Afghanistan is close - and magic hiking too
I found it very much amazing to be that close to this mysterious and famous country. It is literally a stone throw away (provided you get the stone threwn over the river).
Khorog’s airport is located north of town, directly at river Panj, the one that separates Tajikistan’s Pamirs here from Afghanistan. It was a weird and exciting feeling to land here, get off the plane and … well, theoretically hop into the water and swim over to Afghanistan.
Some hundreds of kilometres down south of here, in a village called Ishkashim, there is a bridge crossing the Panj River, where people constantly cross back and forth to visit their relatives, of which they have been separated by "country limit declaration" after the Great Game war between Russian and UK. Ishkashim, the Afghan part, is also the village where you could get the permits to hike in Wakhan. One day I can report more about this possibility and no, it is not a mistake that on my VT map, Afghanistan is green. I certainly would not be the first to do so, already Alexander the Great was here centuries and centuries ago. He did look for the spring of the mightly river Oxus.
Oxus river today is called Amu Darja - or, in this part of the world: Panj.
And it is the river you see here on my photo :-)
- Road Trip
- Diving and Snorkeling
Highest botanical garden at 2800 m
The botanical garden was something very much interesting to visit while I was here. LP said that it is the second highest in the world, at 3900 m (all other sources I found said the same, but they most probably have only copied LP). It cannot be that high, as Khorog is 2200 m, and this would have meant a difference of 1700 m, which was simply not the case. My altimeter showed 2200 m for Khorog and 2800 m in the gaden (at the highest point I was at), so maximum 3000 m.
The garden is located west of town, way too long to walk in the heat. Better take a “taxi”, which is, try and hitchike. Passing cars will pick you up, but be aware that you should pay for the lift (around 6 som). Depending on where the car will go, they most probably will drop you off at the garden’s lower entrance. From here, you have to walk uphill, around 500 m higher. I was lucky, a truck came along the road and gave me a lift (uff, I would have ended food for the condors, if no car would have been there).
The garden itself is on a huge terrain, and several roads lead along the different trees. In the higher section (where the main entrance is), I didn’t see any signs at the plants, but the lower I got, the more plants were described with little plates (in Russian and Latin that is). It was mostly trees from almost everywhere (some names I could identify through their Latin name), and even a bit lower in the garden, they had beautiful flowers planted. Oh, and I could fill my belly with very much delicious blackberries (ah, so juicy, I can still feel them on my tongue). If this was good or bad for my still very much present Montezuma, I don’t know – but the heck, they tasted delicious.
You can overlook the eastern section of Gunt valley and I could also see where the next part of this trip – the beginning of Pamir highway, was leading to.
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
The Regional Museum is worth a visit
As I was a bit longer in Khorog than originally planned, I did see a lot of this charming town. One of the real highlights was the visit in the little museum. Well, little is not exactly true, as it is bigger than one would expect a museum in such a little town. It has a lot of objects from the very early days of settling in Pamirs, and shows quite nicely how life was those days. Practically, not very much has changed since then, as the settlings still don’t have running water and electricity (well, that said, I did see a satellite bowl at one of the yurts along Pamir highway). I enjoyed this museum very much, mainly the very creative objects like the mousetrap in the first photo, or crampons.
The most fascinating however was a girl that was obviously called for as soon as the forgeinger has entered the museum. She was around 17, spoke excellent English (way better than mine) and said that she just came back from a year in US, part of the Aga Khan Foundation teaching program. She explained everything in detail (as all descriptions in the museum are in Russian, partly in Tajik) and was (is of course) obviously very proud of being Pamiri (which she can be, as the people were one of the most friendliest I ever met anywhere on travels).
Admission to the museum was 2 som p.p. It is open from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (with lunch break from 1-2).
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
- Road Trip
Stroll around in the village – along Gunt
So why did I choose the heading “maybe this is Shangri La” for Khorog ? This is very easy to explain: I arrived after having had this **** experience with the rip-off company in Dushanbe, I wanted so badly to see the Pamir mountains and I wanted to flee the brutal heat of the places I was before.
The moment I arrived here (well, a bit later, when I was settled with a place to sleep) I liked it – it has a very much relaxed atmosphere hanging over it, the people move with a slower pace than in the places I’ve been before, everyone smiles at you (even the girls, or maybe they smiled at me because I was/am female?), the river Gunt flows rapidly through the village, some of the bridges connecting the 2 parts sway a bit (especially funny when you had a bit of beer before, lol), the trees are loaded with cherries or apricots and the people are very much beautiful (fact is I never saw such beautiful and relaxed people anywhere else on my trip).
In the moments I was not sitting at home (yes, it was home for me for a while), I wandered through the village, looked here and there, looked at the kids that were brave enough to hop into the river and swim or let themselves flow – I thought so often that this must be Shangri La.
Khorog is not big, although it is the capital of Pamir region. It stretches out approx. 3 km north and south of Gunt river. So strolling along the banks of the river will make a nice afternoon or morning walk.
- Hiking and Walking
- Budget Travel