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The Great Silk Road Along The Pamir Highway

 

The Pamir Mountains have long been known as ‘the roof of the world’, a region of utterly breathtaking scenery and home to a fascinating mélange 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 home stays 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 the ancient city Khujand an important town on the Silk Road. 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.


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.

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).

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, at 3900m.

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.

Istrafshan
The city was founded in the sixth century B.C. by a Akhemenid king Cyrus who fortified the settlement by means of three wall lines and a citadel.
During the years of Arabian sovereignty Istaravshan became a province Arabian Caliphate. It was at this time when Islamic architectural structures of portal-dome design such as mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums, minarets, etc. started to appear. The rapid development of Istaravshan is connected with the rule of the first ethnic Tajik Samanid dynasty (the 9th - the 10th centuries). In the 13th century the city was destroyed by Mongols


Tour's plan by day (itinerary):

Day 1: Arrival
Welcome to Tajikistan! Your plane arrives in Dushanbe airport, where You will be receipted and transferred to the hotel. For the rest of the day You can rest or discover Dushanbe by Yourself.

Day 2: Dushanbe to Kalaikhumb
After breakfast we set off east 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/Shurabat Pass (3252 metres), arriving in Kalaikhumb in the early evening. Overnight local guesthouse. Meals; (BLD)

Days 3 – 4: Kalaikhumb to Rushan, trekking in Geisev valley
From Kalaikhumb we leave for Rushan along Panj River with some 200 kms of terrain ahead of us, and the promise of some spectacular scenery along the way. The road joins the river Pianj, which in turn forms the border with Afghanistan. The contrast across the river valley is telling, Tajikistan is undoubtedly a poor country, but in general the roads are sealed and buildings are connected with electricity. The situation barely 100m away is even starker, and it is as if the river represents not just a physical divide, but also a step back in time.
Arrival to Rushan village the administrative center of Rushan district, exploration of environment will be done this day. Next day drive to Geisev village (20 km) and the trek begin on the river Bartang just beyond Bhagoo village, crossing by a small wagon hanging on wire rope. The hike is mostly gently uphill, for about 8km to the upper of 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, ideal for a short break without too much physical effort.  This rout passing lakes, and the rivers traversing some of the most magnificent scenery in the Pamirs. Drive back to Rushan for overnight in home stay. Meals: 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 5: Rushan to Khorog
From Rushan we leave for Khorog along river Pianj, border of Afghanistan. We stay in relative luxury tonight, having reached the capital of the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) – this is a restricted part of the country and we have obtained permits to travel here. Nevertheless, be prepared for the possibility of some additional paperwork! Our guesthouse or Hotel is set in lovely riverside gardens and looking out to the bridge across the river into Afghanistan itself. Overnight in Hotel.
1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 6: Ishkashim Wakhan valley (130 km 4 hours)
We have a little time to explore Khorog including the bazaar and the lovely Botanical Gardens which are perched high above the town, affording some great panoramic view. About 50kms 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 mine is Koh-i-Lal ruby mine which is visible from the road. Ishkashim itself may be the regional centre, but it is essentially still a large village and we stay in a traditional style guesthouse here. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 7: Langar (140 km 5 hours)
Visit detour 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. Overnight in homestay. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 8: Langar to Murghab, 240 km (7 hours)
Today we get a chance to explore the amazing landscape of this area. We drive up to Murghab crossing the Kargushi Pass (4344 meters). On this journey we 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. We anticipate arriving into Murghab early evening for overnight in home stay.

We have a total of 240 kms to cover today, Murghab (3670 m) itself has few attractions, but it will serve as our base for a one night as we explore the area a little. The 7546 m – high Chinese peak of Mustag Ata is visible to the northeast of town. The Eastern Pamirs have been populated by nomadic ethnic Kyrgyz since the 17th century. The traditional architecture is beautifully represented buy yurts, mobile habitations made of felt on an ingenious wooden frame, with the interior decoration bearing witness to the wealth and skills of the owners. Felt and wool serve as the basis for handicrafts. Precise stones, including rubies and emeralds, are also found in the area, and these are sometimes used in local handicrafts Overnight in home stay 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 9: Murghab to Base camp of Lenin Peak    
After breakfast we depart for Kara kul. We will again cross a high-altitude pass, Ak-Baital Pass (4655 metres) which is the highest section of road in the former Soviet Union. We descend to Karakul Lake, the highest lake in Central Asia, and at 3923 meters, too high to support any aquatic life. Kara kul means “black lake” but in spring, summer and autumn the water are almost always turquoise blue. At the northen end of the lake a track turns off west to geoglyphs and Saka graves (5000 – 3000 BC), located about 500m from the turnoff. Moving a head will be enjoying some of the most dramatic scenery of the trip, our final Pamir Highway high pass is the Kyzyl Art Pass (4336 meters), which essentially forms the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Border formalities take place shortly after crossing the pass, with 20kms of ‘no man’s land’ to cross. Be warned, even in August we could see sub-zero temperatures through the border areas, so make sure you have some extra layers to hand in case we are delayed by formalities.
We embark on the final leg of our Tajik journey today. Our destination is Base camp of Lenin Peak (Kyrgyzstan), some 100kms away from Karakul. Tonight we will stay in the yurts as nomads. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 10: Drive to Osh
Having crossed to Kyrgyzstan, we will keep our drivers and guide – although we are in a different country, the lines in this region are greatly blurred, and Russian, Tajik, Kyrygz and Uzbek are all spoken with interchangeable ease!
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, Kyrgyzstan's oldest city in early evening. Overnight Hotel Pekin or similar. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 11: Osh to Khudjand (420 km 9 hours)
Today we continue our adventure as we drive from Osh, crossing the border and continuing on to the Tajik town of Khojand. Khojand is a further 110 kilometres from the border, the second largest city in the country and capital of Soghd Province. Our sightseeing here will include the local museum and the ancient citadel that dates from the 10th century and which fell to the Mongol invaders who swept through this region in the 13th century.
Overnight Hotel Pekin or similar. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 12: Khujand to Iskanderkul
We continue the 85kms to Istaravshan, with its hilltop citadel guarding the beautifully preserved town. We have time to visit the bazaar, which amongst the region's largest and a good place to look for handicrafts as souvenirs (our shopping options will become more limited later so if something catches your eye it is best to buy it at the time!). Exploring the old town we visit the blue-domed mosque and medressa complex of Kok-Gumbaz, dating back to the 15th century.
After breakfast, drive to Istaravshan. Sightseeing of Istaravshan highlights: Mugtepa, Kuk-Gumbaz, local bazaar.  En rout short stop will be in Istaravshan, which is a museum city, the ancient center of trade and crafts, one of the most ancient cities of the Central Asia. In 2002 Istaravshan turned 2,500 years old.

Then drive onward to Penjikent. Dinner and overnight at a homestay in Penjikent
Arrival to Penjikent an important town on the Silk Road. It is known as the “Pompeii of Central Asia”, because of the wonderful frescoes from the 8th century, which have survived.
Visit Rudaki museum, a bustling bazaar and an 18th century medrassa, the old city, abandoned, ancient citadel, which hosted the place of the rulers of Panj, is on the hilltop to the east of the town.     

Then drive onward to Iskanderkul Lake taking the rout along the Fan darya valley and Iskandar Darya.
The Lake is surrounded by mountains, and is about four km across. The views across the lake are impressive in all directions. At 2000 m, it is pleasantly cool in summer. “Iskandar Kul or Lake Alexander is indeed a beautiful spot”, there are many waterfowl and it is possible to fish in this tranquil and beautiful spot. Then, drive to Saratog village for dinner and overnight at a homestay. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 13: Iskanderkul – Dushanbe (140 km, 4 hours)
After breakfast  transfer to Dushanbe (140 km). A picturesque serpentine road goes through the huge gorge along Zarafshan River, and then climbs to Anzob Pass. A wonderful panorama of high mountains reveals from the pass. Coming down to Varzob Gorge and further to Dushanbe. After lunch city sightseeing, relaxing  at the hotel until 23:00 pm then transfer to the airport and flight to homeland. Rest at the hotel. 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner

Day 14: Dushanbe  
Transfer to the airport and departure. We wish you a pleasant home flight.

 

 


Dear Guests!!!
Your adventure tour will start as you will enter to Kalaikhumb, the Pamir region known the roof of the World, the area with very basic living conditions and fascinating landscapes.

We, Alaya Travel  would be highly appreciated if you could bear in mind 3 important issues:

1). The Pamir is isolated and marginal area with high altitude and harsh climate conditions. Consequently in these remote places facilities are very basic and you will stay in shared rooms on the floor and use common basic Asian style toilets.

2). Our products in the Pamir are community based tourism oriented to social issues and overall objective is development Community based tourism to benefit local communities, therefore we use local services and involve local communities living in the Pamir – Murghab district.
Service providers as drivers and guides are from Murghab district. Although they have Basic English, knowledge, and skills, they are sincerely hospitable, friendly and enthusiastic. And they are very happy to provide you all services you need.

3). The most important aspect to bear in mind that your tour in the Pamir contributes to development of tourism in this marginal remote and fascinating area and income generation of local people.  

You are most well come and we wish you happy journey.

 


Important Information:

Tajikistan is almost completely undeveloped in terms of tourism and has a basic infrastructure once outside Dushanbe. During this journey the group will spend time in remote areas without home comforts or easy access to medical facilities. Although a high level of physical fitness is not required, travellers should be comfortable with the realities of a wilderness adventure, and prepared for very basic conditions in the countryside. The roads in the region are rough and often unsealed, with some sections traveling on single-track roads above river valleys. We use 4-WD vehicles and highly experienced drivers, however this itinerary may not be suitable for those who suffer from heights or are nervous passengers! This is truly an adventurous itinerary for the experienced traveler.
This tour is of an adventurous nature. Our style of traveling means that it is desirable to carry a backpack as your main luggage and use a daypack for items you will want to access during the day. Please bear in mind that your luggage will be loaded in a jeep and we are travelling on bumpy roads - fragile items should be well protected, and you must be prepared for your luggage to get dusty and be thrown about a bit. Please pack as light as possible since there will be times when you will need to carry your own luggage and this will also maximise space in the vehicles. Investment in protective bags for camera equipment and similar is well worthwhile.
The significance of roads does not correspond to their quality. Road surfaces vary and their general state demands 4-wheel drive vehicles in good condition. As the quality of road is in bad condition some time you may stop for a while if the car needs repairing. The quality of roads, the weather conditions and the quality of the vehicles are decisive in calculating the time needed between destinations.

Home stay’ facilities in the Pamirs are basic, often not private bathrooms, you can take a bucket shower, (toilets are not en suite and are typical Asian squat-style.),

Occasionally it may be necessary to amend this itinerary for reasons beyond our control, such as bad weather and poor road conditions. Changes to flight schedules can sometimes occur, which may also lead to changes to this itinerary.

Central Asia is a developing region whose infrastructure, values, customs and standards differ from what you are used to at home. In terms of tourism development Tajikistan is lag behind from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Please bear this in mind as you are traveling in this exciting area and respect the fact that you should not impose your standards and expectations on the culture there. The driving habits in this part of the world are something for which you ought to prepare yourself!

This is an ‘Expedition’ trip and we hope to expose you to all aspects of the local culture. Please be open-minded. The easiest way to overcome any problems is to be open-minded and bring with you “The Spirit of Adventure”!

 

 

The Great Silk Road Along The Pamir Highway

 

Essential kit Always take with you:

  • Torch. Essential everywhere. Power cuts are frequent, holes in roads and pavements hazardous, toilets and stairwells to apartment blocks often have no lights.
  • Toilets. Apart from in parts of Dushanbe, most toilets are squat type.


Suggested thing to take:

  • dust proof bags
  • camera/spare film/memory cards
  • warm hat
  • sun hat
  • high factor sun screen
  • lip save
  • long sleeve T-shirt, thin fleece, thick fleece
  • waterproof clothing
  • personal medication/first aid kit
  • insect repellent
  • day carry sack
  • sun glasses


Money
Money you will need USD cash in all countries. A credit card is of very limited (only in capital cities) use and is really only useful as back up but should in no way be relied upon as source of money

Safety
Tajikistan is safe place, much more than many European countries. However, because of the civil war of the 1990s, your embassy will have a website setting out their view of the latest assessment of the security situation.

Altitude sickness
95% of Tajikistan is mountainous. It is quite normal to feel tired for the first few days in mountain areas. Drink plenty of water. Do not drink tap water. We will provide 2 liters of water per person per day. Try and gain height slowly. On the Pamir Highway between Murghab and Osh, you cross two passes over 4300 meters and some people suffer from altitude sickness. Drink plenty and take pain killers. Do not undertake strenuous physical activity. Also because of the altitude, you are exposed to high levels of ultra violet light. Wear a hat and use high factor sun cream. The commonest complaints are diarrhea and throat infections. Bring anti diarrhea tablets and broad spectrum antibiotics. Also bring a supply of rehydration salts and strong throat sweets. There are plenty of pharmacies, but quality control of pharmaceutical products is uncertain.  

Drinking water
Don’t drink tap water. You will be provided mineral or simple clean water (2 liters/person/day) In home stays you will be offered tea – this is reasonably safe, as the water has been boiled.

Roads
The significance of roads does not correspond to their quality. Road surfaces vary and their general state demands 4-wheel drive vehicles in good condition. The quality of roads, the weather conditions and the quality of the vehicles are decisive in calculating the time needed between destinations.

Malarial Mosquitoes
Are any of the areas we will be visiting likely to have malarial mosquitoes?
There is a risk of malaria from June-October in the southern border areas (Khatlon), which is excluded from our tour.
Prevention: take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Prophylaxis: Chloroquine plus proguanil.

Temperatures
Please note that there can be large variations in temperatures. In daytime it can be very hot and a thin layer of clothing will be comfortable but long sleeves protect you from the sun rays. At night it can be cold so a layered approach is best. Predicting temperatures is very hard but they could range between 5’C and + 45”C.  Rainfall in the Pamirs at this time of year is not expected but dust storms are. Please take a waterproof layer and warm clothes.

The Great Silk Road Along The Pamir Highway

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Price:
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Price:
from 1.839,00 €



The tour’s cost includes:

  • Meeting / departure at the airport
  • Transport on the route
  • Meals on the route (full board)
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
  • Local English speaking guide
  • Accommodation on twin share basis (as indicated in the program),  Hotels – 3 nights (in Dushanbe -2, Khorog, Osh and Khujand)
  • Accommodation in local guesthouses

 

The tour’s cost does not include:

  • Flight to/from Tajikistan
  • Visa
  • Registration GBAO
  • Early chek in
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Alcohol drinks
  • Supplement for single room in the hotels


Additional Service (not included in the tour price):

  • Flight tickets
  • Visa - from 25 €
  • GBAO Permition - from 30 €
  • Supplement for single room in the hotels 100 € per person

 

If requested we can offer you an additional programme for free days, or combine different tour offers (not contained in the tour price). Please note your requestions in the comment or in the e-mail.

The Great Silk Road Along The Pamir Highway