In between the 2 routes from Dushanbe to the Pamirs – south of the hard road over the Tavildara Pass and north of Kulob and Danghara – lie the Baljuvon and Muminobod districts. The landscape is more hilly here than in the flatlands below, and population is sparser.
This is good camping and trekking country, but 4WD-drivers and motorbikers can also really enjoy some of the bad roads here. It’s interesting for the fact that tourists rarely come here, but you will need a sense of adventure and preferably some language skills, or a local guide. If you are ready: expect a warm welcome, and enjoy true exploration.
The area is most impressive in mid- to late-spring when the hills briefly turn a lush green (but it may rain often). Summer in the hills is cooler than Dushanbe or the flatlands of Kulob, but it may be too hot for intensive hiking. Hiking in autumn is possible. Winter will prove to be impossible/a real experience.
The scenic spots to aim for here are the Childukhtaron reserve, the Yakhsu valley and Sari Khosor. If you have the time and the stamina after your Pamir Highway trip, these are all fun detours, if the season is right. But Baljuvon and Muminobod districts work perhaps best as slightly longer Dushanbe getaways of 2-4 days, or as part of a longer non-Pamir trip that could take you far off the beaten track.
Childukhtaron (‘40 girls’ in Tajik), is both a town (OSM) and a name for a mountain that has many rock spires that very roughly resemble people. The local legend is that 40 virgins (here they are again) who fought Genghis Khan’s troops but saw defeat was inevitable, prayed that their bodies remained untouched. God willed it, and they were turned into stone pillars.
The surrounding Hazrati Shoh range has great trekking for those happy to find their own route.
Childukhtaron has a new road built 25km from Muminobod, which itself is 230 km from Dushanbe via Kulob. You will likely not find a Dushanbe to Muminobod driver, so try for a shared car from Dushanbe to Kulob to Muminobod to Childukhtaron.
If you are coming from Dushanbe: the drive is long enough that it would be best to spend the night in Childukhtaron (guesthouse) or nearby in Muminobod (hotel).
The Yakhsu Valley (OSM) is most often accessed over a low mountain pass east from the town of Khovaling (4 hours from Dushanbe), or via Childukhtaron on a small and difficult mountain road. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles go on these roads, and spring floods often block access to this river valley that sometimes goes through narrow canyons.
It’s a real 4WD adventure here that you can take all the way up to Tavildara, where you can continue over the Tavildara Pass to Khorog. The last stop before the high pass to Tavildara is the gold mining town of Shugnov.
Beyond the thrill of driving the bad road, the attraction here is the strange geology of the valley. Each side valley has some odd rock and mountain formations. The river itself is impressive, and the villages along the route are quite pleasant.
This area is not accessible for independent travellers without their own vehicle, unless they speak Tajik or Russian well and are willing to take risks; cars break down often, most locals know nothing about this area (possibly your driver is one amongst them), and how on Earth will you find a return ride? The Yakhsu Valley is not on any tour company’s itinerary.
Sari Khosor (OSM) is both the name of a town, a district and a national park. Accessible from the town of Baljuvon (find taxis here), you need to wait for low water in the river (by June) as the “road” crosses a river numerous times in the 2-hour drive to the Sari Khosor district centre.
Attractions include 4WD driving, camping, hiking, swimming, a waterfall, springs, and several beautiful villages set amidst thick forests and impressive low mountains. The villagers here do not often see foreigners, and you get a much friendlier welcome than elsewhere in Central Asia.
The terrible road has kept visitors out and the landscapes are pristine. There are numerous scenic places here.
You could always try to score an invite to stay in people’s homes, but it’s best if you bring camping equipment. It’s even better if you speak at least some Tajik. 2 small hotels are under construction (in the district centre and at the waterfall), but are not yet operating.
For all attractions and practical info, see the Sari Khosor guide at Tajikistan tourism.