Pamir Mountains (Tajikistan): How to Receive Visitor’s Permit and Get There
Русская версия This post is not only about how to get the permit to visit Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region or Pamir in Tajikistan and to reach this isolated place. This time we will also tell about the scariest day in our life, which was perhaps worth living through to get to amazing Pamir.
We have already told about our first impressions from Pamir, their most unusual customs and traditions. But Pamir is neither New York nor Paris: getting there needs a lot of work. At first, you have to get be allowed to visit Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Officially you may get the permit for some couple of dollars in Dushanbe migration service office:
Karabaeva 36/3, +992 (37) 233-21-37
Tursunadze str. 5, +992 (37) 227-67-11 (Central office)
In fact, the migration service often stops issuing the permits explaining it with disturbances in Pamir or some other reasons. At the same time, the tour companies continue issuing the permits through the same migration service, for 30 dollars per person though. It would not be surprising to know that these constraints are created so that the tour company shares it with the migration police. The latter, in turn, stops issuing the permits without declaring when this service will be available again, and many tourists have to stay in Dushanbe for weeks, without knowing how long they will have to wait. We did not have time for such waiting and sent our passport data to the tourist company in advance:
‘Pamir Silk Travel’ Co.
Phone: (+992 3522) 22277, 22299 office; (+992 93) 505 23 61 cell
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
On our arrival to Dushanbe, their representative came to meet us and brought the permits all ready. Nevertheless, it came out that there was a mistake: both permits had the same passport number inscribed in them. The tour company representative picked the permits and the next day returned them corrected:
We have to acknowledge, however, that nobody ever checked them, but this might be because of the specifics of our trip to Pamir, about which we will tell below.
Still, the first problem was solved and we started to take care of the next one – with the transport. There are three options of getting to Pamir:
1. Dushanbe-Khorog plane.
In theory, there are two planes from Dushanbe to the capital of Pamir, Khorog. According to the internet, they depart at 7.00 and 7.30, and one way ticket cost about 90 dollars. It is said that the plane flies in between the mountains, which is extremely beautiful and scary. Since it is not possible to buy tickets from the internet, we went to the airport.
It turned out that one way ticket costs 505 somoni and there are indeed two planes a day – if the weather is fine – fitting 17 people each. Yet, to get the ticket one has to sign up for the queuing list, which, at that moment, meant two weeks of waiting (and, if the weather had become worse, waiting time would have been extended). The guide books write that any queue may be passed around for a bribe, but either we were bad at offering it, or that day cashier was too honest. The cashier phone number is 487015042, call to ask about the queues for your dates, perhaps, you are luckier.
2. Osh-Murgab-Khorog vehicle.
You can get to Khorog by car from Kyrgyzstan too, through the border city of Murgab. The traffic there is really weak, especially on the mountain part Murgab-Khorog. We took this route from Khorog to Osh, and will tell about it more in later posts.
3. Dushanbe-Khorog vehicle.
The cars to Khorog depart early in the morning from a small parking lot at Aini street, not far from the airport; the route takes around 15 hours. We came to the parking lot a day before, in the afternoon, and the Pamir drivers were repairing their cars. Some offered a price of 350 somoni (about 50 euros) or 300 somoni per person. We stayed at a parking lot for some time, drank some beer in its bar, and decided to come back here early in the morning to pick up a car.
At about 5 AM next morning we came back to the parking (by taxi, around 20 somonis). There was a nice 4WD looking for the passengers at the entrance, the price the driver offered was 300 somonis per person. There was his small son and an older nephew of about 11 years old in the car. We were happy to agree thinking that the father will drive carefully when his son is there. The driver said he is a lieutenant colonel from Tajikistan, living and working in Moscow, named Nikolai. He came to visit to relatives in Tajikistan.
The road till Kulyab, the motherland of Tajik president is very good, so we did not care much about the lieutenant’s fast driving. We stopped in Kulyab, had some food, bought melons and watermelons.
After Kulyab the road became much worse.
Moreover, after several kilometers the road went along the Panj River, separating Tajikistan from Afghanistan. Little wonder that this border is guarded badly, few people will want to cross the river by swimming:
Falling into it must be even worse, the feeling about it was similar to the experience of going along the mountain river in Georgian Mestia; it will perhaps be impossible to find the car. There are almost no fences along the river.
This, however, was not a problem for Nikolai. He was as if racing; meeting the traffic police on the road, he horned and raised his arm (as he was wearing military uniform nobody stopped him) and rushed further. Any other car with reasonable speed was pinched and overtaken by him. We were passing by the border guard points in the same way – perhaps this is the reason nobody checked our documents. At the same time, we often stopped on the road to walk around or wash the car.
The rare pieces of road which went further from the river seemed to be moments of happiness for us, despite their quality.
From Tajik bank, one can view the parallel road in Tajikistan of even worse quality. It seems that only riding by donkey is possible there, although we still saw rare cars.
Soon Nikolai started to fall asleep at the steering wheel. We got really scared and Victor offered that he would drive and let Nikolai some time to sleep. This was the only beautiful hour out of 15 hours of horror. We could even enjoy the views.
After getting some sleep, Nikolai again started to drive with new energy. We asked him to reduce the speed, but after every request he drove slower for only 10 minutes. Then he raced along the edge of the road typing messages on his phone.
We tried to rebel again, and he replied that he knows this road perfectly, the way he drives is too slow just because of us, and if Allah wants us to die this day we will die, no matter how he drives. The horror continued, we did not know whether we should fasten the belt or not (perhaps, jumping out in case the belt had not been fastened would have been easier), and we did not even wanted to look at the road. We should undoubtedly thank Nikolai for our first grey hair: we have never had such a scary day in our life. By the way, Nikolai did not fasten his belt, and the car made rhythmic peeping sounds for 15 hours because of that. In addition, there was a small TV tied to the front glass and playing videos of Tajik songs; all the time it stopped, started the songs from the middle, or just made different noise. This added to the irritation produced by Nikolai himself typing the messages and driving at the edge of the abyss. In turn, he reacted to our resentfulness with more and more aggression. Still, we realized that in case he drops us in the middle of nowhere the next empty car may come in a couple of days only.
The relief came at night when we finally reached Khorog: we could not believe that it finished when saying goodbye to this person. Even now, at the time of writing this report, Nastya still can feel that horror. Unfortunately, Nikolai is a very good example of what we often saw in Tajikistan: how much wonderful Tajiks are spoilt by Moscow and power. Those who went to Moscow for jobs often turned out to be unpleasant people, often outrageous and scandalous drunkards. This contrasted with the rest of Tajiks, sincere and heartfelt people. We will still tell more about what we saw and where we travel in Pamir itself, and why this terrible day was worth living through.
P.S. If you are very much afraid of having the same experience, the only advice we may give is to come to Khorog from Osh. The road is comparably scary, but the piece along the Panj is much shorter. Moreover, the abyss is to the left from the car, so the thrills will not be so terrible.