ITINERARY & MAP
We’ll begin our tour in Dushanbe, where a warm welcome awaits. After you’ve transferred to your hotel and have had chance to freshen up, we’ll take you on a tour of the city. Our proper introduction to the culture and history of wonderful Tajikistan begins just outside its capital, Dushanbe. The earliest parts of the ancient fortress at Hisor date from the 7th century but this citadel sits so beautifully in its setting that it looks like it’s been there forever. Its location high on the hill, together with metre-thick walls of almost impenetrable stone punctuated with gun and cannon slits, make this the perfect defensive structure. It was once the residence of the Emir of Bukhara’s deputy and reflects his status.
Returning to Dushanbe, we take a city tour which encompasses the city’s main sights: Rudake Park, the National Library, the White House, the National State Seal, Parliament and the Jomi theatre. Just as impressive is what is currently the second tallest freestanding flagpole in the world – after Jeddah – a whopping 165 metres high with a flag measuring thirty by sixty metres. A visit to the Central Museum takes us to lunch and afterwards, we’ll make a visit to the Gurminj Museum with its fascinating collection of traditional musical instruments. But we can’t really say we’ve shown you Dushanbe unless you’ve been to the bazaar, so we’ll end our excursion with a trip to this most oriental of markets, vendors’ stalls piled high with fruit and vegetables from the everyday to the exotic.
Over dinner, you’ll try more of this fresh produce as you dine Tajik-style in a typical restaurant; we’ll outline the tour itinerary and give you plenty of opportunities to ask questions as well as to get acquainted with your guides and fellow tour participants.
Transport: Flight and minivan with A/C for transfer/city tour
Accommodation: Hotel – 3* by Western standards, altitude 706m
Duration of sightseeing tour: 4-5 hours
Gently gaining altitude, we’ll leave Dushanbe and begin our journey into the Pamir Mountains, with our sights firmly set on Kalai Khum village. The roads are rough enough to shake your bones and it’s going to be a long day, so don’t forget those snacks and charge up the batteries to make sure your chosen soundtrack lasts until evening. Of course, we’ll make plenty of stops to stretch our legs, first of all visiting Norak Reservoir, nicknamed the Tajik Sea. We’ll climb some more and the road will take us up and over the Shuraba Pass at 2267m. This is the border region with Afghanistan and we’ll be surrounded by the mountains that have spawned countless adventurers over the centuries.
Those that have been inspired by the breathtaking scenery of the Pamirs include Marco Polo, Hsuan Tsang and Mirza Muhammad Haidar – and now you! The Panj River forms both the natural and the political boundary between the two nations and we’ll skirt along its banks, the water flanked by an ocean of white and blue hills that stretch endlessly towards the horizon. Tonight, our accommodation is at a homestay giving you the chance to see how people live in this region.
Transport: minivan with A/C for transfer, 370km, 8 hours’ drive
Accommodation: Guesthouse, western shared toilets, altitude 1200m
Just a few kilometres from Kalai-Khum is an ancient fortress, built in the 3rd century but restored only recently. After exploring a little, we’ll continue our drive along the bank of the Panj River; it’s easy to spot the Afghan villages clinging to the hillsides and the pathways that snake between the rocks. We’ll keep within the Tajik territory, learning about the unique culture of the Pamirians from our guide – their traditions, language and religion are all different from other parts of the country. They occupy a high altitude region and the Pamirs are second only to the Himalayas in this respect. We’ll enjoy a meal in a Chaikhana, which is a tea house typical of the region and overnight once again in a homestay, but with new hosts this time.
Transport: Minivan / with A/C, 180km 6 hours
Accommodation: Homestay, 2000 m altitude
An hour’s drive from Rushan takes us through the Bartang Valley to the main bridge which marks the junction with the Jizew Valley across the river; this is where we leave the minivan. We’ll set off on foot from the River Bartang on a path which takes us gently uphill, climbing slowly past groves of wild cherries and forests that have survived felling by loggers in the absence of a decent road connection. Isolation has its benefits!
By lunchtime, we’ll reach Jisev village at about 2600m above sea level. This is one of the prettiest in the area, a true jewel, as nowhere is the traditional Pamir-style housing preserved as well as it is here. The landscape that surrounds the village is as precious, with milky turquoise lakes fed by mineral-rich mountain streams, abundant vegetation and gnarled trees, the ever-changing river – sometimes frothing with energy, sometimes limpid and blue – charging the atmosphere. It can be serene or vibrant, depending on the river’s mood, but always idyllic. After we explore a little, we’ll transfer to a homestay for an overnight stop.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 40 km – 1 hour drive
Accommodation: Homestay, ca. 2500 m altitude
Hiking: 2-3 hours
This morning we’ll hike back down to the main road; it will take a couple of hours. There, we’ll meet the vehicles which will carry us along the banks of the Panj River to Khorog. Khorog is the centre of Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast and has a large university and beautiful parkland. It also has a pleasant riverside location, being situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Shokhdara and Ghund Rivers flowing into the Panj.
Khorog is flanked by mountains yet a few kilometres out of town you’ll find the Pamir Botanical Garden, one of the world’s highest. Bounded by Lombardy poplars, many species thrive here including mulberry and apricot trees. You’ll begin to notice the characteristic features that distinguish the Pamir people; unlike many Tajiks, a high percentage of those who live up here have blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes. We’ll dine at a local restaurant before turning in to spend the night at a hotel.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 100 km 3 hours drive
Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western Standards, 2200 m altitude
Today we will continue our journey along the Tajik-Afghan border as far as Ishkashim. Situated in in the heart of Asia, the Pamirs are characterised by sky-scraping, snow-capped, majestic mountains pockmarked by the transparent clear blue waters of lakes and rivers broken by wide valleys and bone-dry deserts.
For hundreds of years, people have called these lofty mountains “the Roof of the World”. Today you will understand why. The land of the Pamirs stretches at elevations from 3500 to 4200 metres above sea level. Over the years, its communities were isolated from each other by impassable mountain ranges, which led to the development of separate enclaves each with their own distinct dialect and sometimes even a completely different language. We will visit Garmchashma hot spring where you may like to take a dip in nature’s very own bath. Dinner and overnight accommodation is in a nearby homestay.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 120 km – 4 hours drive
Accommodation: Home stay in Yamg, 2900 m altitude
From Ishkashim this morning we’ll continue to Langar via Yamg. We’ll drive towards the Wakhan Corridor. There are several places of interest where it’s worth making a stop. We’ll take a small detour to the village of Namadguti where we will find the Khahkha Fortress. Dating from the 3rd century, it’s one of several fortresses that remain in the area. The most impressive of these is Yamchun Fort and we’ll visit this too.
Lunch will be a picnic at the Bibi Fatima Hot Springs, named after the Prophet Mohammed’s sister. Local women believe that taking the waters here will increase their fertility. We’ll stop to see the Sufi Muborakqadam Museum and also the solar calendar. Further on, at Vrang, the 4th century Buddhist stupa reminds us that this was once a monastery. Locals will tell you that there’s a stone on top of the stupa which has an imprint of Buddha’s footprint. No surprise, therefore, to learn that ancient pilgrims made a stop here as they passed through. In the afternoon we can hike and climb a bit to see the petroglyphs above Langar village.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 140 km, 5 hours
Accommodation: Home stay, 2900 m altitude
In the morning we will drive to Bachor along the Pamir Highway, known locally as M41 Pamir Tract. It is considered the second highest mountain road in the world, beaten only by the highways of Tibet. The road lies over mountains and passes at elevations of more than 4000 metres above sea level, an impressive feat of construction given complications arising as a result of the weather at this altitude.
We’ll cross the Koitezak Pass at 4271m, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife. The almost inaccessible and inhospitable terrain has provided a safe haven for a diverse range of animals that live here undisturbed: the Turkestan rat, tiger cats, snow leopards, grizzly bears, grey and red wolves, badgers, stoats and foxes. The Pamir Mountains are also home to a large and thriving population of Marco Polo sheep, the largest variety of sheep in the world, that live here all year round. Driving along the banks of the Ghund River you will arrive in Bachor village which is a lovely, Tajik settlement. You have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with local traditions and what it’s like to live your life in a remote community such as this. Tonight’s accommodation is in a homestay.
Transport: Minivan / with A/C, 240 km, 8 hours
Accommodation: Homestay, ca. 3’300 m altitude
Scenery such as this demands to be witnessed up close and so we’ll begin a trek that takes us far from the road and into the countryside. Starting at Bachor, located at 3300m, we’ll continue to follow the Ghund River, but without the confines of the vehicle, the sounds of rushing water and the rustle of vegetation will prick our consciousness. The sounds of birdsong will drift into our faces on a wind that will dance in our hair and tickle our cheeks. At Svazasich, 13km further on, we’ll pitch our tents for a campsite located at 3600m.
The trail varies little from Svazasich until Yashikul, though we’ll deviate slightly to pass through a small forest. It’s an easy hike, following the Ghund River until we reach the gateway to Langar. It’s there that we’ll begin to climb, though the spectacular views from the Burghulmol Pass will more than compensate for the burn we feel in our leg muscles. It’s downhill from then on, a hike that will deliver us to Yashikul Lake where we’ll pitch our tents and spend the night.
In the morning our driver will pick you up from Yashikul Dam for the drive to Bulunkul village. It’s commonly agreed that the most beautiful lakes in the Pamirs are Yashil Kul and Bulunkul (Blue lakes), located at an altitude of 3700 metres above sea level. Situated in the Murghab district, we intend to spend the night near them. The colour of water in Bulunkul is a subtle interplay of violets and indigo blues that shimmer as the sunlight catches them. Species of fish like are found in abundance in the lake.
There is the opportunity to see yaks, a unique species of domestic animals native to this area. Yaks share some common features with cows and sheep. Traditionally they are used as a beast of burden as well as being farmed to provide milk and meat products, a staple of the local diet. You will drive to visit the hot spring and geyser near the lake of Bulunkul. The terrain here is desolate but grandiose, the unsullied grey hills reflected in the deep turquoise of the lake. It’s not uncommon to see flocks of ducks and geese here, so listen for their distinctive calls. Overnight is in a homestay.
Transport: Minivan with A/C
Accommodation: Homestay, altitude 3700 m
They have a saying in the Pamirs: “To arrive here and not see Murghab is akin to not visiting the Pamirs at all”. After all, by the Roof of the World, we mean Murghab. In the morning we will drive to this town. On the way you will drive over the Naizatash Pass (4137 m). Desolate Murghab lies at the centre of a flat plateau surrounded by dozens of peaks with summits that top out at over 6000 metres above sea level.
Often the landscape of Murghab is compared to the surface of the moon by visitors, viewing the scene with outsiders’ eyes. Indeed, this lunar landscape is as demanding, as challenging as space might be, its high altitude climate almost Arctic. The thin, dry air rarely satisfies those who spend most of their days at sea level. Short, cool summers and severe snowless winters characterised by sub-zero temperatures and biting winds mean that only the hardiest of souls can survive here year round. Dinner and overnight up here is in a local guesthouse.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 150km, 4 hours
Accommodation: Guesthouse, private shower & toilet
Right on the highway of the Pamir Tract you’ll encounter the light blue crater lake of Karakol (altitude 3815m), the name of which can be translated as “Black Lake” as it appears darker when the sun isn’t directly shining on it. On the way to the lake you will drive over the high Ak Baital Pass (4655m). Karakol is one of the highest navigable mountain lakes in the world, after those in Tibet and South America’s Lake Titicaca.
The lake is situated in a meteorite crater and surrounded by swampy meadows and bogs with a rich flora and fauna boasting several endemic species. Flooding, melting permafrost and buried ice sheets shape the landscape with small hillocks and a large variety of small creeks and water courses between 3500 and 4000 m. The rich plant cover is grazed by wild and domestic ungulates including horses and cows. Dinner and overnight accommodation is once again in a homestay.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 160 km, 4-5 hours
It’s time to say farewell to Tajikistan today and load the vehicles for our drive to Tulpar Kul Lake via Karakol. Passing Karakol, we’ll pause to admire a sun calendar dating from the 3rd century BC and then have lunch beside Kara Kol Lake. Bellies full, we’ll drive up and over the Akbaital Pass, reaching the highest point of our journey this afternoon. We go on to the Kyrgyz border near Bor Dobo after we traverse a lengthy 55km of no man’s land. Our crossing will be near the Kyzyl Pass, which sits at an impressive altitude of 4282m. As the landscape changes we’ll finish off the day’s journey and reach the yurts where we’re overnighting.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 300 km – 7-8 hours – with breaks
Accommodation: Yurt stay, altitude 3000m
As we step out of the yurt this morning we’ll drink in some of the most spectacular panoramas this region has to offer, with uninterrupted views of Lenin Peak (7134m) and the Chon-Alay Mountains. In this pristine Alpine landscape, clean air is all that separates you from the distant glaciers and crevasses filled with ice and snow. To live on the high Jailoo or summer pasture is to live at one with nature, where yaks graze and mountain lakes absorb the glacial sediments to take on an opaque sheen. Next, we’ll leave for Osh and drive through the beautiful Alay Valley, where a wide expanse of chartreuse grass spans a gap between charcoal grey mountains topped with a dusting of snow. Crossing the Taldyk Pass at 3615 metres above sea level, we’ll continue our adventure, though we will stop for lunch of course! We’ll reach our destination by afternoon. Osh is an ancient Silk Road city with a history spanning three thousand years and a culture that draws on both Uzbek and Kyrgyz traditions. We’ll climb Solomon’s Mountain and visit the museum that’s tucked away in a natural cave nearby.
Transport: Minivan with A/C, 250 km – 5 hrs
Accommodation: Local Uzbek Guesthouse, altitude 1000m
Duration of sightseeing tour: 2-3 hours
We catch flight to the capital city of Kyrgyzstan in the morning and depart Osh early.
Bishkek is a very pleasant city to explore on foot and that’s exactly what you will do today. Bishkek has changed a lot over the years, but it still has a charm like no other city in the world. There are lots of sights that we’d like you to see: the monument of Manas, a hero among Kyrgyz people; Ala Too Square, the main square; the Kurmanzhan Datka Monument, the Queen of Alay; countless parks and governmental buildings; the Old Square with Parliament House and Lenin´s Monument.
Transport: Minivan with A/C for the walking tour
Accommodation: Rich Hotel, altitude 800 m
Duration of sightseeing tour: 4-5 hours
After a fifty-minute drive you will arrive at your first destination for the day: Ala-Archa National Park. This alpine wilderness attracts visitors with its breathtaking mountain vistas and scenic hiking trails. The raging Ala-Archa River runs through the alpine gorge, surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks and steep, forested slopes. Enjoy your morning either resting or hiking in the park before returning to Bishkek for an afternoon tour. There will be still free time by the time of arrival at Bishkek, so souvenir shopping is still possible at the Osh Bazaar, or even go for a walk or just relax in your free time!
By the farewell dinner, at one of the top national restaurants in Bishkek, we can discuss and share with the best moments of the trip.
Transport: Minivan with A/C for the walking tour
Accommodation: Rich Hotel, altitude 800 m
Duration of sightseeing tour: 4-5 hours
Today it’s time to say a fond farewell to beautiful Kyrgyzstan. Our driver will provide your transfer to Bishkek International Airport. We hope you’ve enjoyed your trip and will return soon to explore other Central Asian countries.