For anyone anticipating a Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan tours, the Pamir Highway is certain to stand out in a series of dramatic landscapes and cultural encounters to leave travellers in no uncertain terms as to the adventures that are still to be had in two of Asia’s lesser visited locations.
Encapsulating the rugged mountain imagery and remote nature of a Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan tours, the Pamir Highway lets you travel across the “Roof of the world” on a stretch of road that promises spectacular views to leave a long lasting impression on first-time passengers and old hands alike.
Tajikistan cultural tours are the best way of meeting the country of mountains; exploring small, yet more than 2000 years old cities located among the snow-capped mountains.
Aside from the trip over the Pamir Highway this 17 day Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan tour also features many of the remote communities living within the Pamir Mountains as well as chances to spot the wildlife, including birds of prey, that call this eternally unchanged habitat, home.
Bartang Valley with a length of approximately 180 km (detour from the Pamir Highway) is linked with the valley Tanimas and Eastern Pamir, where Kyrgyz nomadic pastoralists live. The cultural identity and lifestyle of the population In Bartang is well preserved: their music is very attractive,dialect, way of life. Bartang valley can surprise its visitors with the fabulous hospitality,attractive nature and well preserved culture.
Following the course of the River Panj, along the Afghanistan border towards Khorog, takes travellers to the relics of the Silk Road where former fortresses and Buddhist temples still signal the strategic importance of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway.
The chance to stay with a host family in Kara Kul is a real highlight of this Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan holiday with visits to the ancient citadel of Osh to watch the traditional ceremonies surrounding Solomon’s Throne bound to stay long in the mind’s eye.
As you finally complete this 17 days Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan tour, the Pamir Highway experience will still live in the memory however, you still have time for cultural sightseeing in Bishkek from where this exciting, and often challenging, adventure ends the following day.
Day 1 – Dushanbe,
Arrival to Dushanbe, meeting at the airport transfer to hotel, ‘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 at the hotel “Vatan or similar”. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch)
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 2 – Dushanbe – Kalaikhumb (360 km 8/9 hours),
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)
Day 3 – Poi Mazar (180 km 4/5 hours)
From Kalaikhumb we leave for Poi Mazar through Vanj valley with some of terrain ahead of us, and the promise of some spectacular scenery along the way. The valley of the Vanj is wide and green.
The road joins the river Panj, 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 local in home stay. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner)
Day 4 – Poi Mazar to Rushan (175 km, 5/6 hours)
From Poi Mazar we leave for Rushan the administrative center of Rushan district with some 175 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 5 – Rushan to Gisev valley and trekking, after the trekking transfer to Khorog. (9/10km trekking 120km Drive)
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) – this is a restricted part of the country and we have obtained permits to travel here. Nevertheless, be prepared for the possibility of some additional paperwork! Our hotel is set in lovely riverside gardens and looking out to the bridge across the river into Afghanistan itself.
Overnight in Hotel Lal In. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch)
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 6 – Khorog – Ishkashim (130 km 4/5 hours)
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 7 – Ishkashim to Langar (110 km 6/7 hours)
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 8 – 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 9: 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 10: Karajylga to Kok jigit and Zorkul – Murghab (215 km, 7/8 hours)
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 in Lunch time. 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 11: Murghab – Kara kul (135 km, 3/4 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 12 – Karakul – visit to Achik Tash (Lenin Peak (7134 m), base camp, 210 km, 7 hours) to Sary Tash
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 13 – Sary Tash 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. Our first night in Kyrgyzstan is spent at a hotel Pekin near crowded market, and we have free time to explore this sleepy town or simply relax. Night in hotel “Sun Rise”./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 14 – Osh – Toktogul
Drive to Toktogul town named after the well-known akyn (Kyrgyz bard) Toktogul Satylganov (1884 – 1933) who was born here. Time permitting we shall spend some time exploring the town.
Overnight local guesthouse Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch and Dinner)
Day 15 – Toktogul to Song kol (270km 5/6h)
This tour takes us to stunning Song Kol Lake. The lake itself is at 3916 meters above sea level and at 270 square kilometers, is one of largest high alpine lakes in the world. In the whole of beautiful Kyrgyzstan, Son kul is one of the most beautiful places, and this tour is one of the best ways to approach it
Overnight in yurt stay, Shared room facilities tonight with 4 – 5 beds in one yurt. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch and Dinner)
Day 16 – Bishkek
Drive to Bishkek and explore the capital city of Kyrgyzstan.
Overnight at “Rich” Hotel or similar. Meals: (1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch and Dinner)
Kyrgyzstan’s capital is a modern city, originally founded in 1825 but developed extensively by the USSR and at that time named Frunze after a famous Bolshevik general. With over a million inhabitants it follows the typical Soviet city pattern of wide boulevards and drab apartment blocks, large squares and public parks and before Kyrgyz independence had a majority Russian population, although not now. Although not blessed with the interesting sights of other Central Asian cities, it does have a few things worth visiting – the impressive Ala-Too square, the History Museum and the Orthodox Church, a reminder that not all Russians left in 1991.
Day 17 – Transfer to airport
End of tour.
Ticket for Tajik National park and permits