Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - Along the Pamir Highway


Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - Along the Pamir Highway

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Dossier

The Pamir Mountains have long been known as ‘the roof of the world’, a region of utterly breathtaking scenery and home to a fascinating melange of cultures. Follow in the footsteps of ancient traders and pilgrims, and Victorian explorers in discovering a region largely isolated from the world beyond, a land where each village speaks its own different dialect and local traditions have been maintained for centuries. Traversing the legendary Pamir Highway, this trip starts in the Tajik capital Dushanbe but quickly leaves the modern world behind as you wind your way along difficult mountain roads and high passes, in the shadow of some of the highest mountains on our planet. We visit ruined forts from the days of the old Silk Road, and pass gem mines mentioned by Marco Polo. Spending many nights in homestays in small communities, we are able to gain a great insight into what it means to live in this harsh but majestic region. From Tajikistan we cross into Kyrgyzstan and the ancient city of Osh, and then head to Chichkan where we can meet local shepherds or hike in the surrounding countryside. We also visit Issyk Kul, the largest lake in Central Asia, and have time to explore Bishkek. This trip ventures to a remote and enchanting land that has remained hidden to the rest of the world, a land of towering peaks, turbulent rivers and fascinating people. Travel with us on one of the most amazing journeys you are ever likely to make.


Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●● | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●○○○○

Tour Pace

Busy 

Tour Highlights

  • Phenomenal high mountain scenery of the Pamir range
  • Staying with locals in Pamiri houses
  • Lush valleys of the Wakhan valley bordering Afghanistan
  • Beautiful high alpine lakes
  • Views of Peak Lenin over 7000m high
  • One of the most scenic journeys on the planet

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of Comfortable hotels, basic yurt accommodation with shared facilities, Pamiri style homestay accommdoation with basic shared facilities
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Dushanbe
End Point: Bishkek
Transport: 4WD through the Pamir Mountain range and, minivan/minibus
Countries: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour. In Central Asia particularly in lesser travelled Tajikistan the English skills of guides are not on par with what you may expect in other parts of the world. We do use the best guides possible with the best possible English language skills.

Day 1 – Dushanbe

Arrive in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan and transfer to your hotel, where if required your room will be available for early check-in. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Gulistan or similar. Single room accomodation is available today and the accomodation has private bathrooms.

Dushanbe

Dushanbe is a relatively modern town that rose to prominence during the Soviet era, when it was made the capital of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and named Stalinabad. Its name means ‘Monday in the Tajik language, arising from the fact that this was the day that the market was held when Dushanbe was still a small and fairly insignificant village. The ousted Emir of Bukhara, fleeing from the Bolsheviks, stayed in Dushanbe and cooperated with Enver Pasha’s Basmachis until he had to leave the region. From Dushanbe, he fled to Afghanistan in 1921, the year the town was freed from the Basmachis as well. 

Day 2 – Hissar – Dushanbe

Drive to the nearby town of Hissar to visit the remains of the 18th century fort as well as two nearby madrassahs. Return to Dushanbe in the afternoon and visit the bazaar and the excellent Museum of National Antiquities. Overnight Hotel Gulistan or similar. Single room accomodation is available and the accomodation has private bathrooms (BL)

Hissar

The history of Hissar fort is colourful, with the fortress the stronghold of local basmachi forces resisting the might of Russia. Through the 1920s a power struggle was played out in the region between Bolshevik forces and Pan-Turkic would-be occupiers under the Ottoman Enver Pasha, who was eventually killed in Tajikistan. Today the fort is largely in ruins although the impressive main gate has been reconstructed. Opposite sit two madrassahs dating back to the 16th century, one of which has a small museum in it.

Day 3 – Kalaikhumb

We will cross the Shurabad Pass (2200m) and visit Hulbuk ancient fortress 8th Century which has been recently restored. We continue towards the Pamirs and Kalaikhumb, driving through beautiful scenery and interesting villages en route. This area is a little more conservative, and we see many men with beards, and women wearing traditional dress. We cross the Khaburabot Pass (3200m), arriving in Kalaikhumb (360km) in the early evening. Overnight Hotel Karon Palace or similar. Single room is available and the accomodation has private bathroom facilities (BLD)

The Pamir Mountains

Spreading across Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China the Pamirs are situated at the junction of some of the world’s highest mountain ranges – the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Tian Shan among others, and with peaks exceeding 7000m are known locally as ‘the Roof of the World’. With numerous glaciers and covered in snow throughout the year, the climate here is unforgiving with only a short summer season. Nevertheless the Pamirs are home to both people and wildlife – of the latter notable species include the Marco Polo sheep and snow leopard. Communities and villages in the Pamirs are isolated, separated from each other in valleys and with different villages often speaking different dialects, even though they may not be far from each other as the crow flies. It was in this region that the last stages of the ‘Great Game’ – the territorial rivalry between the empires of Russia and Britain – were played out in the late 19th century, with intrepid adventurers mapping the high passes and staking claims for king and country. The Pamir Highway, running from Dushanbe to Osh, is the second highest in the world (after the Khardung La Pass in the Ladakh region of India).

Days 4-5 – Geisev Valley

Travel to Rushan the administrative centre of the Bartang district. We may have some time to explore upon arrival but we will explore in more depth tomorrow. On Day 5 we drive to the Bartang valley and cross the river to embark on a trek that begins on the river Bartang just beyond Bhagoo village and is mostly gentle uphill for about 8km to the upper of the three lakes. The first houses in Geisev are reached after about 5km. The abundant vegetation, the gnarled trees, the lakes and the ever-changing river - sometimes frothing with energy, sometimes limpid and blue - create a very special peaceful atmosphere. This route passing lakes and rivers traverses some of the most magnificent scenery in the Pamir. Later we continue to Khorog alongside the River Panj which forms the border with Afghanistan. Day 4 overnight will be at a local homestay with shared facilities. Day 5 overnight at the Lal Inn or similar where single rooms are available but bathroom facilities are shared. (BLD)

Day 6 – Khorog

Today we have a full day to explore Khorog, the capital of the GBAO region, including the bazaar and the lovely Botanical Gardens which are perched high above the town, affording some great panoramic views. Overnight Lal Inn or similar where single rooms are available but bathroom facilities are shared. (BLD)

Khorog

The capital of Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Khorog is a small town that at various times has been under the control of the Russia, the Emirate of Bukhara and Afghanistan. The Russians built a fort here in the Soviet era, with Khorog being in a highly strategic location on the border with Afghanistan, but today it languishes and is one of the least developed parts of the country, with the Aga Khan Foundation contributing to the bulk of the local economy. It holds the distinction of being home the second highest botanical garden in the world.

Day 7 – Ishkashim

About 50kms (140km total) along the road to our next stop, Ishkashim, we will stop at Garmchasma hot springs for an (optional) dip in the waters. From here, we enter the Tajik half of the Wakhan Valley (shared with Afghanistan) and pass regional gem mines mentioned by Marco Polo, the most famous being the Koh-i-Lal ruby mine. Ishkashim itself may be the regional centre, but it is essentially still a large village and we stay in a traditional style guesthouse here which has a handful of rooms but single rooms are available this evening. Shared basic bathroom facilities (BLD)

Day 8 – Langar

Visit to the nearby village of Namadguti to visit the Khahkha Fortress. This impressive structure rises from a naturally formed platform of rock and dates back to the Kushan era of the 3rd Century. There are a number of these ancient fortresses in the area, and we also visit Yamchun fort, perhaps the most impressive of them. We take a break at the Bibi Fatima hot springs, named for the Prophet Mohammed’s sister and where local women believe they can increase their fertility. Continuing on we then stop at the 4th Century Buddhist stupas at Vrang, reminders of the ancient pilgrim caravans that passed through the region. (130km today) Overnight homestay with shared basic bathroom facilities. Tonight you will sleep on Asian style bedding on the mattresses and blankets on the floor in a few rooms of a Pamiri House with shared basic bathroom facilities (BLD)

Day 9 – Murghab

Leave behind the lush valleys of the Wakhan Valley and enter a landscape that is rocky, mostly barren but nevertheless dramatic. This is the Pamir Highway we have anticipated, with the route between Khorog and Osh completed in 1931 across a Tibetan-plateau style high altitude terrain. Today we can also see some Neolithic rock art dating back some 8000 years in Shakhty cave. With a total of 240kms to cover today, we anticipate arriving in Murghab early evening. Overnight homestay with shared rooms and shared basic bathroom facilities. (BLD)

Day 10 – Karakul

After breakfast we head for Karakul (135km). We cross several high altitude passes, including Ak-Baital Pass (4655 metres) which is the highest section of road in the former Soviet Union. We descend to Karakul Lake and then cross our final Pamir Highway high pass, the Kyzyl Art (4282 metres), which essentially forms the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Karakul Lake is the highest lake in Central Asia, and at 3915 metres, too high to support any aquatic life. Karakul means “black lake” but in spring, summer and autumn the water is almost always turquoise blue. At the northern end of the lake a track turns off west to geoglyphs and Saka graves (5000– 3000 BC), located about 500m from the turnoff. Overnight home stay “Sadat” or similar. Tonight you will sleep on Asian style bedding on the mattresses and blankets on the floor in a few rooms of a Pamiri House with shared basic bathroom facilities (BLD)

Day 11 – Osh

We depart the high mountains of the Pamir Alay range, leaving behind us the crossroads of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. The drive offers a contrast as we encounter lush farmlands and small villages on this side of the mountains, instead of the stark high altitude plateau of Tajikistan. En route we cross the Taldyk Pass (3554m) and enjoy some beautiful views - if we're lucky we may even catch a glimpse of Peak Lenin, at 7134m the second highest mountain in Central Asia. We expect to arrive in Osh (285km), Kyrgyzstan's oldest city in the afternoon, with time to explore. Overnight Hotel Sunrise or similar where single rooms are available and the accomodation will have private bathroom facilities (BL)

Osh

Osh is ancient – various sources date it back around 2500 years, and legends abound over who founded it, including Alexander the Great and King Solomon. On the edge of the Ferghana Valley it is home to both Uzbek and Kyrgyz people, with its position on the border giving rise to an extremely lively market, one of the most interesting in Central Asia. The rock known as Solomon’s Throne is an important place of pilgrimage for Muslims, and a 15th century mosque on the top has now been reconstructed, with excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Osh is also home to the largest mosque in Kyrgyzstan, and is one of the few places in the former Soviet Union still to have a statue of Lenin.

Day 12 – Chichkan

Today we drive to the Suusamyr Valley along the picturesque mountain Osh highway to the Chichkan gorge. Time permitting we take a walk in the area and meet the local shepherds who still adhere to age old traditions. Overnight Hotel Osmon or similar where single room not available and shared bathrooms (BLD)

Day 13 – Song Kol Lake

Today takes us to stunning Song Kol Lake (240km). The lake itself is 3916m above sea level and is one of the highest alpine lakes in the world. Overnight yurt stay with 4 – 5 beds in one yurt and shared basic bathroom facilities (BLD) 

Day 14 – Lake Issyk Kul

Travel to Cholpon-Ata on the north side of Issyk-Kul Lake to the largest and most beautiful lake in Central Asia. There is an optional opportunity to visit the open air museum of Stone Inscriptions in Cholpon Ata. Most of the drawings date from several thousand years B.C. up until the 12th Century A.D. Overnight at the Hotel Amin or similar. Single rooms are available this evening and the accomodation has private bathroom facilities.  (BLD)

Issyk Kul

At 170km long and with a maximum depth of 695 metres, Issyk Kul is the tenth largest lake in the world and with its high levels of salinity never freezes, even in the harshest of winters here. Fed by many rivers, none flow from it contributing to a salt content of around 0.6%. In Soviet times it was a popular spa resort, and ongoing excavations show that there has been settlement around here for 2500 years or so. It is home to a number of different species of fish, many of which can only be found here.

Day 15 – Bishkek

Drive to Bishkek and explore the capital, visiting Ala-Too Square and the History Museum among other sites. Overnight Asia Mountains Hotel or similar. Single rooms are available tonight and accommodation will have private bathroom facilities (BL)

Bishkek

Kyrgyzstan’s capital is a modern city, originally founded in 1825 but developed extensively by the USSR and at that time named Frunze after a famous Bolshevik general. With over a million inhabitants it follows the typical Soviet city pattern of wide boulevards and drab apartment blocks, large squares and public parks and before Kyrgyz independence had a majority Russian population, although not now. Although not blessed with the interesting sights of other Central Asian cities, it does have a few things worth visiting – the impressive Ala-Too square, the History Museum and the Orthodox Church, a reminder that not all Russians left in 1991.

Day 16 – Bishkek

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:
International flights
Travel Insurance
Visa and GBAO permit
Drinks
Items of a personal nature
Tips (discretionary)