or contact them to arrange trips on the Pamir Highway.
A Weird Thing About Time In Eastern Tajikistan
The entire Murghab District of Tajikistan (think: Murghab, Alichur, Bulunkul, Bash Gumbez, Rangkul, and so on…) operates 1 hour ahead of Tajikistan time. Therefore the Murghab District operates on Kyrgyzstan time. I always ask once I’m in Eastern Tajikistan which time we’re leaving/meeting/etc. in the morning just to verify.
Pamir Highway Budget
What should your budget be? Well, that all depends on how you wanna go about this.
Expect to pay $10-20 USD per night including breakfast and dinner.
As breakfast and dinner are likely included in the cost of your homestay, expect to pay anywhere from 10 TJS to 40 TJS for lunch at a chaikhana.
This is largely dependent on if you go about this via 4×4 hire or by shared taxis. Expect a 4×4 hire without side trips at an estimated 7 days to come in around $1,200 USD (of course this can be split amongst 2-6 of you). If doing the journey solely by shared taxi/marshrutka expect your cost to be $65 USD per person.
Estimated Budgets For The Pamir Highway
$180 per day
Via private 4×4 hire (solo traveler)
$50 per day
Via 4×4 hire shared amongst 4 passengers
$25 per day
Via shared taxis
*These are averaged over 7 days
Tours & Guides
These are tour operators and guides that can be hired to take you out on excursions and on treks in the region.
Tajikistan Based Operators
- Women Rockin Pamirs– Started by a French NGO Christine Oriol. Offers trips led by female Tajik guides that have been trained through their program.
- Paramount Journey– Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!
- Sarez Travel– Can arrange tours all over Tajikistan, but specialized in Lake Sarez and the Bartang Valley.
- Bartang & Sarez Tours– Specializes in the Bartang Valley, Lake Sarez, and Khafrazdara Valley.
- Pamir Guides– I’ve had the honor of meeting Saidali one of the owners and operators. Saidali has many years of experience and expertise in the Pamir region.
- Bartang & Sarez Tour– A new company offering trips to Lake Sarez and beyond.
- Discover The Pamir– A newer company specializing in the Pamirs, Bartang Valley, and beyond.
- Pamir Highway Adventure
- Tour De Pamir
- Badakshan Travel
- Pamir Silk Tours
You can also contact PECTA for more recommendations.
Kyrgyzstan Based Operators
- Visit Alay– Community Based Tourism (CBT) In Osh. Can arrange various trekking trips in the Alay Valley and Pamir Highway trips for those starting from Kyrgyzstan.
Operators Based Outside Central Asia
- Kalpak Travel Offering a 5% discount to anyone who mentions the promo code Nicki-Kalpak2017 when booking! Ran by Swiss traveler Luka and his wife Aijan who is originally from Kyrgyzstan. Kalpak offers an active trip along the Pamir Highway between Dushanbe and Osh, as well as trips to other regions of Tajikistan and Central Asia.
*Remember that guides and drivers will expect a tip.
- Here are a few handy items I like to have on me when exploring in the Pamirs.
- The Inreach Explorer+. A GPS & SOS beacon, that can also send and receive text messages. Delorme/Garmin offers some good monthly sponsored when in use.
- A solar charger can be a great way to keep your electronics and batteries charged when trekking in remote areas of the country with no access to electricity for days on end.
- An external battery pack can also help you out in a pinch when batteries are dead and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
- I use the Osprey Ariel 65L backpack and recommend Osprey’s products because of their guarantee. Shop backpacks here!
- A tent is handy if you plan to do any trekking, or are planning to cycle or hitchhike the Pamir Highway. I use the MSR NX Hubba-Hubba and love it!
- A sleeping bag can prove useful if planning to camp while cycling or trekking and also for chilly nights even in a homestay. I use a Nemo sleeping bag cold rated to 15ºF/-5ºC.
- A good pair of hiking boots. My personal favorite is the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX hiking boot.
- If planning on trekking/camping and you like to enjoy a warm meal I can recommend a lightweight cooking camp set.
- I personally use the Katadyn water filter. Tap water in the entire country is unsafe for drinking and natural water sources can be contaminated.
- Trekking poles are recommended. Click here to browse through some nicely rated sets.
- A headlamp will come in handy!
- Don’t forget the sunscreen! Don’t let the cold fool you.
- Mosquito Repellant can prove handy in springtime at lower elevations, although I’ve personally never run into many bugs out here in my late summer and fall adventures.
- Trekking in Tajikistan by Jan Bakker & Christine Oriol. You’ll find detailed descriptions of these hikes as well as those in the Pamirs in this book.
- Tajikistan and the High Pamirs by Robert Middleton & Hue Thomas. This is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from history, great-game stories, travel information, and more.
- Bradt Guide Tajikistan by Sophie Ibbotson & Max Lovell-Hoare. The most comprehensive guide to Tajikistan in print.
- Central Asia by Lonely Planet. Handy to have with you, although don’t necessarily treat it as a bible. Things rapidly change and the currency can fluctuate so it’s not always dead on. A new edition published in 2018 and I heavily question whether the writer in charge of the Tajikistan section had ever stepped foot in the country, you’ve been warned.
- The Central Asia Phrasebook by Lonely Planet I found this to be a handy item for Tajik, Russian and Kyrgyz phrases, not so much for the Wakhi phrase section.
- ‘The Pamirs‘ by Markus Hauser. Can be found online on Amazon, or can always be picked up at the PECTA office. The creators also created a Northern Tajikistan map as well as the Southern Tajikistan map.
Great Online References
- Pamirs.org: A great all-around resource for all things Pamir. From trekking, visa & permit information, cycling, sport, and more!
- Trekking in the Pamirs: Jan Bakker’s website with information on many hikes all over Tajikistan (not just the Pamirs!).
- PECTA: Can help you arrange anything Pamir. Very responsive.
- Caravanistan: Saule is a wealth of knowledge on Central Asia. She is very responsive via email and can put you in contact with numerous tour agencies in the country.
- Indy Guide: Making travel in the whole of Central Asia & Mongolia easier buy providing the largest community marketplace of Central Asian tour operators and drivers.
Pamir Highway Safety
In general, traveling the Pamir Highway is safe with the usual precautions. The most likely risks to dampen your trip will be food poisoning and altitude sickness. Other dangers include risks associated with trekking in remote areas, natural disasters such as landslides, avalanches, and earthquakes, and bad roads paired with crazy drivers.
In July 2018 there was a terrorist attack carried out in the Denghara District south of Dushanbe. 7 cyclists were struck by a car driven by men pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, 4 of which died due to injuries sustained from the collision and stab wounds. I’m not including this to scare you, but it is something to be aware of.
This is not a regular occurrence in Tajikistan, (in fact this was the first terrorist attack carried out in the country targeting tourists) proving that nowhere in this world is truly safe from these kinds of events.
In September 2018 demonstrations took place in Khorog by fed-up Pamiris demanding better infrastructure for the region as well as more job opportunities and economic growth. Naturally, the central government sent in the army to quash any attempts of violence. Shortly after, several known criminals in the GBAO were arrested.
Some fear these protests could be the first ripple in the instability to come in the Pamir region. If demonstrations turn violent the Tajik government will typically close the region off to foreigners and force any already there to evacuate. The last time this happened was the summer of 2012.
Is Tajikistan safe? Click here to read more
Have Any Questions Not Answered About Traveling The Pamir Highway?
Ask your Pamir Highway questions in the comments below!