ITINERARY & MAP
Welcome to Central Asia! Arrive at the airport early in the morning. Transfer to the hotel and early check in. You can have a rest after your long flight, take a shower and have breakfast.
We start the city tour with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Tajikistan with the famous Buddha statue. Our next stop is the Navruz Palace. Initially this building was supposed to become the largest teahouse in the world. However, during construction, which involved hundreds of artisans from all over the country, the interior became so impressive that it was decided that it was going to become a palace instead of a teahouse. Most of its rooms are now used only for official government meetings with guests from abroad or for international conferences. Just one room is open for public use and usually weddings take place there. You get a chance to have tour inside this unique modern palace. After lunch, we visit the statue of Ismail Samani. The large monument commemorates the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State, the heyday of the Tajik nation, when science and arts flourished. From there we walk up to Rudaki Park, dedicated to great Persian poet Rudaki, who also lived during Samanid time in the 9th century AD.
We will have welcome dinner in a nice Tajik restaurant. Your guide will outline the tour itinerary and give you plenty of opportunities to ask questions.
Hotel Sheraton or similar, 700m altitude
Gently gaining altitude, we leave Dushanbe and begin our journey towards the Pamir Mountains, with our sights firmly set on Khalai Kum 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 make plenty of stops to stretch our legs, first of all visiting Norak Reservoir. In the city of Kulob in the southern region of Tajikistan we will have lunch before driving north-east and gaining slowly altitude again. The road will take us up and over the Shuraba Pass at 2267m. This is the border region with Afghanistan and from here onwards we will be surrounded by the mountains that have spawned countless adventurers over the centuries. The wild Panj River forms both the natural and the political boundary between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and we will skirt along its banks. Tonight, our accommodation is a nice hotel in the small town of Khalai Kum.
Karon Palace Hotel, 1200m altitude
Today morning we enjoy a shaky but very scenic ride along the bank of the Panj river. It is easy to spot the Afghan villages clinging to the hillsides and the pathways that snake between the rocks. We will keep within the Tajik territory, learning about the unique culture of the Pamirian people from our guide – their traditions, language and religion are all very different from the Tajik in other parts of the country.
Near the village of Rushan we take a turn and drive into the valley of Bartang, a tributary to the Panj river. Bartang Valley is one of the wildest and most memorable valleys in the western Pamirs. After just about one hour driving into the valley we will stop and start a gentle uphill 2-3 hours hike to Jisev valley. We will spend one night in a very simple family homestay amidst an idyllic landscape at about 2500m altitude.
Overnight in family homestay (multi-share, no beds, no shower, pit toilet), 2500m altitude
After breakfast we hike back down to Bartang river, where the car is waiting for us. We drive for about 3 hours further along the Panj river to reach Khorog, the biggest city and administrative capital of the Pamir Region of Tajikistan (GBAO). We will have lunch and a short city tour in Khorog. We will visit the bazaar and the botanical garden with a nice view of the city. You will 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. After the rustic overnight at Jisev you will appreciate the nice hotel tonight.
Hotel Khorog Serena Inn, 2100m altitude
Our first stop today is the Garmchashma hot springs for an (optional) dip in the waters. From here starts the Wakhan Valley. This remote region is shared by Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It became famous in the 19th Century when it was used as a buffer zone between the Russian and British Empires during a period known as the “Great Game”. But it has been an important region for thousands of years already. Ishkashim is the regional administrative center, but it feels more like a large village. We check in at the guesthouse and have some time to explore the village before dinner. In the evening we can enjoy a folklore show of a group of local Wakhi dancers and musicians.
Hanis Guesthouse (single rooms available, shared western toilet and shower), 2700m altitude
From Ishkashim this morning we will continue to Langar via Yamg. There are several places of interest where it is worth making a stop (in addition to photo stops). We take a small detour to the village of Namadguti where we will find the Khahkha Fortress. Dating from the 3rd century, it is one of several fortresses that remain in the area. The most impressive of these is Yamchun Fort and we will 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 then 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 is 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.
Overnight in simple guesthouse in Langar Village (shared western toilet and shower), 2900m altitude
Today we leave behind the lush valleys and enter via Kargushi Pass (4300m) a landscape that is rocky, mostly barren, but very dramatic. Now we are on the famous Pamir Highway or simply M-41. The route between Khorog and Osh was completed in 1931 on a high-altitude plateau on almost 4000m above sea.
On the way to the village of Alichur we will visit two beautiful high-altitude mountain lakes – Yashilkul and Bulunkul. We will also make a short stop at a geyser.
Overnight in simple guesthouse in Alichur Vilage (shared western toilet and shower), 3900m altitude
The Eastern Pamirs are part of Tajikistan but inhabited primarily by ethnic Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz used to be nomads and many still today live a semi-nomadic life, living permanently in a village and during summer in a yurt on the summer pasture, where their cattle can graze. You will start to notice Kyrgyz yurts and herds of sheep, horses and yaks as we drive through this amazing lunar landscape towards Murghab, the center of Eastern Pamirs.
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. Desolate Murghab lies at the center of a flat plateau surrounded by dozens of peaks with summits that top out at over 6000 meters above sea level. Life here is rough, with short, cool summers followed by severe winters characterized by sub-zero temperatures and biting winds.
We will have a short tour in the small town (4000 inhabitants), including visit to a handicrafts center and the local bazaar and white Lenin statue.
Overnight in guesthouse with private shower & western toilet, 3600m altitude
Today we cross the highest pass of the entire area of the former Soviet Union – Ak Baital Pass (4655m). After a descent we reach Karakul Lake (3800m altitude). The name of the lake translates as “Black Lake”, as it appears darker when the sun is not directly shining on it. Karakol is one of the highest navigable mountain lakes in the world. After the lake we start the ascend to Kyzyl Art Pass (4280m), which forms the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is time to say farewell to Tajikistan and the Tajik guide and driver. You will cross the border on foot and be welcomed by the Kyrgyz guide and driver on the other side. By evening we reach the yurts for our overnight stay next to picturesque Tulpar Kol Lake at the foot of majestic Peak Lenin (7139m).
Overnight in yurt (2-4 people in one yurt, pit toilet outside, no shower), ca. 3000m altitude
After breakfast transfer to Osh. Until Sary Tash we take the same road as we came from. After Sary Tash village we leave the Pamir-Alay mountain range behind us and drive through a totally different landscape once again. We encounter lush farmlands, and small villages along the way and cross scenic Taldyk Pass (3500m). The road is in quite good condition for most part until Osh so we are planning to arrive in Kyrgyzstan’s second largest and 3000-year-old city around early afternoon.
We check in at the hotel and you have time to take a shower and have a short. In the evening when it is not so hot anymore, we will have a short city tour in Osh. The most important sight in Osh is the sacred Suleiman mountain. Nicknamed Kichik-Mecca (Little Mecca) this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a major place of Muslim and pre-Muslim pilgrimage. It was said that prophet Suleiman was buried here, but even before it was a place of pilgrimage for local people. On top of the mountain is a stone shelter known as Babur’s House, named after the 15-16th century Muslim leader who founded the Mughal Dynasty in India and performed his 40 days fast for meditation here.
Sunrise 2 Hotel, 1000m altitude
Today we have another long driving day ahead, towards the Tien Shan (“celestial”) mountains of Kyrgyzstan. On the way we visit old minarets dating from 10-12th centuries in Uzgen, which used to be one of the capitals of the mighty Karakhanid empire. Further on the way we stop for picnic at a picturesque place and cross Kog Art Pass (3300m). In the evening we arrive at our guesthouse in the village of Kazarman. Dinner with the family and overnight in the guesthouse.
Family Guesthouse (shared western toilet and shower), 2000m altitude
After breakfast transfer to the start point of the trek (30km). Full day radial trek to Saimaluu-Tash – mountain field with ancient petroglyphs (stone inscriptions). It is a delightful hike and there are petroglyphs from different periods starting from antiquity (2nd millennium BC) to the Middle Ages (1st-8th centuries AD). Across the whole area a total of more than 10,000 stones with drawings can be found. At this site we will have picnic for lunch. We will walk the same way down and transfer back to Kazarman. (Altitudes above sea level during the day: start point of trek – 2200 m, highest point – 3100 m in Saimaluu-Tash, end of day – 2000 m in Kazarman).
Family Guesthouse (shared western toilet and shower), 2000m altitude
Today we drive to mountain lake Song Kul through Moldo Ashuu Pass (3240m). Situated at an altitude of around 3000m the lake is only accessible in summer and surrounded by green meadows full of Edelweiss and mountains in the background. Shepherds from the region use these meadows as summer pastures, let their cattle graze and put up yurts. More than 200 families are spending their summers in yurts scattered around the lake. Locals call Song Kul Lake also “Nomad’s Paradise”. It is an ideal place to try out horse riding, meet shepherds and learn about their nomadic lives, and at the same time enjoy the tranquility of this idyllic landscape. Accommodation and dinner in a traditional Kyrgyz yurt.
Overnight in yurt – 4 people in a yurt, facilities are outside (Western toilet, shower with heated water)
After breakfast, it is time to leave Song Kul and drive to Issyk Kul – the “Pearl of Kyrgyzstan”. On the way, we stop in Kochkor to see a presentation of how traditional felt carpets are made and you can even try to make your own. Shortly after Kochkor we arrive at Issyk Kul and drive along the southern shore to the village of Kyzyl Tuu. Most people in this village are engaged in the manufacturing of yurts and it is the perfect place to learn more about the Kyrgyz yurt and how it is made. A bit further along the road we will stop near Bokonbaevo to meet an Eagle hunter, who will make a demonstration for us. By evening we arrive at Tosor. Upon arrival at the yurt camp there is some time to go swimming in the lake before dinner.
Overnight in yurt – 2-4 people in a yurt, facilities are outside (Western toilet, shower with heated water)
After breakfast, first we drive to nearby “Skazka” or “Fairytale” canyon. The canyon derived its name from its bizarre landscape with fabulous formations from rocks. We have a short walk before driving further to the town of Karakol.
In Karakol, we will have lunch and have a short sightseeing tour of the town’s most interesting sights. The tour includes the Dungan Mosque, built in 1904 with no metal nails and the wooden Russian Orthodox Church which has been standing since 1869. We will also visit the small Historical Museum of Karakol with the photo exhibition of Ella Maillart, Swiss traveler, who embarked on an extensive journey through Central Asia in the 1930s. She wrote an interesting book about her travels called “Turkestan Solo”.
From Karakol, it is another 30km driving north to the village of Tepke where we will spend the night in a nice guesthouse of farmers who breed Kyrgyz horses. You can see their horses and learn how “Boorsok” (deep fried bread, typical for Kyrgyzstan) is made.
Overnight & dinner in guesthouse “Reina Kench” – Twin/ Single rooms with shower and toilet in the room
After breakfast we drive along the northern shore of lake Issyk Kul to Bishkek. On the way we stop at open air museum of petrogylphs near Cholpon Ata, from where we also will have a beautiful view of the lake. Just an hour before Bishkek we make another stop at Burana Tower. The minaret was built in the 11th century in the medieval town of Balasagun, capital of the mighty Karakhanid empire. You can climb up the winding staircase to enjoy a nice view of the Chuy Valley. There is also an open-air museum featuring a collection of ancient balbals, carved stone figures used as monuments.
By evening we arrive in Bishkek, just in time for dinner.
Asia Mountains Hotel or similar
Transfer to Ala Archa National Park in the mountains, just 30km outside of Bishkek. We will have a walk in the park, enjoying the nice views and fresh air. Transfer back to Bishkek for lunch in the city center. In the afternoon we will have a city tour in Bishkek. The tour includes Osh Bazaar, Panfilov Park, Ala-Too Square with the National History Museum, and monuments to national hero Manas, writer Chingiz Aitmatov and another Kyrgyz hero Kozhomkul Baatyr. Dinner in a nice local restaurant.
Asia Mountains Hotel or similar
Transfer to airport for departure flight back home. We hope you enjoyed your trip to Central Asia and will return soon to discover more places in this beautiful part of the world!