Where: Khorog, Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan, Central Asia
Best season: Summer
Activities: Horse riding or driving on the white-knuckle high altitude Pamir Highway
Watch out for: Avoid terrorist and trigger-happy gunmen by using a tour or hiring a local guide
Known locally as Bam-i-Dunya, or ‘The Roof Of The World’, the Pamirs range has certainly earned its reputation. These slopes are home to hardy creatures that can cope with the extreme cold and high altitude such as Marco Polo sheep and the elusive snow leopard.
Staying with the Pamiris
The human settlers who survive these conditions are the Pamiris, including the Ismailis, a section of Shia Islam who are led by their spiritual leader, Aga Khan, a Swiss-born businessman and horse breeder whose provision keeps the Pamiris in food. The government has mostly ignored these people due to them backing the losing side during the civil war. However, regardless of their desperate situation, they are nonetheless hospitable and you will no doubt be offered floor space, a pungent sheepskin blanket, and a hot bowl of tea (sher chay). There are no shops or places to buy provisions so ensure you bring plenty to share with your host.
Khorog, the capital of the autonomous region of Gorno-Badahkshan, is a good starting point for a trek. The town lies 6,500 feet above sea level, sprawling along the uneven banks of the gushing Gunt River. Take a plane from Dunshanbe, but be prepared for the ride of your life, as the plane swoops between mountains so close you can almost feel the wing tips brushing the snow!
The facilities here are constantly improving, with a growing number of tours organising hiking and trekking holidays in the mountains. There are tours for a range of abilities, but it is advised that you seek guidance before planning a trip as entry formalities and equipment need to be arranged in advance.
Horse riding is also an increasingly popular activity amongst tourists as you get to experience the gorgeous scenery the traditional way. A key feature of the nomadic lifestyles, saddling up and trekking the mountains on horseback gives the opportunity to uniquely experience this region and maybe join in a local game.
The Pamir Mountains are notoriously dangerous with trigger-happy men prowling certain areas. Check locally as to where is safe to walk; your best bet is the Fan Mountains at the western end of the Alay Range. You can book through an agency or hire a local guide but remember to bring your own equipment. You should plan to visit between June and September as bad weather makes many of the routes impassable at other times of the year.
Pamir Highway drive
For spectacular views and a mind-numbing experience, this two-day route from Khorog to Oshon the M41 Pamir Highway is certain to deliver. This badly surfaced road, with its relentless hairpin bends, will give you a white-knuckle experience of these awesome mountains and the fantastic Tajik scenery. With much of the road dissolved by landslides and avalanches, it is quite a challenge, but worth every heart-stopping minute. Highlights are crossing the 15,272 feet Ak-Baital Pass and the drive across the Pamir Plateau. There is no accommodation so be prepared.
An alternative way to experience the Pamirs- includes info on equipment, guides and safety.
Guide for traveller’s planning their first trip to Central Asia.
Guide by Jenna Colbourne