While the “–stans” Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, etc. are mostly feared and avoided by tourists– here I am thinking: Why should it be avoided? What is there that the media doesn’t seem to show aside from the violence and negative things? How are people like there? Aside from my quest of visiting every country in the world with my Philippines Passport, I wanted to have the answers once and for all.
I embarked on a 2-month trip around Central Asia and my first stop is the roadtrip from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan and the latter being known as The Land of Celestial Mountains and is famous for the Pamir Mountain Ranges where the Pamir Highway lies.
Historically speaking, these mountains served as a trade route connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and Southern Europe. This route is known as The Great Silk Road. Not only was this important for the economy of various countries involved in the trade, but it also played an important role in their cultural, political, and religious interactions.
I have recently completed my 7-day journey at the Pamir Highway with Paramount Journey and I have to say that while this trip is tiring and exhausting, it is nevertheless exhilarating and exciting, not to mention very much worth it!
This route took us 7 days on a private car starting from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Here is my itinerary:
- DAY 1: Drive from Dushanbe to Kalaikhumb
- DAY 2: Drive towards Khorog (220 kms)
- DAY 3: Drive towards Ishkashim (115 kms)
- DAY 4: Drive towards Langar (Cross the border to Afghanistan for the Day)
- Day 5: Drive towards Bulunkul via Khargush Pass
- Day 6: Drive towards Murghab Town
- Day 7: Drive towards Osh, Kyrgyzstan
DAY 1: Drive from Dushanbe to Kalaikhumb
The long drive started at 9 AM. I was picked up at the hotel by my driver and tour guide, Alisher. We drove towards the Pamir Highway over the mountain pass at Kalaikumb, the halfway point of Khorog. We took the southern road via Kulyab and we stopped a lot for toilet breaks, snacks, meals and tons of beautiful photos at the Norak Dam and did a little shopping at a small spice bazaar. We drove along the Afghan border (they are separated by a river) and in fact, we got to see Afghan Villages from the Kyrgyzstan side.
Accommodation: Guesthouse by the Panj River owned by a lovely Tajik family
DAY 2: Drive towards Khorog (220 kms)
Khorog is the capital of (GBAO) Gorno-Badakhshan Region and is located along the Panj River which forms the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In Khorog, you can visit a bazaar or see the botanical gardens which are the second-highest in the world and get an awesome view of the city, the rivers, and the surrounding mountains. One of the highlights of this day was that we stopped by a local’s house for lunch and I was taught how to make their local bread.
DAY 3: Drive towards Ishkashim (115 kms)
This was an easy and slow day since the drive was only 115 kms. We made various stops as usual but this time, we went to a big bazaar and a beautiful park where we had lunch by the river. Afterward, we headed to Garchashma Hot Spring but unfortunately, it was a “men time” as opposed to “women time”. Only men can swim since they all do it full naked. We saw a lot of people walking with their herds and I was lucky to have a nice photo with them!
DAY 4: Drive towards Langar/Cross the border to Afghanistan
The original itinerary was to stop by Vrang to see Buda Stupa and in Zong Village to visit Abrashim Qala Fort. However, I made a detour by myself to cross the border to Afghanistan to Sultan Ishkashim which is the gateway to the Wakhan Corridor. This town is known for its small bazaar and it is also the last border point where you can get to cross Afghanistan by the bridge.
Anyway, I was able to catch up with my group late in the afternoon. Langar is famous for its shrines and you can go hiking to see the collection of over 6,000 petroglyphs. Note that this is 2,800 meters above sea level so bring warmers and your coat!
Accommodation: Guesthouse owned by a Wakhan family
Day 5: Drive towards Bulunkul via Khargush Pass
We started early in the morning to drive towards Bulunkul Lake, a freshwater alpine lake with snow-capped mountains serving as the backdrop. Another stop is the Yashikul Lake, another natural wonder which is built by a mudslide which enclosed a portion of the Alichur River in ancient times. We stayed for a night in Bulunkul Village, the 6th coldest place on earth!
Day 6: Drive towards Murghab Town
After a delicious breakfast served by our host family, we then started an early journey towards Murghab Town, the capital of the Murghab District and is considered as the highest town, being 3,600 meters above sea level. We stopped by Bulunkul and Tuzul Lakes to take those instagrammable photos and just see how beautiful it is early in the morning. We also visited Alichur Village and Ak-balik Lake.
Murghab is like a small city in the mountains with a bazaar made of old containers/trailers, a hospital with one doctor, restaurants and bigger guesthouses. There’s a bazaar here where you can buy essentials just like what I did. It’s rather small and even half empty. We were supposed to go to Sary Mogol tomorrow but unfortunately, my travel mates got sick because of the altitude so we had to cut the trip short. No worries though, I’m saving it for next time! 🙂
Day 7: Drive towards Osh, Kyrgyzstan
While this may be the end of my journey around Tajikistan, this is the beginning of a new one as I cross the border to Kyrgyzstan. I had to say goodbye to my driver Alisher as someone new is going to drive me to Osh. I gave him a bottle of wine which he was very grateful for!
TIPS BEFORE TRAVELING TO TAJIKISTAN
- Download the offline google translate for the local Tajik or Russian language. This will help you in so many ways!
- If you’re going to GBAO, make at least 10 photocopies of your passport and visa. There are numerous checkpoints along the way and they will ask for this.
- Prepare to be “disconnected” to the world. They have a very bad internet signal and there are only a few places that have free wifi.
- If you’re traveling with a driver and a guide, I encourage you to give tips as most of the time, this is their only source of income. 10% of the total price of the tour is ideal.
- Always bring USD especially when you’re traveling in the Pamir Highway. Most of the time, ATMs are unreliable and the fees are exorbitant!
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO TAJIKISTAN?
The best time to visit this country is from March to April and September to October where it is neither scorching hot nor crazy cold.
HOW TO DO THE PAMIR HIGHWAY TOUR?
You may do it by taking a bicycle, motorbike, or even just hitchhiking. However, I still prefer to be in the hands of a good and knowledgeable local like Alishir from Paramount Journey. It was such ease traveling with him as he’s very passionate about his job, he drives well, and he has a very good sense of humor! He took me to the best places to eat too! You can read my 15 Things To Do in the Pamir Highway.
HOW TO GET THE VISA
You can do it directly but I had issues with the online form and uploading my photo. Instead of trying for the 4th time, I just outsourced it and paid extra $20. I highly recommend availing the services of iVisa, especially if you feel more comfortable having your application submitted by a professional organization. They have been providing expedited processing and guidance services for any e-visa applications since 2013 so they have a lot of experience.
For the Evisa with the GBAO Permit, you’ll only need to pay 72 USD plus a processing fee of 20 USD and you’ll get your visas within 48 hours. It’s that easy!
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