Pamir Highway Self drive report (September 2023)

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Pamir Highway Self drive report (September 2023)

Post by RArmitage »

Trip report Pamir Highway / Bartang Valley / Wakkan Valley
Travelled 8-19 September 2023
Total distance was about 2500km
Weather was dry and settled and conditions were excellent. If reading this for guidance please take this into consideration as conditions can change rapidly and what we managed to achieve may not be possible another time.

We hired a Land Cruiser from Roof of the World travel as recommended by Caravanistan. We self drove and had planned our route in advance - this report is to help you with your own planning and is not a suggested route.

We had two main drivers - would not suggest only one person driving as you have to concentrate so much it is very tiring if you are not used to the conditions. Our average speed ranged between 30-60km per hour.

The road conditions are challenging and if you have not driven on bad unpaved roads in a large 4x4 it would be a good idea to take a day course to build confidence and understand what is possible. We did not get a puncture but make sure you know how to change/repair a tyre.

The accommodation was always friendly but simple. Many places have outside toilets and we had a mix of western and squat versions. Showers (if they existed) were low pressure. Food was generally fried eggs and bread for breakfast (sometimes salty porridge or semolina), and fresh apricot or blackcurrant jam. Supper was soup with meat or chicken or pasta. There are very few shops selling fresh food as people grown their own. In September we could buy melon and apples from the shops.

The best mobile providers were Megafon and T- Cell. O-mobile (e-sim) worked but not as well unless it was the main towns. There is not coverage throughout the journey - especially in the Bartang valley. Murghab did not have good coverage (T-cell was best). Even with data it was 3G/LTE only. Recommend doing as much research beforehand as possible.

We took toilet paper (not needed all the time) as most places had the rough brown type. Brought bottles of water from Auchan opposite the car pick up in Dushanbe which we refilled at springs.
We planned our trip using the Lonely Planet Central Asia, Bradt and Caravanistan. Also read The Adventures of Nicole blog and her suggestions for the Pamirs. Advise buying a Bluetooth adaptor to play music as none provided. There was electricity everywhere except at the yurt camp. The best map system was Make sure to download Afganistan as well as Tajikistan as you are so close to the border it does not like it otherwise. Google did not show the tracks and was not much use. We were driving long days - if you have more time then a rest day would be good. We chose not to go on the main Pamir Highway after Murghab - but perhaps having a shorter day there if you choose this route would be better.
Beds are generally very hard. A silk sleeping bag is a good idea (depending your your personal level of concern of sharing bedding with others as stuff is not washed between use). There are no curtains. You always need a towel. You will be in a shared room with your travelling companions (probably).
If someone speaks Russian it is very helpful - otherwise you will need google translate with Russian and Tajik downloaded.
Cash is required at all homestays and for fuel. Sommoni is the preferred currency. Allow approximately the equivalent of $20 per person per day plus fuel. There is no ATM in Murghab. In Khorog there are ATMs but they only accept Visa (not MasterCard).

Day 1 Dushanbe - Qal I Khum. Filled both tanks of the car full (fuel station near the start point). This drive took 11 hours over the northern road (M41). The last town of any size with a hotel/homestay is Tavildara. If it is after 3pm when you pass then I suggest stopping here at the hotel (we didn’t and arrived in Qal i Khum after 9pm). You need to drive over a high mountain pass on a dirt road which on your first day is quite challenging in the dark. We stayed at Sobir guesthouse. Very friendly and helpful. Quad room. Very hard beds. Outside western toilet and shower.

Day 2 Qal I Khum - Vand. Refilled the main tank. Journey was currently complicated by the fact the the road to Khorog is shut from 8-12 and 2-6pm. If you do not reach the roadworks for the midday passing you have to waste time. This also means you end up driving in the dark with the added bonus of large lorries coming towards you on the single track road. Check with Roof of the World where the closed area is as it may change. However if you make it through at lunch you can then get to Rushun that evening. We stopped for the night at Vand - Homestay Salomat who were very welcoming - twin rooms. Indoor western toilet and hot shower. Good food. An alternative would be to go up the Vanj valley. There is a basic hotel in Vanj (road there is good).

Day 3 Vand - Basid - Bartang Valley. We hiked to Jiseu village for a bit (would have liked to stay the night but due to previous day roadworks we were too late). We had chai and fruit and were asked to leave what we felt it was worth. This took two hours up and 1.5 back down. We spent a couple of hours up there exploring. Worth the hike. Drove up the valley to Bashid. Stayed with Pari (good English) at the homestay with the sign near the river. Very simple but great experience. Pamiri room. Outdoor squat toilet. No shower but bucket of water.

Day 4 Bashid - Jalang. Continued up the Bartang Valley. This was the most challenging day of driving with steep slopes and scree across the road. Needed our four wheel drive. Stayed at Jalang yurt camp (great experience). Outdoor squat toilet. No shower. Slept in yurt.

Day 5 Jalang - Murghab. Drove to Murghab over the Ak-baital pass. Went to Rang Kul lake. Limited accommodation options in Murghab. Refuelled. Stayed at Aruf guesthouse quad room. Outdoor western toilet. Indoor shower (simple but friendly) and ate at Pamir hotel.

Day 6. Murghab - Langar. Filled up with fuel. Drove to Shatky petroglyphs (well signed) and then onto Jarty Gumbez hot springs for lunch. Continued down the Pamir river. You need a permit for this from Murghab - at the end near Langar is a control post which is manned and if you arrive without a permit you are fined. Stayed night in Langar (required driving in the dark again as we had stopped for two hours at the hot springs and also to do some wading). This day required following as there are no roads. If it has been raining I would not attempt this route as it goes through swampy land. We did not see another car until we got to the checkpoint at dusk - and then they belonged to shepherds bringing the sheep down from the high pastures. An alternative would be to retrace your steps from Jarty Gumbez back to the main Pamir Highway and stay on this road and see Alichur and the lake. Yogdor Guest house. Quad room. Western indoor toilet.

Day 7. Langar - Bibi Fatima A relatively easy day of driving. Visited Ratm fortress and Bibi Fatima hot springs. Stayed at Charshambe homestay in a Pamiri room. Good food. Outside western toilet.

Day 8 Bibi Fatima - Ishkoshim
Hiked up the Darshai valley following an animal trail. Good hike to the gorge. Stayed at Ren guesthouse. If busy then you will have to wait for the toilet as there is one for seven twin rooms. Good food.

Day 9 Iskhaahim - Khorog
As we were here on a Saturday we went to the Afghan market in the morning. (No shopping as mostly Chinese/Iranian tat). Drove to Garm Chasma but decided not to use the hot springs. Continued to Khorog. Stayed at Bonu guesthouse - very welcoming with comfortable beds and good breakfast (ate out at the Indian - it was ok but perhaps should have asked to eat at the guesthouse as breakfast was great). One quad room. Outside bathroom.

Day 10 Khorog - Vanj
Filled the main tank. Drove to Vanj. Went for a walk up Vanj river valley. The reason for staying here was to shorten the drive to the roadworks. Simple hotel. One triple room. One single. Indoor squat toilet.

Day 11 Vanj - Tavildara. Day was slowed due to lorry getting stuck but made it to Qal i Khumb for 4pm. Made a decision to continue up the northern route again as all traffic that had been delayed was going on the southern road. Arrived Tavildara 7pm and stayed in the hotel. Great supper. Hard beds. Twin en-suite rooms.

Day 12 Tavildara - Dushanbe
Drove back. Got the car washed before entering the city as required by law. Many hand held speed cameras on this road. Returned the car and got our deposit back.

It was a wonderful adventure but required long days in the car. There were four of us so it was comfortable and allowed us to pick up hitchhikers if we saw them. The people we met were all friendly and welcoming. With four people we had some negotiating power when it came to the price - however we were mostly sleeping in the same room each night so spent a lot of time together! An alternative to self driving is to have a driver. Roof of the World and also Visit Alai (based in Osh) have good reviews. There are other valleys we did not visit but we were happy with the journey we took.
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