Traveling along Tajik-Afgan and Tajik-Uzbek borders mind the mines. They may be a danger if you get off the road or path. Very often there are signs warning against mines.
Vast areas have already been demined but still in many places mines are a danger.
The Pamir Higway (red more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamir_Highway) is a very dangerous road. You travel next to deep abbys, 16-20 hours with one driver non-stop! That is why it is very important to choose a good driver. Our Tajik friends told us about 3 rules:
1. do not choose young drivers - they lack experience
2. do not choose the cheapest ones - it means they are new in business, without experience and seek for clients
3. choose the driver with a new and nice (not damaged) car
I already wrote a “be careful” warning in the shopping section, about Tajikistan and the Pamirs’ gemstones. Here I want to explain why I write to take extra care. Now we all know about the countless fakes from “dragonland” that congest all markets worldwide. It is almost impossible to buy things for a normal price that are not “made in dragonland”. More than 60% of these goods are illegal – produced and very often patent rights are infringed. Countless companies try and fight against these infringements and don’t succeed, as the dragon only promises but does not actually do anything (why should he, as long as he earns money). Goods where patent rights are infringed are also illegal to purchase, by the way.
But the appetite of the voracious dragon does not stop by throwing fakes all over all countries – it also ignores legally drawn borders. That’s why in eastern Tajikistan’s Pamirs you can see a fence very much close to the Pamir Highway. If you look at the screenshot from Google Maps I have added (second picture), you can see that the official border is mostly miles away from the highway. You may ask why – I also did it (fuming inside). But the reason is quite clear: why should the voracious dragon behave properly when there are countless undeveloped gemstone deposits in the poor neighbour country ? Why not draw illegal new borders and just prepare to steal again ?
What I want to say is: if you intend to buy gemstones, not only get advice from official sources, but also have a close look at the ones who try to sell them. In 90% of the cases, they don’t have Tajik, Pamiri or Kyrgyz faces – but…. “dragonlike” faces. And then it is almost sure that also the “genuine certificates” are a fake, as so much, “dragons” sell worldwide.
And read what the website tells about rubies that are said to be from Burma, but where gemstone specialists have proved that they are in fact from the area east of Murghab. And the sellers were no Pamiris......
The most serious warning and danger about Tajikistan and Pamirs is not coming from the country or the people or even military – it is in the traveller itself:
Well, a lot of people take the altitude not serious enough and end up with loosing their life or with very severe health damages. Travelling or hiking in altitudes above 4000 m is not a piece of cake; it is not like walking on Fifth Avenue or in Paris or London.
Travelling everywhere in high mountain region needs adaptation to the altitude. More so, if you are used to live in lower altitudes, or even around sea level. It is ridiculous to believe that one can arrive by plane in Dushanbe and just starts hiking in the Fan Mountains the next day. Or can fly to Khorog and starts hiking or travelling along the roads or paths.
First arrival on 3000 m needs acclimatization of minimum 1-2 days, on 4000 m even more.
If you plan to go to Tajikistan or hike in the Pamirs, talk to your doctor and have him check you before you start your trip. Listen to what he/she says and check the respective websites for more background information.
But still, all depends on the physical condition of your own. Thanks god, we are not yet cloned and react all the same. Once you are there – travel slow ! Listen to your body, and listen seriously ! Don’t even think to “interpret” symptoms as “ahh, not serious”. If you did plan too much, and realize that it will be difficult to continue, stop and go back to a lower altitude. It won’t help you to play the big hero, master of the universe, who can manage all and everything – if you are dead or turning into a vegetable because your brain lacked oxygen in very important situations…. you’d rather be the master of the veggies.
Personally, I did not have any serious problems above 4600 m. This amazed me, as I was not fine at all with some leftover Montezuma from Bukhara (UZ). But I had a lot of acclimatization on 2300 and 3900 m. I have heard of people who had very serious problems even at 4200 m.
Well, yes, I am arrogant while writing this. But it is the same as with drying a cat in the microwave….. if there is no label to tell you NOT to do it, the poor manufacturer can be sued.
To avoid that anyone might get the …. idea to sue poor Tajikistan when having big health problems afterwards – I place it here as warning.
And here some more reading about altitude sickness:
Wikipedia on AMS
Traveldoctor on AMS
Int.Soc for Mountain Medicine
I can’t mention it enough – if you are a millionaire and have money to waste, then you might consider to use Traveltajikistan aka Great Game Travel for your travels.
But as you most probably are not a millionaire, don’t even waste one second to contact them, as then you’ll be the bank that has to pay for almost everything.
And you won’t even need them to organise your GBAO permit (for travelling into the Pamirs), as this is done by STANTOURS as well, much better and much more reliable and honest. Plus, they are locals and not ones that still live in some old colonial days.
If you like to know why I am trying to talk you out of contacting TT/GG, just read my travelogue, where I described my experiences with this impudent…. etablissement.
I also will use this space here to list reports of other people who must have had similar experiences with these rip-off gangsters:
a group of Germans already in 2002 !
Update: September 2007:
it is my utmost pleasure to be able to add another link here with opinions of very much unstatisfied clients of these rip-offers - taken from the worlds "one and only Lonely Planet" :-)
LP Thorn Tree forum - ex-clients ranting about GG/TT
(More to follow).
Update November 2007:
in the meantime I have heard that there are 2 young guys working as volunteers, who are said to be very helpful. However, it also needs some changes in the managers' brains and in the money section to attract travellers who are no millionnaires.
I’ll also place this under tourist traps, so make sure you remember that you have read this here already if you end up in the trap section.
As I got this question so often by mail, I thought I better write about it explicitly.
Tajikistan and the Pamirs are very much safe to travel !!! Personally, I feel much more unsafe in Germany, when I am walking in some parts of cities or at railway stations than I ever felt anywhere in this country.
But – there are still some thoughts you should consider when travelling to Tajikistan and the Pamirs. The country and thus most of the people are not the richest in terms of “money”, but on the other hand they are way richer in terms of friendliness and hospitality than anyone I know or have met in my life. Tajikistan was once part of the Soviet imperium and received a lot of financial support – but was left alone after the imperium’s breakdown. As it does not have the huge oil or gas fields, it is mostly neglected by the “power nations”, which might have even the advantage that the people’s culture and values are not destroyed or “industrialised”. Don’t get me wrong, the people have access to and use the “usual” amenities, but they don’t overvalue them as people do in the country where I live. They have kept their values of life.
And that is where our big responsibility as travellers has to start: leave your “valuables” at home, travel with simple and appropriate clothes and don’t “parade”. If the country and the people will get into every single cell of your body and soul – you’ll realise how poor you are when you are back home.
To be precise: I travelled with all the money (cash) I brought for the trip either in my backpack or in a pouch around my waist. I did even leave it in my backpack in the guesthouses when I was walking through the villages and nothing happened. Where could I do this in my own country ? No where…. I was dressed in my usual shabby clothes I travel with when backpacking. No jewellery (except my crude lapiz necklace, but this is lapiz country anyhow) and my camera in my backpack.
If you are at mining sites or other sites of mineral interest, make sure you get a certificate of non-radioactivity from the regional authorities (geology/mining authroities). Interesting rocks found near old tailing heaps, mines, downriver of a mine etc might be ticking loudly near a geiger counter. It may even be hazardous to health. The key point here is that it is stricktly illegal to bring radioactive substances out of Tajikistan (and to anywhere for that matter).
Make sure you spend your somoni before leaving Tajikistan. There is no way outside Tajikistan you can change them at a good rate or at all. Note that there is nothing to buy at the airport; then I mean nothing.
When you use Moscow as a transit point for travels be aware that your incoming and outgoing flights may be at different airports. Flights to/from Dushanbe use Domodevodo Airport, which is a very long way from the main airport Shermetyevo. I'll add transit info later. It may even be useful and time saving to use a domestic transit flight to say, St. Petersburg or other big cities and catch an international flight from there rather than doing the airport changes in Moscow. Or avoid Moscow altogether and travel via Dubay or istanbul.
A very interesting airlines indeed. They have a few reliable flights and the rest is pure fantasy, past flight records or simply ideas for the next decinnia. As an example, I tried to get a flight from Delhi to Dushanbe, according to their advertisements and web pages. Alas, there is no flight, it's just mentioned in the passing as a scheduled flight... The online booking is valid only for a few of their flights.
If flying with Tajikistan Airlines, ensure you have your flight cancellation insurance in order, and that you use a reliable travel agent to get your bookings done.
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