The Pamir mountains capture the imagination of travelers more than any other destination in Central Asia. From the high wind-swept semi-desert of the far east, to the Wakhan valley where you can wave and chat to villagers in Afghanistan: the Pamirs are a unique place that have captured the hearts of many adventurous, hardy travelers.
Hardy and adventurous are keywords here, though. The roads are bad, the homestays rudimentary at best, and a stomach bug is difficult to avoid. If you are not fussy about comfort, get ready to dig into the distinct landscapes and culture of the Pamirs.
To all adventurers who prefer their trails unmarked: the Pamirs are your spiritual home. Get on the Pamir Highway.
The rest of Tajikistan
With all the focus on the Pamirs, you would almost forget there is another side to Tajikistan as well.
Dushanbe is the natural hub for travelers, and it’s a pleasant place to prepare for or cool down from mountain exploits. From Dushanbe, hikers can move north to the Fann mountains. They are just as stunning as the Pamirs, but not as big. East of the capital lies the Rasht Valley. Few people visit the mountains here.
Penjikent and Khujand are trade towns near the Uzbek border, more bustling in their vibrations than the laid-back tempo of the rest of Tajikistan. These are the gateways to Uzbekistan and Southern Kyrgyzstan.
The Khatlon district south of Dushanbe is boiling hot in summer, but also has its share of attractions, and works great for day and weekend trips out of Dushanbe when the mountains become too snowy, or as a stopover en route to the Pamirs.
Public transport in Tajikistan usually means shared taxis and jeeps hurtling across the often bumpy roads. Flying in and out, both Dushanbe and Khujand host international flights. Dushanbe also has internal flights to Khujand and Khorog to cut travel time.
The political thaw with Uzbekistan has meant trains between Khujand, Dushanbe and Uzbekistan are once again a possibility.
As soon as winter falls over Tajikistan, many places hidden behind high passes become very difficult to reach over land because of snow. The Pamir Highway remains open year-round though. The same goes for the road to Khujand and the southern plains.
In spring, road blocks do not come from avalanches, but from mudslides or rockslides. Only in high summer relatively easy access to all parts of the country is ensured, but even then, make sure you factor in some rest days to buffer possible delays.
For cross-border transport, see Tajikistan’s border crossings.
Khorog – Dushanbe
Should you take the airplane or the road? A moot point these days for most people since the regular plane got cancelled and tickets for the charter plane are expensive. Nonetheless, keep in mind that especially the Khorog – Dushanbe trip takes a lot out of travelers.
Have a look first to see if you need a visa for Tajikistan. Tajikistan has had safety issues in the past decade: a rogue attack killed 4 cyclists and civil unrest has blocked off the Pamirs on several occasions. We discuss possible concerns in detail on the safety in Central Asia page.
Health-wise, diarrhea is very common for travelers in the Pamirs. Few people complain about altitude sickness, actually. Going off the beaten track, you should take more precautions to prevent cholera, malaria and Lyme’s disease.
There is no mains electricity in much of the Pamirs. Locals turn on generators for a few hours per day. Think about taking along a portable solar panel if you need a constant supply of electricity.
Exchanging money is easy in major towns like Khorog, Dushanbe and Khujand, but getting money from an ATM is unreliable outside Dushanbe. Paying by card is impossible in most of the country.
_Despite an interesting culinary heritage, food security in the Pamirs is an issue, and you should not rely on buying food between Osh and Khorog besides what is offered in homestays – shop in advance. Outside of Dushanbe’s restaurants, it’s the standard dull and unhealthy Central Asian menu. We discuss your options as a picky eater.
For orientation, Maps.me is often better than google maps.
Budget and accommodation
Although Tajikistan is the poorest post-Soviet country, services are not super cheap, even if the quality is often so-so. Blame its remote location and local elites’ stranglehold on the economy.
A Pamir homestay will cost around 15$ with half board, and petrol costs around 1 euro / liter. The lack of transport in the Pamirs forces a lot of budget tourists to shell out for a tour with a driver, while bad roads mean the price of car rentals is high as well. We go in depth on the budget question at the Tajikistan travel budget page.
There are no hotels in Pamir outside of Khorog, only homestays. Dushanbe’s accommodation options are cramped, especially in the midrange, but otherwise adequate.
For more on homestays, camping, electricity black-outs, unexpected hospitality, tarof, … see the accommodation chapter.
- Pamirs: The Pamir Highway winds its way through landscapes from another planet
- Karotegin: Dushanbe and around + the Garm valley
- Sughd: Khujand, Penjikent, 7 Lakes, Fann mountains and Iskanderkul
- Khatlon: a different Tajikistan: hot, flat, but also nature and history