Pamir Highway travel guide
What once was an important trading town on the Silk Road, has since been Soviet-nified and is today the second biggest city in Kyrgyzstan. Most, if not all, of the glam and charm from the ancient days are long gone, but the wonderful bazaar is still huge and easy to get lost in. Locals - and foreigners – bargain over anything from fruit, bread and nuts, over textiles to livestock – and souvenirs. Besides trade, Osh also play the role as the regional transport hub. No matter whether you are going to/from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or China, you will most likely pass through Osh.
Bulunkul village is a great little side trip from the Pamir Highway, no matter which route you're taking (M41 or south route). The village looks like the film set for an apocalypse movie. A handful of whitewashed mud houses with piles of junk and old cars here and there. The dust and harsh weather (blistering hot in summer and painfully cold in winter) just add to the "end of the world" feel. For those who don't find these kind places fascinating, there are a couple of pretty lakes nearby, including the jade green YashilKul.
The beautiful Dushanbe – Khorog South Route runs mostly along the Afghan border and is a great introduction to what is await further into the Pamir. The landscape starts as rolling hills outside Dushanbe which then rises and become more cragged the closer you get to Afghanistan. For most of the time the road actually follows the Panj River which makes out the border to Afghanistan. And what an excitement the first glimps of Afghanistan are. Just across the roaring river, often less than 100 m away, rural Afhgan villages cling to the mountain side with a single narrow footpath as the only infrastructure. If that wasn't enough, the jagged snowcapped peaks of the majestic Hindu Kush will also appear as you get closer to Khorog. Not a bad teaser for the Pamir Highway.
Disclaimer: Some consider this route (or the northern direct route along M41) a part of the Pamir Highway.
If you expect a beautiful setting with a natural rock pool, this hot spring might not be for you. Garam Chashma is a strange health spa for locals, particularly for those with skin problems. Men and women each have their open air pool separated by a natural “mud wall”. Warm spring water splashes into the pools where people sit naked and soak. Some rub mud all over their body and then dry in the sun, not something you necessary find appealing after many days on the dusty road.
Though Khorog is the regional capital of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO), it's no bigger than a small town. It's nicely nestled in a valley, stretched along Gynt River which cuts the town into two parts. The downtown area includes a few banks, shops, a well-stocked bazaar, a lovely green park and a very useful tourist information office (PECTA). Since Khorog is the starting (or ending) point for the Pamir Highway, it's a natural traffic hub for the whole region and a meeting place for travellers going in any direction.
Located in the remote far east of the already remote Pamir region of Tajikistan, the tiny village of Karakul would, under any other ordinary circumstances, probably go completely unnoticed by travellers. However, Karakul is anything but ordinary. It is the village's location on the shores of Lake Karakul that makes a stop here almost mandatory for anyone passing through the region. With the magnificent Pamir Mountains reflecting in the pristine lake waters, it is an image almost too good to be true. If you then throw in the fact that the only place to stay in town is in one of the tremendously charming local home-stays, a stop in Karakul is transformed from a "Might-as-well" visit to a "Must" visit.
Murghab is a looong way from everywhere. It's beautiful located in a wide valley surrounded by red cliff in changing hue. But as pretty as the landscape is, as gritty is the town. There are no proper streets, just potholed dirt lanes and wheel tracks. Houses are worn out and the bazaar is a shanty town made up by old shipping containers. Although there is a tough vibe, it doesn't quite have the end-of-the-world feeling of Karakul and Bulunkul. It's a main stop on the Pamir Highway and a traffic hub for transport to/from Kyrgyzstan (and China when the border crossing becomes more mainstream).
On a slab of rock 150 m above Langar village is one of Central Asia's biggest collections of ancient petroglyphs (5878 pieces in total, though we didn't count). It's mostly animals and hunters that are carved into the rockface, the oldest ones date back to the Bronze Age (about 1500 BC). Over time, the collection has become bigger, where the newest pieces are just stupid graffiti and additions to already existing pieces (mostly penises added to the figures). The petroglyphs lie totally unprotected and you actually need to walk to the slab of rock to see them, so watch your step for the rock breaks easily.
There exists a kind of tightrope when travelling through Eastern Tajikistan. A narrow river valley acts as an international dividing line. On one side, the remote Pamir region of Tajikistan, on the other, the even more remote mountains of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. For many, the mere thought of being a stone throw away from Afghanistan might be reason enough to visit the Wakhan Valley. But once there, the sheer beauty of the place will overshadow any preconceptions. Snowcapped mountains, grazing land, ancient ruins and natural springs all line the valley. And likely being the only traveller for miles makes the experience all the more special.
The landscape at Yashilkul lake border the unreal. A clear blue sky above a dark jade green lake surrounded by an undisturbed colourless desert and a horizon sprinkled with white mountain peaks. You can reach Yashilkul by a short drive or long walk from Bulunkul village.