One of the coolest, and most tiring, things I’ve ever done is probably the Pamir Highway. Firstly, because TAJIKISTAN. Secondly, it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime-experience and I couldn’t be happier that I did it. But man, it was really tiring at times. Patience… Not my virtue.
It’s been two months since I did it and I haven’t had the energy to write about it because I’m still recovering from Central Asia. But now’s the time to jump back into those memories again.
First of all – Get your Tajikistan visa EARLY. The earlier, the better! Because what happened to me and my friend Daniel is that we applied for our Tajikistan visa’s approximately 7 days before we wanted to enter the country. On the website it says it should take about 3-5 business days, so we thought “okay, that’s plenty of time for us to get the visa”. We had also heard of other people who got their visas after only 24 hours. But guess what… It took a hell of a lot longer than that. All our plans changed and we were stuck in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. We wanted to go from there to cross the border to Tajikistan so we waited… We waited… and we waited. No visa. Apparently there was a holiday (which it almost always is?!) plus president Putin was visiting the country so they said that could’ve caused the delays. Whatever! It took us 2 weeks before we got the visa and we had already gone to Osh, Kyrgyzstan. So please, I advise you – the sooner you know when you’re going to Tajikistan, the better, so you can apply for the visa as soon as possible. Don’t find yourself in the same situation as us.
Anyway, I was all of a sudden without a group to go to Pamir with so I delayed my trip there. Luckily, my friend got me in touch with one of his friends who also wanted to do the Pamir Highway the same time as me, and we managed to find 3 others as well thanks to Caravanistan plus our hostel in Osh “Park Hostel” (which I can recommend!). But before we get started on my little adventure…
Things you need to know before embarking on the Pamir Highway
I’m not going to write extensively about what the Pamir Highway is since if you came to this blogpost, I’m sure you already know what it is. But before the idea even sprung to my mind, I had no clue why everyone was doing it and how it worked. Well, let me try to spare you the headache:
- The Pamir Highway is the second highest highway in the world. It runs from Osh (Kyrgyzstan) to Korog to Dushanbe ( Tajikistan).
- You can do it independently, but the best thing is to join a group. Usually, one car fits 4 people, but we squeezed in 5 (one in the back of a 4×4). There are plenty of drivers, but it’s really important to get a good one. Remember, you’re going to be stuck with him for a few days. It’s a bit difficult to navigate, but I found my driver through a friend who’d done the Pamir with him. But another way is to go to Caravanistan and see if you can join a group or create one yourself. Usually, drivers go to that website and look for travellers as well.
- Be FLEXIBLE. If you’re going to plan a trip with 3 other strangers, then everyone will probably have different ideas on when’s the best time to go.
- If you want to do it independently, you’re going to miss out on a lot. I met a few travellers who hitchhiked but they told me they didn’t recommend it. First of all, it’s not a busy highway so you might get stuck there for hours before finding a ride. It’s also incredibly hot. The drivers will probably only get you to the main sites in Tajikistan, meaning you’ll miss out on a lot of the nature sceneries (which is why you even want to do the Pamir).
- Some also took the mashrutka (a small mini bus) around the Pamir, but you’ll be crammed in a tiny, hot bus that also only drops you off in the major towns. If you truly want to experience the Highway, don’t be cheap and go with a driver.
- Prices vary depending on the driver so always check with others first. I met a few people who paid WAY too much. We paid 1.050$ (210$ per person) for the driver, which is probably the best price one can find for 9 days. Food and accommodation is NOT included, but we paid around 10$ per person for dinner, breakfast and accommodation per night.
- Bring a ton of water and snacks/food so you can eat it in the car. You’ll need it, trust me. We rarely ate lunch because we ate our snacks instead. Also, there were times when we drove for hours and hours and didn’t come across any shop or even building. There were of course some shops along the way, but the prices for water and snacks were almost double than in Kyrgyzstan (where we started the trip)
- Get enough USD! You won’t really have access to ATM’s so make sure you withdraw as much as you think you’ll need, plus a little more.
- Be prepared to be without WiFi for a few days. It’s quite relaxing, but my only regret is that I didn’t download more movies on Netflix. Because you’ll have a lot of free time during the Pamir, more than I thought we would. But more on that later.
- Oh and be prepared to live in humble homes, a k a toilets are holes on the ground and no electricity in certain hours. But if you’ve already traveled in Central Asia, it won’t be a big deal for you.
Our Pamir Highway Itinerary
Before we set out, we met with our driver and told him that we wanted to see certain places during the Pamir. We started our trip in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, and ended it in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. You can do it the other way around as well. Either way, we’d met other travellers who recommended us a few stops, but our driver also had his itinerary so we kind of mashed them together and this is what we came up with:
Day 1. Lenin Peak Base Camp
Day 2. Karakul Lake
Day 3. Bulunkul Lake
Day 4. Langhar
Day 5. Ishkashim
Day 6. Khorog
Day 7. Jizew
Day 8. Kalai Khumb
Day 9. Dushanbe
My favourite was Lenin Peak, Bulunkul and Jizew, not to speak of the entire Wakhan Valley. Wow! Anyway, I highly recommend to stay with a host family in Bulunkul lake and not in Murghab. There was basically nothing there so we asked our driver to take us to Bulunkul instead and it was 10000x better.
The lake was absolutely stunning and the experience with the host family made it even better. It was probably the most humble house we slept in, but it was also the best. I loved Bulunkul and the little town.
Jizew is another place we added that our driver didn’t put on the itinerary. In order to get there, you have to hike for approximately 2 hours (60 km from starting point). There’s no way you can get there by car so be wise and only bring what you need from the car. We hiked to “Gulsha’s Guesthouse” which you can find on maps.me. It’s one of three guesthouses in the very small village, so you can decide yourself which one you wanna go to. But this is the first and I was exhausted after the hike so we ended up here. And it was incredible! Such lovely hosts who also cooked us quite the soup.
Otherwise, the food in Central Asia in general was… Questionable…
Either way, I’m really happy with our itinerary. The only thing I would’ve changed is to maybe do the Pamir in 7 days instead. There were days when I felt so tired and a bit bored, to be honest. I would skip Ishkashim because there was nothing to do there. The Afghan market was closed so we were just walking around in an empty town with nothing to do. Otherwise, it was a great itinerary and I’m so happy I finally managed to do the Pamir Highway, even with all the visa problems.
It’s truly an amazing experience, even with the ups and downs. It makes you feel so much more connected to nature and appreciate the simple things in life. I was transported to a whole new world, one that I’d never come across before. Meeting friendly locals, seeing some of the most wonderful starry skies, hiking through valleys, sitting in a car for hours and just staring at the beautiful sceneries unfolding, talking to other travellers and just sharing this humbling experience with everyone… I’ll never forget it.