Murghab, meaning “the river where the birds drink” in ancient Persian, is the second bigger village of the Pamir region. It has in between 4000 and 6000 inhabitants (the sources vary here) and is located along the Pamir Highway in the very east. From there it is easy to set out for day hikes or longer hikes along Murghab river for example, which eventually leads into the famous Sarez Lake. META (Murghab Eco Tourism Association) is very active in helping travellers to plan and organise trips. They also offer assistance (planning, jeep and driver) for travelling along Pamir Highway to either Khorog, Dushanbe or Osh. I can highly recommend them, they are very much reliable and have fair prices (as opposed to Traveltajikistan/Great Game Company, which are purely rip-offs). Also, they are a local organisation, and I prefer to stick with locals when it comes to learning about a country.
Accommodation (the so-called homestays) can be found in Murghab through MSDSP (Mountain Society Development Support Program). They have an office in Murghab.
Murghab also has a quite big bazaar, which is located in the east of town (north of the main street). Most of the vendors have their shops in converted tanks (see photo 3 in the back), and you can get all supplies you need. Just behind the vending stalls are cafes where you can grab something to eat or drink.
If you arrive in Murghab, coming from Osh (Kyrgyzstan), make sure you go to the police to get your OVIR and show your documents.
I will write more about Murghab on a separate page (see link below), but I didn’t even start with it.
I already mentioned this in the previous tip – you should not only NOT rush along the Pamir Highway, but also spend some days along in the villages and landscapes.
Khorog is a possible starting point for the trip, and it is worthwile to stay here for at least 2 days. The village is the capital of the Pamir region, very much supported by the Aga Khan Development Network (and proceeding links in there), a non profit organisation. It has a university, schools and a very good hospital, people speak very good English (mainly the young ones, but the elder as well). In Khorog, you can learn so much about the region’s history and peoples former life in the museum – highly recommendable. And some kms east of town is a Botanical Garden, which is said to be the highest on our planet.
Khorog has a big bazaar where you can get any supply you can think of, excellent local dishes (oh yummmmm….) and you can fill up your stock of food when you want to set out for hikes.
Khorog felt for me like Shangri-La. I was overwhelmed by the locals, so friendly, so big smiles everwhere I went. Given the altitude (2200 m), a lot of fruit trees and berries grow here, so enough of wonderful fresh food supplies as well.
If you want to read more about Khorog, please check my separate page about this Pamir gem (see link below).
Tajikistan’s capital is Dushanbe, situated in the western part of the country. The name simply means Monday, as it used to held market on Mondays. I can’t judge anything of its sights, as I was mainly occupied with getting hold of a flight ticket to Khorog, capital of the Pamirs, and trying not to waste too much money to the biggest rip-off company on the planet, Great Game Travel. This, as my reason for going to Dushanbe (and staying there 1 night) was to get hold of the Pamir (GBAO) Permit, which I got through a company I cannot recommend (see my Dushanbe travelogue). Nowadays it is no longer necessary to stay in Dushanbe to pick up the Pamir Permit, as it is much more reliable dealt with by either Stantours or by Tajik Embassies (namely the one in Vienna, Austria and the one in Berlin, Germany).
But for hikers, Dushanbe is starting point for hiking in the northern Varzob mountains and also the Fan Mountains.
At the point being, Dushanbe has a nice website with loads of information… but so far only in Russian. However, the English version seems to be in preparation. Check from time to time if the button is active:
The eastern Pamir Mountains are characterised by high plains and are therefore ideal ground for Kyrgyz herders to let their animals graze. Don’t miss to plan a stay with them for a day or even more. META (see above or below) can organise this for you. Kyrgyz nomads mostly have yaks, but often also sheep, so this means also very much delicious food, you’ll have whilst your stay.
Don’t expect luxury, the nomads won’t have electricity, but expect the highest class of hospitality, so friendly and warmhearted people, a warm bed to crawl in at night (in a yurt), excellent food and a most magnificent star sky in the night. You won’t hear any noise except the animals talking to each other, and the occasional creek, flowing over the rocks.
I had one of my best culinary experiences there, a youghurt that tasted like heaven !
If you haven't organised your yurt stay through META, but stay in one during your hikes, it should be self-evident to leave a contribution for your stay. The actual fees for accommodation and food are given on META's website, which has been updated and shows the prices as of 2007.
Later, I will write more about my stay with the nomads on my Karakul page.
Even if you won’t have that much time to do long hikes or treks in the Pamirs, a travel along Pamir Highway is highly recommendable. BUT: please be fully aware that there is no air conditioned bus, but (old) jeeps to travel along with.
The Pamir Highway is the part of a Central Asian road, which connects Dushanbe with Osh (Kyrgyzstan). Some sources also mention Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan being the westernmost starting point. The road has been built during Soviet times, to connect parts of their imperium in this region. Since the breakdown and Central Asia’s independence, not much coherent maintanance has been done to the road, only in spots, where damage has been caused by flash floods or scree. In total length, it is 1252 km long; the leg between Khorog and Osh being 728 km. With Ak-Baital Pass, 4665 m, it is said to be the second highest international highway.
I cannot say much about the leg between Dushanbe and Khorog (as I took a flight). But the part between Khorog and Osh is just breathtaking !! First, it leads through valleys (valley of Gunt river) and then over the high plains of eastern Pamirs to Murghab, the second bigger Pamiri village. Next stop is the famous Kara-kul Lake (!! Not to be confused with the eponymous lake in western China!!), from where it leads north into Kyrgyzstan and eventually finishes in Osh.
If you plan to travel along this highway, calculate enough time. 1252 km would be a piece of cake on western asphaltic streets, but consider the altitude (of which we have nothing comparable in the western world) and influences of bad weather. If flash floods wipe away parts of the road, it will take long until cars or trucks can pass again. For the leg between Khorog and Osh calculate minimum 3 days. 4 days would be better, and 1-2 weeks the best, as this will provide you with the opportunity to visit villages and Kyrgyz settlements and enjoy the locals legendary hospitality.
Please check the transport section for how to organise the travel (not yet done).
The flora and fauna in Tajikistan and the Pamirs are very much unique due to their altitude. In the website’s brochure below (from ACTED, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development), page 6, it is said that the region has 2 main terraces – alpine and sub-alpine, below or above roughly 4500 m. Depending on the terraces, all different kinds of species grow there. On 4000 m, near the Kyrgyz settlement, I stayed at, I was amazed to find edelweiss flowers (photo 1) and a whole bunch of other tiny flowers I know from the alps (well, maybe not exactly the same plants, but similar families). All have one thing in common, which is that they can live with only a small amount of water. Water is scarce in these higher regions.
In the lower parts in the valleys, like in Khorog on 2200 m, the climate is ideal for growing all kinds of fruits, and cherry and apricot trees are very much abundant. They taste excellent, as they never see any kind of pesticides.
In terms of animals, some very rare species are living here – one of them is the Marco Polo sheep. Photo 2 shows a skull of this sheep, which is characterised by very long and twisted horns.
The other one is the Snow Leopard, which is able to live in regions as high as 6000 m.
These animals are endandered species, and it should be out of any discussion that these are not to be hunted !!!!
And that all the flowers are not to be picked, including the Edelweiss !!!!
ACTED’s website has a wonderful detailed brochure (27 pages) about the Pamir region and their settlement. It is fascinating to learn how much back the early settlements date – as far as 8500 B.C. ! These very old ones are very much rare, though. But witnesses of Iron and Middle Age are widely scattered in the Pamirs and give fascinating insight into the days of these early settlements. During my trip, I saw and visited three of these and will describe them in the Pamir section or on the village pages. Thanks to the ACTED brochure I am even able to name them correctly:
Petroglyphs of Jalang, northwest of Murghab, the burying ground of Shurali close by and the kurgans (circular burying grounds) of Karaart near Karakul village.
The Pamir Mountains are part of what has been the result of Indian subcontinent collision with Eurasia long time ago. And as the plates of our earth are still moving, a lot of “action” below the surface takes place. This is most obvious, where the plates are “touching” each other. Ok, this was now very simple explained, and I hope, geologists won’t tear me apart.
What I want to say is that this region, as well as others in the circumfence of Himalaya region, do have a lot of geothermal activity. On Markus Hauser’s map, you can see so many icons marking hot springs along the Pamir Highway and also deep inside the mountains. Given the low amount of constant electricity in the Pamir Mountains, these hot springs are very important for the locals to take their hot bath.
It is a marvellous experience to dip into warm or even hot water, after a smaller or longer hike.
BUT: please understand how important these are for the locals. Don’t mess around and don’t leave trash please !
In case, the hot springs are pools, please check in advance how the separation of genders is handled. Remember, this is an Islamic country, and it would be very much inappropriate to have both males and females bathing there clotheless.
Why going to Tajikistan ? Well, there are a lot of very simple answers – it has one of the most beautiful mountain ranges on our planet, and the hospitality of the people is just incredible ! A bit high, but…. we all have to make compromises :-) and suffer from time to time (I did, my nice travellers diarrhoea did not enhance my “body feelings” in 4200 m altitude).
Go to Tajikistan and touch the sky, as I called my chapter about this fascinating country.
The eastern part of Tajikistan is an autonomous region, with the – for westerners - unpronouncable name of Gorno Badakhshan Avtonomnaya Oblast, better known as the Pamirs, offers you anything you like when it comes to spectacular landscapes, very high mountains (up to 7400 m), hot springs, lakes, ancient history with petroglyphs, animal riding on horses, yaks or camels, long and short trekking tours, mountain climbing – you name it.
I will write more about this fantastic region, separately under Pamirs , but this page is still under construction at the moment.
But - as I recently have realised that VT's things-to-do on Tajikistan is listed as second external link on Wikipedia, Pamir Highway, and thus this tip here appears at the top of our guide, I have the happy obligation to write more about the highway and the Pamirs now :-)
In the meantime, feel free to visit the website, I have added below, the famous Pamirs.org, which might get you inspired about what the Pamirs have to offer.
Welcome to Tajikistan!
Tajikistan is a place where you can study culture and traditions in reality.The best way of getting know people is-visiting them.
In order to understand Tajik culture it is necessary to look back to the time of Transoxiana, (an area that lies between the Amu Darya and Sir Darya rivers and modern north-west Afghanistan), and the centres of civilization of the Nile, Mesopotamia and the banks of the Yangtze. The Tajiks' ancestors were from Scythian proto-Indo-European tribes who were nomads of the Eurasian steppes and were among the first to settle in Central Asia about 4000 years ago.The Culture of Tajikistan has developed over several thousand years.
Modern Tajik literature and its history is wound up with the standardisation of the Tajik language. Tajik literary centres include the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, currently in present day Uzbekistan.Tajik's literature and culture is very rich.
Tajik holidays are very amazing and interesting and one can easely get in to them
Jan 1 New Year's Day
March 8 International Women's Day
March 20-22 Navruz (Persian New Year)
May 1 International Labour Day
May 9 Victory Day
September 9 Independence Day
November 6 Constitution Day
November 9 National Reconciliation Day
Tajikistan's biggest annual celebration is the spring festival of Navruz, literally "New Day". Navruz marks the beginning of the Persian New Year, which starts at the spring equinox. (The exact date of the celebration depends on the timing of the equinox). The roots of the festival are Zoroastrian - the fire-worshipping religion that the Persians followed before they converted to Islam.
Abdullah Jafar Ibn Mohammad Rudaki is considered a founder of Persian classical literature.
He was born in Rudak, a village in Transoxiana, 870 in what is now Panjakent in Tajikistan. . He was the court poet to the Samanid ruler Nasr II (914-943) in Bukhara, but he eventually fell out of favour and ended his life in poverty.
The Fan Mountains is acknowledged to be among the most beautiful in the world. It is a eas-west range in west-central Tajikistan, with the main massif in the west. For international travellers the best is possibly to cross in over the Uzbek border from the west; it is a long haul from Dushanbe. Either way you get there, the approach will be interesting.
The high Fan massif consists of high peaks (Chimtarga at 5489 meters the tallest], snow capped and with small glaciers hanging about, and a maze of valleys carving up the massif, making it a fairly easy laid-out area for trekking and mountaineering. In terms of objective dangers, the main onwe would probably be altitude sickness due to the high passes, rock slides and in the wrong season hypothermia. If you aim to go there, do come preapared before entering Tajikistan.
In the Soviet era (note than many people in Tajikistan citizens miss that time), Tajikistan was one of the main sources of uranium for the Soviet nuclear program. The city of Saryn in the northern parts of the Khojand area was the source of uranium mined for the first Soviet nuclear bomb (separate tip coming soon!). You will find uranium mines here and there nowadays, too, but I do not think any of them are open for mining for the time being. The worst sites in terms of pollution and radiation have been sealed. If you travel upr the side valley north from Takob, the road takes you right next to a uranium mausoleum, a huge concrete construction topping a sandy hill. This "atomic Tajikistan" is not only an historical event to keep in mind, but very much an ongoing environmental and health disaster.
Tajikistan along with its neigbours is a faboulous country for fruits. Make a point of sampling some on the way through the country. Apples, peaches, apricots, plums, pears in the mountains; melons, grapes and other in the lowlands.
Most of Tajikistan appears to be either barren rock or desert. While some of the desert landscapes are drab, you will also find really nice desert scenery here and there, notably in the south toward the Afghan-Uzbek border as well as in the north of the Khojand region. The mountain deserts of Gorna Badakshan/Pamir are outstanding. Some of the finest desert scenery that I saw was in the Anzob gorge, near Shaartuz and Kurgan-Tyube. Plan on spending some desert scenery time - don't give it a pass!
I arrived to Panjakent by local buses from Bukhara, in Uzbekistan. In spite of being a modern city with ugly soviet era blocks, Lenin statues and the like, the people still ride horses and donkeys in the streets, and its market is as exotic as the one in nearby Samarqand, which is located next door to the Bibi Janym mosque.
After visiting the ruins of the old towns dating from the Sogdian State period (Panjakent means Five Cities) I visited the most famous museum of the country, devoted to Rudaki, the celebrated Tadjik poet (presumably he was blind), father of the Persian poetry (Tadjik language is very close related to the Dari in Afghanistan and to the Farsi in Iran).
The museum consists in two parts; the less interesting is the one dedicated to the Bolshevik Revolution with all its propaganda. The best is the second one, called Natural History, sheltering endemic animals preserved by taxidermy and the flora of the country, all illustrated with wonderful wall maps.
Prospekt Ismoili Somoni 26/1, Dushanbe, 734026, Tajikistan
Good for: Couples
str. Lev Tolstoy 9, Dushanbe, 734003, Tajikistan
Good for: Couples
22 Shotemur Ulitsa, Dushanbe, 734001, Tajikistan
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Solo