The Pamir mountains, or Pamirs or Pamir Knot, is a large region of high ground at the junction of several other mountain ranges of which the best-known is the Himalayas. The terrain is difficult and the population sparse. There are several mountains over 7,000 m (higher than anything outside the Greater Himalaya region) and some large glaciers.
This article covers only the part of the range in southeastern Tajikistan, near the border with Afghanistan. This region's official name is Gorno-Badakhshan. However, the Pamir range extends across borders; see Northeast Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan for the parts in other countries. The Ferghana Valley region of Kyrgyzstan runs along the northern edge of the Pamirs and one end of the Pamir Highway is the Krygyz town of Osh.
Nearby regions with relatively flat land and denser population are the area around Kashgar to the east, the Ferghana Valley to the north, and Bactria to the west. Central Afghanistan is to the south, across the Hindu Kush range. The main route of the historic Silk Road ran from Kashgar through a pass just north of the Pamirs into the Ferghana Valley and through it to Samarkand.
The Pamir River starts in the Pamirs and leads down to Bactria where it joins several other tributaries to form one of the region's greatest rivers, now called the Amu Darya but known in ancient times as the Oxus. Further north in the Ferghana Valley, other rivers that start in the Pamirs combine to form the Syr Daria, known in ancient times as the Jaxartes.
Alexander the Great stopped at the edge of the Pamirs; he took Transoxania (north of the Oxus) and the Jaxartes became his northern border. The Mongol Empire also took nearby areas but did not much intrude into the mountains. The Persian Empire and later the Russian Empire, however, did take control in these mountains as well as nearby lowlands. The British Raj nibbled at the southern edge, taking parts of the range that are now in Pakistan.
The region has no big cities; the largest town is Khorugh with a population around 30,000.
- 1 Karakul - next to the lake of the same name
- 2 Murghab
- 3 Ali Chur
- 4 Langar
- 5 Ishkashim
- 6 Khorugh
- 7 Kalai Khum
- 8 Qarabolaq
The Pamir Mountains are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- 1 Ismoil Somoni Peak
- 2 Lake Kara-Kul
- Pamirsky National Park
- 3 Sarez Lake
- The 4 Wakhan Corridor is a long narrow bit of Afghan territory extending across the southern part of the Pamir range.
As elsewhere in Central Asia, most people in the area are Muslim. Unlike most of their neighbours, many in this region are followers of the Ismaili branch of the faith. Pamiri Ismailis will often describe themselves as more "free" than other branches of Islam, and indeed attitudes are noticeably less conservative than in Dushanbe. The Aga Khan heads one branch of the Ismalis, centered in India, and is among the world's richest men. He is held in high regard by Pamiris and has done a huge amount to help the region; schooling and healthcare in Khorugh for example is often of a higher standard than in Dushanbe, and generous international scholarships are provided for Ismaili children.
A special permit is required to enter the Gorno-Badakhshan (Pamir) region (May 2019). It costs USD20 and is available online (for nationals of countries eligible for the e-visa) or in Dushanbe OVIR (travellers and registrational police office). It is not available on arrival, if you are asked to pay for a "permit" when crossing the internal border, this is a blatant bribe.
You could take a flight from Dushanbe to Khorog. There is a 14 seater flight every morning to Khorog, but its departure depends on weather conditions and the number of passengers. Tickets to the flight are sold a day in advance at the Dushanbe airport.
The Pamir Highway is the main road through the region; it runs from Dushanbe to Osh via Khorog. You could share/hire a jeep from the jeep stand near the airport in Dushanbe to Khorog. This will take between 13 and 21 hours and privately hiring a jeep costs around $400.
From Khorog you can hitch on a fuel tanker or truck on its way back to Kyrgyzstan, or hire your own vehicle from Khorog. Its also possible to get an occasional shared van to Murghab and from there to Osh. Most days will also see a jeep or shared taxi head towards Ishkashim. Lorries and fuel tankers in the Pamirs are mind-numbingly slow, hitching the M41 is not a game for the impatient or the time-pressed. The first vehicle with space will usually give you a ride, but as with many places in the former Soviet Union you are expected to pay for the ride. It can take anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days to get a ride. There many only be 2 or 3 vehicles going in your direction each day.
The 5 Kulma pass is the only border crossing between China and Tajikistan. Although the pass is officially open for nationals of all countries, travelers repeatedly reported they were not able to cross through the borders. The Chinese side is downhill 14 km away, right next to the Karakorum Highway.
The Wakhan Corridor is an old trade route leading across the southern edge of the Pamirs from Afghanistan to China. However, it was never a major route because the terrain is difficult and the hill tribes can be. Since it is all in Afghan territory, it is almost certainly too dangerous for travel today.
There are some typical arranged itineraries, e.g.
- 5d/4n road trip from Osh to Dushanbe (including the Wakhan Valley) or vice versa (which is by far the better option, if you are prone to altitude sickness) - 4d/3n road trip from Osh to Dushanbe via Mardzh (not including the Wakhan Valley, going along the classical Pamir Highway instead).
These trips can also be done by public transport, which may take a few days more. The routes are also frequently used by cyclists, organised or independently.
Example for a typical 5-day/4-night trip from Dushanbe to Osh:
- Day 1: Dushanbe - Khalaikum, 400 km
- Day 2: Khalaikum - Khorog (altitude 2000 m), 250 km
- Day 3: Khorog - Langar (altitude 3000 m), 300 km
- Day 4: Langar - Murghab (altitude 3600 m), 310 km
- Day 5: Murghab - Osh, 360 km
A six-day tour may add a stop in remote Ali Chur.
- Lake Karakol -A crater lake near the Kyrgyz and Chinese Border it is frozen half the year
- Wakhan Valley - a beautiful detour from the Pamirs
- Lots of mountains
- Murghab's very small bazaar
- Weekly Ishkashim Afghan Bazaar
- Old fortresses in the Wakhan Valley
- View the wild life like the Marco Polo Sheep.
- Mountain climbing.
- Hiking and trekking.
- Be a part of a very expensive tour group. (Or travel on the cheap and hitchhike.)
- Sit an enjoy the silence and views.
Rice, eggs, snacks, yak butter, bread, mutton, Pamiri tea (sheer-chai), freshly made warm bread (non).
Tea, surprisingly good coffee, and vodka. Yak milk.
There are a number of homestays in most villages on the Pamir highway. They are usually in homes built in traditional Pamiri style. They are made with wood, with five pillars, a sky light and richly decorated with carpets. You are ensured great hospitality and simple but delicious meals.
Travel guides typically suggest $15 per person per night as an average for these homestays, but $5 is closer to the mark.
Most homestays shut down during winter (ca. November-March). Ask around to find someone who opens up.
- Zong Village - Homestay of Mavluda. $12 per person per night incl dinner and breakfast.
- Alichur - Ask for the English Teacher, meet her family, and you decide how much money to leave behind.
- 1 Sanatorii Dzhielondi (Sanatorium), Jelondy (on the M41 between Khorogh and Murghab). If you're up for a little SPA treatment whilst travelling through the Pamirs, take up refuge for a night in this former sanatorium from the Soviet area. Fed by one of the (very) hot springs in the area, diving into the large pool of steaming water takes some courage but luckily there's some cold showers to cool off afterwards. Entry to the pool is included in the room rate. Restaurant with basic food on site. TJS50 p.p./night.
A zealous policeman in Murghab may want to register you with the police or complain if you were taking photos. This isn't a problem, registration should be known well enough simply getting to the area.
There is some risk of altitude sickness.
Go to Khorog or onto Kyrgyzstan. There is the border crossing at Kulma Pass into China open year round, officially open now also for foreign nationals - but have wads of US dollars handy to facilitate your passage.