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Tajikistan: The Pamir Highway



  • 04 Aug
  • -
  • 19 Aug 2024
  • |
  • 16 days


per person

Availability: 12 places

    The Pamir Highway is undoubtedly one of the world’s most stunning roads and yet few Westerners have ever travelled its length, lying as it does in a rarely visited and remote part of Central Asia.

    Our journey begins in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, from where we head east to Kalai-Khumb to meet the Amu Darya River - the ancient Oxus - and follow it upstream alongside the Afghan border into the Wakhan Corridor. This narrow valley, which lies between the mighty Pamirs and the Hindu Kush, once formed a highly strategic buffer zone between the British and Russian empires during the era of ‘The Great Game’ in the 19th century and is today being eyed by China as a possible new trading route as part of their plans to regenerate the Silk Road. Continuing up to Murgab and Lake Karakul, we’ll take an adventurous route through the central Pamirs and the Bartang Valley, eventually finishing back in Dushanbe. In true [exclude_white_label] Wild Frontiers [/exclude_white_label]style there will be ample time to explore on foot and meet with local Tajiks, who uniquely amongst the Central Asians share more of a linguistic and cultural link with Persia than with Turkey.

    Combining some of the world’s most striking mountain scenery, homestays with the most hospitable locals and an ancient culture that hasn’t changed for thousands of years, this is very much a trip for the exploratory traveller.

    Day 1

    DAY 1: Tour starts in Dushanbe

    The tour begins in Dushanbe. Accommodation for tonight is included in the tour due to the arrival time of our suggested group flights in the early hours of Day 2.

    Day 2

    DAY 2: In Dushanbe

    After a relaxed breakfast we have the rest of the day to explore Tajikistan’s capital city and see the sights. Depending on opening hours, we will visit the impressive Museum of National Antiquities, which houses Asia’s largest statue of a sleeping Buddha (a mighty 13 metres), ancient weapons and a carving of Alexander the Great. Alternatively, we’ll visit the impressive new National Museum located next to the world’s third-tallest flagpole.

    Day 3

    DAY 3: Dushanbe - Kalai-Khumb

    This morning we start our epic journey taking the Pamir Highway, a road built by the Red Army in the 1930s in order to link the isolated communities to the rest of the Soviet Union. We make a full day’s drive through the changing landscape of canyons and farmland to Kalai-Khumb, situated so close to the Afghani villages just across the river that you’ll be able to wave to each other. Total driving distance: 285km.

    Day 4

    DAY 4: Kalai-Khumb - Khorog

    This morning we drive south towards Khorog and spend the day exploring in 4WDs and on foot. Khorog is the administrative centre of the Pamir region, dramatically set deep in the valley at the confluence of the Panj and Ghund rivers and boxed in by the mountain peaks. Total driving distance: 250km.

    Day 5

    DAY 5: In Khorog

    Today we will visit a number of places of interest, including the Ethnographical Museum and beautifully-designed Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre. Built by the Aga Khan Foundation, it provides a space for congregation, contemplation and contribution to civil society. We’ll stroll in the shady, well-maintained gardens and soak up the relaxing atmosphere of Khorog. The town is also the site of one of Central Asia’s few university campuses.

    Day 6

    DAY 6: Khorog - Ishkashim - Yamg

    The road from Khorog is partially tarmacked, so the journey today should be relatively smooth. We’ll make a stop for lunch in Ishkashim and see the bridge which is the border with Afghanistan. If time permits, we will be able to stop off along the way and have a look at the old castles that once guarded this branch of the Silk Road, including Yamchun Fort. These castles are all built quite high up so as to dominate the surrounding valley. This part of the Pamirs is also dotted with a variety of religious sites from Sufi shrines to Buddhist stupas. We’ll stay overnight in Yamg village, where we can take a short walk, visit the local shrine or simply relax.

    Day 7

    DAY 7: Yamg -  Langar

    We take a short drive along the Panj River today, taking in the cultural change between the nomadic and settled people of the Wakhan. Our destination for today is Langar, the last village of the Tajik Wakhan Corridor before the border with Afghanistan. Langar boasts a castle and some interesting petroglyphs, and is home to the Wakhi Tajiks, most of whom are farmers or shepherds.

    Day 8

    DAY 8: Langar - Yashik Kul Lake (3,737M approx.)

    We start our day with an uphill hike to view the impressive collection of over 6000 petroglyphs and visit the Jamoat Khana, adorned with colourful murals. We then continue our journey along the Pamir River, hopefully spotting one of the rare herds of Bactrian camels that still exist here. The vista before us brings spectacular views of Afghanistan, with the ice-capped summit of the Wakhan Range. Once our passports have been checked at Kargush army base, we continue north and cross the Khargush Pass. We will pass by a number of interesting salt lakes before reaching our overnight stop at Yashil Kul Lake, where we will stay in the small hamlet of Bulunkul. The people living locally are Kyrgyz pastoralists living in a harsh but hospitable environment. Our stay here will deepen our understanding of how people have adapted to live in such remote mountainous areas, in fact the coldest place in Tajikistan.

    Day 9

    DAY 9: Yashik Kul Lake - Murgab (3,600M)

    We will spend some time this morning exploring Lake Yashil Kul before continuing on our way, following the Alichur Plateau. Weather permitting we’ll head up to Shorbulak Observatory, from where you can see the Muztag Ata and Kongur peaks, at 7550m and 7719m respectively, which are part of the Khun Lun Range. We then continue on to Murgab. This quiet town, which is home to the only bazaar of the High Pamir region, is still struggling with its development due to the nearby Russian border guards’ base being closed down – the last remaining Soviet influence in this region. The recent opening of the Chinese Qolma Pass, however, has slowly aided the town in its progression.

    Day 10

    DAY 10: In & around Murgab

    This morning there will be time visit the local market before we depart to explore the stunning Madian Valley, one of the main grazing areas near Murgab. Driving out of town, we will then head off on foot towards Eli Su hot springs. Here we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch and spend time relaxing, before returning to Murgab for the night.

    Day 11

    DAY 11: Murgab - Karakul (3,900M)

    Our journey today takes us to Karakul. The road climbs up to the Ak Baital Pass - the White Mare Pass. At 4655m, it is the highest pass in the former USSR. Views of mountains and glaciers along the way are simply breath-taking. The stunning Karakul Lake is hidden deep in this expanse of arid landscape. It is a body of water thought to have been created millions of years ago by a meteorite and noted as one of the most geologically fascinating places on earth. We’ll have the opportunity for a short walk along the lake to our homestay in Karakul village. The surrounding area offers some spectacular views, which are especially dramatic with the sun setting over the nearby snow-capped mountains.

    Day 12

    DAY 12: Karakul - Bartang Valley

    Today we head west towards the Bartang Valley. Very different from both the High Pamir and the Wakhan Valley, Bartang is dotted with small villages and plots of land are carved out of the mountainsides to provide for the local farmers. Considered to be one of the most impressive spots in the western Pamirs, the valley is famous for its superb climbing, hospitable villages and local musicians. We will spend our first night in the valley in Koudara, with time to explore the local village on arrival.

    Day 13

    DAY 13: In Bartang Valley

    Leaving Koudara this morning, we continue our journey through the Bartang Valley today by driving on to Siponji village, historically used as a shelter from neighbouring Afghan slave traders. On arrival we’ll be able to take a short walk to explore this friendly village and maybe witness something of their pastoral life, such as milking time.

    Day 14

    DAY 14: Bartang Valley - Kalai-Khumb

    This morning we’ll set out on foot, crossing the river and walking to the next village, where our drivers will meet us. Leaving the Bartang Valley behind us, we retrace our steps today and drive on to Kalai Khumb to spend the night.

    Day 15

    DAY 15: Kalai-Khumb - Dushanbe

    Our final drive today sees us bid farewell to the mountains and return to Dushanbe. This evening we’ll head out for our final dinner together and a chance to reminisce over our adventures of the last two weeks.

    Day 16

    DAY 16: Tour ends in Dushanbe

    The tour finishes today after breakfast at the hotel. However, those on the suggested group flights will depart for the airport early this morning, before breakfast.