So you’re planning to visit Tajikistan eh? Looking for an impressive, beautiful and interesting destination within the country to visit that’s newly open to foreigners? Then Lake Sarez might be the adventure for you.
I visited Tajikistan in both 2016 and 2017 and finally made it to the lake the second time around. I had been interested in visiting on my first trip, however I couldn’t track down much to any information on it.
In 2015 the Tajik government began allowing foreigners to visit Lake Sarez after having forbid it for 15 years.
After going home and researching it for the planning stages of my second trip all signs led me to one person who could get me there, and that is a man named Nurmuhammed who runs Sarez Travel.
WANT TO JOIN ME IN THE PAMIR IN 2018?
Okay, this won’t take place at Lake Sarez, but if you’re interested in experiencing life with Kyrgyz nomads in Tajikistan’s Eastern Pamir, seeing the Chinese Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan and exploring the super remote Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan check out my group tour I’ll be leading with Inertia Network in June of 2018!
A little about Lake Sarez
Lake Sarez only exists because of disaster. If anything ever causes the destruction of Lake Sarez it will be one of the largest scale disasters the world has ever seen.
Usoi Dam splits Lake Shadau from the main Lake Sarez.
In 1911 a 7.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the Bartang Valley in the Central Pamir and shook down an entire mountainside into the Murghab River, in what would become the Usoi Dam, the tallest and highest dam in the world. The landslide buried the villages of Usoi and Sarez and killed an estimated 90 people. With the new dam blocking the water from flowing down from Murghab a lake began to form and continued to grow over the years.
Lake Sarez now is 75km (47mi) long and is heavily monitored for any changes. Usoi Dam is regarded to be stable by some and extremely unstable by other groups. If the Dam were to ever breach it would send a wall of water hurdling down the Bartang Valley, likely destroying most everything in its path. It would wipe out the villages in the narrow Bartang Valley below Lake Sarez, northern Afghanistan and possibly even into Uzbekistan.
The Aksuu flowing toward Murghab.
The Murghab River
The river I’m referring to here is the Aksuu-Murghab-Bartang River. The river rises from Chaqmaqtin Lake in the Little Pamir Mountains in the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan where it is called the Aksuu River, it continues east across the Tajik border near the village of Shimak and then heads north toward the city of Murghab. Once the river passes the city it is usually referred to as the Murghab River where it flows west into Lake Sarez. Below Lake Sarez the Gudara River flows into the Murghab, and at this point the name changes to the Bartang River. The Bartang River continues to flow southwest down the valley until close to the village of Rushon where it joins into the River Panj. From there the Panj continues southwest joins the Vahksh River that tumbles down from Tajikistan’s big glaciers like the Fedchenko. When the Panj and Vahksh join is where it becomes the Amu Darya, sometimes better known by it’s old Latin name Oxus- one of Central Asia’s most important rivers. The Amu Darya along with the Syr Darya are what fed the Aral Sea.
*There is another Murghab River That flows from central Afghanistan to the Murghab District in the Baghdis Province and onto the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan. This is a completely different river. Confusing, right?
What do you need to visit Lake Sarez?
Long story short: You need to contact Sarez Travel in order to obtain the permit and necessary guide.
When I was researching how to get to Lake Sarez, really the only solid piece of information I had tracked down was that you need a Lake Sarez permit in order to go there. How to get one? Well that’s where things get a little murky. In Lonely Planet’s Central Asia edition it does mention that the permits are issued in Dushanbe by the Ministry of Emergency Situations (however, I’ve never tracked down any evidence of foreigners getting the permit directly). After asking several agencies in and around Tajikistan about obtaining the permit the resounding answer was that I needed to contact Nurmuhammed with Sarez Travel, as this was the only agency that could obtain the permit.
How to get a Lake Sarez permit
First you will need to contact Nurmuhammed at Sarez Travel, email: info @ sarez.travel, phone: +992 (93) 407 25 46. Especially in summer/fall try to get in contact a good amount of time in advance as sometimes Nurmuhammed is leading tours (he does employ a few local guides that take travelers out) and if he’s out of phone coverage it may be quite a while before he can respond. Tell him what route you’d like to take, and which dates (most people choose to trek from Barchidev to Lake Sarez over the Usoi Dam and return to Barchidev, and a 4×4 from Khorog to Barchidev return, as this is the shortest trekking route to access the lake). Nurmuhammed will need four things from you:
A copy of your GBAO Permit (should be on you visa if you applied for them together)
Proof of travel insurance (World Nomads is a good option, although skip their article on ‘How to stay safe in Tajikistan’- clearly whomever wrote is has never stepped foot in the country- fear mongering at best)
These items are what he needs to obtain your permit for you. The Sarez permits cost $50 per day.
It is mandatory to have a local guide to visit Lake Sarez. You will be fined if found by park rangers/police/local KGB without a permit. It is a large fine, with possible detention and/or deportation. Sarez Travel can arrange a guide and donkeys to porter gear if necessary.
Technically you should have a Tajik National Park Permit as well
Whether you approach Lake Sarez from Barchidev or from Bachor/Yashilkul you do technically need a Tajik National Park permit as it all sits within the park. These are easy to obtain- just visit the PECTA office in the Central Park in Khorog where you can pick one up. The fee is 15 Somoni per day. In all honestly I was never asked to show mine anywhere, and I have been a number of places within the Tajik National Park. Word from most Tajiks is that if you are asked for it out there by a ranger and don’t have it, they’ll just charge you the 15 Somoni per day on the spot.
Getting to Lake Sarez
Most trekkers will approach from the village of Barchidev, although there are also trails that connect the Mountain Lakes of Bachor and Yashilkul to Lake Sarez. The easiest route is from the village of Barchidev.
You will likely start from Khorog, where you’ll make the roughly 7 hour 4×4 journey down the Pamir Highway to the village of Rushon- the gates of the Bartang Valley. From here you will continue up the rough and wild Bartang Highway to the village of Barchidev. After spending the night in a homestay in Barchidev (likely Nurmuhammed’s family’s home), you’ll begin the day hike to the lake. The distance is roughly 15km (9.3mi) each way, you’ll cross a suspension bridge over the river and follow a valley to Usoi Dam where you’ll climb up to the top with views of Lake Sarez and Shadau Lake which are separated by the Dam. You’ll then climb down to the edge of the lake and spend the night in one of the large tents set up outside the Geological Camp. You will get to tour the Geological Camp and meet the men that work to monitor the lake’s stability, they’ll even show you how the seismic equipment they use works if you’re interested.
The next morning you will have some time around the lake (that is unless you opt for a longer trip to have more time at the lake) before you make the journey back to Barchidev, yet again staying in the homestay, then depart the next day back to Khorog or wherever you continue onto.
This trip usually takes 4 days, 2 driving to/from, 2 trekking. The cost including 4×4, guide, meals, and homestay was $708 including Sarez permit in August 2017, of course this cost would be divided up amongst travelers (supplemental fees would be added for necessary additional meals needed to accommodate group size) if traveling in a group, or able to join a group already going.
It is possible to have it arranged to have a boat take you from Usoi Dam to Irkht where you can continue trekking down to either Bachor or Yashilkul.
Bachor or Yashilkul-Langar Pass-Uchkul-Lake Sarez-Uchkul-Zarojkul-Tsaxinkul-Bachor
This is a much longer trip with some variations. I, personally have only hiked Bachor to Tsaxinkul and back to Bachor (got a stomach bug and had to turn back), so I don’t have personal information from doing this trek. You will want to be well acclimated for this trek, and the reason why it is recommended to go via Langar Pass on the way up and Uch, Zaroj and Tsaxin Lakes on the way back is because of the quick elevation gain if you were to approach Sarez from the lakes side of the trek, coming up the other way is a much more gradual gain. The trek is roughly 100 km (62mi) roundtrip. The trek would bring you to the village of Irkht near the Meteorological Station. It is possible to arrange a boat to take you from Irkht to Usoi Dam where optionally you could continue to Barchidev. Some of the trails around Lake Sarez may be difficult to pass, as there was a large earthquake in December 2015 that had damaged some of the existing trails.
Agencies I recommend
As far as I know Sarez Travel is the only agency taking trekkers out here. I was able to have Nurmuhammed guide me on my trip. He was very kind and professional and would definitely recommend him. Also his wife cooks some great dishes at their homestay in Barchidev. If you go in August they will feed you fresh apricots until you nearly explode.
Generally speaking Lake Sarez is a safe place to visit as far as crime and people go. Your biggest concern here would be earthquakes and the things that go with it- like that Biblical flood I mentioned earlier, landslides, and the like. It is a good idea to carry an emergency beacon, like an Inreach Explorer + and a copy of the Pamirs Map just in case shit hits the fan out there.
My favorite book on Tajikistan is ‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs‘ by Robert Middleton and Huw Thomas. It’s a great book that combines history and information with travel tips and recommendations and even info on a few hikes- it’s quite heavy so I don’t think I’d lug it on the trek with you. Lonely Planet’s Central Asia is a decent guidebook to look over before travel to Tajikistan, but is fairly limited as it covers the entire region in one book. The above mentioned Pamirs Map is handy for all travel in the GBAO.
https://i2.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/562A0940.jpg?fit=1500%2C1000&ssl=110001500Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2018-01-20 06:00:182018-01-19 18:44:51How to get to Lake Sarez, Tajikistan
*This is an extremely long post with information I have personally gathered over my travels in Tajikistan, so yes, some links in here are affiliate links.
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 roadtrip? 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 route between Dushanbe and Osh twice. Some legs I’ve done several times such as Alichur to Murghab that I’ve now traveled 5 times, the true M41 between Khorog and Alichur I’ve done 3 times, I have spent enough time in Khorog that the family who owns the homestay I routinely stay at knows me by first name and treats me like a relative and my favorite restaurant doesn’t even ask, they just bring me out a bowl of Qurutob when I turn up at lunchtime. The only stretch that I haven’t fully explored ‘off-highway’ (yet) would be the far eastern Pamir. 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.
By Derived from CIA map by Bantman at en.wikipedia, transferred to Commons by User:Man77 using CommonsHelper. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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.
Want to visit the Pamir with me in June?
I will be leading an expedition into the wilds of Tajikistan’s remote Pamir, China’s Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan as well as Pakistan’s stunning Hunza Valley June 9-24 with Inertia Network. Click here to read up on the itinerary and to sign up!
In this article you’ll find prices quoted in Tajik Somoni, Kyrgyz Som, and US Dollars. At the time of writing (December 2017) The exchange rates are:
8.80 TJS = $1.00 USD 69.74 KGS = $1.00 USD
Note that the US Dollar is widely accepted, especially in Tajikistan. Some drivers and accommodations will actually prefer dollars over Somoni. Come prepared with a stack of bills ranging from $5 to $100, it is best to arrive with US dollars from home if starting from Dushanbe as you will sometimes have difficulty getting money out of ATMs, you can easily get USD in Osh from ATMs as many dispense both USD and KGS. Still expect to pay for smaller purchases, such as items in shops and bazaars in Somoni (Som if in Kyrgyzstan).
Note: There are NO ATMs between Khorog and Osh.
ATMs can be found in Osh, Khorog and Dushanbe. I’ve had no issues with ATMs in Kyrgyzstan, however in Tajikistan I’ve found ATMs at times to feel more like a slot machine… Like are you gonna give me money or not?
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 or two 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 and can apply for online here.
Note: The E-Visa is only meant for single entry for a length of 45 days. If you plan to go into Afghanistan (or any other neighboring countries) and return, technically you’re supposed to apply for a double entry visa which means you do need to apply at an embassy. The visa can easily be acquired at embassies in Bishkek, Almaty, Tashkent and more. I didn’t have enough time to apply for a double entry visa before leaving home, so I applied for an e-visa prior to arriving and then applied for a second e-visa after I got my visa for Afghanistan- I later found out from a host that you’re not technically allowed to have out two e-visas with dates that overlap. I had zero problems crossing back into Tajikistan with the second e-visa. Just because I had no problems doing it doesn’t mean anyone else will have no issues or that it won’t change in the future- just an FYI.
The E-Visa will set most people back $50 USD, applying in an embassy prices can range somewhat.
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 in embassy it should cost somewhere around the same amount.
Tajik National Park 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. The only other permit would be the Lake Sarez Permit, the only way I am aware of obtaining the permit is through Sarez Travel.
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 0.65¢ 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 is via the forum 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 were 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 mini buses 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-vera). Prices (roughly) are as follows:
Dushanbe-Khorog: $34-39/300-345 TJS.
Khorog-Murghab: $14-20/120-177 TJS.
Khorog-Shazud $2.30-5.70/20-50 TJS. (Shazud to Bachor via taxi/4×4 $11-17/100-150 TJS).
Murghab-Osh: $14-20/120-177 TJS.
In my experience with shared taxis and marshrutka I’ve never had to haggle for the price as driver’s 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 lengthy wait times. It isn’t impossible to do it for free but most drivers do expect a few Somoni. 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. You can sometimes hitch on Chinese trucks from Khorog to Murghab from 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 2km northeast of Murghab and depart around noon, (expect to pay30-40 TJS on these two routes). 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 Horse Adventure, 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 length of tour and levels of accommodations in cities.
Whether your 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 costed them $120 per day for the rental from Osh. 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. Majority of the the 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.
Khafrazdara Lake, in the Pamirs but not on the highway.
Looking for a little more information on the Pamirs?
Want to know about treks in the area and some alternative routes? Check out the Pamir Travel Guide.
Dushanbe to Qala-i-Khumb
There are two routes to get you between Dushanbe and Khorog- the Northern or the Southern Route, three if you count the Tajik air flight. 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. 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. I have also heard great things from friends and other travelers about Greenhouse Hostel and Yeti Hostel, all of which are located in the same neighborhood.
Mevlana Yakub Charka Mosque in Dushanbe.
Where to get shared taxis from Dushanbe
Head to the Badakshanskaya Avtostansiya at 149 M. Nazarshoev, just behind the 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 5am and 8am. 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 to taxi to take anywhere from 14 to 20 hours between Dushanbe and Khorog.
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 14th century Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani Shrine.
If coming from Dushanbe the top of this pass this 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.
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 Vahdat and continue to Obigarm where shortly afterwards 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.
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.
You’ll feel like you’ve hit civilization once you reach Qala-i-Khumb, there are several shops, restaurants and accommodations. Darvaz Guesthouse is a good, inexpensive option as well as Roma Jurayev. There are pricier options like the Karon Palace Hotel.
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 .
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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 Bartang travel. The most popular trip into the Bartang Valley is to the picturesque village of Jizeu.
Somewhere between Khorog and Murghab.
Khorog to Murghab
I’m focusing on the actual M41 for this Route. I will be releasing separate guides for the Wakhan and Shokhdara Valleys.
The view of Khorog and the Ghunt River from the Botanical Gardens
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 in the Wakhan Valley. 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, Delhi Darbar for Indian food and Hotel Lal cafe for a pizza. There is a nice chaikhana in the 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. 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 private toilet and shower, each room is $20 per night. Other good options are Hostel KhorogStay, Bomi Jahon, Khorog B&B, Hotel LAL, and the ever popular Pamir Lodge.
Where to go for shared taxis and marshrutkas
For shared taxis and marshrutkas bound for Murghab via the Gunt Valley and for the Bartang Valley go to the parking lot alongside the Bazaar (there’s also vans everywhere in the lot selling melons), and even out front of the bazaar in the completely clogged road. The driver’s will likely find you before you find them. Just say where you’re wanting to go and they’ll point you to the vehicles headed that direction. If you plan to head to the Wakhan or Shokhdara Valleys you’ll need to cross the footbridge in that same parking lot for the Murghab taxis. 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. Khorog-Dushanbe shared taxis should cost 300 TJS and take 14-20 hours. Khorog-Murghab shared taxis will ring in at 150 TJS (120 TJS for marshrutka) and take about 7-8 hours. A marshrukta 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). Shared taxis bound for the Wakhan Valley’s Ishkashim should cost 50 TJS and take 3 hours, and expect to pay 120-250 TJS for the 7 hour drive to Langar. You may have difficulty finding transport on Sundays out of Khorog as nearly everything is closed that day.
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Bachor is located off the M41 via the village of Shazud. From Bachor you can trek to Yashilkul, Bulunkul or make a loop of to 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.
Jelandy is home to a hot spring that many from Khorog will make a occasional weekend family trip out of.
This 4,272 meter pass will make you feel like you’re on the moon with its lunar landscapes and high altitude.
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 are 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).
The view from Alichur.
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- its 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. If you follow the jeep tracks up far enough there is a hot spring out here. You can hike up and over Gumbezkul Pass and reach Pshart Valley (or vice-versa).
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 reminants- Murghab will keep you occupied for at least a couple days. There is a chaikhana in town, but most people just eat at their homestays. I’ve randomly ended up at Tulfabek Guesthouse +992 935389159 every time I’ve stayed in Murghab, it’s a great value at only 45 TJS per night including breakfast. Other places popular among backpackers are Pamir Hotel +992 93050586321762 and Erali Guesthouse +992 93563751421618. 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.
From the bazaar expect a small few vehicles to depart daily toward Khorog and usually a couple to Osh/Sary-Tash, although if you want to guarantee a seat best to arrange the day before. Expect to pay about 120 TJS for the 7-9 hour drive to Khorog and 150 TJS 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.
The colorful Pshart Mountains.
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.
Kyrgyz kids playing in Karakul.
Karakul is a large lake created by a meteor impact and with a twilight zone-esque village of the same name at it’s shores. There are a scattering of homestays in Karakul and some even have signs posted on the highway as you cross through the village.
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.
A Rainbow Mountain in the no-man’s land between Kyzyl Art Pass and Bordöbö.
This is the Kyrgyz side of the border crossing, not too far from Sary-Tash.
Home to a couple 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.
Suleman Too in Osh.
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. My personal favorite for accommodation is Osh Backpackers, the staff is very helpful and great to chat with.
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.
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.
A Kyrgyz nomadic family’s yurt between Jasty Gumbez and the M41.
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 is 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.
So my estimated budgets for the Pamir Highway are:
Via private 4×4 hire (meaning you on your own)
$180 per day
Via 4×4 hire shared amongst 4 passengers
$50 per day
Via shared transport
$25 per day
*These are averaged over 7 days.
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 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.
An External battery pack can also help you out in a pinch when batteries are dead and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
With flashes of green alluvial plains nestled along the Bartang River, sandwiched between stark and barren walls of rock- this is the Bartang Valley. The Bartang Valley is one of the most remote and desolate stretches of the famed Pamir mountains in Tajikistan. If you’re looking for an adventurous deviation from the famous Pamir Highway the Bartang Highway has all the makings of a true expedition into the wilds of Tajikistan. With some of the Pamir’s most hospitable people, premier trekking, and beautiful villages a trip up the Bartang Highway surely won’t disappoint. To truly discover the beauty of the Bartang Valley and find the hidden gems- you’ll have to venture out beyond the highway. The most popular trip into the Bartang Valley is the short trek to the beautiful little village of Jizeu.
Want to join me in the Pamir in 2018?
Okay, this won’t take place in the Bartang Valley.. but if you’re interested in experiencing life with Kyrgyz nomads in Tajikistan’s Eastern Pamir, seeing the Chinese Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan and exploring the super remote Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan check out my group tour I’ll be leading with Inertia Network in June of 2018!
How to get to the Bartang Highway
The Bartang Highway runs in a northeasterly direction from the village of Rushan just off the Pamir Highway (M41) all the way up past Kök Jar and Shurali where shortly after it meets again with the M41 near Karakul.
Villages along the Bartang Highway
Village after village dot the Bartang Valley as you make your way along the highway. Some are no more than a scattering of a handful of homes, others are a little larger.
Rushan- The jumping off point for most Bartang Valley adventures. Rushan is located just off of the Pamir Highway, 65 kilometers north of Khorog. The village has a couple petrol stations, several shops, chaikanas (teahouses), car service, bank and homestays. If you end up spending the night here try Mubarak Homestay +992 934052304 or Rushan Inn Guesthouse +992 935550049. Homestays can arrange transport to the drop off point for Jizeu. You can also head to the taxi stand and try to catch a marshurtka, or attempt to find a shared taxi headed up the valley to your final destination.
Yemtz- Small village with one shop.
Jizeu**- Stunningly beautiful village just a short 2 hour hike from the Bartang Highway. 7 of the 14 homes in the village are homestays. Only accessible on foot.
Padrud- Small scattering of houses along the highway.
Khijez- Small village with one shop.
Ravmed**- Another village only accessible by foot. Ask around for homestays as there are a couple in the village that are unmarked. Ravmed is a common stop on treks from Jizeu to Basid.
Dasht- Another scattering of houses along the highway.
Siponj- One of the larger villages in the valley. A few shops are scattered about.
Darjomj- Village with a small shop.
Basid- Small village surrounded in beautiful green forest, with a shrine to go check out. There are a couple homestays in the village, although ask around to find out location. There are great trekking opportunities from here.
Chadud- Small village.
Badara*- Tiny village 9km off the road. A couple of homestays are on offer but ask around the village to find out which houses. Two more shrines to check out here and an ice-house. There is one shop in the village. Several hikes start here that go out to the high pastures.
Vrinjavn- Small village.
Yapshorv- Small village that leads into Rashorv.
Roshorv*- Just off the Bartang Highway. Has one shop.
Nisur- Village where the road forks to turn toward Barchidev.
Barchidev*- An adorable village at the jumping off point for Lake Sarez (permit and local guide required). Nurumuhammed who owns Sarez Travel– the company that arranges Lake Sarez permits and trips to the lake runs a homestay out of his family’s home +992 934072546.
Savnob- One of the most scenic villages in the Bartang Valley with a couple of shops.
Rukhch- Small scattering of homes.
Pasor*- Small village just off the highway and start of the trek that leads into the Khafrazdara Valley and continues onto Grum Grijmailo Glacier.
Ghudara- A decent sized village at the end of the Bartang Valley itself. If the roads allow you get beyond Ghudara it should be possible to continue to Karakul and the Pamir Highway via Kök Jar and Shurali. The road beyond Ghudara (further north) may be impassible at times by 4×4 vehicles.
Kök Jar***- View point from up high in Kök Jar Pass of the vast rocky area and views of the meteor crater.
Shurali***- Just north from Kök Jar. Location of the geoglyphs- an ancient solar calendar made of large stones.
Dangi***- Turn off for Jalang.
Jalang*/***- The beautiful summer pasture for the Kyrgyz nomads in the area. You may even be invited to spend the night in one of their yurts. Near to Karakul Lake.
Karakul***- The largest lake in Tajikistan and nearby village of the same name.
*Just off the Bartang Highway but still accessible by road/4×4 track.
**Accessible only by foot from the Bartang Highway.
*** No longer in the Bartang Valley but continue along a jeep track to connect the route to the M41.
Sites to see along the Bartang Highway
To discover and experience the true gems in the Bartang Valley you’ll need to stray off the main highway itself. Here are a few of the most stunning sites along the valley.
The most popular and well known trip in the Bartang Valley. This short, yet somewhat steep 2 hour hike will take you to cross the raging Bartang River by cable bridge and continue up trails on loose shale to one of the most stunning villages in Tajikistan with pools of crystal clear water reflecting a mirror of the Pamiri sky.
Where the River turns Red
Between the villages of Vrinjavn and Yapshorv a stream of red water enters the Bartang River. The red color is due to sediments in the water.
A potential disaster waiting to happen, yet beautiful none the less. This Lake was formed due to the damming off of the Murghab River when and entire mountainside dislodged, forming the Usoi Dam and subsequently filling the valley with water. Special permits are needed to visit here and local guides are required. Contact Sarez Travel to arrange a trip out here.
The above mentioned dam that caused the valley to fill with water from the Murghab River creating Lake Sarez. The Dam is massive and sight all in itself.
Grum Grijmailo Glacier
A 34 kilometer (68 km roundtrip, 21/42 miles) will bring you face to face with Tajikistan’s Grum Grijamilo Glacier from the village of Pasor. Pass through the beguiling Khafrazdara Valley to get here. Expect the trek to take 3-4 days. Click here to get the info sheet on the trek from PECTA (also useful for visiting the Khafrazdara Valley mentioned below).
One of the most beautiful valleys and lakes on Earth. About 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Pasor at altitudes sometimes over 4,300 meters (14,000 feet).
While no longer technically in the Bartang Valley this is a site you’ll pass either on your way out or into the valley from the northeast. Site of a large meteor crater.
Home to ancient geoglyphs. A solar calendar made up of large stones.
Getting around the Bartang Valley
There are several ways to get to and around the Bartang Valley- By hired 4×4, shared taxi/marshrutka, or by bicycle. If hiring a private 4×4 expect prices to ring in at around 0.70¢ to 0.90¢ per kilometer- and remember the entire length of the road is 400 kilometers. For shared taxis expect the easiest places to arrange them from to be from Khorog, followed by Rushan. There is a Khorog-Basid UAZ minibus on most afternoons (don’t expect it to go on Fridays though) for 40TJS per seat. Every few days in the afternoon there is usually a Khorog-Pasor shared taxi for 120 TJS per seat- but ask around at the main taxi stand at the bazaar in Khorog. Getting a taxi to the cable bridge at the Jizeu trailhead will set you back 150 TJS from the taxi stand in Rushan, just slightly more from Khorog- a word of the wise: pre-arrange a pickup for when you plan to leave Jizeu. It’s a long walk back (hitching is difficult due to the infrequent traffic on the Bartang Highway), and there’s almost no shade. If you’ve forgotten to or didn’t- find Gulsha in Jizeu Village as he can usually arrange a car to come meet you for about 250TJS.
At the time of writing (December 2017) the exchange rate was $1 USD = 8.81 Tajik Somoni. USD are fairly widely accepted in Tajikistan in addition to the local currency.
Services along the Bartang Highway
Services in the Bartang Valley are few and far between. It is best to come fully prepared as this is a pretty wild and remote region.
The last possible place to fill up on gasoline is in Rushan (Karakul if beginning from the north), so make sure you have enough gasoline to get you through the 400 kilometer length of the road.
Between the turn off for Badara and the village of Vrinjavn there is a Chaikhana (teahouse) along the highway. It is not signed, however it is marked on maps.me (you’re welcome). I was made aware of it by locals.
Food and Goods
Shops don’t typically have signs along the valley and in villages. If you do find yourself in need of anything stop into a village and ask around- likely there will be one home that acts as a shop that may have a couple items on purchase (by items I mean likely the breakfast of champions: expired Chinese beer and Snickers Bars).
If you find yourself broke down along the Bartang Highway head to the nearest village and start asking around. Bartangi people are incredibly helpful and welcoming and may be able to sort out a part or help you patch up until you can exit the valley. The shared taxi I took back from Pasor broke down around Chadud, it did take several hours and a jaunt to Chadud and then onto Basid but we managed to get the taxi repaired and continue on our way with the help of the locals.
It’s not much of a highway is it?
Trekking along the Bartang Highway
Like much of Tajikistan, the Bartang Valley has several beautiful hikes to offer. From short 1 to 2 day treks to strenuous multi day treks, the valley has something to suit just about any level of hiker. A very handy map to have on hand is the Pamirs Map by Markus Hauser, purchase it online here, or pick one up at the PECTA office in Khorog. Another handy tool I used out here was the Inreach Explorer + to map out treks by GPS and the SOS beacon gives some peace of mind.
One of the most popular treks in the Pamir and in the country. A short hike that can be done as one long day trek, however it is best to spend at least one night up in Jizeu village to experience the remote lifestyle and Bartangi hospitality. Expect the trek to take about 2 hours on the way in, mostly uphill. Get dropped off for Jizeu (the shared taxi drivers all know it). Cross the cable bridge and follow the trail- it is occasionally marked by spray painted rocks. In a couple of hours you’ll find yourself in a beautiful Pamiri village. Just beyond the village is a crystal clear lake. Of the 14 homes in the village, 7 are homestays. I recommend Lola Homestay after my stay there in 2016.
Jizeu-Ravmed Valley-Basid Trek
Homestays in Jizeu can help arrange guides and pack animals for the trek over the pass into Ravmed Valley onto Khijez and eventually on to Basid. Ravmed, Khijez, and Basid all have homestays available.
Khafrazdara Valley and Lake
From Pasor trek for 1-2 days to arrive in the beautiful Khafrazdara Valley with beautiful lakes surrounded by jagged mountains. This trek takes place all completely above 3,050 meters (10,000 feet). Another day further trekking will take you to face the Grum Grjimailo Glacier. The final lake is located about 24 km (15 mi) from Pasor, making it a 48 km (30mi) hike roundtrip. Click here to get the info sheet on the trek from PECTA (also useful for visiting the Grum Grijmailo trek mentioned below).
Grum Grijmailo Glacier
34 kilometers (21 miles) past Pasor you’ll find yourself at the face of the immense Grum Grijmailo Glacier. All high altitude. Follow the same trail mentioned to reach Khafrazdara Valley.
High Pastures around Basid & Badara
Numerous hiking trails around both villages of Basid and Badara will take you to the high pastures nearby to explore the green fertile lands. Ask around in either village for recommendations.
Barchidev to Lake Sarez
The stunning Lake Sarez is worth the all day trek from Barchidev to witness- with perfect reflections of the Pamiri clouds above. You’ll leave Barchidev early in the morning and arrive over the Usoi Dam at the monitoring station on the shore of the lake by late afternoon. Contact Sarez Travel to arrange necessary permits and guides to visit the lake. It has been known for visitors who don’t arrange necessary permits to be fined large sums of money for being found out there.
There are some necessary permits to visit this part of Tajikistan. For starters, most nationalities do require a visa to enter the country. There is an e-visa available to many nationalities for $50 USD, you can apply here.
You need a GBAO permit to visit any part of the Pamirs, thus making it necessary for the Bartang Valley. It is easiest to apply for it when you apply for your visa. You can apply for it at the same time you apply for the e-visa for $20. Otherwise apply at an embassy when applying for the visa.
Tajik National Park Permit:
You do ‘need’ this to visit many areas along the Bartang Highway, and for many treks around Karakul, Murghab, Yashilkul and more. You can apply for one in Khorog for 15 TJS per day at the PECTA Tourist office inside the Central Park. I was told you could also pay for the permit if you run into local KGB (police or national park rangers) while out and about. I bought a permit this year since it costs pennies per day and I never once was asked for it.
Lake Sarez Permit:
To visit Lake Sarez from Barchidev you do need a permit. The only way of securing this permit that I can 100% vouch for is through Nurumuhammed at Sarez Travel for $50 USD per day. I never could find reliable information if a permit is necessary if approaching from the south (trekking from Bachor and Yashikul), if you do know- let me know in the comments and I’ll add the information.
Languages Spoken throughout the Bartang Valley
Bartangi is the language spoken in villages along the Bartang Valley. It is a distinct dialect of Shughni, and can differ from village to village. The last estimate found from 1990 ranged from 2,500 to 3,000 speakers. Tajik is spoken by most in the area, Russian speakers are scattered about and it is possible to find a person here or there with English, French or German language skills.
Cell Phone coverage
Surprisingly there is mobile coverage in the valley along the highway. Megafon will work off and on, although once past Basid it rarely picked up a signal. Tcell has better coverage- but don’t expect it to work everywhere.
In general the Bartang Highway is a safe place to visit in regards to crime. Just use common sense and the same precautions you would traveling anywhere.
Earthquakes: The Bartang Valley, as well as much of Tajikistan is earthquake prone. This is why I carry that SOS beacon with me. Locals in Pasor village told me about a large earthquake that struck Gudara in 2016- above an 8.0 on the Richter scale.
Getting Lost: This is a possibility on some of the treks if you’re inexperienced. Hire a guide if this is the case.
Want more posts to help plan your trip in Tajikistan?
I’ve spent a good chunk of time exploring Tajikistan over the last couple years, so check out these posts to help you start planning your trip!
Pamir Travel Guide- Everything you need to know before setting out into the rugged and wild Pamir Mountains.
Fann Mountains Guide- Wanna visit the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan’s premier trekking destination? Look no further.
But guess what? If you don’t wanna go at it solo, you can always join me in 2018 on an expedition through China, Tajikistan and Pakistan! Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!
I spent a month in Tajikistan last year. I plan to head back this summer/fall for 6 weeks. When I tell people I traveled to Tajikistan I usually get a contorted facial expression from my listener. A face somewhere between shock, confusion, pure horror and gold-fish-with-eyes-bulgging-out like a victim of Grave’s Disease. For an added kick, throw in that I went there solo and the gasping for air in utter disbelief begins.
Yes, I, a vagina-wielding, US passport holding female went to Tajikistan by myself and lived to tell about. And guess what? I wasn’t the first, I won’t be the last, and I sure as fuck didn’t do it solely on sponsor’s dime in an 18 month race around the world in which some places didn’t even include stepping foot out of the airport*.
*YES, I am referring to what’s-her-face that broke the record for the world’s FASTEST woman to visit every country. But what I’m really ripping on here is these shitty excuses for media outlets with all out lying faux-journalists. All these bullshit spewing media websites claiming she’s the first woman to visit every country really need to pull their heads out of their asses and utilize the 30 seconds it takes to simply search Google to fact check. She’s not even the first, nor the second woman to visit every country. While the ability to do it the fastest is a feat all in itself, could the media please stop lying to everyone about it? The most disgusting part of it all to me is how many women it has inspired to attempt the same. I’ve had several female Twitter followers, Instagram followers and email messages I’ve newly received that are raising money through crowd funding and gaining sponsors for them to attempt to break her record in the name of bringing peace, equality to women and other happy Bullshit. Going on a $200,000+ race doesn’t bring solidarity or peace, or help women. How about you assholes use that crowd funded money and sponsorship dole to start a program that may help bring peace or god forbid help women become educated and fight their oppressors? Oh wait, I forgot your whole ‘mission’ to get sponsored is a sham. Sorry, I got worked up on a tangent there -rant over. And PS: Stop e-mailing me asking for exposure on my channels.
Safety for female travel in Tajikistan
Tajikistan isn’t as dangerous as most people tend to assume since it does end in the suffix ‘Stan and in fact shares a long border with Afghanistan.
To give you an idea of what I did in my travels in Tajikistan:
I trekked for days on end, completely alone in the Fann Mountains and Pamirs.
I walked around cities and towns completely alone, even at night in Dushanbe, Khorog, Alichur, Karakul and Murghab.
I ate in restaurants and chaikhanas completely alone.
I was welcomed into countless homes in cities and in rural areas, you guessed: while I was alone.
I hired a driver to bring me from Dushanbe to Khorog over the course of two days. I didn’t want to just hire him straight out for the entirety of the Pamir Highway (M41) in case he was handsy or pervy. Guess what? He wasn’t! He was a lovely, respectful man whom I in the end wound up hiring to take me the entire length of the M41, and Khorsaan- the man who took me through the Pamirs by road became my friend. I ended up being the only passenger (although we did pick up countless hitchhikers- locals and tourists alike that joined us for usually short jaunts).
The only two incidents that were unfavorable in way of solo female travel in Tajikistan were:
The man with a donkey I hired to help porter my gear in the Fanns on day one. I did not plan to hire one as I was offered to before I left when speaking back and forth with ZTDA. After a couple offers as I was passing through the first village on my trek I decided, why not? It may help the local economy. He seemed friendly at first but shortly after departing was very rude and kept insisting I should let him rub my legs (of course he attempted the upper thigh area) to prevent muscle cramps and even began trying to demand to sleep in my tent later that night wherever I ended up camping. Needless to say I fired him, in Russian. Note: if you want a guide or a herder with a donkey to porter your gear, hire them from a reputable agency. Lesson learned.
The second happened as I was walking down Rudaki, the main street in Dushanbe. A boy zoomed past me on a bicycle and slapped my ass as he passed. He was going fast enough that I couldn’t be an asshole and push him off his bike and drag him by his ear back to his mother to let her know what he had done. And for those of you assuming I probably deserved for dressing like a slut: I was wearing loose ‘genie’ style pants and a loose long sleeve shirt- similar to what you’d see Tajik women wearing.
To be honest I’ve been victim of worse treatment and ass grabbing by men in my home country. I mean after all one time I was fully covered from my toes to my jaw in winter gear as I left a restaurant back home and some guy drove past and called me ‘A whore asking to get fucked‘. Short of a headscarf I was essentially wearing an Alaskan version of a burqa.
Trust me, there are shit-bag scummy men all over this planet, they’re not all located in certain regions*.
*I don’t think all men are bad, in case you think I’m attempting to go on a man-hating tirade.
Aside from these two incidents, I found people in Tajikistan very respectful.
What I wore:
I had three tops with me during my travels in Tajikistan. A loose long sleeve shirt, a tshirt and a loose fitting long sleeve tunic style top that nearly went to my knees.
I had two pairs of pants I brought with: a pair of leggings which I wore with the long tunic style top, and a pair of genie pants (or elephant or harem).
A few of my lovely new friends from a feast I was invited to.
I did bring a scarf with me. Although the wearing of headscarves in public is heavily discouraged in Tajikistan as well as some neighboring countries as they’re seen as a symbol of Islamic extremism. I wore it around my neck most the time, but found it useful to have with me for entering mosques.
Tajikistan in general is a conservative country, but not extreme. Women generally wear loose fitting pants with a loose fitting shirt with short sleeve to elbow length tunic. Althought is not unusual, especially in Dushanbe to see women wearing jeans, leggings, tight fitting tops and sleeveless shirts. In Khorog, with its Ismaili majority it is not uncommon to see women wearing skirts to the knee.
What to bring?
Good news is, if you’re arriving in Dushanbe you can find most items there, some will fly into Khujand which has a decent selection of shops. The other probability is that you’re arriving from Kyrgyzstan- likely passing through Bishkek or Osh, or from Uzbekistan where you’d pass through Tashkent or Samarkand. You can find most any essential items in any of those cities as well.
I found traveling with a 65L Osprey Aura backpack and my daypack with camera gear in it to be plenty enough to tote all my belongings in. Another great purchase to make prior to arriving is sun cream as it can be tricky to track down. Bring a Diva cup with you so that you don’t have to do the burden of going on a hunt for tampons. A water filter is a good item to bring along so that you aren’t always searching for bottled water, and is great for hiking.
How I was treated:
Quite well actually. In the Fanns and along the Pamir Highway people aren’t strangers to seeing women traveling. I’m not the only foreign female to have trekked in the region on my own. You will even see Tajik women traveling their country alone or with other women.
Many people assume that Tajikistan, a predominantly Islamic country is oppressive to its women, but it isn’t what most think. Women have a 99% literacy rate, and are the core of the workforce. Is the treatment of women equal to that of men? No. Are child brides still being married off? Yes. Is the rate of domestic violence against women high? Yes.
Tajikistan isn’t perfect, but it seems to be making strides toward getting better. There are women serving in parliament. And there was even laws put in place in 2013 making domestic violence illegal.
Most Tajik women still live a very traditional life. They marry young (in rural areas it may even be arranged), the average women will have 2-3 children, and yes, bridenapping- Although rare, does occur.
My advice for solo female travel in Tajikistan
Dress conservatively. Like I mentioned before good go-to outfits would be loose pants and shirt or a loose tunic with leggings. If traveling in the hot summer months loose cotton and/or breathable fabrics will be your best friend.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable, look for other women. Tajik women are quick to take you under their wing.
Be assertive. If you end up in a situation where a man is being inappropriate say no and be serious. Don’t be afraid of being a bitch, cause let’s face it: Bitches get shit done.
Even if you’re single, having a fictitious husband back home, wearing a wedding ring and having made up children (bonus points) can wield off most unwanted male attention. This is a tactic used by women traveling solo the world over.
Tajik women do travel without men, although solo women will almost always be asked why they’re on their own and if they’re married or have kids. Saying you’re single opens up an idea that you’re up for grabs.
Wear that resting bitch face, and wear it well. If you have a tendency to walk around at home without a welcoming smile this will come naturally. If not, fight the urge as it makes you look approachable. Eye contact can even welcome unwanted interaction. So if you don’t wanna deal, don’t wanna explain and show pictures of your fabled husband and made up children just look pissed off with eyes forward. However smiling and making eye contact with other women can open you up to a great experience.
Avoid going out at night, especially to nightclubs. While I did go wander about in the evenings alone at times with no issue, I didn’t go to any nightclubs. I was told solo women in a nightclub are generally assumed to be prostitutes.
You will be stared at and probably even cat called. Just ignore it. Giving it the time of day just welcomes more attention.
Learn to read Cyrillic script. Trust me, it’s not too hard and being able to at least read signs will make travel a lot easier. Learning a few Tajik or Russian phrases will make your trip more enjoyable. Okay this one goes for anyone planning a visit to Tajikistan, not just the solo girls.
My number 1 tip for solo female travel in Tajikistan?
Take the normal precautions you’d take at home or most places you’d travel and all should be well.
The World’s Most Epic Road Trip: Pamir Travel Guide
*This post contains affiliate links.
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:
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 farewhen 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 theOsprey Aura 65Lbackpack 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.
The Wakhan Valley. The Pamir Highway is the narrow divide between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
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.
A Kyrgyz nomadic family’s yurt between Jasty Gumbez and the M41.
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.
The colorful Pshart Mountains.
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).
Final look back toward Karakul on the last stretch of the Pamir Highway before crossing into Kyrgyzstan.
*If you plan to go the Pamir Highway by bicycle check out these blogs for more information.
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.
In the heart of Murghab.
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. VisitTrekking 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:
These are tour operators and guides that can be hired to take you out on excursions and on treks in the region.
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!
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.
A Rainbow Mountain in the no-man’s land between Kyzyl Art Pass and Bordöbö.
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.
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.
To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,And still more to come!- My day to day breakdown of what I experienced in the Pamirs and Wakhan.
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.
https://i0.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/562A0355.jpg?fit=8688%2C5792&ssl=157928688Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2017-05-03 06:00:292018-01-09 15:15:09Pamir Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know To Visit Tajikistan's GBAO
The Fann Mountains may quite possibly be the best trekking destination you’ve probably never heard of. In Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains you’ll find yourself surrounded by sky-scraping jagged mountains, crystal clear lakes of azure and the warm heart & legendary hospitality of the local people. Although- This is a remote stretch of Earth where you could go days without seeing another soul and that’s as much of its charm as the stark sceneries.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a hardcore mountaineer to enjoy this beautiful area. There are short and long treks around that will give most anyone a great experience in the Fanns. Of course there are treks that will keep even the experienced trekkers on their toes.
*This is a remote area of Tajikistan and with any trekking destination, or you know, just life in general there are assumed risks. This area is prone, but not limited to earthquakes, extreme weather conditions, landslides, political upheaval and bone crushing roads. Much of the trekking in Tajikistan in general is wild and remote. There are little to no facilities and services outside of cities. Be prepared, have the enough layers and proper gear, food and water. The likelihood of being rescued in the event of a life threatening injury or disaster is slim. You’re going at your own risk and remember that there is never any shame in hiring a guide.
Intersted in joining me on an expedition?
It’s not quite the Fanns, however if you are interested in joining a crazy expedition in the Pamirs of Tajikistan’s GBAO, the western reaches of China, and the northern remote valleys of Pakistan this is the trip for you! I will be leading a small group of adventurers on this expedition in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!
The Fann Mountains are part of the Western Pamir-Alay Mountain System, located in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province. The Fanns are bound by the Zeravshan range to the North, The Gissar range to the South, The Haft-Kul (Seven Lakes) to the West of the Archmaidian River and the Fann Darya River to the East. This whole swath of land is situated in the northwest of Tajikistan. Cities & Towns near and around the Fanns include Penjikent, Ayni, Shing, Sarvoda and Sarytag.
It’s advisable to stock up on cash in either Dushanbe or Khujand (even better is to have it before you enter the country). US dollars are pretty widely accepted, Euros and Russian Roubles generally will be taken as well. It is not uncommon for ATMs to be out of money. There are a couple ATMs in Penjikent that accept foreign cards. The local currency in Tajikistan is the Tajik Somoni. At the time of research (April, 2017) the exchange rate was 8.5TJS to 1 US Dollar. As of June 2017 the exchange rate is now 8.8 TJS to $1 USD. If you want to read up more on money matters head on over to the Tajikistan Travel Guide.
The largest market in the area is located in Penjikent. Some items can be picked up in small shops in Ayni, Sarvoda or Sarytag. If you choose to arrange homestays (can be arranged by ZTDA) for your time in Fanns breakfast, lunch and dinner can usually be arranged by your host. Otherwise if you plan to free camp, make sure to stock up on provisions and either bring a camp stove or rent one from ZTDA. For cooking I brought a lightweight cooking camp set that uses chemical cubes to heat.
When to Go:
The trekking season tends to run June through September. Spring tends to still be muddy, even into the month of June. Later in September temperatures at higher altitudes can get pretty cold. The fall and winter out here are harsh. You’ll find the most favorable conditions from late June to early September, but expect hot temperatures when at lower altitudes.
Camping and trekking gear can be rented from ZTDA, contact them in advance for gear rental. For 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. Make sure to have a good backpack to haul all your gear around in. I carry the Osprey Aura 65L and find it to be quite comfortable. Equally as important is a good pair of hiking boots, the Merrell Moab is my person fave. Remember that it is possible to rent cooking equipment, tent and sleeping bag through ZTDA.
There are a few guides who lead tours in the Fann Moutains. Contact ZTDA to arrange guides and tours.Caravanistan and Indy Guide can both arrange tours for you as well.
Tajik is the official language which is nearly identical to the Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. 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.
You can read my Tajikistan travel guide with more information on traveling Tajikistan here, including airlines flying into the country as well as information on entering Tajikistan i.e.: visas. Many visitors either will come from or continue on to Uzbekistan as the Fann Mountains sit very close to the Uzbek border. In fact, the city of Penjikent sits only 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Samarkand (a large city and popular Silk Road stop in Uzbekistan for those unfamiliar), but unfortunately the border post between Samarkand and Penjikent has been closed for a few years now and does not look to be opening anytime soon. If coming from Uzbekistan you will likely cross the border at Oybek into Khujand. If coming from Dushanbe you will have the great thrill of driving through the famed Anzob tunnel. It’s 5 kilometers long, dark and not well lit, however; the scenery coming up from Dushanbe is quite stunning.
One of the many tunnels between Dushanbe and the Fann Mountains.
Dushanbe or Khujand will likely be where you begin your journey towards the Fanns via car or shared taxi. Things to note: Penjikent is the biggest city in the Fann Mountains, it is located just directly north of the Haft Kul (Seven Lakes). Sarytag is the nearby settlement to Iskanderkul, Alovaddin (also written Alauddin) and Artush are the jump off points for hikes to Kul-i-Kalon and Alovaddin Lakes (also called the Lakes-Loop trek) and the village of Sarvoda is the main transport hub for most people headed out for trekking in the Fanns. This is an estimated pricelist of transportation, at the time of research (April, 2017) the going rate for private car hire was in the range of $0.85-0.95 per kilometer (7.20-8.10TJS). These prices can change rapidly at times with fluctuations in currency value, Tajikistan’s currency- the Somoni isn’t the most stable. Contact ZTDA for the most up to date information on these costs.
*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.
Shared Taxi prices.
Dushanbe-Penjikient: $15/132 TJS.
Dushanbe-Sarvoda: $15/132 TJS.
Sarvoda-Alovaddin: $45/395 TJS.
Penjikent-Khujand: $13/115 TJS.
*Anyone with more accurate transportation costs, please e-mail me and I will update this section!
The Fann Mountains offer countless options for trekking. Here are a few of the more frequented hikes.
The Lakes Loop:
A stunning hike that will take you through semi-arid mountains, juniper forests and will find you waking up next to Carib-blue lakes. The Lakes Loop is easily the most popular trek in the Fanns. Most commonly it will start and end from Artush Village. Artush village is home to Artush Alplager offering simple accommodation. From Artush you will trek down to Kul-i-Kalon Lake (~5km). The shoreside of Kul-i-Kalon is great place to camp. There is a nearby settlement of friendly herders on the far side of the lake, they will likely invite you for a meal, or at least bread and tea. Try to give a gift or some money for the hospitality, although they will likely refuse. The next segment of the trek will take you from Kul-i-Kalon to Alovaddin Lakes, in which you have two options for passes to take. This will be via either Alovaddin Pass (~7k), or Lauden Pass (~15km). The closer but higher and steeper Alovaddin Pass (3,860 meters) will take you past the emerald Dushakha Lake, up and over the pass and give great views down onto the Alovaddin Lakes as you descend. There is accommodation just up from Alovaddin Lake at Vertical Alovaddin Camp. The camp can prepare meals as well. The second option is the slightly further but more gradual Lauden Pass (3630m) . You will follow the Pasruddaria River down the pass to where it meets the Chapdara River and then head towards the south to Alovaddin Lake. Once at Alovaddin you can camp around the beautiful lake or stay at Vertical Alovaddin. Options after Alovaddin Lakes include:
1) Trekking back to Artush via either Lauden or Alovaddin Pass.
2) Doing a day trek to Mutnyi Lake and back to Alovaddin Lakes which will take you about 13km roundtrip (Alovaddin-Mutnyi-Alovaddin). This is a gradual uphill trek on a portion of the Kaznouk trail to Mutnyi. Mutiny means muddy- named this due to the opaque grayishness of its water. From Mutnyi you’ll have grand views of Gora Chimtarga and Gora Energia. If inclined you could continue up Chimtarga Pass from here up and over to Bolshoi Allo Lake and down to the Sarymat River (this would obviously add a day or two and send you down and out to the Archmaidian River and then you would have to take the Zurmech Pass towards the west, past Chakurak Lake and around to Artush). Be aware that Chimtarga Pass is quite challenging.
3) There is road access to Vertical Alovaddin Camp- you could arrange transport to pick you up if you’ve had enough trekking going from Artush to Alovaddin one way.
The Lakes Loop can be done in about 3 days. Tack on a 4th day to the loop if you want to go to Muntyi. Plan roughly 6 days give or take if going the option 2 route up and over Chimtarga Pass.
Alovaddin Pass: 3860m.
Lauden Pass: 3630m.
Chimtarga Pass: 4740m.
Haft Kul (Seven Lakes):
The Haft Kul is set in a beautiful mountain valley. The old legend says an old man went missing in the valley. His seven daughters came to search for him but were unable to find him and began to cry along the narrow valley. The valley filled with tears and drown them. Each of the seven lakes represents one of the man’s daughters. In reality, it’s a narrow, earthquake-prone valley with the Shing River running through it. Researchers believe that earthquakes over the years created rockslides that dammed off the Shing River resulting in the Haft Kul. Haft Kul means seven lakes in Tajik. The lakes stretch roughly 15km from lake one down to lake seven. Their names from north to south are: Neznigan, Soya, Gusbor, Nofin, Khurdak, Marguzor and Hazorchazma. Each lake has a unique and different color to it. The Haft Kul offers a variety of trekking options from day trips from Penjikent to hike between the glimmering lakes to multi day treks. There are numerous homestays along the valley where you could do short treks lake to lake staying at homestays. Perched just above Marguzor Lake (the 6th lake) sits Kigoli village. From here you can continue up the Tavasang Pass and link the Haft Kul to the East-West Traverse (3-5 days trekking).
Marguzor Lake, #6 out of 7 of the Haft-Kul
West-East Traverse (includes the Seven Lakes):
This is a somewhat long, and in some areas challenging trek that connects the Haft Kul to Sarytag/Iskanderkul. From the village of Kigoli mentioned above in the Haft Kul trek, continue up Tavasang Pass and then proceed down the pass and cross the Abusafedsol River. Kigoli to Abusafedsol River (~9km). After crossing the river you have two options: Either take Munora Pass slightly toward the northeast (~11km) and eventually link up to the Dukdon Pass that will lead you to Iskanderkul (~28km). Or veer to the southeast and trek up into the challenging and aggressively steep Sarymat Pass (~6km). Once down the Sarymat Pass follow the Akhbashir (which turns into) Karakul (which eventually turns into the) Sarytag River and on down to Iskanderkul (~30k). Expect this traverse to take 3-5 days.
Tavasang Pass: 3300m.
Munora Pass: 3520m.
Dukdon Pass: 3810m.
Sarymat Pass: 4160m.
Get a view into Tajik mountain culture trekking the Dukdon Pass. This trek will see you start in Artush village and end in Sarytag- Iskanderkul’s nearby village (can also be done in the reverse). From Artush Village you will trek due south toward Chakurak Lake (~10km). From Chakurak Lake trek up and over the Zurmech Pass towards the west to where eventually you will meet the Archmaidian River (~8km). Follow the Archmaidian River south to the confluence of it and the Sarymat River (~8km). Continue to follow the Archmadian River to the southeast to the foot of the Dukdon Pass (~17km). Continue up the trail into Dukdon Pass and over it where you will eventually meet the Karakul-Sarytag River (~8km). Continue along to Karakul-Sarymat River to Sarytag (~7km).
Zurich Pass: 3260m.
Dukdon Pass: 3810m.
Sunset at camp near Sarymat River.
This is a shorter, but difficult and technical trek. The Kaznouk Pass will take you from Alovaddin Lake straight south to Sarytag (or reverse). It involves a glacier crossing that usually require crampons and ice axes. From Vertical Alovaddin Camp (you obviously have options to start this trek further afield than Alovaddin) head south along the trail to Mutnyi Lake (~6.5km). Continue toward the eastern side of Mutnyi Lake and begin to ascend up into Kaznouk Pass heading slightly toward the southeast. Eventually you will arrive at a snowfield and the trek continues on as the trail continues steeply upwards (this is where those crampons will come in handy). On the descent the trail will veer slightly toward the southwest and remain steep. Eventually you will arrive down at the Kaznouk River (~4km). Once at the Kaznouk River follow it to the east and it will eventually begin to bend southward. The Kaznouk River will turn into the Khavzak River and eventually converge into the Sarytag River. You’ll follow the rivers down from Kaznouk Pass and will arrive in the village of Sarytag (18km).
Kaznouk Pass: 4040m.
More Treks in the Fanns?
There are countless treks, longer and shorter than the ones listed in the guide. Some of these include, Mura Pass, Chimtarga Pass and so many more. You even can combine some of these hikes together (as I did). For more information on trekking in Tajikistan in general and a good reference to download buy the e-book Trekking in Tajikistan by Jan Bakker. The other, in my opinion must-have for trekking in the Fanns is the EWP: Fann Mountains Map & Guide. The EWP map became my bible…err Quaran while out in the Fann Mountains. For lighter trekking and those not looking to do serious multi day excursions there’s the options of taking a nice stroll around Islanderkul, walking between the lakes of the Haft Kul and even a day trip from Artush Alplager to Kul-i-Kalon and back or get dropped off at Vertical Alovaddin Camp and waltz about the beautiful Alovaddin Lakes or go a little further afield to Mutnyi and back to Vertical Alovaddin.
In general, most accommodation in the Fann Mountains area will be in homestays. Community Based Tourism (CBT) is fairly common throughout Tajikistan and greater Central Asia. In Penjikent there are a handful of hotels and guesthouses in addition to homestays. On the shores of Iskanderkul a few guesthouses and even the Turbaza Iskanderkul which are about 30 small cabins set back in the woods that are a popular weekend getaway for those from Dushanbe. In nearby Sarytag a number of homestays can be found. I personally stayed at Dilovar’s homestay in Sarytag after arrangements with ZTDA. Dilovar and his family are incredibly welcoming, his wife prepares great meals for you and Dilovar even speaks English if you’re struggling with communication. In the Haft Kul there are small settlements that dot the valley- mostly concentrated around the lakes. I can personally recommend Najmiddin Homestay (also arranged by ZTDA). Najmiddin is set back near Nofin Lake and is run by the kind Jumaboy and his family. Central Asia isn’t known for having superb cuisine, but the food prepared by the family there was some of the best I had in Tajikistan. Jumaboy speaks Russian and Tajik, so knowing bits of either is helpful and him and his family are quite fun to kick back, drink some cognac and share stories with. Expect homestays to cost anywhere from $10-20/night (85-170 TJS).
Outside of the towns and settlements plan to sleep in a tent. I was traveling alone so I brought along my MSR NX Hubba 1-man tent, which I absolutely love! MSR makes a Hubba 2-man, 3-man and the 4-man Mutha-Hubbatent as well. Along with a tent, make sure to have a nice sleeping bag, it can get pretty chilly at night even in the summer here up in the mountains. My sleeping bag is cold rated to -7ºC/20ºF and was sufficient. To pair with the tent and sleeping bag you can also grab a sleep mat to bring with you. Remember that it is possible to rent cooking equipment, tent and sleeping bag through ZTDA.
Jumaboy at Najmiddin Homestay.
Tours & Guides:
Several tour operators can arrange organized tours and treks in the Fann Mountains, as well as in the Zaravshan, Yagnob Valleys and more!
Kalpak Travel Offering Fann Mountains trekking tours and even a trip the includes trekking the Fanns and cycling in Tajikistan. Mention the promo code Nicki-Kalpak2017 to receive a 5% discount off your bookings. They also offer tours in other regions of Tajikistan as well as the greater Central Asian region!
Paramount Journey Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!
Weather can change rapidly and get quite extreme. At high elevations snow is possible even in the dead of summer. Down in the valleys temperatures can swelter in July-September, during prime trekking season. Pack layers of clothing with you and don’t forget to bring a decently warm jacket. Be careful collecting unpurified drinking water- some sources can provide clean waters, others not. If there are any shepards around ask, or just err on the side of caution and plan to purify your own water either through a water filter/pump, Lifestraw or, chlorine tablets.
Some of these passes can get quite treacherous, with loose shale, scree, steep ascent/descents and even falling rocks- know your limitations and what you are experienced enough for and comfortable with. Having a map/guide like EWP: Fann Mountains Map & Guidecan prove useful as it includes Russian climbing grades as well as a chart showing their French and UIAA equivalents. Rockslides are a hazard around Tajikistan in general. Sometimes I could sit quietly in the mountains and hear rocks snapping off and sliding down in areas. Earthquakes are something to be aware of, as well as the rockslides that can accompany them. There are occasional wolves that roam the mountains of Tajikistan, although reports of them are quite rare. Most people in the area are helpful and friendly, but just like anywhere in the world- it pays to be alert. I would recommend bringing a Delorme Inreach, or even something similar with you. The Inreach functions as a GPS, text messenger and SOS beacon all rolled into one small handheld device- all via satellite. Prior to the trip I plotted out all of my trekking routes on the GPS function and proved to be helpful as not all trails are very well defined. In general, you will not have cellphone service out here aside from around cities and towns and a village here and there. That fact paired with the potential to get stranded due to a rockslide or natural disaster (although unlikely) made the SOS option on the Inreach seem like a good idea to have with me.
Now who’s ready to go trekking the Fann Mountains?
This is one of the most beautiful and untouched areas I’ve gotten to experience and I hope that this guide helps any of you thinking about a trip out to the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan. If you have any information that I should update on here or any corrections you want to point out, please don’t hesitate to add it in the comments or shoot me an email at adventuresoflilnicki[at]gmail.com. For information on traveling the whole of Tajikistan please check out the Tajikistan Travel Guide, for inspiration to visit go read the10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan, and to hear a little about my time in the Fanns read Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan.
Interested in learning more and to start planning your trip to the Pamirs and GBAO region of Tajikistan? Check out the Pamir Travel Guide– Every bit of info you need to know to travel the rough and rugged Pamirs and info on the world’s greatest road trip, the Pamir Highway. Want to read about my day to day travels in the Pamir? Check out To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,And still more to come!-
To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Haft (7): Alichur to Murghab to Jarty Gumbez.
Had I really put some effort into it and had better researched the Pamirs I could have saved myself some time and kilometers (money)… But I didn’t, oh well. I of course wanted to see some Marco Polo sheep while I was in eastern Tajikistan, I figured I’d try to see them maybe more towards Ak-Baital Pass further north. Apparently a better place to see them is a little further south in the Badakshan toward the Afghanistan border near Jarty Gumbez and Keng Shibur. So now that I got that little preface outta the way…. We left Alichur for Murghab early in the morning dodging potholes on the M41. Of course Horsand kept shaking his head and saying ‘nyochen hrusha doroga’ and giggling.
Our first stop was Ak-Balik. I glanced over and saw this crystal clear pond off the road and I was pretty sure it was Ak-Balik as it was marked on my map of the Pamirs. So naturally we came to a screeching halt.
Ak-Balik, meaning ‘White Fish Pond’. It’s sacared.
This spring of water was so unfuckingbelievably clear all the way to the bottom. And in usual Tajikistan style the mountains were even reflecting off the top of it’s glassy surface. The sting is sacred to the people who live around here. DON’T PEE IN IT.
After my little photo break we continued back on the Pamir Highway, of course taking 10x longer than it should to get to Murghab seeing that I have to stop and take photos every 10 feet.
The Pamir Highway, a nice paved stretch even.
Then Horsand slams on the breaks and yells YURT! And we drift off the road and follow a little track a short distance.
That’s the yurt in question. I’d never seen someone so excited to show someone a yurt before. But, no one was home.
As we dropped into Murghab.
So those little buildings you see off in the distance? That’s the beginning of Murghab- container city. The main bazaar (okay, let’s face it, it’s got to be the ONLY bazaar this side of the Badaskhan) is made up of shipping containers. Murghab bringin it home for an Alaskan. Most the rest of the buildings are rectangular shaped. It’s not much to look at, but it reminded me of home and the surrounding area is quite scenic.
We reached Murghab by the early afternoon and stopped at a chaikhana for some greasy plov and tea. We kept talking about Marco Polo sheep during lunch. Horsand said if I wanted to see some sheep, my best bet would be to hire a guide and that we would have to head back south for the best chances to see them up closer. Horsing was really concerned over the cost for me getting out there as it would tack on an extra 100 kilometers each way. I told him it was okay, after all I had planned to have enough cash with how I like to deviate from the normal path. After lunch we headed over to the Murghab bazaar and after talking to a few people we found someone to accompany us out there. I really wished I had wrote down his name because I’ve already forgotten it. He was a really nice Kyrgyz man who knew the Jarty Gumbez area well.
That’s a nice door. I really liked this door.
So back south out of Murghab we headed. We were in route to Jarty Gumbez.
The jeep track out to Jarty Gumbez.
I thought I’d said my goodbye to Afghan scenery the morning prior when we left Langar but I was wrong. Here we were headed back down toward the southeast corner of Tajikistan, right on the border with Afghanistan and near to the point where Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China all come together. If you are into the old spy stories of the Great Game- this was an important location for the British and Russians watching each other’s moves across their expanses of Central Asia.
We all got to the sheep camp at Jarty Gumbez in the afternoon. It’s the off season for sheep hunts so everyone was just kind of hanging out. The camp has a hot spring pool, which they insisted I go jump in before I headed out searching for sheep. I won’t lie, it was nice. Especially after the shower contraption I got to use in Alichur (it wasn’t bad but it consisted of a wood stove and a bucket of boiling hot water. You then mixed the hot water with the cold water bucket in the shower until it was the temperature you wanted and then you just sort of dumped water over yourself. Like I said, not bad, just a little effort).
As we headed off to go search for sheep in drove Bertril and the Australians I had run int several times in the preceding few days. We kept on seeming to spend the night in the same homestays. They were stopping off for the evening to carry on to Shimak the next day. By late afternoon we spotted a pretty big group of Marco Polo quite a ways away and by sundown we headed back to the hunting camp at Jasty Gumbez for the night.
The camp was a nice stop of the night. Of course they invited me in for dinner with the whole group of them and kept bringing out plate after plate heaped with food. Then not only is there a hotspring to go sit in, there’s also indoor heating. Heating systems haven’t exactly taken off in this part of the world. Plus, it’s not exactly warm here as you’re over 14,000 feet in elevation. But at 14,000 feet and little light pollution, other than the rising, near full moon the star gazing out here is phenomenal. Two of the sons of the owner came out to see the photos I was taking and both couldn’t believe it when they asked how old I was and I told them I was about to turn 30. They were 19 and 21.
Stars out over the Badakshan. I know, it’s a tad blurry… I’m transferring photos from one hard drive to another as we speak and had to grab one off my phone!
Next: To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Hasht (8).
https://i0.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/562A0355.jpg?fit=8688%2C5792&ssl=157928688Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2017-02-04 06:00:162017-02-12 10:40:39To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day Haft
To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Shest (6): Langar-Bulunkul-Alichur.
Morning traffic in the Wakhan.
Today we headed left Langar and began leaving the Wakhan Valley.
Saying goodbye to the Wakhan Valley.
We passed a small waterfall and made a kajillion stops on the way out cause it was just that pretty.
And stops like this too!
But of course, I could’t the Wakhan without getting into the Pamir River, the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Standing in the Pamir River!
We started to gain altitude as we went up into the Khargush Pass where I had planned to spend a night in Bulun-Kul, but Horsand talked me into going a little further to Alichur for the night, he said it was a little nicer.
All up in Khargush Pass
Khargush Pass is where you leave to Wakhan Valley for the Pamir Highway. Of course on your way up you have nice views down into the valley. As you climb into the pass you come into a couple mirror-like lakes and then some weird, vast desert landscapes. It kinda makes me feel like I’m on another planet looking at the photos.
After the Pass we drove past Sassy-kul (the stinky lake) on our way to Bulun-Kul.
Bulun-kul is pretty small,just the lake and nothing more than a few scattered houses off to the side of the lake. I took about an hour to circle around Bulun-Kul.
The word is is that Balun-Kul is normally like glass in the mornings so if you get there early enough you’ll have a big mirror of the sky in it.
Nearby is the bigger Yashilkul (green lake), I decided that since I was over there I may as well go see it. Most of what I had read had talked about Bulun-kul being the more impressive of the two. I actually thought Yashil-kul was more scenic.
Not long after leaving Yashil-kul and heading back out into the Pamir Highway we were in Alichur.
Alichur is a village off the side of the road up in the high desert, just off the shore of the Alichur River. Alichur kind of looks like the village Luke lived in on Tatooine in Star Wars.
I spent the late afternoon walking around the little village and meeting kids riding bicycles around.
Next: To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Haft (7).
https://i1.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/562A0282.jpg?fit=8688%2C5792&ssl=157928688Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2017-01-28 06:00:382017-01-08 00:32:24To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Shest
Untouched, unspoiled and unrivaled. Tajikistan is an oddly shaped, mountainous, landlocked country squished between Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the west. A country unknown to most the outside world that I chose to visit exactly for that reason. Those that make it to this little known corner of the world will be greatly rewarded.
But first, wanna join me on the expedition of a lifetime?
I will be leading a small group of adventurers on an expedition in far western reaches of China, the GBAO region of Tajikistan to experience the life of the Kyrgyz nomads and the remote and beautiful valleys of northern Pakistan in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!
1. The Mountains.
Looking back from Alovaddin Pass.
Tajikistan in 93% mountainous, making it one of the most mountainous countries in the world. 100% are bound to leave you breathless and I mean that literally and figuratively- much of the country sits at high elevations, so that lack oxygen is very real.
2. The Lakes.
Sunrise on Alovaddin Lake.
Iskanderkul, Karakul, Haft Kul, Lake Sarez, Zor-Kul, Alovaddin & Kulikalon Lakes…. I could keep going all day. Tajikistan is packed full of beautiful lakes. Best tip: Always be awake for sunrise if you’re at a lake in Tajikistan, the perfect mirror of mountain reflections and the golden colors of the rising sun are to die for.
3. One of the World’s Greatest Roadtrips.
The vast nothingness of the Pamir Highway.
The locals nicknamed it Bam-i-Dunya, meaning ‘The Roof of the World’- this is the Pamir Highway or the M41. Second in elevation only to Pakistan’s Karakoram, this is one of the world’s grandest adventures whether you drive it or cycle it. The Pamir Highway will take you up and over high altitude passes surrounded by jagged peaks and dotted with villages full of some of the most hospitable people in the world who will stop at nothing to bring you inside for tea, bread and homemade yogurt. Of course many a side trip can be taken from the Pamir Highway- The Wakhan Valley, Bartang Valley, Pshart Mountains, Bachor, just to name a few. The Pamir Highway will take you through the biggest state of Tajikistan, the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast). Make sure you get your permit when you apply for Tajik your visa.
4. The Epic Trekking.
Bolshoi Allo, in the heart of Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains.
Tajikistan is the best trekking destination you’ve never heard of. During Soviet times it was a popular trekking destination for Russians looking to get away from it all, but after the Soviet collapse and civil war it lost it’s luster for most hikers. It’s now safe and just as beautiful as ever. More and more people are coming to take in the sceneries, but it’s still far from being crowded. Where to start? The Fann Mountains, Yagnob Valley, Bachor, Pik Engels, just to name a few. The options are limitless and all will be well worth the effort.
5. The People.
My Langar friends!
The people are what tie this diverse and spectacular country together. All over Tajikistan you’ll be welcomed in by strangers who will stop at nothing to show you unrivaled hospitality. People here believe that the guest is a gift from God and will go to great lengths to make sure you’re well taken care of. Trust me, I was essentially kidnapped off a busy street in Dushanbe by an older man who had asked me the time who then ushered me into his family’s Eid al-Qurban feast where I was force fed for 6 hours and spent the afternoon getting to know the entire family- extended and all!
The Rudaki Statue in Dushanbe. Rudaki is an important figure in Tajik Literary history, born in Penjikent.
While its more recent history has been on the tumultuous side, things have stabilized more recently. But the turbulent past makes for an interesting series of events that have led to the Tajikistan we know today. Tajikistan has fallen under the rule of the Arabs, Mongols, Timur, Turkics, Persians and Russians… just to name a few. Marco Polo even took a stroll through Tajikistan. Tajik civilization dates back at least 3,000 years albeit only having been an independent republic since 1991. If you’re fascinated by the ‘Great Game’ there is plenty of stops in Tajikistan to live out the history of the times when the British and the Russians were vying for control of central Asia. Shimak in the extreme southeast was a strategic point- having the ability to see into Afghanistan, China and clear over into Pakistan.
My favorite book on Tajikistan with loads of history? ‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton and Huw Thomas. Buy it here.
7. The Cultural Diversity.
Kyrgyz kids playing in Karakul.
Tajikistan is as diverse as it’s mountains are high. Of course a country sitting along one of the many routes of the Silk Road would be diverse with all the travelers that came through over time. In the GBAO area you’ll find ethnically Kyrgyz nomads, in the Wakhan Valley you’ll find the Wakhi people with each village identifying as it’s own people with different dialects of the Wahki language, Around Khorog you’ll find people who identify as Pamiri and have their own distinct language, The Bartangis tucked away in a beautiful and earthquake ridden valley who speak the Bartangi language that is virtually unknown outside. Then of course you’ll find ethnic Tajiks more into the west of the country. To see living history you can visit the Yagnobi people of the Yagnob Valley along the southern slopes of the Zeravshan Range. The Yagnobis have been isolated from the outside for so long that they still live in the traditional ways that ancient Sogdians lived. About 10 settlements exist in this area and speak the ancient Sogdian language and practice pre-islamic beliefs. The of course you have ethnic Russians who came during the Soviet times, and stayed as well as Chinese migrant workers. For being the smallest of the former Central Asian Soviet Republics it is crammed full of culture. There are also substantial Tajik populations outside the country especially in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
8. The Cities.
The view of Khorog and the Ghunt River from the Botanical Gardens
Dushanbe, Khorog, Khujand, Penjikient, Murghab… Not place names that you hear people speaking of too often in the common area in a hostel around the world like you would hear mentions of Bangkok, Paris and Sydney, Each city in Tajikistan has it’s own unique charm. Watch an afternoon and locals waltz by from a Chaikhana (teahouse), Go to the opera, Visit the city parks, Gaze at the intricate designs of mosques. Believe it or not, there’s even some nightlife to be had in Tajikistan.
A couple of the lovely ladies I met at the Dushanbe Eid al Qurban feast kidnapping mentioned in #5!
Remember in #5 where we talked about the kindness of the people? With the people of Tajikistan comes hospitality that is something of legend. Many people come to Tajikistan for the nature and leave saying the warm heart of the people was their favorite memory of the country. From sipping tea in the afternoon watching the day go by to a good old fashioned shot-for-shot boozy evening of Cognac with the family who own your homestay welcoming you to their beautiful country, you’ll feel like you can’t move an inch without running across the hospitality Tajikistan is known for. People will take you into their own homes, care for you and nearly feed you to death. Plate after plate will be brought out to you and then the sweets come out. Tajikistan is the poorest country in the region and one of the poorest in the world. People will go into debt showing you grand hospitality, so it’s always advisable to give some Somoni(money) to your host, and if refused hand it over to the eldest child or hide it somewhere in the house to find later.
10. Off The Beaten Path Adventure.
The infamous terror inducing Anzob Tunnel.
You’ve turned up in Tajikistan, so congrats, you’re already off the beaten path! The adventures to be had here are limitless, from death defying roads to poorly lit 5 kilometer long tunnels with rubble strewn throughout and machinery parked in the middle of the road, rallying down 4×4 trails not knowing where the jeep tracks end, high altitude treks, cycling broken roads through the high Pamir, kayaking across crystal clear lakes, skiing, to glacier trekking…. you’ll never find yourself bored or unchallenged in Tajikistan.
Were you captivated by some of those beautiful mountain lakes in this post? Alovaddin, Bolshoi Allo and more are to be found in Tajikistan’s stunning Fann Mountains. Read the Fann Travel Guide! to start planning your visit. Also includes trekking information.
Check out the first ever Bartang Valley guide with all the info you’ll ever need to journey up the Bartang Highway.
Thinking about a visit to Lake Sarez? Look no further.
To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Panj: Khorog-Langar.
Khorog from above.
After an early breakfast we were off headed into the Wakhan Valley. I had loosely planned to be passing through Ishkashim on a Saturday just in case the cross border market with Afghanistan was opened back up. A few days prior to me heading out of Dushanbe I was already aware that it was still closed. The first stop outside Khorog was at a mineral spring where I drank bubbly water right out of the mountain and then we continued on.
The mountain spring.
The entire drive today we stayed right along the Pamir River with views into Afghanistan. As we neared Ishkashim you even got glimpses of the snow covered Hindu Kush in Pakistan. Along the Wakhan Valley you’re just across the water from Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor. The Wakhan corridor is that thin finger-like projection the pokes out of Afghanistan’s northeast. The ability to see over into Pakistan os because the Afghan Wakhan Corridor in some spots is just that narrow.
Best road trip EVER.
As you come into Ishkashim the valley between Tajikistan and Afghanistan widens a bit. We then continued onto Namatgut. Namatgut’s real claim to fame is its Zorastrian Fortress of Qaa’qa. There were a few kids at the bottom of the fortress and one ran up the fortress with me. From up there you have really good views of the river and into the Afghan villages.
My Qa’qaa tour guide showing off his jumps.
It’s strange to look into Afghanistan and see that people are carrying on like normal, you know after seeing what the shady American media chooses to portray to you. I spend my high school years assuming it was just a dusty anarchic war zone.
Terraces on the Afghan side.
The next stop along the Wakhan was up into Bibi Fatima and Yamchun Fortress where you make a few kilometer detour up the side of a mountain. Women come from all over to sit in the hotspring at Bibi Fatima. They believe that sitting in the spring (because it resembles a womb) will boost their fertility. I was only there because I’m lazy and like to sit in hot springs. Men come here to sit in the hot water too. They alternate genders on the hour. It set me back a whole 10 somoni.
After lunch at the hotel above Bibi Fatima we headed down slightly to go look around Yamchun Fortress. Yamchun is more impressive and is in better condition that Qaa’qa.
Yamchun Fortress, Wakhan Valley.
We ended up continuing along the Wakhan to Langar for the night. Of course with at least half a million stops in between for photos.
Once we reached Langar we pulled into a homestay just slightly past town. In the early evening I walked back towards the village and ended up meeting a mob of kids. Back at the guesthouse there was a Dutch couple that I met that were biking their way from Holland to Southeast Asia and were 5 months into an 11 month trip. Now I felt pretty lazy.
Next up: To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Shest (6).
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