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Getting ready for the trip we knew it would be a beautiful adventure but it turned out to be more than that. It doesn’t matter if you have visited 10 or 100 countries, traveling through the Pamir Mountains is an unforgettable and unique experience. Unmatched beauty mixed with people who overwhelm you with kindness and hospitality and truly make you want to become a better person!
However I have to admit that traveling the Pamirs with a baby per se was quite a hard task. The lack of public scheduled transportation and absolutely destroyed roads made the trip longer than we expected and of course more exhausting. The highway was built in 1930 by Soviets and apparently since then it hasn’t seen any upgrades. Nevertheless locals believe optimistically that the highway will be renovated sometime soon. What a positive spirit!
Another challenging part was high attitude throughout the whole trip. We didn’t feel particularly sick, but we definitely felt the altitude when hiking in the mountains. Also in Murgab, the little town with elevation of 3618m, our 13 months old Lia didn’t feel good so we had to cut our trip short and move to Osh as soon as possible.
Getting to Khorog from Dushanbe
The trip started in Dushanbe from where we had to find a ride to Khorog, the western beginning of the Pamir Highway. There are no public buses or marshrutkas(minibus), there are only shared jeeps that go to Khorog. How does it work? You show up to the right place in the morning and wait for people to fill up the car. Once the car is full you start moving.
After few miserable attempts to find a place from where shared Jeeps go to Khorog, we finally took a taxi and told the address mentioned in the Lonely Planet book, which is the Badakhshan Auto-stand (Badakshanskaya avtostansiya; M Nazarshoev 149)
The book also said that the cars leave only in the morning but we decided to try our luck and see if there is anything going in the evening. Over the past 9 months of traveling we figured out that taking overnight buses or cars is much easier with a baby than sitting squished in the car for many hours. From Dushanbe to Khorog it usually takes from 12 to 20 hours depending on the weather conditions and being honest we were terrified with the prospective to entertain Lia in the car for so long.
Luckily that evening there was a car going overnight as far as the Kyrgyz-Tajik border and the driver agreed to drop us in Khorog. We paid a little bit more, 400 TJS instead of 280 TJS, but the whole back seat was ours and we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the bumpy road.
In the morning, after 12 hours of terrible ride, we arrived to Khorog. It turned out to be a lovely little town, a good place to sort out the further route and meet other travelers.
From reading the blogs and consulting Lonely Planet we thought that Pamirs will be a rather expensive leg of our journey. Lonely planet recommends hiring a private Jeep. The information center advised us on the prices, so for instance to see Wakhan valley for 4 days a Jeep would cost us around 500 dollars. You can fit up to 7 people into the car. The problem was to find another 5 people who are willing to go to the same places on the same dates. We didn’t find those people but we found something better-fellow travelers who have already completed the trip and provided us with valuable information on how to make this trip possible without spending a fortune.
It turns out that even though there are no public buses, there are jeeps that work as marshrutkas. They run between big villages and you just have to wait until they fill up if you don’t have a group with you. Also it is very possible to hitchhike; people are friendly and willing to help however they would expect some payment.
At the place we stayed we met a Swiss and a Korean guy who planned the same itinerary as us. So there we were 4 adults and a baby at the bus stop flagging down the cars. The first leg, Khorog-Ishkashim, we hitchhiked because we’ve got pissed at the Jeep drivers and decided not to go with them by any cost. In the end we didn’t save that much but we proved the point and were happy about our decision.
There is so much to see in Wakhan valley, so many absolutely fantastic little villages with charming people, natural hot springs, interesting treks and stunning views! No matter what you decide to see I am sure you will love it!
Our route was the following:
Ishkashim, the historic Khaakha Fortress about 18 km east of Ishkashim, Darshai, Yamchun Fort and Bibi Fatima Hot springs, Buddhist stupa in Vrang and Zong. I can say I personally loved every single one of those places; they were all so different and unique!
For instance, Khaakha Fortress is used as a Tajik military watch post nowadays however the guys there were super nice, they welcomed us in, showed around, took pictures with Lia and let us hold their guns…Whaaaat? Isn’t it incredible? We spent with them no more than 20 min but I still remember it with a big smile on my face. We had a car from Ishkashim to Darshai, one of the local Jeep-marshrutka, and the driver was really nice to let us explore the Fortress and wait for us those 20 min so we didn’t have to do a separate trip to see this place.In Darshai we have been invited to stay with a family, in a traditional Pamir house. Drinking tea, eating fresh home-made bread, talking about hardship of life in the village and in the Pamirs in general was really eye-opening and heart-breaking at the same time. Pretty much all of the families have a relative working in Russia who helps them financially since there is no jobs in those little villages of 300 people. In the family we stayed, there were 2 kids of 15 and 9 years old whose parents are working in Moscow for already 14 years and they come back home only every 2 or 3 years. But the kids don’t complain, they hold a positive spirit and an immense gratitude towards their parents who work so hard for their wellbeing. We stayed with this family for 1 night and in the morning the next day we did the 3h trek up the Darshai Gorge towards the natural hot springs. Highly recommend it! Once we came back we’ve been offered a ride to Fatima hot springs, our next destination for a very fair price.
The view from Yamchun Fort and Buddhist Stupa in Vrang are so incredible that no picture will ever be able to capture its real beauty. It is easy to spend endless hours there just observing the snowy Afghani Mountains, the large river and the vivid green villages that look like artificial oases in a land of sand and dryness.In Zong we met a lady who walked us for an hour through narrow village passes towards a private hot spring. The owner opened it for us and then invited for a tea afterwards.Throughout 4 days that we spent it Wakhan valley we couldn’t stop being surprised by peoples’ hospitality and kindness. Just by seeing us passing through the village women with kids would come out from their houses bringing us bread and milk for Lia, inviting us to their houses, giving us candies and cookies, calling their friends in order to find a car for us. All the travelers we met loved their experience but I feel that we had so much more interaction with local families just because of Lia. She was the reason people would come out from their houses or would stop us at the street to take a picture with her or just to hold her in their arms.
At the same time there are so many children in Wakhan valley so it was a true paradise for our little social butterfly to socialize and play and for us a good rest and an opportunity to meet locals.
All these 4 days we’ve been so overwhelmed with emotions that still writing this post weeks later tears come to my eyes. I would come back in a heartbeat and I truly hope that money and increasing tourism in the area won’t change people’s attitude and spirit.
After Wakhan Valley we came back to Khorog to rest from this exhausting journey. The last day we took the car from Zong all the way to Khorog and it took us almost 7 hours on a bumpy and dusty road. Surprisingly the only member of our team who didn’t seem to mind was Lia. She developed this great ability to sleep more often in the cars and when she was awake she was just playing or watching through the window. So proud of our little traveler!!
In a couple of days we took another long ride to Murgab, about 9 hours with all the pictures and lunch stops. The scenery was mesmerizing and I even don’t know how many time we asked the driver to stop. It took us longer than we expected but who cares, we might be there just once in our lifetime! Plus it was good to stretch our legs and let Lia walk and play.
Finally we made it to Murgab, it was already dark outside and it was hard to find a place to stay so we ended up in the Pamir Hotel, a bit more expensive but good at the same time. Initially we thought to stay couple of days in Murgab, but the next morning we noticed that Lia wasn’t feeling good, was weak and didn’t breathe well. The same with us, even a short walk appeared to be a hard workout. Looks like all of us experienced altitude sickness and for Lia it was the worst. So we made a decision to move on as soon as we find a car. Usually cars for Osh depart early in the morning but we’ve got lucky again and we met a guy who was leaving in the afternoon. It was another 8 hours of terrific ride with a sick baby in my hands. However as soon as we crossed to Kyrgyzstan, the altitude got lower and Lia magically woke up from her motionless sleep and I was so happy to see my baby recovering.
By midnight we arrived to Osh and sadly it meant that our Pamir adventure was over. What was left is the priceless experience, new friends we made on the road, new knowledge about peoples life and of course hundreds of pictures to keep our memories alive.
The cost: : How much we spent in the Pamirs
Dushanbe-Khorog, 400 TJS per person (280 TJS per person if leaving in full car in the morning)
Khorog-Ishkashim, 30 TJS per person. However have to admit that it was luck. The jeep drivers ask for 50 TJS and they will do it for 40 TJS if you are good at bargaining and have at least 4 people.
Ishkashim-Darshai, 100 TJS for 4 people. It was Jeep-marshrutka going to Vrang and the driver agreed to stop at the Fortress for 15-20 min. The last marshrutka departs around 6 pm so try to make it earlier to Ishkashim.
Darshai-Yamchun, Bibi Fatima hot springs, 150TJS for the car (4 people)
Yamchun-Zong with the 30 min stop at Vrang, 140 TJS for the car.
Zong-Khorog, 350 TJS for the car
Khorog-Murghab, 115 TJS per person if there are 7 people in the car. We manage to get this price for 6 of us, so bargain!
Murghab-Osh 150 TJS per person. The car is easily arranged at any hotel/guesthouse and usually the cars are leaving early in the morning (around 7 am).
Lia was for free everywhere.
We were very lucky to be a group of 4 people because in between little villages they charge per car and not per person. So the split cost in the end wasn’t that high at all.
In Khorog we were paying 18 $ for a double room
In Darshai we paid 20 TJS per person
In a hotel at the Bibi Fatima hot springs 35 TJS, but we had to bargain and we had our own breakfast
- Remember to bargain the price especially with taxi drivers
- To find a car in little villages like Darshai, just ask locals. Usually they will call someone who has a car and who is willing to earn some money
- Don’t be afraid to stop for pictures or for some sight. Time usually matters little there, the biggest cost is gas
- For accommodation there is a B&B in almost every town, but we never stayed in one. Before staying the night in a B&B take a walk through the town you would like to stay and we doubt you’ll make it to the B&B. In this case you will experience real hospitality and see a real way of life there, plus helping ordinary families is always a good deed.
- If you have an opportunity, bring some little souvenirs (key chain, chocolate, little toys). People are so giving there and we felt really horrible that we couldn’t give anything in return
- As for drinking water, there are so many natural springs throughout Wakhan valley that it wasn’t a problem
- Don’t rush, take your time to enjoy J
Baby food in the Pamirs
Lia was 13 months when we traveled Pamirs with her and this age she is eating most of the food that we eat. However we prefer to always have with us jars with different types of puree, would it be fruits, vegetables or meat. She also drinks formula and cow’s milk.
Note that in Tajikistan people don’t usually buy milk from the supermarkets, they drink fresh unpasteurized milk that they buy at the bazaars, therefore you wont be able to find pasteurized milk in the packages in the little shops throughout Pamirs, especially in the Wakhan valley. From our experience, Lia liked real cow’s milk and she didn’t have stomach problems but we’ve been still worried and when we have a chance to buy pasteurized milk, we got for it.
Khorog is the best place in the Pamirs to buy baby formula, diapers, puree jars and baby porridge in case you are running short on your supplies. Khorog has a rather big supermarket where you can find all of these things comparing to few mini markets in the Wakhan valley and Murgab.
Big NAN around 11 dollars
Puree jars with rather poor selection were around 1 dollar each
A pack of baby porridge around 2 dollars
Tajik Visa and special permit
To get Tajik visa was pretty easy. We did within 15 min in the tajik embassy in Bishkek. Jose just filled out the form, gave 2 pictures and a passport. You can do double entry visa and it doesn’t cost you any more than one entry visa. The cost was 75 dollars and permit included. Apperently it was a rushed visa but we were not presented any other options.
As a Ukrainian citizen, I don’t need visa to Tajikistan, however I still need a permit to travel the Pamirs. The permit cost me 25 dollars and for Lia 15 dollars since she was travelling on her Ukrainian passport.