20-Days Highlights of Tajikistan Along the Pamir Highway
The Pamir Mountains have long been known as ‘the roof of the world’, a region of utterly breathtaking scenery and home to a fascinating mélange of cultures. Follow in the footsteps of ancient traders and pilgrims, and Victorian explorers in discovering a region largely isolated from the world beyond, a land where each village speaks its own different dialect and local traditions have been maintained for centuries. Traversing the legendary Pamir Highway, this trip starts in the Tajik capital Dushanbe but quickly leaves the modern world behind as you wind your way along difficult mountain roads and high passes, in the shadow of some of the highest mountains on our planet. We visit ruined forts from the days of the old Silk Road, and pass gem mines mentioned by Marco Polo. Spending many nights in home stays in small communities, we are able to gain a great insight into what it means to live in this harsh but majestic region. This trip ventures to a remote and enchanting land that has remained hidden to the rest of the world, a land of towering peaks, turbulent rivers and fascinating people. Travel with us on one of the most amazing journeys you are ever likely to make.
Tour style: Traveller (Adventure Travel)
Departure dates scheduled:
Day 1: Osh
Arrive in Osh. Meeting at the airport and transfer to Hotel. Kyrgyzstan’s second city which has 3000 years visit local attractions Suleiman too. Overnight in Hotel Sun Rise Osh*** (or similar).
Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch and Dinner)
Osh is ancient – various sources date it back around 2500 years, and legends abound over who founded it, including Alexander the Great and King Solomon. On the edge of the Ferghana Valley it is home to both Uzbek and Kyrgyz people, with its position on the border giving rise to an extremely lively market, one of the most interesting in Central Asia. The rock known as Solomon’s Throne is an important place of pilgrimage for Muslims, and a 15th century mosque on the top has now been reconstructed, with excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Osh is also home to the largest mosque in Kyrgyzstan, and is one of the few places in the former Soviet Union still to have a statue of Lenin.
Day 2: Osh to Khujand 410km 7/8hours
Today we continue our adventure as we drive from Osh, crossing Kyrgyz-Tajik border and continuing on to the Tajik town of Khujand. Khujand is a further 110 kilometres from the border, the second largest city in the country and capital of Soghd Province. We will arrive to this ancient city early evening and our sightseeing here for today and next day will include the local museum and the ancient citadel that dates from the 10th century and which fell to the Mongol invaders who swept through this region in the 13th century, Mosque-medresse of Sheykh Muslihiddin of XVI century). Overnight in Hotel Firuz*** or similar Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner).
Khujand is the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second largest city in the country. Khujand, continuously occupied for 2500 years, was founded by Alexander the Great. The city became one of most important places in Central Asia. It was a key junction of the Silk Road. The beautiful city was razed by Gengiz Khan. Through history it remained a center of considerable power. Prior to the Russian invasion in the nineteenth century it was one of the main emirates in Central Asia.Khujand stands at the entrance to the fertile Fergana Valley. Owing to this it was one of the main centers of the Great Silk way and enjoyed prosperity and richness. One of the ancient cities of the Central Asia Khujand has been known since the 7th century.
Day 3: Khujand to Penjikent via Istrafshan (285 km,7 hours)
We continue the 95kms to Istaravshan, with its hilltop citadel guarding the beautifully preserved town. En rout short stop will be in Istaravshan, which is a museum city, the ancient center of trade and crafts, one of the most ancient cities of the Central Asia. In 2002 Istaravshan turned 2,500 years old. Exploring the old town we visit the blue-domed mosque and medressa complex of Kok-Gumbaz, dating back to the 15th century. Arrival to Penjikent an ancient Sogdian city. Overnight in Guest house. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
The city was founded in the sixth century B.C. by a Akhemenid king Cyrus who fortified the settlement by means of three wall lines and a citadel. During the years of Arabian sovereignty Istaravshan became a province Arabian Caliphate. It was at this time when Islamic architectural structures of portal-dome design such as mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums, minarets, etc. started to appear. The rapid development of Istaravshan is connected with the rule of the first ethnic Tajik Samanid dynasty (the 9th – the 10th centuries). In the 13th century the city was destroyed by Mongols. Then drive onward to Penjikent. Arrival to Penjikent an important town on the Silk Road. It is known as the “Pompeii of Central Asia”, because of the wonderful frescoes from the 8th century, which have survived. Visit Rudaki museum, a bustling bazaar and an 18th century medrassa, the old city, abandoned, ancient citadel, which hosted the place of the rulers of Panj, is on the hilltop to the east of the town.
Tajikistan travel destination Penjikent is a Sogdian city, which flourished from the 5th to 8th centuries. It is well preserved and it was called “Central Asia’s Pompeii”. An opulent governor’s palace, homes, and temples can be seen. At one time Sogdiana controlled a key section of the Silk Road, but in the 8th century Empire collapsed and people fled to the mountains. Descendants of this ancient kingdom still live in the more remote regions of present-day Tajikistan name Jagnob Valley and still speak a remote dialect of Sogdian. City Sarazm, some 20 km from Penjikent, is one of the most ancient settlements of Central Asia, dating from the Bronze Age.
Day 4: Penjikent – Padrud (40km 1/2h)
After breakfast an excursion in the Settlement of “Ancient Penjikent”, introduction the culture and history of ancient City (8th – 9th Century AD). After excursion driving to the beautiful Padrud village which is located in the picturesque place of the Fan Mountains, where located seven stunning lakes. On the way we’ll visit (if time allows) the mausoleum of famous Tajik-persian poet A.Rudaki passing Panjrud village. We will stop at small lakes Migon, Guzhor and Nofin lakes and alpine meadows of outstanding beauty and character. Arrival to the village Padrud and Lunch at the homestay. Afternoon you will have gentle walking around the Lake. Today we’ll stay at traditional homestay “Padrud” Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 5: Padrud – Walking to Seven lakes (6/7km walking)
After breakfast drive up to the 6th lake “Marguzor”. Today we will hike to Seven lakes which is one of the most fascinating places in Tajikistan. We can enjoy invigorating trip in fresh mountainous air along unique and wonderfully clean lakes. From the Marguzor lake we will start our hike to the 7th lake “Hazor chashma” . Short stay on the shore of the lake, walking around the lake and continue our gentle walking along Hazor chashma River towards Hissar Pass as long as we can. After Picnic Lunch and relaxing on the lush alpine meadows, and juniper forest we will come back to the Padrud village. Before dinner we’ll introduce with the local people and their life. Dinner and overnight in home stay. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 6: Padrud – Iskanderkul Lake – Saratog (195 km 5 hours)
Today we drive to Iskandarkul. A good asphalt road winds up the valley to the lake which has its name derived from Alexander the Great – in Persian called “Iskander”. He camped at Iskanderkul’s shore during one of his campaigns en route to India. According to one of the many legends originating from this time, Alexander’s famous battle horse Bucephalus drowned in the lake – and to this day may be seen racing over its surface at full moon.
Arrival to Iskandar Kul Lake the rout is along the Fan darya valley and Iskandar Darya. The Lake is surrounded by mountains, and is about four km across. The views across the lake are impressive in all directions. At 2000 m, it is pleasantly cool in summer. “Iskandar Kul or Lake Alexander is indeed a beautiful spot”, there are many waterfowl and it is possible to fish in this tranquil and beautiful spot. We will walk to the impressive waterfall of 40m height. A platform allows spectators to stand right above the thunderous torrent. Then, drive to Saratog village for dinner and overnight at the homestay or stay in cottage near by the Lake. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 7: Iskanderkul – Dushanbe, (162km, 4/5h)
Our destination today is the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, 150km away. We have a tough drive ahead of us as a picturesque serpentine road goes through the huge gorge along Zarafshan River, and then climbs to Anzob Pass (3372m). A wonderful panorama of high mountains reveals from the pass. Coming down to Varzob Gorge and further arriving in Dushanbe we take a short rest at our comfortable hotel before heading out for an evening stroll. ‘Dushanbe’ means Monday in Tajik, with the town named for the small weekly bazaar which was once all the town had to recommend it. Now it is a pleasant, if small, capital, with broad tree-lined avenues and pleasing architecture surrounded by mountain scenery. Overnight in Hotel Vatan*** or similar. Meals included: (1 breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 dinner).
Dushanbe is a relatively modern town that rose to prominence during the Soviet era, when it was made the capital of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and named Stalinabad. Its name means ‘Monday in the Tajik language, arising from the fact that this was the day that the market was held when Dushanbe was still a small and fairly insignificant village. The ousted Emir of Bukhara, fleeing from the Bolsheviks, stayed in Dushanbe and cooperated with Enver Pasha’s Basmachis until he had to leave the region. From Dushanbe, he fled to Afghanistan in 1921, the year the town was freed from the Basmachis as well.
Day 8: Dushanbe – Kalaikhumb (360 km 8/9 hours) altitude 1345 mh.)
We set off east towards the Pamirs and Kalaikhumb, driving through beautiful scenery and interesting villages en route. This area is a little more conservative, and we see many men with beards, and women wearing traditional dress. We cross the Shurabod Pass (2200 metres), arriving in Kalaikhumb in the early evening.
Overnight local guesthouse. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
The Pamir Mountains
Spreading across Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China the Pamirs are situated at the junction of some of the world’s highest mountain ranges – the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Tian Shan among others, and with peaks exceeding 7000m are known locally as ‘the Roof of the World’. With numerous glaciers and covered in snow throughout the year, the climate here is unforgiving with only a short summer season. Nevertheless the Pamirs are home to both people and wildlife – of the latter notable species include the Marco Polo sheep and snow leopard. Communities and villages in the Pamirs are isolated, separated from each other in valleys and with different villages often speaking different dialects, even though they may not be far from each other as the crow flies. It was in this region that the last stages of the ‘Great Game’ – the territorial rivalry between the empires of Russia and Britain – were played out in the late 19thcentury, with intrepid adventurers mapping the high passes and staking claims for king and country. The Pamir Highway, running from Dushanbe to Osh, is the second highest in the world (after the Khardung La Pass in the Ladakh region of India).
Day 9 – Kalaikhumb to Rushan (200 km, 5/6 hours)
From Kalaikhumb we leave for Rushan the administrative center of Rushan district with some 200 kms of terrain ahead of us, and the promise of some spectacular scenery along the way. The road joins the river Pianj, which in turn forms the border with Afghanistan. The contrast across the river valley is telling, Tajikistan is undoubtedly a poor country, but in general the roads are sealed and buildings are connected with electricity. The situation barely 100m away is even starker, and it is as if the river represents not just a physical divide, but also a step back in time.
Overnight in Home stay. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 10: Rushan to Gisev valley and trekking, after the trekking transfer to Khorog. (9/10km trekking 120km Drive) altitude 2780 mh)
From Rushan we leave for Geisev through Bartang valley with some 30 km of terrain ahead of us, and again the promise of some spectacular scenery along the way. Arrival in Emtz village in Bartang valley. We will cross the river by wagon hanging on the wire rope as the small bridge washed up. Our trek begins on the river Bartang just beyond Bhagoo village. The hike is mostly gently uphill, for about 8km to the upper of three lakes. The first houses in Geisev are reached after about 5km. The abundant vegetation, the gnarled trees, the lakes and the ever-changing river – sometimes frothing with energy, sometimes limpid and blue – create a very special peaceful atmosphere, ideal for a short break without too much physical effort. This rout passing lakes, and the rivers traversing some of the most magnificent scenery in the Pamirs. We will again cross the river and drive to Khorog for overnight. From Gizev we leave for Khorog along river Pianj, border of Afghanistan. We stay in hotel tonight, having reached the capital of the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). Overnight in Hotel Lal in *** or similar Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch and Dinner)
The capital of Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Khorog is a small town that at various times has been under the control of the Russia, the Emirate of Bukhara and Afghanistan. The Russians built a fort here in the Soviet era, with Khorog being in a highly strategic location on the border with Afghanistan, but today it languishes and is one of the least developed parts of the country, with the Aga Khan Foundation contributing to the bulk of the local economy. It holds the distinction of being home the second highest botanical garden in the world, at 3900m.
Day 11: Khorog – Ishkashim (130 km 4/5 hours) altitude 2665 mh)
We have a little time to explore Khorog including the bazaar and the lovely Botanical Gardens which are perched high above the town, affording some great panoramic view. About 50kms along the road to our next stop, Ishkashim, we will stop at Garmchasma hot springs for an (optional) dip in the waters. Visit detour to the nearby village of Namadguti to visit the Khahkha Fortress. From here, we enter the Tajik half of the Wakhan Valley (shared with Afghanistan) and pass regional gem mines mentioned by Marco Polo. The most famous mine is Koh-i-Lal ruby mine which is visible from the road. Ishkashim itself the regional centre, but it is essentially still a large village and we stay in a traditional style Guesthouse in Ishkashim. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
The Wakhan Valley (also pronounced Vakhan) is a majestic alpine valley in the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan and Tajikistan (the “Wakhan Corridor” refers to the part of the valley in Afghanistan). It is located in the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia. Its upper reaches consist of two wide, hilly plains surrounded by alpine peaks, beginning near the Chinese border in one of the most remote regions of the world. Further down, where the Pamir and Wakhan rivers join to form the Pyanj River, the valley narrows, finally becoming a severe canyon with roaring river rapids at its end in Ishkashem. Its muddy rivers are fed by water from huge glaciers on some of the highest mountains on the planet, fantastic views of which are visible throughout the area.
Day 12: Ishkashim to Langar (110 km 6/7 hours) altitude 2882mh
Driving along wakhan valley and visit detour to the nearby village of Namadguti to visit the Khahkha Fortress. This impressive structure rises from a naturally formed platform of rock and dates back to the Kushan era of the 3rd Century. There are a number of these ancient fortresses in the area, and we also visit Yamchun fort, perhaps the most impressive of them. We take a break at the Bibi Fatima hot springs, named for the Prophet Mohammed’s sister and where local women believe they can increase their fertility. Continuing on we then stop at the 4th Century Buddhist stupas at Vrang, reminders of the ancient pilgrim caravans that passed through the region. Overnight homestay. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 13: Langar to Alichur visit to Bulunkul and Yashil Kul (192 km, 6/7 hours)
Today we get a chance to explore the amazing landscape of this area. We drive up to Bulung kul Lake via the Kargushi Pass (4344 meters). On this journey we leave behind the lush valleys of the Wakhan Valley and enter a landscape that is rocky, mostly barren but nevertheless dramatic. This is the Pamir Highway we have anticipated, with the route between Khorog and Osh completed in 1931 across a Tibetan-plateau style high altitude terrain.Arrival to Bulung kul. Visit to Yashil kul and drive to Alichur and short stop at geyser en route. Overnight in homestay. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 14: Alichur to Karajylga (174 km, 5/6 hours)
An excellent and adventures trip will take us on the unspoiled lunar landscape of high mountains and wide plateau to Karajylga. Short stops at the “Ak Balyk” Lake and Mouseleum of Alimbek datka at Bashgumbez en route. Today we are on the The Eastern Pamirs have been populated by nomadic ethnic Kyrgyz since the 17th century. The traditional architecture is beautifully represented by yurts, mobile habitations made of felt on an ingenious wooden frame, with the interior decoration bearing witness to the wealth and skills of the owners. Felt and wool serve as the basis for handicrafts. Precise stones, including rubies and emeralds, are also found in the area, and these are sometimes used in local handicrafts. Overnight in nomadic yurt stay. Meals: Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Day 15: Karajylga to Kok jigit and Zorkul – Murghab (215 km, 7/8 hours) altitude 3650 mh)
We drive towards Zorkul Lake and some walking will be to follow the grazing route of Marco Polo sheep. Driving to Sarjylga valley to spot Marco Polo sheep and Ibex. Wildlife observation will be undertaken during this tour. The famous and endangered Marco Polo sheep (ovis ammon poli) world’s largest-horned argali sheep, Snow leopard endangered and fully protected species, ibexes, marmot and Brown bear, fox, hare are not full list of representatives of wild life of the area. From birds one can find the mountain goose (ular) pigeons, eagles, vulture, and etc. This Arkhar (Marco Polo sheep), as they are called on Kyrgyz, have very long horns and live in herds of up to 30 or more together, separated mostly by gender and unite only at the time of mating for several months. Due to deforestation and erosion, the Arkhar are now threatened by extinction. Moreover, they are very shy, but with a little luck, we’ll get some of them to face. It is necessary very much greater happiness to sift one of the very rare snow leopards. The chance is about the same size as that to meet, who will circulate in the Pamir mountains on the famous Yeti. Other inhabitants of this area are rabbits and gray hamster, also – at heights of 4,000 meters – foxes, wolves and bears are also. Maybe we meet even one of the giant bearded vulture or see over the peaks majestically soar an eagle. These areas are all unique in their own way, and trips to these places are always fascinating. Than, we will drive to the west of a high mountain plateau to view the glazy and spectacularly beautiful lake – Chakan kul Lake. Despite its name (“Small Lake”), for most of the year the cloudless skies and pure air (4135m) give it a translucent azure color.
We will drive on a muddy road as far as we can to reach to Zorkul Lake. Walking on this area you can see the majestic northern wall of Afghanistan Hindikush and fantastic Zor Kul Lake.Along the western half of the Zor kul Lake runs Afghan – Tajik border. The lake’s eastern half lied in Tajiksitan.In 1842, Lieutenant Woods of the British India Navy Explored the Pyanj and Pamir rivers as far as the latter’s source in Zor kul. Zor kul itself is 20 km long – the road runs along its northern shore.
We leave for Murghab the center of East Pamir. The road up Murghab, however, is spectacular an, passing through again the settlement of Mamazair. This small town bestrides the Murghab River at an altitude of 3,650 m. Younghusband visited it in 1890 and wrote “It is a dreary, desolate spot… with a certain amount of grassy pasture and a few scrubby bushes by the river, but surrounded by barren hills, and bitterly cold. How these Russian soldiers can support existence there is a marvel…shut up in dreary quarters, with nothing whatever to do – week after week, month after month passing by in dull monotony….” Over a century later, nothing much has changed. We anticipate arriving in Murghab. Murghab (3670 m) itself has few attractions, but it will serve as our base for a one night as we explore the area a little. The 7546 m – high Chinese peak of Mustag Ata is visible to the northeast of town, 110 km away in a direct line. Overnight in Home stay. Meals included: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 16: Murghab – Kara kul (135 km, ¾ hours)
We depart today to Karakul. This drive will see us enjoying some of the most dramatic scenery of the trip, with the lunar-like landscapes and bright blue lakes providing plenty of opportunities to take our breath away. We will again cross a high-altitude pass Ak-Baital Pass (4655 meters) which is the highest section of road in the former Soviet Union. We descend to Karakul Lake, the highest lake in Central Asia, and at 3915 meters, too high to support any aquatic life.Overnight in Home stay. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 17: Karakul – visit to Achik Tash (Lenin Peak (7134 m), base camp, 210 km, 7 hours)
We depart today to Base Camp of Peak Lenin. Our final Pamir Highway high pass is the Kyzyl Art Pass (4282 metres), which essentially forms the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Border formalities take place shortly after crossing the pass, with 20kms of ‘no man’s land’ to cross. Be warned, even in August we could see sub-zero temperatures through the border areas, so make sure you have some extra layers to hand in case we are delayed by formalities. Having crossed to Kyrgyzstan, we will keep our driver – although we are in a different country, the ethnic lines in this region are greatly blurred, and Russian, Tajik, Kyrygz and Uzbek are all spoken with interchangeable ease!
At Sary Tash we will turn to the west and continue to drive through stunning mountain scenery to the Alai mountain valley along Kyzyl suu River and then to Achik Tash camp site. Base camp of Peak Lenin (7134 m), the second highest mountain in Central Asia is situated on a raised meadow between two steep river valleys. The ground is a carpet of wild garlic and alpine flowers. After exploring Pik Lenin we wiil drive to Sary Tash village for overnight. Overnight in Guest House Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 18: Base camp to Osh (260 km 6/7 hours).
After Sary Tash village we depart the high mountains of the Pamir-Alay range, leaving behind us the crossroads of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. The drive offers a contrast as we encounter lush farmlands and small villages on this side of the mountains, instead of the stark high-altitude plateau we recently crossed in Tajikistan. En route we will cross the Taldyk Pass (3554m) and enjoy some beautiful views. We must travel about 185km from Sary Tash, and depending on road conditions and travel times we expect to arrive in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s oldest city early evening. Night in Hotel “Sun Rise Osh” / similar Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch and Dinner)
Day 19: Flight to Bishkek
Transfer to airport take a domestic flight to Bishkek.
Meeting at the airport Manas transfer to Hotel.
Overnight in Hotel “Rich” *** or similar. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch )
Day 20: Transfer to airport
END OF THE SERVISE
DepartureTour Starts from Osh Kyrgyzstan
IncludedArrival and Departure transferMeals as listed: 19 Breakfasts, 19 Lunches, 18 DinnersAll accommodation on twin share basis (Hotel 6, Guest houses 4, home stays 8,Yurt stay 1 )Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itineraryAll transfers according the program (price includes driver’s per diem, road and parking fees, all necessary permissions fuel and taxes;)Experienced and basic English speaking drivers, type of car: (A/C Toyota Land Cruiser or Nissan Patrol)Mineral water (1L per day per person)Ticket for Tajik National park and permits
Not IncludedInternational flightsDomestic flight Osh to BishkekSupplement for single room 150USDEarly checking for first nightEnglish speaking guide service for whole tour 805USDAny airport taxesTravel InsuranceTips and gratuitiesAny personal expensesAny services not included in the above itinerary_ PS Important – early arrival is not includedSome sightseeing places and excavations might be closed / not possible to visit due to local changes, reconstruction, roads condition, and security reasons. We do not guarantee all advised places will be covered, but we will try to do our best to cover themPricing is confidential & non commissionable