Khorog is the only place along the Pamir highway between Dushanbe and Osh that offers some comforts of a city. With mediocre supermarkets, a great bazaar, a few restaurants, and a range of hotels and homestays, the 28,000- person capital of the Pamirs is the place to have a well-rounded meal, wifi, and a comfortable night’s rest before or after the emptiness of the Pamir plateau.
Unless you take the Bartang Valley route, you will inevitably end up in Khorog when traveling the Pamir. It’s a pleasant place to recharge. Home to 2 universities, this is by far the likeliest place in the Pamirs to encounter locals who speak some English.
Things to see and do
The central park is the highlight of the town: a forested oasis which is very pleasant to spend a hot day in. A large swimming pool fed by the ice-cold river water is open to everybody, free of charge, though women are advised to cover up to avoid the stares of the 99% male crowd.
Occasional events happen in the park, including the annual “Roof of the World” ethno-music festival.
Numerous beautiful viewpoints surround the town. A few are noted on various maps but you can really just walk up any nearby mountain for a great panorama.
The overgrown botanical garden on the east end of the town offers another excellent view, as well as making a terrific picnic spot. According to the Guinness book of World Records, it’s the highest botanical garden in the world. Established in 1940 by Ilaria Raikova, it has thousands of species and varieties of flora.
The garden is neglected due to lack of funding, and an important part of its collection was destroyed to make room for a villa of the Rahmon family, but it still holds great value to scientists for its extensive collections of high-mountain varieties.
Marshrutka #3 brings you to the entrance.
The regional museum is worth a quick visit if you’re interested in strange artifacts and don’t mind looking without understanding if you don’t speak Russian. Exhibitions include the first piano in Badakhshan, which was walked along the entire Pamir Highway from Osh, portraits of Stalin and a Lenin rug, and a few stuffed animals with very creepy eyes.
Afghan border market in Tem
The Afghan border market at nearby Tem will be a memorable experience for those lucky enough to visit when it is open. The market is often closed due to security issues, but since it is located on the Tajik side of the river, it is more likely to be open than the better-known Ishkashim market, which has been closed for years.
Here, Afghans cross the river to sell their goods including traditional clothes, food, and trinkets. It is a great photo opportunity and a way to meet Afghans without a visa. Because of its unpredictable schedule, this is not something you can plan your trip around, rather something you can just hope to stumble upon.
If all goes well, the border market runs each Saturday from 9 to 14 near the bridge (OSM). Updates are reported in the Afghan border markets forum thread.
The PECTA office in the central park is the best resource for information to plan your trip. Here you can buy detailed maps of the Pamirs, enquire about hiking trails and transportation, and find up-to-date information about the Afghan visa and safety situation for those interested in crossing the river.
They can also help you with permits for Zorkul nature reserve at a cost of 17 somoni per day (not date specific), and the permit takes about 5 minutes to receive. The same building houses a souvenir shop, and coffee and Wi-Fi are available. Apart from a few hotels, this is the only place in town to find halfway decent internet.
The dusty traveler might want to shower off before entering the stylish Ismaili Centre, a luxurious and minimalist modern reimagining of Pamiri architecture. It’s worth visiting just for the architecture, but the centre also has a lot of events. It opened in late 2018, so we have not been to check, but we think the centre might replace the PECTA office as the place to be for free wi-fi – let us know if it is available.
For a general overview of your transport options, see transport along the Pamir Highway.
From Khorog, shared taxis leave in all directions and flights connect to Dushanbe. It’s generally best to show up early in the morning, before 8.
Cars leave when full unless you pay the price for the entire car, so you’re potentially subject to a long wait. Prices vary with the seasons based on how many people are going each way. Travel times are almost always longer than expected and cars break down often. Be ready for this. Look for a high-clearance car with good suspension.
Shared taxi summer prices:
- To Dushanbe: 12-14 hours (if all goes well), 250-350 somoni, every day
- To Murghab: 7-10 hours, 120-150 somoni, every day
- To Ishkashim: 2-4 hours, 50 somoni, most days
- To Langar: 5-8 hours, 100 somoni, some days
- To Jelondy: 2-3 hours, 30 somoni, some afternoons
If a car is already full or is not leaving on the day you want to go, you will have to pay a significantly higher price if you’re not willing to wait potentially quite a long time.
A minibus comes from Jelondy whenever there is enough people to fill it, so if you’re lucky you can get a 30 somoni ride to Jelondy in the afternoon when it returns, otherwise you’ll have to hitch a ride or pay the full fare to Murghab.
To Alichur, there is no minibus, so you either pay the price to Murghab or to hitch a ride as the locals do. A reasonable price for a hitched ride to Alichur is 100 somoni and to Jelondy is 50.
This is the only town in the Pamirs where a large range in quality and prices of accommodation can be found.
45 somoni to pitch your tent, 65 for a dorm, 85 per person for a private, plus 28 somoni for breakfast. This is the reigning favorite of cyclists, with it’s cheap prices, huge yard, and opportunity to meet tons of other like-minded travelers.
Though located up a steep hill on the outskirts of town, the trek to get up here is nothing compared to what any cyclist has completed on their way to Khorog, and a marshrutka connects with the town center for those without a bicycle.
Both western and squat toilets, showers with hot water, and a communal kitchen are located in a separate building. The staff are very helpful with arranging anything you need to continue your trip. A bike mechanic also works onsite.
Stay here for the communal atmosphere, helpful staff, and low prices, but don’t expect too much comfort and definitely don’t expect much out of the Wi-Fi. This is the type of place where people plan to stay a night and end up staying a week.
75 somoni for a basic dorm or 280-950 somoni for varying levels of double rooms which include breakfast. LALis catching up to the Pamir Lodge’s popularity thanks to its central location and larger range of comforts. It’s clean, modern, most rooms are air conditioned, and it’s very nicely decorated. A small yard allows travelers to have a drink together and swap stories. Wi-Fi works reasonably well.
Bomi Jahon Hotel
100 somoni per person for a basic room to 300 somoni (total) for a nicer double room, all including breakfast. Falls in the mid-range both price and comfort-wise. This hotel is more frequented by local vacationers and business people than foreigners, but has the occasional group of tourists. The value for the money is pretty good. Wifi comes at an extra charge of 15 somoni per day for the basic room but is included in the double room. The owner’s family are friendly and go out of their way to help, but don’t speak much English.
This is the only place in Khorog which caters to those who want complete privacy, a high(er) level of service, and a great view.
95-140 somoni including breakfast. Offers a good value for a more local experience, the option to sleep in a bed or on floor mats, and the feeling of becoming part of the family. Located right in the center of the town, this house has a hot shower and western toilets.
115 somoni with breakfast or 140 with dinner. This is another good option near the center. It’s really a family’s home rather than a hotel, and the mess of clothes and toys indicates there are children around, but the family is very sweet and speaks English well. Wi-Fi is available at restricted hours.
When traveling quickly by car or motorbike, the food options in Khorog will not be too impressive compared to what you experienced in Osh or Dushanbe a few days ago, but for cyclists and other slow travelers whose standards have plunged while on the road, it is paradise.
The bazaar has a good and reasonably priced selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables and even has one exotic fruits seller with grapefruits and pomelos (very expensive). This is your last chance for decent produce before the high Pamirs, so stock up! About halfway between the bazaar and the airport, visible from the main road, is the biggest supermarket in town (marked on maps.me as “big supermarket”), which is nothing too impressive but covers the necessities.
Khorog’s culinary highlights include Deli Dharbar, Khorog Fried Chicken, and MacDoland’s. Deli Dharbar’s indian cuisine is something special after several days/weeks/months of sheep-fat-infused Central Asian food, and the paneer dishes are a highlight.
A few travelers have reported food poisoning after eating here (including the author), but that’s just an inevitable fact of the Pamirs, so you might as well eat well if you’ll be spending a day on the toilet anyways. Khorog Fried Chicken has great calzones as well as decent fried chicken and also offers delivery, but the food is much better to eat fresh in the restaurant.
MacDoland’s is Khorog’s take on McDonald’s, and though the menu is not much more exciting than its American counterpart, it’s worth a visit just to see the giant poster of Roland McDoland on the wall. Their Pamir burger is about 3 times bigger than a Big Mac.
There are several other small restaurants with standard Tajik fare, plus the overpriced western-style Cafe Luna, Kafe Bamaza with vegetarian burritos which are nothing more than shaurma without meat (still good), and the very pleasant but not so cheap Chor Bagh cafe in the central park.
As its name would suggest, the student-run The Plov has the best plov in town as well as good ice cream. A small bakery by the bridge just north of the park has nice bread and pastries.