Category Archive: Gbao

Garmchashma

Sanatorium «Garmchashma» in the mountain Pamir of Tajikistan is a two-storey sanatorium building which functions 12 months a year. To the mineral waters and healing hot spring «Garm-Chashma», is visited by people from all over the world in these landmarks of Tajikistan. The sanatorium is included in the group of luxury clinics with prices of 8-20 USD per day.

Bulunkul

Bulunkul is another alpine lake of Tajik Badakhshan located at the altitude of 3734 m above sea level

Bulunkul Lake is connected with Yashilkul Lake by a narrow channel. The water is fresh and has rich flora and fauna. Flocks of ducks, geese, and seagulls are always can be seen over the lake. Bulunkul lake is the first basin at Pamirs were fishing was introduced to locals and now from May thru October the fishermen set their nets near the mouths of the rivers flow into the lake catching Osman and Marinka.
 The lake’s area is also known for being one of the coldest places in Central Asia, the lowest temperature here was registered here at -63 Centigrade.
 The best time to visit is July-September. Nearby the lake is a Bulunkul village with homestay available for travellers.

Pamir Highway Accommodation

Traveling across Pamir Highway is a long trip in the mountainous regions of Tajikistan, where due to remoteness from large cities, living conditions are deprived of some blessings of civilization.

It is better to learn living conditions and what to expect before taking a trip to Pamir Highway that will take a week or more. Pamir Highway tour usually begins in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where you can find a hotel of any level including luxurious five-star hotels. However, it gets worse, the further you travel from Dushanbe. In paragraphs below, we have attempted to describe accommodation in every city and settlement on the Pamir Highway, where most stops are done (in 2017).

Accommodation in Kalai-Khumb

Kalai-Khumb is a small settlement along the river Panj, where most people traveling to Pamir Highway stop for overnight. Earlier, there was an option of only a few guesthouses, traditional Tajik houses, where tourists could share a room. However, in 2015, Karon Palace hotel was opened with comfort level as great as in 4-, 5- star hotels in Dushanbe. This hotel offers everything necessary for a good stay and Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel. It is possible to book a room online whereas, in the guesthouses in Kalai-Khumb, you need to make a deal on the place.

Accommodation in Khorog

Khorog is the only city in Pamir and the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan. You can find there cozy 2-star hotels, rather decent hostels, and guesthouses. In general, conditions are not that comfortable but at least they have everything necessary for rest after a long drive from Qalai-Khumb to Khorog. There are also restaurants, shops and other infrastructure in the city. The major disadvantage is a slow internet sufficient only to check emails and messengers. One of the best options for accommodation in Khorog is The Lal Hotel.

Accommodation in Ishkashim

Ishkashim is the southernmost settlement on Pamir Highway located at the beginning of the picturesque Wakhan corridor. This small village has few guesthouses and a small hotel Anis. Guesthouses are like all others on the route of Pamir Highway. Hotel Anis has several double rooms with two single beds and a table. Bathrooms are shared, sometimes creating queues. There is a lawn where you can set up a tent. To sum up, accommodation reminds communal living. There is no internet, so the only alternative is to spend an evening communicating with other travelers; dozens of tourists flock there during the high season.

Accommodation in Langar

Langar is a genuine Pamir village where you can see and feel life away from big cities. There are several private guesthouses in traditional Pamir style. They are all the same: big and nice living room, where they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and small bedrooms. Shared bathrooms are quite nice, but it is to take into consideration that there may be queues during the high time. Although you will not find there all blessings of civilization; harmony, fresh air, and tranquility might make you want to take some time off there.

Accommodation in Murghab

Murghab is a settlement on the height of 3600 meters, where you can feel rather dizzy. There is only one hotel Pamir in Murghab and several modest guesthouses. Tourists mainly prefer to stay in the hotel Pamir. Staying in the hotel is as harsh as the local nature. Hot water and electricity are available only during periods of 7.00-12.00 and in the evening between 19.00-00.00. Living conditions are Spartan, but you won’t find anything better. Rooms are equipped with single beds, tables, and sanitary utensils. Wi-Fi is not available, but mobile communication works and you can use mobile internet.

Accommodation in Karakul

Karakul is a settlement on the height of 3900meters at the shore of the lake. There are two guesthouses with very scarce living conditions: no water for hygiene, outdoor WC, electricity available only between 19.00 and 23.00 and others. The only advantage is an opportunity to experience a night staying at a great height, and see the life of local people on this rough land. As described above, trips and overnights on Pamir Highway are missing the basic comfort as you go further Khorog. Travelers are usually aware of it in advance and set realistic expectations. There will be no internet, TV and other connection with the rest of the world on the route after Khorog. You will spend evenings with locals and other travelers. We recommend you taking a book, some music to listen, or some board games with yourself to enjoy long evenings.

Pamir Highway road conditions

Pamir Highway is a road running for more than 1500 km, starting in Dushanbe and ending in Osh.

The peculiarity of the road is that it lies on the height from 900 to 4655 meters, and the route goes through picturesque mountainous regions of Pamir. Due to the harsh mountain climate, road conditions in many places are bad. We recommend learning in advance road conditions, altitude fluctuations, duration of the trip and some other details from our experience we found noteworthy before traveling to Pamir. It will help planning your trip program and getting ready for possible inconveniences.
The Pamir Highway trip goes via Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region. GBAO permit is required to visit the area. You will be asked to provide its copy at every checkpoint. That’s for it is recommended to print out 10 copies in advance.
Below you will find more information on every section of Pamir Highway that can usually be covered in one day.
Dushanbe – Kalai-Khumb
Distance from Dushanbe to Kalai-Khumb is 370 km, and the most part of the road is in a very good condition. Only the last 40 km of the road lies via a narrow gorge and a dirt road. The road usually takes 8 hours including stops for lunch and taking photos in beautiful places. The highest point on this part of the Pamir Highway is Shuroabad pass (1959m). Most popular stops for photos are Nurek water reserve and panoramic view over river Panj from Shuroabad pass.
 
Kalai-Khumb – Khorog
The piece of road from Kalai-Khumb to Khorog goes via deep gorge along the river Panj. The road is in a poor condition and thus the distance of 240km is covered in 8 hours. Combination of dirt and old pavement allows driving only for jeeps and cross-country cars. Sometimes the road gets that narrow that you will have to follow a slow car in front or wait on the descent until oncoming traffic will pass by. Some roads are very dusty and all windows need to be closed. The road runs along the river, and that is why all day it will be a smooth drive up to the height from 1300 m to Qalai-Khumb at 2100 min Khorog. Hundreds of picturesque mountain landscapes will pass by as you drive, but since the road is too narrow it is not possible to stop. The only way to take photos is from the car.
Khorog – Ishkashim
The road Khorog-Ishkashim runs for 110 km; the first half of the road runs across a dirt road, and the second half – on the rather good pavement. Thus it lasts around 3,5-4 hours. As it was in the lot of Qalai-Khumb, there are narrow parts of the road, lying along the river Panj on the ascending altitude of 2100 — 2500 m above sea level. You won’t see noticeable mountain views for photo stops as you drive. In the middle of your way, the road branches out to the local sight Garm-Chashma.
Ishkashim – Langar
This section of the Pamir Highway lies across a picturesque Wakhan corridor with several interesting sights and you can enjoy snow-white six-thousand (mountain peaks that are over 6000 meters high). It is only 150 km from Ishkasim to Langar, but taking into consideration stops at all possible interesting places, the road may last up to 8-10 hours. Road conditions are decent: pavement and some dirt road. As you drive, you can see such attractions as Kakh-Kakha and Yamchun fortresses, beautiful villages, and breathtaking panoramic views of Wakhan valley. In addition, there will be no gas stations further on, and it will be possible to get fuel only at mobile stations which is a truck with an oil tank. The climb will reach 300 meters: from 2500 min Ishkasim to 2800 min Langar. Turning from the road to the Yamchun fortress, you will move up to 400 m.
Langar – Murghab
The distance between Langar and Murghab is 255 km. There, road conditions are poor and it takes around 7-8 hours to reach the destination. The first 100 km of the road lie via a dirt road further continued with a pavement that has many wavy parts causing the speed limit.
The elevation on this day will be from 2800 to 3600 m (above sea level). You will drive through two mountain passes – Khargush (4344m) and Naizatash (4137m) and enjoy many interesting landscapes, several lakes and green meadows around Murghab.
Murghab – Karakul – Sary-Tash – Osh
The final part of the route on Pamir Highway from Murghab to Osh stretches for 410 km. It is the longest and the highest mountain part that includes a drive via three passes; Ak-Baytal is the highest one among them (4655m). The heights resemble the sinusoid with several ascent and descents: Murghab (3600m), Ak-Baytal pass (4655m), Lake Karakul (3900m), Kyzyl-Art pass (4280m), Sary-Tash (3200m), Toldyk pass (3615m), Osh (1200m).
In general, road conditions are rather decent: 90% is pavement, and only passes have some parts of dirt road for better grip of the car on long lifts and descents. The road may take up to 10-12 hours; the duration also depends on how long it takes to cross Tajik-Kyrgyz border of Kyzyl-Art. It is possible to make a stop at the Ak-Baytal pass that is one of the highest automobile mountain passes in the world and enjoy the breathtaking view of the Karakul Lake, and then, on the Kyrgyz side, see the Lenin’s Peak (7134m) in Sary Tash.
For those planning to travel solo to Pamir Highway, we recommend to consider fuel reserves in advance and take all necessary tools as there will be very few gas stations and garages on the road, and it may last hours to wait for the help of other drivers, as traffic on the highway is rare.
For those taking a group tour to Pamir Highway, it is to know that there will be a long hour drive for the whole week on bad roads with constant jolting and other inconveniences. However, still in return, you will see beautiful landscapes as you drive and have an opportunity to get to know the unique culture of this region on the edge of the world.
 

Pamir Highway History

History of Pamir Highway is over one hundred years, but the history of Pamir itself is over millennia.

In the first centuries of B.C., there were small independent states Shungan, Wakhan and others, that held contracts with such states as ancient India, China, Sogdiana, Kushan Empire and others. Several ruins of such fortresses as Kakh-Kakha, Yamchun , and other monuments have been preserved until today. Some scientists think that one of the Silk Road routes had passed there, coming from China to Afghanistan and India. Archaeological findings testify presence of Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Muslims in Pamir.
The birth date of Pamir Highway can be considered the 14 March 1981 when lieutenant colonel BronislavGrombchevskiy read a lecture on “Our interests in Pamir. Military-political outline” at the secret meeting of the General headquarter of the Russian army in Saint Petersburg. The lecture had the wanted impact on top authorities of the army of the Russian Empire and it was decided, under conditions of complete secrecy, to construct a road from Osh to Sary-Tash, on the territory of present Kyrgyzstan. In 1894, the first lot of the M41 Highway was ready, connecting Ferghana and Alay valleys.
The aim of this secret bridgehead was to prepare for any possible invasion of the British Empire to Central Asia. It would allow to throw troops to the south in case of necessity. All this was a part of geopolitical confrontation now known as “The Great Game”. In the second half of the 19th century, the English were moving forward to the north of Asia via India and Afghanistan, and the Russians were heading south taking territories of current Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under control. Finally, colonial ambitions of the both empires physically met on the banks of the river Panj. As a result, they came to a peaceful agreement when each party would remain on their side of the wild river that became a border existing up to now between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Later, in the late 19th century, the road was stretched until Khorog located on the banks of the river Panj, where the Russian frontier post was set. An interesting fact of that time is that in 1914, commandant of the Khorog border line gave an order to deliver a piano from Osh for his daughter, and a dozen of soldiers had carried it on their shoulders walking for over 700km through mountains passes. The piano that took one month to deliver is now exhibited in the Khorog History Museum.
In 1937, the highway that connects Osh and Khorog was built on the Pamir tract. In 1940, the second and final part of the road, between Khorog and Dushanbe, was launched. During the war in Afghanistan (1979 – 1989), Pamir Highway served as a strategic road; troops were shifted on the areas along the river Panj. However, during the first years of independence and Civil War in 1992-1997, quality of roads on the Pamir Highway began to decrease as no one was reconstructing damaged roads.
Today Pamir Highway is taking up the threads. The road development is promoted by massive cargo from/to China. Apart from that, in the recent years, Pamir has become a more popular destination for off-the-beaten path adventure seekers. Tourism facilities like guests houses, rural infrastructure and roads, are gradually getting bettered responding to rising demand.

Pamir Highway

Pamir Highway as the most popular tourist destination is located in Pamir. Pamir is a mountain range with peaks over 7000 meters that takes up most part of Tajikistan; its name is translated as “Roof of the World”

There were once isolated mountain settlements and small states, but in the 19th century, the British and Russian empires began struggling for the influence in Asia known as “the Great Game”. During this confrontation, the English were moving to the north from India to Afghanistan, and the Russians were going from the north via the present territory of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The urgency to maneuver the troops quickly in case of clash of armies gave a jump to building new roads across mountain regions; this is how the Pamir Highway history get started.
Later, as Tajikistan was declared as a state within USSR, Pamir Highway changed its military significance to trade. The decision led to the development of the region; transport connections between Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and China were settled. Today Pamir tract begins in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and goes through Kulab, reaches the river Panj – a tributary of the Amy-Darya River, branches out in Khorog — the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, and lies via the high-mountain town of Murghab; reaches Osh, the largest city in the south of Kyrgyzstan.
 For travelers, Pamir Highway is a unique experience where they learn the culture of Pamir people, history of the region, and enjoy breathtaking landscapes of severe mountains. This is rather tough travel where travelers overcome hundreds of kilometers of bad roads, harsh mountain climate, and spartan accommodation. Nowadays the tourism infrastructure along the Pamir Highway is being developed; although simple, but rather comfortable hotels and guesthouses have appeared. However, it is to consider that the region is far from urban civilization and one will have to live the life of locals, though this is what keeps the entire interest to the Pamir Highway.
As mentioned above, Pamir Highway tour is not an easy trip. The road goes via the highest point of 4655 meters on the pass of Ak-Baytal, where acclimatization is needed. Conveniences such as the internet, comfortable accommodation and good food will gradually disappear. Rocky dirt roads and 8-10-hour daily drives will take all your energy, but all this is worth the unique atmosphere of real adventure where you indulge into the picturesque world of mountains. Every year the number of tourists traveling to Pamir is increasing, and today you will hear different languages. Therefore, if people are traveling there from all over the world, there is definitely something to see. You can reveal the secret of this attraction only by traveling to Pamir Highway.
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Kalai Khumb

Kalai Khumb is a small village on the river Panj and one of the first settlements on the route to Pamir Highway after Dushanbe.

The unusual name of the village is translated from Persian as “Fortress on the Khumb” as there is a river Obikhumboi flowing into river Panj. Kalai-Khumb is an administrative center of the Darvaz district in Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region.

The history of Kalai-Khumb began in the 15th century when the first fortress was built there. First, it was an outpost on the border of Pamir protecting the eastern side of the Temurids Empire. Later Kalai-Khumb became the capital of the independent Darvaz Khanate that existed until the end of the 19th century. It was a part of the Bukhara Khanate for some time, and during the Soviet rule, it turned into a regional center of the Gorno-Badakhshan region, part of the Tajik SSR. The last significant event in the history of Kalai-Khumb was the Afghan War during 1979-1989 when one of the troops crossing to Afghanistan was organized there.

Kalai-Khumb is located on the border with Afghanistan and there is one of the three bridges across river Panj. There used to be Sunday market near this bridge, where merchants arrived from Afghanistan. Though there is no such market in Kalai-Khumb now. Now Kalai-Khumb is a quiet town with few guesthouses and a decent hotel “Karon Palace” where live 1600 people.

Located at the height of 1200 m above sea level, Kalai-Khumb has a mild climate for such severe region as Pamir. Thus, travelers driving to Pamir Highway from Dushanbe usually make their first stop there.

Khorog

Khorog (a.k.aKhorugh, or Xoroq) is an administrative center of Gorno-Badakhshan region and the only city in Pamir. It is located approximately in the middle of the Pamir Highway: 600km to Dushanbe and 730km to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. In Khorog the Pamir highway branches out the northern road go along a deep mountain gorge straight to Murgab, and the southern one leads to the Vakhan corridor, the most picturesque part of the road, where historical monuments and picturesque villages have been preserved.

Thus, Khorugh is a touristic center of Pamir with all routes passing through it. Located at the height of 2200 meters above sea level, it is the highest city in Tajikistan.
There is no definite start in the history of Khorog. In this mountainous region, there was once a small state Shungan consisting of several fortresses scattered around. One of them called Kalai-Panjbar was located at the junction of rivers Gunt and Panj, exactly in the place of present Khorog. First, it was an independent mountain state; later in the 19th century it fell under the rule of the Bukhara Khanate, and in 1986 the territory was occupied by troops of the Russian Empire. During the “Great Game” between Russia and Great Britain, Russians tried to get control of Pamir, and built a road from Osh to Sary-Tash, then to Murghab and finally to Khorog. They organized a frontier post on the banks of river Panj and a small village of Khorog began to develop. At the beginning of the 20th century, with the arrival of the Soviet rule, Khorog became an administrative center of the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomy, and in 1928 received the status of the city. During the 20th century, it was a trading point on the Pamir Highway and still serves as such up to now.
Today Khorog is a real center of Gorno-Badakhshan. There is a trade road from China to Central Asia; it is also an indispensable point for all touristic routes around Pamir. There are 30 000 people living there, and the main part of locals confess Ismailism, one of the Shia branches of Islam. There are three educational institutes available for postsecondary students: Khorog State University, International University of Central Asia branch, and Aga-Khan Fund Lyceum. Tourism infrastructure is also gradually developing with few hotels and guesthouses, restaurants, internet cafes and others.
The most popular sight of Khorog is Pamir botanical garden. It was founded in 1940 for testing survival rate of different plants in the conditions of the mountain climate. According to official data, there were over 30000 kinds of plants tested, and as a result, the garden collection now includes around 4000 types of them. Pamir botanical garden is located not far from Khorog and opens an excellent panoramic view of the whole city.
Another well-known landmark of Khorog is a local history museum where you can learn a lot about the nature, history, and culture of the Gorno-Badakhshan region. The most interesting exhibit of this museum is a piano that in 1914 had been hand-carried for over a month by soldiers from Osh (Kyrgyzstan). In order to describe the complexity of the delivery, it is enough to say that road from Osh to Khorog is more than 700km with several 4000 m high mountain passes. The delivered piano was for the daughter of the frontier post commandant and the locals would come to listen to the players on this “unusual” instrument.
Today Khorog is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan. Surrounded by severe high mountains, Khorog is protected from strong winds and frosts. The city looks as a green oasis among abandoned mountain ridges. Thus, winters are mild, and summers are not too hot. Khorog is a great place to explore on the Pamir Highway and a must-see place if you wish to learn more about the Pamir track.

Wakhan River

Wakhan River is a branch of the Panj River along its upper length in Wakhan Valley

Want to see the picturesque views of the real nature witness the breathtaking look of the mountains with a snowy hat on them, beneath whom the blue water is flowing and inhale the extremely fresh air brought by the wind of the wild evergreen trees along the gorges in the branches of the river, you need to see Wakhan River!
 The river arises in the Hindu Kush. It is formed by the confluence of the Wakhjir River and the Bozai Darya near Kashch Goz .  Shortly thereafter, the Little Pamir comes to an end and the conjoined river contracts into a narrow, deep, rapid river, delimited by cliffs and steep hills. From here the banks have grown birch and juniper trees.

Ishkashim Bazaar

The market lies just a few kilometers outside of Ishkashim on the road to Khorog. On Saturdays, residents from all around the Wakhan gather on the islands in between the Afghan and Tajik border posts for the weekly market.

If you were planning to buy souvenirs anywhere on your Central Asia journey, this is the place to do it. Not only can you pick up sweets and clothes and sundry items from Afghanistan, but you can also trade for a bit of Afghan currency to hang on to. For stuff from the Tajik Wakhan, too, this is the biggest central market you’ll find in the area so it can make sense to buy here. Even if you don’t want ‘stuff’, vendors set up small food stands and even a teahouse under one of the big metal pavilions so at least consider having lunch here before you head back.
A traveler favorite, the Ishkashim cross-border bazaar has long been a place to interact with Afghanistan without the need for that country’s visa and permit. Due to recent security and a high-profile assassination in the area in late summer of 2012, though, the future of foreign access to this market may now be in question. All information was current up until August of 2012.
Bazaar Access
The market lies just a few kilometers outside of Ishkashim on the road to Khorog. On Saturdays, residents from all around the Wakhan gather on the islands in between the Afghan and Tajik border posts for the weekly market.
To get here from the Tajik village of Ishkashim, either walk or find a ride for the ~3km stretch of road outside of town.
 
If coming from Khorog, the market is at a very obvious gathering of cars on the side of the road just before you arrive in Ishkashim.