Report of my solo trip in Tajikistan (nothing pre-arranged) last june: stayed there for 4 weeks, entered and left the country via Osh in Kyrgyzstan.
Places I visited: Osh (Kyrg.) – Batken (Kyrg.) - Istaravshan – Yagnob valley – Iskanderkul lake – Dushanbe – Kalai Khum – Rushan – Bartang valley – Khorogh – Wakhan valley – Iskashim - Khorogh – Murghab – Sary Tash (Kyrg.) - Osh (Kyrg.)
Exchange rate: 1 euro = (approx.) 10 somoni, I'll quote most prices in euro (sometimes dollars), but payment of course was in somoni all the time.
Flew from Belgium to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, landed in Bishkek airport around 5 AM and had a 7'30 AM flight from Bishkek to Osh with Air Manas (booked 2 months before for 20 euro via the website of Pegasus Airlines).
Osh: hotel Eco-House, around 20 euro for a nice clean room with bathroom, TV and Wifi, including breakfast. Some good local eateries walking from the hotel to the city center along Kurmanjan Datka Road. Interesting huge Lenin statue at Lenin avenue, 5 minutes walk from the hotel.
Next morning took a taxi to the shared taxi stand for taxis to Batken, trip to Batken by shared taxi took around 3½h. Batken: little town close to the border with Tajikistan with not much to do. Stayed in Baikut hotel, around 1 km from the city center, clean hotel with bathroom and breakfast for 16 euro.
Took a shared taxi from Batken to Isfara in Tajikistan (1½ euro, 1h.). Smooth border crossing. Changed money across the bus-taxi station in Isfara. Shared taxi from Isfara to Khujand (2 euro, 1½ h). Shared taxi from Khujand (different bus-taxi station) to Istaravshan (1½ euro).
Istaravshan: hotel Sadbargi, basic hotel (5 euro), room without bathroom, the shared bathroom only had toilets and one basin. Shower was downstairs and extra charged. No breakfast. The old city is OK for a stroll, a lot of attention from the local children and elder people. Interesting bazaar uptown. Local restaurant with good shashlik just next door the hotel.
Travelled from Istaravshan to Margeb (starting point Yagnob valley). Took a shared taxi from Istaravshan (across the bazaar) direction Dushanbe and got off at Takfon (just outside Takfon to be precise at the crossing for the road to Anzob). Started to walk to Anzob (which would have been a long 20km walk along a not too intresting road) hoping to get a ride along the way. After 5 minutes I stopped a passing car which dropped me off in the beginning of the village of Anzob, payed him 2 euro. Anzob is an intresting old village to walk through. Two basic shops in the village. After Anzob start of the path to Margeb (5km). Loved this walk but the walk to the upper village of Margeb is hard in the end. Arrived in Margeb (upper village) and saw a sign “Teverok guesthouse”. Stayed there for a couple of nights (10 dollar including breakfast + 5 dollar for dinner, basic toilet and bathroom outside). Friendly son of the owner and some cute little children, very basic English spoken. Margeb is a fantastic place to stay, completely surrounded by huge mountains, perfect setting for a small village. First day just walked around the village and in the mountains around. Guesthouse arranged a donkey and a guide (another son of the owner) for the hike to Bedev the next day. You don't really need a guide but I wanted a donkey to carry my luggage and so a guide was more or less necessary to control the donkey. Payed 20 euro for the guide + donkey for 2 days. Lovely 5 to 6h walk to Bedev. Yagnob valley is a must, one of the highlights of my trip. Stayed overnight in the village of Makhtimain (Bedev is on the other side of the Yagnob river). Gave 10 euro, including three simple meals. Walked back to Margeb the next day.
One of the sons of the homestay (again another one...) brought me with his car from Margeb to Iskanderkul lake, payed him 28 euro for the 2½ h trip. Stayed in Shezok guesthouse, just next door to the entrance place for the lake where you have to pay a small fee to enter the area. Guesthouse was 7 euro, clean and with proper bed. The owner is downstairs in the shop. Bathroom just next door, with good shower but no toilet (basic toilet outside the house). Iskanderkul lake is wonderful, there is a nice viewpoint opposite the main road along the lake, just across the Turbaza area (area with cabins for sleeping and a good restaurant), about 5 minutes from the guesthouse. Take a look at the lake at different hours of the day, the views are always different. Dinner in the restaurant of the Turbaza.
Next day breakfast in the Turbaza (1 euro) and waited for a passing car at the entrance of the lake. A passing car brought me for 4 euro to the bus-taxi station in Sarvoda where I took a shared taxi to Dushanbe for 5 euro. Two hour trip to Dushanbe. Taxi (3 euro) in Dushanbe to Hello Dushanbe Hotel-Hostel. Very nice hotel-hostel. Took a private single room for 36 euro. Breakfast included. Changed money in Sheraton hotel about 10 minutes walk from the hotel, open 24 hours.
Dushanbe: Green bazaar OK for a visit. In Zarnishar bazaar took a shared taxi for ½ euro to Hissor city and in Hissor city another shared taxi for 0,2 euro to the “Kala” (fort). Hissor fort is a bit too restored but some nice views from the fort. National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe: the huge lying Buddha statue is the main reason for a visit here.
Was in Badakshan taxi station (10 minutes walk from the hotel) at 7 AM for a shared taxi to Kalai-Khum. Taxi only left at 10 AM. Trip took 7 hours and cost 15 euro. Amazing views of Afghanistan across the river. Roma Yurayev guesthouse in Kalai-Khum, 15 euro including dinner and breakfast. Simple room, western-style toilet outside.
Next day from Kalai-Khum to Rushan: no shared taxis at the little shared taxi stand at the outskirts of the village. I could have waited for passing cars at the bridge near the open air restaurant at the beginning of the village but quite a lot of locals doing the same. The guy from the Roma Yurayev guesthouse arranged a driver and I negotiated a price of 40 euro, not cheap but the ride took around 6 hours...
Rushan: Mubarak Homestay: 16 euro for a simple room without bathroom (could use the family bathroom) and good dinner and breakfast. Mubarak speaks English but is a busy person, so you won't see him much.
Bartang valley: not much regular transport to get deep into the valley. I originally wanted to go by hired car as far as Basid (about halfway between Rushan and Gudara) but few or no drivers want to go so far. Siponj (about halfway between Rushon and Basid) is easier but still pricey. So I decided to go by hired car only as far as Khijez, a little further than the entrance to the Jizeu valley, and to walk from there to Siponj. Paid 15 euro for the solo ride from Rushan to Khijez, which is very reasonable. Directly when I was dropped in Khijez I was invited by some men for tea and snacks, my trip in the Bartang valley couldn't start more pleasantly. Walked for around 7 km to Siponj. Right at the beginning of the village a guy approched me in Russian, he understood I wanted a place to stay and asked another guy who agreed. He and his younger brother (who spoke decent English) brought me to their house. Big extended family living there, good food, friendly people who showed me around the village, there are some huge caves at the top of the village with spectacular views. Had the sleeping room (mats, no bed) for myself at night. A warm welcome! Next day I wanted to continue to Basid, again no (regular) transport, there is a minibus some days but not always. The family where I stayed arranged a driver for me. He dropped me in Ajirkh, about ¾ of the way to Basid. Payed him 15 euro for a 2 hours drive. Here is the real Bartang scenery: very rough desolate mountainous land with always the Bartang river at your side, you can't get lost. It's impressive to walk here on your own, you hardly see anyone, it feels unearthly, this environment! In Dorj village, between Ajirkh and Basid, I was invited by a young woman for tea. No English, so they called a young man who spoke English well and this guy invited me to stay in his house in Basid. Payed 10 euro, including (simple) meals. Next day walked with him from Basid to Devlokh, 6 km up a side road from Basid which took us around 1,5 to 2 hours, the path goes up! But it's well worth the effort, again this desolate scenery and at the end a “village” with a forest, quite exceptional coz not much green in the Bartang valley. To continue further upwards in the valley from Basid there was a problem. They're building a new bridge further down the road so the road was blocked for cars. So I decided to go back and to go to Jizeu, at another side road in the beginning of the Bartang valley (a bit before Khijez). This time there was regular transport from Basid (a shared 4x4 going all the way go Khorogh even) which left around 8 in the morning. Paid 5 euro for an almost 4 (!) hours trip to the hanging bridge across the Bartang river which marks the beginning of the hike to Jizeu village. The hike to Jizeu was exhausting in the middle of the day, a 2 hours steep walk. But Jizeu was one of the highlights of my trip, here everything looks more green, there are lakes to walk to, mountains everywhere around, and a friendly host, Gulsha, the first homestay when you enter the village. No bathroom to speak of, toilet (hole in the ground) very much outside, but friendly host with reasonable English. Explored the surroundings of the village the next day, just went higher up all the way, some more houses, lakes, forest, ... I enjoyed it!
Gulsha arranged a car for me from the main Bartang road all the way to Khorogh, 25 euro for a 2½ hours ride. Khorogh: little city with not much to do, but good to relax for a while in a decent hotel. Stayed in Bomi Jahon hotel along the main road, clean little hotel with nice room (including bathroom) and breakfast for 24 euro, worth the price. Some problems to change money in the banks, some didn't change, others only accepted 100 euro, at last Micro Finance bank at a side entrance of the central parc changed without problems.
From Khorogh my plan was to go to the Wakhan valley by public transport. It was a friday early morning (7,30) when I went to the public taxi stand for shared taxis to Wakhan (behind the bazaar, across the bridge). To my surprise there were a couple of shared taxis that day going to Yamchun-Vichkut-Bibi Fatima springs (price 10 euro). It seems they do this trip every friday. On saturday there is regular transport all the way to Langar. My taxi driver told me I could stay in his house in Vichkut (very close to Yamchun fortress). After around 2½ hours we arrived in Iskashim where most people left the taxi and we had to wait for new passengers. We only left more thans 2 hours later... Beautiful ride after Iskaskim into the Wakhan valley. After two more hours we arrived in Vichkut at the house of the taxi driver. His two sons brought me to Yamchun fortress (very near). The fortress is a must and offers wonderful views of the Panj river and Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush. Bibi Fatima hot springs was nothing special for me, there are a few real hotels there. Gave my host 15 euro for the room, dinner and breakfast. First time I was invited to eat together with the family, sleeping was again separate (on mats). Basic toilet hole outside.
Next day started to walk on the main road always with views of Afghanistan on my right side. The Wakhan valley is very wide compared to Yagnob and Bartang, it felt more impressive to walk in Yagnob and Bartang. Actually the best views in the Wakhan valley are not along the main road but up the hills. Yamchun fortress offers great views but even more spectacular views were in Zong. But I wasn't there yet. I walked for maybe 15km or so and arrived in Vrang. There I just looked for a sign “Homestay” and knocked at the door. Homestay Rano was basic as usual (15 euro including two meals). A lot of times in the Wakhan I ate soups, soups with potatoes, vegetables, sometimes with meat. Always with bread and tea. Vrang is a nice little village to walk around, there is a remnant of a buddist stupa and caves a little higher up. Walked through the fields all the way to the Panj river.
Next day started to walk again, stopped a passing car that brought me all the way to Zugvand, pretty close to Zong. In Zong knocked at the door of the Malauda Barieva homestay (sign in the beginning of the village). Friendly woman who runs this place with a cute little daughter. Started my climb up to Zong fortress, started behind the guesthouse, several ways to go there. The views of the river and Afghanistan/Hindu Kush just get better the higher you go. The fortress itself is not so impressive like the one in Yamchun but the views are better. And they became even better when I continued my climb behind the fortress. You could walk here for several hours, always higher and higher, and I guess the views will just get more fantastic... One of the highlights of my trip!
Walked to Langar the next day, takes about 1 hour from Zong. With some local assistance found a car there to bring me to Ratm fortress, 5km further, along a steep road, gave him 3 euro. Not so intresting fortress. Walked back to Langar and then got back to Zong sitting in the side car of a motorcycle.... Possible to find a car from Langar all the way to Murgab, but pricey (around 150 euro). Decided to go back to Iskashim by hired car (20 euro). Hanis guesthouse in Iskashim is basic but the bathroom is OK with shower and western-style toilet. Next day at 6 AM no regular transport yet to Khorogh, so I stopped a passing car that brought me there (25 euro).
Arranged for a front seat in a shared taxi to Murghab the day before I left. Taxi only left at 10 AM. Very long ride to Murghab, arrived there only at 8 PM local time (= 7 PM Khorogh time, 1 hour difference). Great scenery along the way. Stop for lunch (forgot where) and dinner (in Alichur). Pamir hotel in Murgab is quite basic but good and clean shared bathroom (20 dollar). There was a wedding ceremony the next day in front of the city hall, lots of locals on the street, good opportunity to take pictures. Not much else to do in Murghab and it's no place to walk for hours due to the high altitude. Some basic meals in the restaurant of the hotel. The manager of the hotel, friendly guy, arranged a front seat for me in the shared taxi to Osh the next day. Taxi came to the hotel around 8 AM to pick me up. I didn't go all the way to Osh but got off in Sary Tash, just across the border with Kyrgyzstan. There is a basic guesthouse at the entrance of Sary Tash (12 euro including meals), they even have Wifi in the restaurant. Shared taxi to Osh the next day (5 euro): drives around the village for about an hour to pick up passengers, owner of the guesthouse called the driver for me.
Highlights of my trip: if I had to choose three places I would opt for Margeb (Yagnob valley), Jizeu (Bartang valley) and Zong (Wakhan valley). Wonderful scenery all around.
I learned some very basic Tajik words and phrases before I left, like greetings and numbers, could count from 1 to 1000 and that turned out to be very useful in negotiating prices with the drivers I stopped along the way. There are some useful websites about Tajik language. The book “Tajik language – The Tajik phrasebook” by Gulshan Ibgragimova was also very useful. English is usually a problem, most people start talking to you in Russian when they see you. Some of the youngsters speak English though, but don't expect too much. I also brought the Ibgragimova dictionary / phrasebook with me, always good to start a conversation. All in all independent travel in Tajikistan turned out to be easier than I thought. If you can't find a shared taxi, you can stop most passing cars to bring you somewhere (although traffic in some places is very thin, like the Pamir highway), sometimes passing cars just stop and ask if you want to go with them without you even asking. Just have an idea how much you want to pay and ask/negotiate the price beforehand (knowing the Tajik numbers is very handy then). In the villages in Yagnob, Bartang or Wakhan valley sometimes signs “Homestay” will show you the way, or else locals will approch you and bring you to a place where you can eat and sleap.
I spent about 1000 euro in one month Tajikistan travel, including around 150 euro for hired transportation (see details above) and including more expensive hotels in Dushanbe and Khorogh. Most things are very cheap. Possible to travel cheaper when you don't charter cars for yourself but you'll have to wait much longer for shared transport (if there is any) and risk not having a front seat. Maybe hitchhiking possible but most drivers you stop expect to be paid.
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Will be writing my own trip report in a couple weeks but can echo that Margeb area and Jizew in the Bartang are wonderful. If you go to Margeb try to make it to Pscon--a long 34km walk but worth it imo. Villages/lakes at Jizew are picture perfect.
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