The World’s Most Epic Road Trip: Pamir Travel Guide
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The Pamir Highway, the Bam-i-Dunya, the Roof of the World, officially the M41. Bone crushing roads, vast remoteness, low oxygen, high altitude passes, cold nights and warm souls…. Not for the faint of heart. The Pamir Highway is about as adventurous as it gets! Keep on reading to find everything you need to know to prep you for Pamir travel.
The Pamir Highway is the second highest highway in the world, only under the Karakoram Highway in nearby Pakistan. Get ready for high altitude passes, the elusive Marco Polo sheep, unbelievable hospitality, sheep herder traffic jams, broken pavement, sky scraping mountains and views straight into the Afghani Wakhan, this is the famed M41.
I am also including information on the greater GBAO region and activities to be had in the region in this post in addition to the Pamir Highway.
Wanna join an awesome expedition in 2018 in the Pamirs?
Yours truly will be leading a high altitude expedition in The GBAO region of Tajikistan, Xinjiang region of China and the northern valleys of Pakistan. I will be taking a small group of you adventurers on the expedition in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!
The Pamir Mountains take up a vast amount of Tajikistan’s Kohistani Badakshan- Better known by its former name: the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast). The Pamir Highway is the artery connecting this region with the rest of the world. The beginning of the highway is somewhat disputed between Dushanbe, Khorog, Mazar-i-Sharif (Afghanistan), and Termiz (Uzbekistan) and all agree that Osh, Kyrgyzstan is the other end of the highway. The above map shows that Mazar-i-Sharif and Osh are the true terminus’ of the M41. I personally started my trip from Dushanbe and went up to Osh. It is very popular to do this road trip in reverse- starting in Osh and ending in Dushanbe or even doing it as a loop from Osh back up to Osh (this route would take you up through northwest Tajikistan and back into Kyrgyzstan in the end). The GBAO accounts for 45% of Tajikistan’s landmass, but only 3% of its population.
It’s advisable to stock up on cash in either Dushanbe or Khorog if you are starting the Pamir Highway from within Tajikistan. If starting the journey from Osh, Kyrgyzstan you can stock up in Osh or even Bishkek if passing through. Some Kyrgyz ATM’s even dispense US Dollars (even better is to just have the cash already when you leave home if possible). US dollars are widely accepted, Euros and Russian Roubles generally will be taken as well. It is not uncommon for ATMs to be out of money in Tajikistan. The local currency in Tajikistan is the Tajik Somoni. The Somoni’s value seems to fluctuate, sometimes vastly.
Updated and revised! (January 2018) the exchange rate is:
$1 USD=8.81 TJS
$1 AUS=6.89 TJS
$1 CAD=7.07 TJS
1 RUB=0.15 TJS
If you want to read up more on money matters head on over to the Tajikistan Travel Guide.
Many countries can now apply for an E-visa, making the process extremely simple. Refer to the map below to find out if you’re eligible for an E-Visa, Visa On Arrival, Visa-Free Entrance or if you will need to obtain a visa from an embassy prior to arriving.
In order to visit the Pamir Highway which cuts through the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast) you need a GBAO permit! You can simply apply and pay for it at the same time you apply for your E-visa. If you don’t apply for the GBAO permit with your visa you’ll have to waste time attaining it from the OVIR office in Dushanbe. There are a few places in the GBAO that you need additional permits to visit, that includes: Zorkul, Lake Sarez and Tajik National Park. Click here to skip to the Permit Section of the Tajikistan Travel Guide.
The Pamir Highway is long with vast stretches of nothingness between settlements and towns, which is part of the allure. This can make dining a challenge. Simple meals can be had in homestays with dinner and breakfast typically being included in the cost of a night stay. If biking the length of the Pamir Highway or wanting to prepare your own meals there is a large bazaar in Khorog (pricy by Tajik standards) and a very limited small bazaar in Murghab (very expensive by Tajik standards) If starting from Dushanbe there are several markets around the city to stock up, on the way to Khorog from Dushanbe. Supplies can be purchased in Kulab (large bazaar), Kala-i-Khumb and Darvaz. Further along the Highway very limited supplies can be picked up in Bulunkul, Alichur, Murghab and Karakul. Brush up on you Russian and ask the locals. You’ll likely find yourself wandering into what looks like a house to buy some snickers bars, noodle packets or expired beer at very least. If you take the Wahkan corridor from Khorog, usually asking around town can get you the same in Ishkashim, Vrang, and Langar. You may occasionally find children in the Wakhan selling baskets of fresh picked apples in the afternoon after school for next to nothing. Chaikhanas (teahouses) can be found in Kulab, Kala-i-Khumb, Darvaz, Khorog, Dasht, Ishkashim, Vrang, Langar, Bulunkul, Alichur, Murghab and Karakul. Although many Chaikhanas in small settlements look like a home to an outsider, so ask around if you’re on your own without driver or guide to figure out where to go. Bigger towns, such as Darvaz and Khorog even have restaurants. Food will typically include the usual Tajik fare when traveling in the the Wakhan, Bartang, Shokhdara and Ghunt Valleys. Once into the eastern Pamir the population becomes predominately Kyrgyz nomadic people. In Alichur, Bulunkul, Keng Shibur, Murghab and Karakul expect to still find the usual Tajik fare with the a Kyrgyz nomadic twist. You will begin to see more yak products served, like yak’s butter and yak yogurt.
If you are a vegetarian, need not fear! Many homestay owners will ask if you are ‘vegetarianets (male)/vegetarianka (female) or sometimes they’ll just say veggie? There are enough foreign vegetarians that have traveled the region that many people are aware that vegetarians do exist, they’re not unicorns. A good phrase to learn in Russian is ‘Ya vegetarianets’ if you are male and ‘Ya vegetarianka’ if you are female. To say ‘I don’t eat meat’ in Russian, say ‘Ya ne yem myasa’. Just get used to the fact that your meals will genrally consist of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes and bread. Vegans will struggle a little more, but it is possible to just tell your hosts ‘Nyet Malacca’ meaning ‘No milk. ‘Nyet yaytsa’ means no eggs in Russian. The word in Russian for vegan is ‘Vegan” for men and ‘veganka’ for women.
When to Go:
The best time to do a trip through the Pamir Highway would be from June until the end of September. For trekking July through mid September will offer you the best weather and conditions. July to August is considered to be the summer months here. It is possible to adventure along the Pamir Highway outside these months, although certain times can be very challenging. Fall is in September-October and offers stunning colors, the weather tends to get on the cold side into October. November to March is winter and will be the most difficult. Expect heavy snowfall and temps to dip below freezing. Spring time falls between April and June. Trekking at lower altitudes is nice this time of year as the plant life is nice and green. However this is the riskiest time of year in way of avalanche danger at higher altitudes.
This is all dependent on what your plans are for visiting the Pamirs. If you plan to do multi day treks: a tent, a good warm sleeping bag (think cold nights in the mountains), small camp stove, water purification system, backpack, layered clothing, hiking boots, hat, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, and trekking poles are all a good idea to bring into the wilderness with you. There are some nice day hikes and overnight hikes to be had where you can spend the night in a homestay (such as Jizeu) where you don’t need to bring much beyond maybe a small pack with a change of warm clothes and a water bottle. For trekking I carry the Osprey Aura 65L backpack and find it to be quite comfortable. Equally as important is a good pair of hiking boots, the Merrell Moab is my person fave. If you need camping supplies it’s best to pick them up in either Dushanbe or Osh before you take off.
There are guides that lead tours in the Pamirs, as the Pamirs are Tajikistan’s #1 tourist attraction. Contact PECTA (Pamir Eco Cultural Tourism Association) to arrange guides and tours. Caravanistan and Indy Guide can both arrange tours for you as well. You can check out the Facebook Page and contact Women Rock’in Pamirs, Tajikistan’s first female tour guides!
Tajik is the official language which is nearly identical to the Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. Pamiri (also called Badakshani) languages are spoken throughout the region. Wakhi, Rushani, Bartangi, Oroshor, Khufi, Shughni, Sarikoli, Yazgulyam, Vanji, Munji, Yidgha, Sanglechi, Ishkashmi, Zebaki are all languages that fall under Pamiri, with Pamiri considered to be a dialect of Tajik. Russian is widely spoken as Tajikistan was a former region of the Soviet Union. It is possible to hire English as well as German, French, etc. speaking guides if need be.
Getting to the Pamirs:
You can either start from or end in Osh, Kyrgyzstan to/from either Khorog, Dushanbe, Mazar-i-Sharif (AFG), Termiz (UZB). The most usual is for travelers to start and end in Dushanbe and Osh (or reverse).
You can fly into Dushanbe or Osh easily. Mazer-i-Sharif is reachable by flights via Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Fly Dubai. You can easily fly into any of Uzbekistan’s big cities and begin the trip via Termiz. There one flight per day between Dushanbe and Khorog and back, although make sure to allot up to two extra days in the event of delays. The most recent information (2014) found online was via Carivanistan with prices stated at $100 per person each way. Skip here to read more information about the Dushanbe-Khorog flight.
Private Car Hire.
The average going rate the summer of 2016 for the hire of a Landcruiser with a driver was $0.80-$0.90 per km. Drivers will usually quote you in USD and will gladly accept them too. I was lucky to meet a driver who offered to do the trip for $0.70 per km, and I immediately accepted. Always negotiate and/or agree to a price before departing. There are many different routings of the Pamir Highway which can make the cost of your trip vary widely. For most the trip connecting Dushanbe to Osh via the Wakhan will come in around 1,200-1,500km give or take.
For reference, here is a rough estimate if planning to hire a driver for legs of the trip:
Dushanbe-Khorog: $270/2380 TJS.
Khorog-Murghab: $270/2380 TJS.
Murghab-Osh: $350/3090 TJS.
When hiring a private car, your driver will expect a tip.
*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.
This may require a little haggling, but here are some points of reference.
Dushanbe-Khorog: $39/345 TJS.
Khorog-Ishkashim: $5/44 TJS.
Ishkashim-Langar: $7/62 TJS.
Khorog-Murghab: $20/177 TJS.
Murghab-Osh: $20/177 TJS.
*Anyone with more accurate transportation costs, please e-mail me and I will update this section!
More than any other mode of transport you’ll probably meet and see more cyclists than cars, trucks, 4×4’s and walkers for travelers on the Pamir Highway! Cycling this highway will require being in good fitness and some smart planning as there are stretches where you may go a few days with no access to bazaars or shops or even water sources. Many cyclists are doing the Pamir Highway as part of a greater cycling trip spanning from western Europe to the eastern seaboard of Asia or Southeast Asia.
If you plan to go the Pamir Highway via cycle, check out these blogs for more information as I didn’t personally cycle it on my 2016 trip in Tajikistan.
It is possible to hitchhike the Pamir Highway, be well prepared with enough food and water to span you a few days, ample clothing layers as it can be cold and windy here even in summer as well as camping equipment. There may be times where you don’t see a vehicle for hours or even days at worst case. Bring cash to offer to your driver as this is usually expected around this part of the world.
Just like Central Asia and the Silk Road, there’s no one route. There are several, let’s break it down:
Dushanbe to Khorog:
You can take Two different routes between Dushanbe that converge in Kala-i-Khumb and then continue on to Khorog, Three if you want to count the flight between the two cities. Expect anywhere between a 14 and 20 hour adventure if going via the more common Southern Route by car. Expect substantially longer if planning to go by way of the Northern Route due to broken roads.
The Southern Route: This is the more common route and usually the only land option open in the winters. If going by shared taxi from Dushanbe (same can be said for going the opposite direction) you’ll likely blast on through the entire route from Dushanbe to Khorog in one go with a few short stops for the toilet and snacks. If going by private car hire, your own vehicle, hitchhiking or cycling: From Dushanbe you will first head east to Vahdat and from Vahdat begin heading south. Shortly after Vahdat you’ll find yourself at the beautiful Nurek Dam, a good place to take a break and a photostop at the viewing pull off. From Nurek continue south to Kurbon where you’ll veer east again toward Kulab, Tajikistan’s third largest city and home to Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani Shrine. Kulab is a good place to stop off for lunch or to stock up on food supplies at the bazaar. Following Kulab you’ll begin the climb into the 2200m Shurabad Pass. On the way up Shurabad you’ll get to encounter your first GBAO checkpoint (or last if coming from Osh). The descent out of Shurabad Pass is a colorful one with orangy-red mountains and views to the Panj River and into nearby Afghanistan. You will follow along the banks of the River Panj with jaw dropping scenes of Afghan villages perched on riverside, rocky landings until you get to Kala-i-Khumb/Darvaz. If you going by private car hire Kala-i-Khumb/Darvaz are good options to spend the night. There are restaurants, a hotel, homestays and shops in Kala-i-Khumb/Darvaz.
The Northern Route: Snow-covered most the year and typically closed from October thru May. Head toward Garm where the rods turn south toward Labi Jar and on to Tavildara. Once past Tavildara there are several places where you may need to ford the river as many bridges are broken making this route therefore difficult. There are amazing views to be seen especially if going from Dushanbe to Khorog (eastbound). After climbing into the Sagirdasht Pass you will then descend onto Kala-i-Khumb. (I’ve not taken the northern route yet, but have heard that it is very scenic from travelers who have).
Continuing from Kala-i-Khumb to Khorog: From Kala-i-Khumb the M41 continues south along the River Panj and winds into the Vanj Valley where at the opening (from the Dushanbe side) you’ll find yourself at another GBAO checkpoint.
Pamir Highway Side Trip- Fedchenko Glacier: At the village of Vanj you can turn north off the M41 and head to Poi-Mazar where the day hike to and out of the Fedchenko Glacier- the world’s longest glacier begins. There are options for homestays in the Vanj valley at Kholov and at Dursher. Longer trips can be arranged onto the Fedchecko Glacier. Check out this video of 5 skiers who traversed the monster glacier.
From Vanj to Khorog you’re in good luck as this is the smoothest stretch of road. 90 km in to the 172 km drive between Vanj and Khorog you’ll find yourself at the village of Rushan. From Rushan side trips can be done into the Bartang Valley and beyond.
Pamir Highway Side Trip- Bartang Valley: One of the wildest mountain valleys in the Pamir. The Bartang Highway can even be done as an alternative route to the traditional Pamir Highway. The highway connects Rushan in the south all the way up to Karakul in far northeast of Tajikistan. Although the Bartang highway is widely known for its bone-crushing roads. Depending on the condition of this road it may or may not be passible. 4×4 is the most comfortable way to travel the highway, but local marshrutka do make the journey at times. There are spots where you’ll likely need to ford the river, and it’s not uncommon for parts of the highway to crumble into the river. Every now and then a crazy motorbike will make it the whole way as well. Cycling the Bartang highway is an option as well. The Bartang Highway is home to numerous jumping off points that we will discuss later, such as: Lake Sarez, Grum Grijimaillo Glacier, Jizeu Valley, Khafrazdara Valley and more.
Pamir Highway Side Trip- Jizeu Valley: One of those most popular treks in the GBAO. Day hikes, overnighters and multi-day treks can be done here. Jizeu Valley is accessed via the Bartang Highway.
Rushan is home to a couple shops, a decent functioning hotel, a homestay, a petrol station and a couple Chaikhanas. It is possible to organize transport from Rushan up to the Bartang Highway to get dropped at the cable bridge to Jizeu Valley. If wanting to do more extensive travel up the Bartang Highway via car hire its best to head on to Khorog to take care of that first. Just 65 km separate Rushan from Khorog.
The Flight: The flight can be difficult to arrange as you can’t just go online and book a ticket. There’s supposed to be one flight each direction between Dushanbe and Khorog each day, but if weather is not perfect they will ground it. If the flight doesn’t fill up they will usually cancel due to insufficient passengers. You will need to get on the list at the Tajik Air Office located at Nissor Muhammed 5, just across from the ‘Green Market’ in Dushanbe. The last I could find was updated in 2014 on Carivanistan. Tickets were going for $100 USD per seat each way, with only 17 seats available. This is a thrilling flight in an unpressurized plane that goes through, not over the mountains. If the flight the day prior to yours was canceled due to weather, those people will have priority over you. Taking the flight could actually take you extra time or days to get out due to possible delays, so keep that in mind. It is recommended to budget at least two extra days if trying to go by flight. Even then, it’s wise to have a backup plan to go overland if need be. If going the other direction, from Khorog to Dushanbe tickets can be purchased at the Tajik Air office across the main road from the airport terminal. For your information, no one at the Tajik Air offices speaks English, or other European languages. So unless your decently confident in you Russian, Tajik or Persian language skills it may be helpful to bring someone with you that can help translate for you.
Khorog to the Junction of the M41 and the Wakhan Corridor Route.
You have three options to get between Khorog and where the three routes nearly meet up near the Khargush Pass and the turn off the M41 to Bulunkul. They are via the Ghunt Valley (the true Pamir Highway), via Shokhdara Valley or via the Wakhan Valley.
Ghunt Valley: This is the true M41 route. A stark valley that winds up into dramatic snow-capped peaks.The Bachor trek (goes into Tajik National Park) can be accessed via the turn-off at Varshedz. Eventually as the road follows the river you will end up at the hot springs of Jelandy and then climb up and over the Koi-Tezek Pass and descend toward Bulunkul.
Wakhan Valley: Probably the most beautiful route and the most popular. Gaze on to adorable villages perched on the edges of the Afghani side of the Pamir River, cross through picture perfect villages on the Tajik side of the steep valley walls and get the occasional glimpse of the high flying Hindu Kush (remember the Wakhan Corridor is extremely narrow, giving you the ability to see not only into this remote stretch of Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well). The Wakhan Valley is dotted with old ruins and even a hot spring. The Wakhan Valley route will take you through the the Beautiful Garam Chashma Hot spring, the stunning Dasht village, the largest village in the area of Ishkashim, access to the Qaaakha Fortress in Namadgut, into Darshai where a trek up into the gorge can be done, the best preserved ruin in the area: Yamchun Fortress near to the Bibi Fatima Hotspring, the ancient Buddhist Stupa in Vrang, the old city ruins of Kala-i-Panja in Zong, eventually leading onto the lovely village of Langar and the last village of the Wakhan (or first if coming from Osh) of Ratm. Leaving Ratm you will being climbing into the high altitude Khargush Pass, here you will encounter another GBAO checkpoint. From this checkpoint you can either head east to Zorkul (that is, if you’ve secured a permit at the PECTA office before leaving Khorog), or continue north into the Khargush Pass to eventually meet back up with the M41.
Shokhdara Valley: Accessed via the Roshtqala Road from Khorog, it pretty much sits in a valley between the M41 and the Wakhan Valley Route. This route will take you into seldomly visited villages. From here you’ll have amazing views of Pik Engles and Pik Karl Marx. Homestays can be found in Roshtaqala, Vezdara, Sindev, Shohirizm, Javshanguz and Bodomara. This is a valley with many ideal camping opportunities as well.
Bulunkul to Murghab:
For this stretch there are two route options, the M41 or off roading between Zorkul or Chatyr Tash/Shakhty to Shaimak up to Rangkul and back over to Murghab.
Bulunkul is a lake and small village just north off the M41 near where the three routes between Khorog and Bulunkul meet. From Bulunkul Yashilkul can be easily accessed by a short drive or long walk. Back on the M41 head east to the small twilight zone looking town of Alichur. Alichur does look like it’s on the edge of the world. There is a Chaikhana here as well as a few homestays offering meals. Ask around to find a homestay here, it won’t take long and the friendly locals will help you out. There also is a shop to pick up very basic supplies and snacks if needed, just ask around and someone will grab a family member to unlock the house/shop for you. Shortly after Alichur (or before if coming from Osh) you can’t miss the stunningly beautiful Ak-Balyk, a small crystal clear holy pond. Shortly after passing Ak-Balyk you will see some jeep tracks headed off road toward the south. One heads south toward Keng Shibur (a sheep hunting camp) via Bash Gumbez. Another track a little further up the road will bring you south between the villages of Chatyr Tash and Shakhty to Jarty Gumbez (another Marco Polo hunting camp). If not taking the off road detour you’ll stay on the M41 through the Naizatash Pass and descend down into Murghab. Right before entering into Murghab you will be stopped at yet another GBAO checkpoint.
Pamir Highway Side Trip- Jasty Gumbez-Shaimak-Rangkul to Murghab detour: If you choose to take the side trip off the Pamir highway to Jasty Gumbez (even Keng Shibur too)– Just south of here the trail ties into the one coming up and over from Zorkul. Follow this and you will eventually end up in the Great Game spy outpost of Shaimak. Shaimak was a strategic location for the British and Russians as the made their advances through Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. From one view point you can see from Tajikistan into Afghanistan, Pakistan and China all at the same time. From Shaimak head north along jeep tracks to the colorful mountains of Rangkul before heading back west and ending up back in Murghab.
Murghab and Side trips from Murghab:
Murghab is a ramshackle town thrown up in a lovely and picturesque wide valley. It’s a bit of a box-house jungle (which if you’re from Alaska like me, this won’t seem too unusual of a sight for you). A number of homestays and chaikhanas are available here as well as even a hotel. From Murghab you can take two side trips, the Madiyan Valley and Hotspring or the Pshart Valley (Or the above mentioned Rangkul can be done as a day trip from Murghab and back).
Madiyan Valley: The southern more option to the west. Head up the valley’s rough roads for views of the rugged surrounding mountains to eventually end up at a very secluded hot spring.
Pshart Valley: Here you’ll be surrounded by massive mountains that are swirled with colors. It’s pretty psychedelic. The extremely intrepid can attempt to head up the broken jeep tracks and attempt to go around the northside of Lake Sarez to tie into the Bartang Highway at Kök Jar (may the force with you). Even more intrepid hikers can attempt to make the long day hike between the Pshart and Madiyan Valleys. You can organize yurtstays and pick ups back in Murghab to do the trek.
Murghab to Karakul:
There’s one known route between the two and that’s the M41 (I’m sure there’s some truly hardcore off-roaders who have it done it in other routes. This stretch of the M41 will take you up and over the 4655m Ak-Baital Pass, where it could very well be snowing in the middle of summer, and Marco Polo sheep can sometimes be seen right off the highway. The Pass descends down into the village of Karakul on the shores of the lake of the same name. The lake is said to unofficially be the highest navigable body of water on Earth, even higher than Lake Titicaca. Karakul is an odd village, but a nice overnight stop to break up the drive up to or from Osh. There are a small handful of homestays that are well signed right off the highway.
Murghab to Osh:
The final leg (or the beginning if going the opposite direction). This leg leading to the Kyrgyz border will continue on the weird high altitude plateau moonscape along the border fence separating Tajikistan and China. The first border check is at Kyzyl Art Pass and then will continue on 20km of dirt road to the Kyrgyz border of Bordöbö. Keep you your eyes up for views of a stunning rainbow striped mountain in the no-man’s land between the two countries. Once through the border at Bordöbö you only have 24km to go until Sary Tash. Sary Tash is the jumping off point to many nearby trekking opportunities. The large city of Kyrgyzstan’s Ferghana Valley, Osh sits 185 km north of Sary Tash. (Sary Tash and Osh will be covered in posts on Kyrgyzstan).
*If you plan to go the Pamir Highway by bicycle check out these blogs for more information.
Cities, Towns and Larger Villages:
Khorog: Biggest city in the GBAO with a rough population of 70,000 people. Restaurants, Hotels, Hostels, Homestays, Internet, Bazaars and Shops are available in Khorog. The population is well educated and it’s fairly easy to find English speaking locals (many will want to practice their English with you). There is a small hospital in case of small injuries but anything else will be sent to Dushanbe. Points of interest include the Central Park, Botanical Garden, and Regional Museum. The University of Central Asia is located here, as well as the Aga Khan Foundation.
Murghab: Welcome to the wild-wild East, this is Murghab. Completely isolated, yet the best base to explore the Eastern Pamir from. Hotels, hostels, homestays, restaurants, internet, and a small (and expensive) bazaar are all available here.
Ishkashim: The largest village in the Wakhan Valley. Homestays and a guesthouse, and a chaikhana are available here.
Karakul: An eerie village full of welcoming locals on the edge of Lake Karakul, just north of Ak-Baital Pass. The surrounding region is almost entirely uninhabited. Well signed homestays are available here, all of which serve meals.
Alichur: A small scattering of houses along the Alichur River. Friendly locals will chat you up as you walk around. Homestays and a chaikhana are available here. Good base to explore the Alichur Valley from.
The options are limitless! There is so much ground that can be covered here, it really is a trekker’s paradise. Here I will list some of the more popular treks in the Pamir region. If anyone has any input to add, as this is a massive region to cover with many options, please e-mail me any treks you feel I should add at adventuresoflilnicki [at] gmail.com.
A great resource on the region is Jan Bakkar who blogs at Trekking In The Pamirs. He has written about many of the Pamir hikes on his website and has also created what I think is the only e-book around on the subject. Click here to purchase his e-book, Trekking in Tajikistan for €6. It also includes treks on the Afghan side of the border as well as the Fann Mountains in the northwest of Tajikistan with maps. It doesn’t cover every trek under the sun, but for a whole €6 I thought it was money well spent to have that information in my pocket on the side of a mountain.
Another invaluable item to own here is the Pamirs Map by Markus Hauser, You can purchase it through my Amazon link here, or directly through Gecko Maps here. I also have a spare, unused, brand new copy of the map. If you’re interested, I’d be willing to sell it to you for $15- e-mail me at adventuresoflilnicki [at] gmail.com.
Unless homestays are mentioned, it’s pretty safe to assume that you will need a tent for the treks. Some treks may have nights where homestays are an option and other nights not.
Remember, you should plan to be fully equipped and well prepared out here. If you are an inexperienced trekker or are not completely confident in your skills: HIRE A GUIDE, there’s not shame in it and they are available (mostly June-September). Trekking in remote mountains, or anywhere for that matter, involves risks. I will not take responsibility for any loss, death, injury, illness or inconvenience out here. Altitude sickness can strike even the most fit of people. Take the necessary precautions to acclimate for the altitude before beginning any trekking in the region. These trekking recommendations are meant as a rough idea of what kind of trekking trips are available in the High Pamir and GBAO region. Skip to the Tours and Guides Section for links to websites that can help organize treks for you and provide guides.
Jizeu (Bartang Valley): Probably the most popular trek in the Central Pamir. Jizeu is a small village set around several overflowed river-lakes in a stark valley. Arrange a car or shared taxi (Probably from Khorog) to take you just past Rushan Village (Rushan is about 65km from Khorog) a short drive (23km) up the Bartang Valley to the suspension bridge*. Cross the Bartang River over the bridge and follow the trail on up to the picture-perfect village of Jizeu. Give or take the trek to the lower village will take about 2 hours if you’re in reasonably good shape. The trail is well marked and there are signed homestays when you arrive in the village. Half of the homes in Jizeu operate as homestays! Further treks can be arranged by homestay owners from Jizeu, such as Ravmed Valley and beyond to Basid.
I can personally recommend Lola Homestay in Jizeu: Good food (my favorite Qurutob), a nice big room and friendly and welcoming family. 1 night including lunch, dinner and breakfast set me back 130TJS (Sept. 2016).
*All sources I found leading up to my trip to Jizeu mentioned to make sure not take the suspension bridge as it would take you only to the evacuated former village of Red and that the way to Jizeu was by way of a hand cranked cable car. When I arrived there was no cable car (it’s actually on the other side of the river next to a suspension bridge, no longer being used). I’m guessing that this is a newly built bridge. The concrete bases the bridge is attatched to do say ‘this way to Jizeu’ in spray paint.
Jizeu-Ravmed Valley-Basid (Bartang Valley):Homestay owners in Jizeu can help arrange guides to accompany you and/or useful information to go at it on your own to continue over the pass into Ravmed Valley (more homestays available in Ravmed Village) and eventually onto Khijez (homestays available) and eventually on to Basid.
Fedchenko Glacier: Can be done as a difficult full day in-out hike from Poi-Mazar. Turn north off the M41 at the village of Vanj and continue up the road until Poi-Mazar. Homestay can be found in nearby Kholov and Dursher. Multi day hikes can be arranged further along and even on the glacier for those experienced and daring enough for it. A small handful of people have skied the glacier.
Khafrazdara and Grum Grjimailo Glacier: The trek along Khafrazdara will bring you to beautiful lakes surrounded by jagged mountains in perfect Tajik fashion. This is a very remote trek. From the village of Pasor (along the Bartang Highway), if you can get up here as the Bartang Highway is famous for being impassible at times. There are two stunning lakes of Khafrazdara which can be trekked to from Pasor in one to two days depending on your ambition and speed. Another day further will take you to face the Grum Grjimailo Glacier. From the glacier expect to take at least two days to make it back to Pasor.
Basid and Badara (Bartang Valley): From both villages a number of lovely hike can be taken up trails leading to the high summer pastures.
Bachor to Lake Sarez: Begin from the village of Bachor, just off the M41 in the Ghunt Valley. Continue to the confluence of the Ghunt and Andaravaj Rivers (about 4km), and then continue following the Andaravaj River up into the 4,590m Andaravaj Pass. You’ll then come down the pass with views of Zarushkul and the small lakes leading into Vykhinch. This leg will take you three days. From the settlement of Vykhinch allow one more day to reach Lake Sarez. Make sure to have a Lake Sarez Permit prior to setting out on this trek, allegedly can be arranged at the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Dushanbe, but realistically the only way I’ve seen (and personally gotten the permit) was from Nurumuhammed who own Sarez Travel.
Bachor Mountain Lakes: More trekking can be done to stunning lakes near Bachor. Visit Trekking in the Pamirs, where Jan Bakker explains the trek.
Pshart to Madiyan Valley via Gumbezkul Pass (Murghab/Aksuu Valley): This is a long, demanding day hike that begins at a Horse-Breeding Center and Yurtstay set at the point where the Pshart Valley divides. Trek up the Gumbezkul Pass beginning here up steep scree to eventually end up at 4,700m with great views over the valley. Once over into Madiyan Valley you can opt to continue trekking to the Madiyan Hot Spring. From Madiyan Hot Spring you can choose to continue trekking up into Bazardara Pass and continue onto Alichur Village (See Bazardara Valley section).
Bazardara Valley (Alichur Valley): 10km east of the village of Alichur you can drive right to the foot of Bazardara Pass and trek on up Peak Alichur (5,800m). Trek further afield from Bazardara Pass and you will run into the ruins of Bazardara and eventually onto the Murghab/Aksuu Valley.
Bash Gumbez to Zorkul (Alichur Valley): Starting from the settlement of Bash Gumbez just about 30 km east of the village of Alichur a couple hikes can be done. From Bash Gumbuz head southeast to Ukchul Lake for a one day trek. The other option is to head south, up and over the 4,720m Bash Gumbez Pass and eventually onto Zorkul. Make sure you have a Zorkul permit from the PECTA office beforehand!
Alichur Village to Yashilkul and Beyond (Alichur Valley): From Alichur Village you can trek west to Yashilkul and further afield to Bulunkul, Lake Sarez and even onto Bachor.
Zorkul Lake: Treks can be done around the lake and further out to Alichur Village, Bash Gumbuz and Jarty Gumbez.
Koi-Tezek Pass: Numerous day and multi-day treks can be taken from the side valleys of the Koi-Tezek Pass.
Darshai Gorge: A short hike from Darshai Village that will take you along the rushing river and eventually along a narrow path of of branches and rocks held impossibly onto a rock face. More treks can be arranged further from here including to a yurt camp. Taking a guide from Darshai Village would be wise to go beyond the rock face.
Mayakovsky Peak: Beyond the yurt camp mentioned above you can hike even further up Mayakovsky Peak (6,095m), hiking beyond the summit you’ll cross a snowfield and eventually end up at a homestay located at Bodomdara, which actually sits in the Shokhdara Valley.
Meadows of Pik Engels: Towering over the Wakhan Valley and one of Tajikistan’s most recognizable peaks, Pik Engels reaches up to 6,510m. Read more about how to do this trek on Jan Bakker’s website, Trekking in the Pamirs.
Outside of Khorog, Murghab and Kala-i-Khumb expect to only find homestays. Homestays are typically rooms in a family’s home or separate small buildings on their land that offer a place to sleep for visitors. They almost always serve food and at least dinner and breakfast can usually expected in the cost of a nights stay. Expect homestays to run $10-20 USD per night including two meals.
In Khorog, Kala-i-Khumb and Murghab it is possible to spend the night in hotels, each city has a small handful on offer. Expect a nights stay to run in the $50-100 USD range.
If planning to trek, it’s advisable to bring a tent.
Hunting for Marco Polo sheep is a draw for hunter’s to visit the Pamir region from all over the world. The hunting season runs from November to March and most hunters stay at sheep hunting camps. From April to October the hunting camps will rent rooms to tourists and trekkers. Expect on average to pay $40 USD/night. Popular camps include Jasty Gumbez and Keng Shibur, however there are more camps scattered throughout the remote Pamir.
I stayed at the hunting camp at Jasty Gumbez and can’t recommend it enough! They have an indoor hot spring pool, rooms are heated and the meals are amazing (since I was on my own I even ate with all the guides and the family that runs the camp). All the guides and the family are very warm and welcoming. If you’re into star gazing this area is phenomenal at night.
In general the Pamir region as well as most the GBAO is a peaceful area, when hostilities do heat up (particularly in the far south near the Afghan border), Tajikistan will typically close the GBAO region to travelers.
Altitude sickness is a real risk all over Tajikistan as the country is almost entirely mountainous. Take proper precautions to acclimate to the altitude before taking off to do any strenuous activities.
The biggest dangers to be aware of in the Pamir, GBAO and Tajikistan are the weather conditions and natural disasters. In the summer lower elevation areas can get extremely hot- over 40ºC/100ºF! In the winter extreme cold can ravage the mountainous areas. Be prepared for anything. Especially in the mountains, no matter what time of year weather can change in an instant. It can go from being a warm sunny day to bad winds and freezing temps, even in summer! Tajikistan is very earthquake prone- something to take note of if you plan to do hiking. Many of those beautiful lakes only exist because of earthquake triggered landslides. For example, geologists fear that if a large earthquake dislodges the rockslide that naturally had created the dam of Lake Sarez and the dam breaches a wall of water would come hurling down the mountain valleys and wipe out and destroy villages, and roads clear down into Uzbekistan and possibly beyond. The villagers along the Bartang Highway have been trained with drills on what to do if the alarm goes off- head for high ground. Be prepared in general for survival that getting trapped out in the remote Pamir and GBAO is a possibility, by making sure you have a few days food supply and a way to filter your own water out there. A GPS is a handy tool, and even better if you have an SOS beacon. Cell phone coverage is very limited in this part of the world.
It is fairly common for travelers in this region to get sick. Sanitary and hygiene standards are not up to par with what a first worlder’s stomach is probably used to. Remember, this is one of the most remote places on Earth. It’s a wise idea to bring anti-diarrhea medication and a broad spectrum antibiotic with you. Healthcare in Tajikistan in general is pretty grim due to lack of funding. Common illnesses include Food poisoning and Giardia. There is a risk of Malaria in the extreme south of the country in the summer. There is also a risk of Hepatitis, Rabies, Polio and Tick borne Encephalitis. Occasional outbreaks of Cholera and Typhoid do occur as well.
Infrequently there is factional fighting and some warlordism that spills over the southern border from Afghanistan.
Tours and Guides:
Wanna join me on expedition of a lifetime in 2018 in China, Tajikistan and Pakistan? I will be taking a small group with me in June. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!
Kalpak Travel Offering a 5% discount to anyone who mentions the promo code Nicki-Kalpak2017 when booking! 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!
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. The only agency I’m aware of that can arrange Lake Sarez permits.
You can also contact PECTA for more recommendations. Remember that guides and drivers all expect a tip.
Getting Out of the Pamirs or GBAO:
Most travelers in the Pamir tend to leave either by crossing the Tajik/Kyrgyz boarder at Kyzyl Art-Bordöbö in route to Osh or exit the GBAO in Shurabad Pass as they make way to Dushanbe.
If planning to exit into Afghanistan visas can be obtained at the Afghan Consulate in Khorog. If the borders are open (they are sometimes periodically closed) you can usually cross the border at Shegnan Bridge in Khorog or at the bridge at Ishkashim where the cross-border market used to take place.
At this time it is not possible for foreigners to cross into China, however, there are rumors that Qolma Pass may open up.
Handy Gadgets, Gear Recommendations and Maps + Books:
These are goodies I personally found to prove quite useful on my travels in the Pamirs and all of Tajikistan.
One of my all-time favorite travel gadgets is the Delorme Inreach. Not only is it an SOS beacon, but it also can send and receive text messages and is a GPS. Delorme offers some good monthly plans 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. From personal experience I can say to avoid the solar charger by the brand All Power. Mine broke on my second day of trekking in Tajikistan.
An External battery pack can also help you out in a pinch when batteries are dead and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
A sleeping bag can prove useful if trekking and also for chilly nights even in a homestay. I use a Northface Sleeping Bag cold rated to 20ºF/-7ºC.
A good pair of hiking boots. My personal favorite is the Merrell Moab hiking boot.
If planning on trekking/camping and you like to enjoy a warm meal I can recommend a Lightweight Cooking Camp Set.
I still don’t own trekking poles, I probably should… click here to browse through some nicely rated sets.
A headlamp will come in handy!
‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton & Huw Thomas. This is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from the history, great-game stories, travel and more!
‘Central Asia’ by Lonely Planet. Handy to have with you, although don’t treat it like a bible. Many times information is out of date as things change rapidly here. The ‘Central Asia Phrasebook’ by Lonely Planet. I found to be a handy item.
The Pamirs by Markus Hauser. Can be found online on Gecko Maps, or can always be picked up at the PECTA office. You can also order a Northern Tajikistan map as well as Southern Tajikistan map on Gecko Maps. I ordered mine through Amazon.
Great online references:
Caravanistan: Saule and Steven are a wealth of knowledge on Central Asia. They are very responsive via email and can put you in contact with numerous tour agencies in the country.
META: Only provides advisory services. Working to develop tourism.
PECTA: Can help you arrange anything Pamir. Very responsive.
Trekking in the Pamirs: Jan Bakker’s website with information on many hikes all over Tajikistan (not just the Pamirs!).
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.
Need Travel Insurance?
Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.
Ready to start planning your Pamir Adventure?
Summer is just around the corner! Start planning today and make sure to check out my other posts out on Tajikistan:
Tajikistan Travel Guide– Every bit of info you need to know to travel in the gem of Central Asia.
10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan– See why this is a must-see destination.
The Bartang Highway and Valley Guide– All the info to visit this beautiful slice of the Pamirs.
Guide to Solo Female Travel in Tajikistan– You can do it!
The Pamir Highway Guide– Slightly different from this guide, this is solely focused on the Pamir Highway itself.
Fann Mountains Guide + Trekking Info– Everything you need to know to visit the beautiful Fann Mountains.
Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan– My personal trip through the gorgeous Fann Mountains.
Got any Pamir Travel info to add?
Contact me at adventuresoflilnicki [at] gmail.com or even leave a comment below if you have suggestions or want to point out anything I have missed. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions either!
*The links to books & maps, travel gadgets and gear on this post to Amazon are affiliate links, if you choose to purchase these items through the links provided I am compensated at no extra cost to you! These links help offset the cost of the blog.