Ishkashim is a small town approximately 100 km south of Khorog along the Afghan border in the Wakhan corridor. It’s a frequent overnight stop for travelers in the (Tajik) Wakhan, but does not consist of much other than a border crossing to Afghanistan for those with a visa.
The town is most famed for its border market, which once allowed tourists to step onto Afghan soil for a few hours each Saturday without a visa. The market has been closed for a good while now due to safety concerns. The future of the market is unknown; updates are collected here.
A very small bazaar with a minimal vegetable selection, a handful of small local cafes, the homes of 2900 residents, a few cows on the streets, and three small hotels comprise the rest of the town. 15 km east of Ishkashim is the ancient fortress Kaakha, one of many along the Wakhan corridor.
Between Khorog and Ishkashim
30 km south of Khorog, turn off at Andarob for hot springs at Garm Chashma (literally means “hot springs”). From here trekking routes start (or end) to the Shokhdara Valley and the Wakhan Valley.
South of Andarob the road passes the ruby mine Kuh-i Lal. Mined since as early as the 7th century, the mine was mentioned both by al-Biruni and Marco Polo. Kuh-i-Lal is thought to have produced many of the most famous spinels in the world, including the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby, both now in the possession of the English monarchs.
The mines are not actively in use at the moment, but you might be able to visit the historic mines.
At Kosideh, a road leads up a side valley to Bagush, where there are petroglyphs and a large graveyard dating back to the 13th century. Beyond the graveyard, the valley widens and offers beautiful scenery.
Further south at Avj, another sanatorium offers a hot spring bath (OSM).
Ishkashim is reachable by shared taxi from Khorog for 50 somoni each way. Taxis usually but not always leave in the morning.
About half of the distance is bad quality asphalt, the other half is worse. In the other direction, it’s possible to catch a shared taxi onward to Langar if you’re lucky for another 50 somoni, otherwise you’ll have to pay 100 for the driver to return back to Ishkashim after dropping you off.
To Bibi Fatima hot springs and the Yamchun Fortress it is 35 somoni, but you’re also likely to have to pay the return trip for the driver making it 70. Taxi drivers in the Wakhan are notorious, so stand your ground if they ask exorbitant prices.
As truck traffic is nearly nonexistent, hitchhiking is slow, and you’re likely to wait a few hours and be picked up either by tourists or a local car packed with people who will still make space for you (payment expected, but cheaper).
On weekends it may be easier to hitch a ride to Bibi Fatima with locals coming from Khorog.
There are 3 hotels in Ishkashim.
Hanis Guest House: 140 somoni for a basic, uncosy room with hard mattresses, breakfast and dinner included, or cheaper to pitch your tent outside. They have a functioning shower, an outside toilet, and a nice cafe/kitchen, as well as some local crafts for sale and a free box for travelers to leave extra camping gas or equipment. It’s big and you’ll have decent chance of meeting other travelers here.
This is also where you’ll have the biggest chance (but no guarantee) of English-speaking staff.
A hotel near the bazaar: 95 somoni without food, with rooms similar to Hani’s but no common area or cafe.
New hotel: 190 somoni for a modern room with breakfast (possible to bargain a cheaper price). Most comfortable option. Located in a yellow building with a flashy neon sign, just down from the only street light in town.
It’s best to stock up in Khorog if you can. The bazaar here has little more than pasta and candy and the few restaurants serve only local fare, at your own risk.