The Pamir Highway

There are few journeys that can rival a trip along the mighty Pamir Highway, one of the world’s most spectacular stretches of road through dramatic peaks on the roof of the world. This trip explores the landscapes and cultures of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. These are two of the least visited countries in Asia but both have much to offer the intrepid traveller.

The Pamir Mountains are a remote area with isolated villages and rare wildlife. Little has changed here in centuries. We travel through some of the most incredible landscapes you are ever likely to see, heading to Khorog and following the border with Afghanistan, tantalisingly close across the River Panj.

Our trip takes us to long abandoned Silk Road fortresses and Buddhist remains, a legacy of the region’s position on strategic trade routes. We’ll have the opportunity to meet local people along the way. Crossing into Kyrgyzstan we stay as guests of a family in Sary Tash and visit the ancient city of Osh, joining the pilgrims at Solomon’s Throne for an insight into local customs.

Heading further into Kyrgyzstan we visit the vast alpine lakes of Son Kul and Issyk Kul, home to nomadic families and their herds. We learn about the tradition of the eagle hunters, and have time to explore these iconic landscapes on foot.

Finally, we end in Bishkek, having completed one of the most scenic journeys our planet has to offer. A challenging journey through an enigmatic region – exciting is an understatement.

Pamir Highway - Tajikistan - itinerary image

Highlights

  • Drive through the Pamir Mountains
  • Meet Kyrgyz nomads at Song Kul lake
  • Historic sites of the ancient Silk Road
  • Meet a traditional eagle hunter

Day 1 - Dushanbe

Arrive in Dushanbe and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Lotus or similar.

Dushanbe

The relatively modern town of Dushanbe only became important during the Soviet era, when it was made the capital of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and given the unfortunate name of Stalinabad – something that was quickly changed after Stalin’s death. 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 village.

The ousted Emir of Bukhara, fleeing from the Bolsheviks, stayed in Dushanbe and cooperated with Enver Pasha’s Basmachis in resistance against the Russians; from Dushanbe, he fled to Afghanistan in 1921, the year the town was freed from the Basmachis as well.

Dushanbe is characterised by wide boulevards and Soviet-style architecture, although in recent years much construction has taken place and the city is starting to modernise. Not to be missed is the excellent Museum of National Antiquities, which holds a wide array of archaeological finds from the region, the most impressive of which is the 13 metres long sleeping Buddha that was excavated in 1966.

Day 2 - Kalaikhumb

Today we head east, out of Dushanbe and into the Pamir Mountains. We drive over the Sagirdasht Pass and through a stunning landscape of snow-capped peaks and remote valleys.

We stop en route to visit local villages – the people here do not class themselves as Tajik but are a collection of different tribal groups, each with their own language, and rather than Sunni Muslims are Ismailis, followers of the Aga Khan. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Day 3 - Khorog

Continue to Khorog, capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. From Kalaikhumb the road follows the river Panj, which forms Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan.

On the Tajik side of the river, the road is sealed and buildings have electricity and are modern. On the Afghan side – only about 100 m distant – the road is a donkey track and buildings are mud and wood. Upon arrival visit Khorog bazaar, the museum and the beautiful botanical garden. Overnight Lal Inn or similar. (BLD)

Khorog

Khorog is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) and by far the largest town in the region, although not huge by other standards. During the time of the ‘Great Game’, the 19th century contest of imperial rivalries between Russia and Britain, the town was claimed by both powers as well as the emirate of Bukhara, although eventually fell under Russian control when the extent of their empire was agreed as the Panj River, which forms part of the current border with Afghanistan. It is home to the second highest botanical garden in the world (after another in Yunnan, China) as well as the first car to cross the Pamirs, and a meeting place for the many different groups that live in this part of the region.

Day 4 - Ishkashim – Yamg

Continue our journey along the Pamir Highway. We stop first at the hot springs of Garm Chashma, popular among local people, and then drive to the ruins of an ancient fortress from the Kushan era in the 4th century, Kah-Kaha. We then continue to the village of Yamg where we visit the quirky museum of a local Sufi scholar – nearby there is a stone pillar used for calculating the solar calendar. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

The Pamir Highway

The Pamir Highway is undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular roads, carving a route through some of the highest peaks on our planet and linking Dushanbe to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Don’t be fooled by the name – it usually consists of just one lane and the terrain that it passes through means that travel is often slow, especially if you’re behind a truck, but this gives you all the more opportunity to savour the breathtaking scenery. It has been used for centuries, forming one of the routes of the Silk Road, and today brings goods from Kyrgyzstan and China to remote outposts, and onwards to Dushanbe and Afghanistan.

Day 5 - Vrang – Langar

Visit the fort at Yamchun, one of the most important fortifications built in the Wakhan region to secure the western Pamirs during the time of the Silk Road trade, and connected with the Zoroastrian religion. Nearby are the hot springs at Bibi Fatima. From here we continue to Vrang, where, on a cliffside punctuated with caves sits a 4th-century Buddhist complex, topped by a ziggurat, which we explore. We drive to Langar, where we spend the night. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 6 - Murgab

Drive over the Khargush Pass (4272m) to the lakes of Bulunkul and Yashilkul. The landscape and people start to change again as we go higher into the Pamirs, leaving behind the comparatively lush valley of Wakhan. The terrain becomes more rocky and we start to meet Kyrgyz herders on our way to Murgab, where we spend the night. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

The Pamir Mountains

The Pamir Mountains connect the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Tien Shan ranges, and spread between Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. A vast wilderness of glaciers and peaks, it is home to both fascinating wildlife and intriguing ethnic groups, living in isolated valleys and with distinct cultures and customs that have developed separately from anywhere else.

The majority of the people who live here are Ismaili but over the years the region has been home to Buddhist civilisations, Russians and others. The region formed rather a blank gap during the ‘Great Game’ with Russian and British explorers sent to secretly probe the area with a view to claiming it for their respective empires.

Wildlife here includes the enigmatic snow leopard, the Marco Polo sheep with its enormous horns, wolves and bear. The three highest peaks are over 7000 metres but there are another forty over 6000 metres, giving this a good claim to being the roof of the world.

Day 7 - Murgab

Spend the day exploring Murgab and its surrounds. We visit the local bazaar, a focal point for the many different ethnic groups that live in the region, then head to the Madian Valley for stunning views of the High Pamirs.

Along the way, we stop at seasonal settlements of Kyrgyz nomads to learn how they eke a living from this harsh terrain, then continue to the hot springs at Ilisy, where you can take a dip if you wish. Return to Murgab for the evening. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Day 8 - Sary Tash

Leaving Murgab we continue north to the border with Kyrgyzstan. This is the remotest part of Tajikistan, home to fascinating ethnic groups and interesting wildlife as well as some of the most breathtaking scenery you are ever likely to see.

We cross the Kyzyl Art pass and stop by the lake of Karakul, the largest and highest in the country. After completing border formalities we cross into Kyrgyzstan and head to Sary Tash for the night, where we stay in a village house as guests of a local family. (BLD)

Day 9 - Osh

Drive across the Taldyk Pass to the city of Osh, an ancient settlement that is among one of many that claim to be the oldest in the world. We visit Solomon’s Throne, one of the main shrines of the Islamic world in Central Asia, and follow the trail of pilgrims to the top of the hill. We also explore the lively bazaar, where traders from around the region meet. Overnight Sunrise Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Osh

One of the oldest cities in Central Asia, Osh dates back at least three thousand years and possibly more, although little of its heritage from this time remains. It is the second city of the country and the capital of the south, and the terminus of the Pamir Highway in Kyrgyzstan.

The city is best known for the barren rock known as Solomon’s Throne, a renowned place for Muslim pilgrims and reputedly visited by the prophet Mohammed. The small mosque here was originally built in the 15th century but has since been reconstructed.

Osh was razed to the ground by the Mongols in the 13th century but is today a lively place and a melting pot of ethnic groups – something that sometimes erupts into tensions. It also houses the largest open-air market in Central Asia – a great place for people watching and soaking up the atmosphere.

Day 10 - Uzgen - Toktogul

Drive first to Uzgen, a small town which was once one of the capitals of the Karakhanid state and the centre of a vast empire in Central Asia from the 10th to 12th centuries. Visit its interesting mausoleums and minarets before continuing to our accommodation at the Toktogul Reservoir. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 11 - Kyzyl Oi

Drive through the wild landscapes of the Suusamyr Valley to the village of Kyzyl Oi, where we stay in a local house as part of a community-based tourism initiative. This afternoon we have the opportunity to hike in the surrounding area. (BLD)


Day 12 - Song Kul

Drive across the Kalmak Ashu pass to Son Kul lake, one of Kyrgyzstan’s most beautiful areas and fringed with snow-capped mountains. Upon arrival, we meet a local nomadic family in their yurt for an insight into life in this harsh but stunning region. Overnight yurt camp. (BLD)

Song Kul

Kyrgyzstan’s second largest lake, Song Kul, is surrounded by broad meadows (jailoos) and flanked with snow-capped mountains; it’s widely recognized as one of the most attractive parts of the country and the presence of nomads and their herds of livestock adds to the sense of timeless wilderness. During the summer Kyrgyz nomads take advantage of the good grazing here, returning when the cold weather arrives in October. It’s also a great place for birds, with almost seventy species recorded here, and has been designated as a wetland of global importance – species to be found include geese, ducks and raptors, while lynx and deer are also present.

Day 13 - Song Kul

A full day to explore this beautiful area by foot and vehicle. We take excursions around the lake shore and meet local nomads with their herds of livestock, learning about life in this remote corner of Asia. Overnight yurt camp. (BLD)


Day 14 - Issyk Kul - Bokonbaevo

Drive to Bokonbaevo, on the southern shores of Lake Issyk Kul and set amidst glorious scenery. This afternoon we meet a traditional Kyrgyz eagle hunter and learn about this ancient art from one of the few remaining practitioners. Tonight we stay as guests of a local family. (BLD)


Day 15 - Karakol

Continue driving along the shores of Issyk Kul to its eastern edge. En route, we stop at Djety Oguz with its distinctive red sandstone cliffs and explore on foot. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 16 - Cholpon Ata

Explore Karakol, visiting the Dungan Mosque and Orthodox Cathedral among other sites. Continue to Cholpon Ata, visiting nearby burial mounds on the way. We visit the rock carvings at Cholpon Ata, which date back to around 1500BC with images of hunters and their prey. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Day 17 - Bishkek

Return to Bishkek, visiting the Burana Tower en route – all that remains of a 10th-century Karakhanid capital. In the afternoon we explore Bishkek on foot. Overnight Asia Mountains Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Bishkek

Formerly known as Frunze after a Bolshevik military leader, Kyrgyzstan’s capital is a fairly unremarkable place that only really came to prominence when Russian forces captured it in the 19th century, with modern architecture, wide boulevards and large public spaces that are typical of cities of the old Soviet Union. Today it is a modern city and Kyrgyzstan’s most cosmopolitan with Russian, Chinese and Korean populations rubbing shoulders with Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and others.

Day 18 - Bishkek

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Almost everyone will require visas to enter some of the Central Asian ‘stans’. The requirements for these vary according to each different country, but many will require an invitation letter, which we can provide for you.

Kyrgyzstan takes the lead in becoming more tourist-friendly, in that many nationalities, including UK citizens, do not need a visa for entry.

Turkmenistan allows most travellers to obtain visas upon arrival, but should you wish to do this it is essential that you notify us at least one month beforehand in order that the necessary preparations can be made.

In theory, Tajikistan also grants visas upon arrival at Dushanbe airport, but in practice, this depends on whether there is anyone at the airport to man the visa desk, so we recommend that you obtain this before travel. If you are travelling into the Pamir Mountains you will also require the GBAO permit, which you should also request when applying for your visa.

Visa regulations in Central Asia are particularly fluid and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy, or us, for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in each country varies and is as follows:
Uzbekistan – som
Turkmenistan – manat
Tajikistan – somoni
Kyrgyzstan – som
Kazakhstan – tenge

It’s not difficult to change money in the region – usually the most convenient place will be a hotel but your guide will be able to point you in the right direction.  There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However, these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money. The best currency to bring for exchange purposes is US dollars, and these should have issue dates of 2006 or later, otherwise they can be difficult to exchange.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in major cities only) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.

Uzbekistan requires that you fill in currency declaration forms when you enter, which you should keep – they will be checked again upon departure.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any of the parts of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that we visit on our tours.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
10 June 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,099
Single Supplement -
£220
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
09 June 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,099
Single Supplement -
£220
Trip Status -
Available