Pamir: the first impressions

We’ve just come back from our month-long trip in Central Asia, and many people ask us about the major impressions. To be honest, one of the first things that pop up in the mind is Pamir. We spent there about a week, and would like to share the excitements we got from it with you. This is an absolutely unique place, unbelievably hospitable and friendly!

Pamir is not easy to reach: you have to start either from Dushanbe or Osh. If you are lucky and know how to bribe the right person or have some time to wait, you may take a plane from Dushanbe. If not, welcome to 15-hour trip either from Osh or from Dushanbe. Another important issue you have to take care of before going is getting a permit to GBAO (Pamir region). Read more about it here: How to Receive Visitor’s Permit and Get There.

One of the first things you have to know when you go to Pamir is that it is stretched far from Tajikistan, being shared also by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. Another important thing is that Pamiri Tajikistan is very different from the rest of the country. Never call a Pamiri dweller a Tajik, it will be a huge mistake! Also try to avoid the overgeneralization ‘Pamiri people’ (which is difficult to avoid, as you can see from this post): these are too different peoples, speaking different languages. Some of them are very different from the other neighboring language, for instance, Ryn language, which is not understood by the rest of Pamir. Pamiri peoples usually know several local languages, Tadjik and Russian, and – you will be surprised – sometimes English. Pamiri capital Khorog boasts of an excellent English lyceum, and its children speak excellent language. This brings us back to why and how Pamir is different from the rest of Tajikistan. Pamiri people, although Muslims as the rest of Tajikistan, are proud to belong to the much more liberal brunch of Islam – Ismailism. One of the things particular for Ismailists is that they believe that their Imam (main priest) should be Sayyid (the descendant of prophet Muhammad). Their current imam Aga Khan IV lives in Switzerland and is the Imam for all Ismailits, not just Pamiri ones (e.g. Indian and Africans also). He is Sayyid, as it should be, but this is not the only reason for his popularity. Aga Khan in fact saved Pamir from starvation during the blockade of Pamir in Tajik Civil War in 1990s, he also invests into Pamir education, opening excellent schools and sending the best students abroad. On our way to Pamir, a taxi driver told us that his wife would have a surgery in Khorog rather than Dushanbe (the capital), as Pamiri doctors are much better than the Dushanbe ones. Pamiri people love their Imam, and you will often encounter his face in Pamiri houses on the pictures and carpets:

People also greet him on his coming:

Pamiri people like to underline that unlike Tadjiks they do not make their women wear long skirts and cover their heads. Women still cover their heads though, perhaps, because of the strong sun: it is very guileful, as you don’t notice it high in the mountains until you get completely sunburnt or get a sun stroke.

Each region of Pamir has some particular traditional pieces of clothes, for instance, caps, or jewelry. Mainland Pamiri hat will be very different from the Vakhan valley one, for instance. This woman was making traditional jewelry from the beads (you can see how it looks like on her neck):

But the main impression is people’s hospitality. Make sure you stay with the locals, if you go, and avoid the guest houses. The hosts in the guest houses are often quite spoilt, while locals will be truly interested in you, tell you about their traditions, and literally share their last piece of bread with you without expecting anything back. They will also invite you to their famous Pamiri houses with five columns inside. These five columns inside symbolize prophet Muhammad, his wife Fatima, father Ali, and sons Hassan and Hussein.

That is how the house is built:

The houses are grouped into villages – kishlaks. People there help each other, e.g. built every other house together. They share grieves and happiness, and we’ve never heard anybody saying anything bad about his neighbor. When someone’s wedding comes, the whole village is there. They say, the house has the excellent structure for the wedding – perhaps, the main event in Pamiri life – people can sit in a round, and dance in the center. Guests should never sit at the entrance, as then it shows disrespect from the hosts.


The bread is also baked in the house, here:

Another beautiful feature of Pamiri house is its ceiling – none of the dwellers, however, could explain the function of this structure to us.

Having read quite some literature on Pamir, we are surprised on how wrong it is sometimes. For instance, it is frequently said that the family members should not turn their back to some columns – opinions differ, which in particular. We asked locals about this tradition, and they were really surprised and commented that the house is designated for living, it must be rational and convenient, while traditions like that would make living uncomfortable.
Locals will always offer tea to you, but you will be surprised as then they serve much more, often all they have.

Even though they always treat you with high respect, you must also remember to pay back. It is wise to leave a bit of money if you eat and sleep in their houses (remember, their monthly retirement fees are 50 dollars only), always finish what is on your plate, and share what you have. We will come up with a post on much more valuable advice on Pamir and travelling soon, and would like to finish with some random photos here. Hope, they convey at least some magic and unique atmosphere of Pamir.