The most exciting destination for travel adventurers in Tajikistan is the impressive, vast, magical and truly the wildest destination of Central Asia, the Pamir. This high and remote area is located in the Eastern Tajikistan and covers almost half of the total land area of Tajikistan. In north the Pamir mountains meet with the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan through the Alai valley and in the south, Pamir borders with Afghanistan along the famous Wakhan corridor. Taklamakan desert lies east from Pamir, in China where the Eastern Pamir suddenly falls steeply down to the desert.
Pamir is inhabited by the Pamiris who are related to Iranians and Kyrgyz and they all rely on animal herding as their way of life in this very high area. There are few larger cities like Khorog, Iskashim and Murghab in Pamir but otherwise people live in small villages and even smaller communities and change place according to the time of year. There are countless valleys between the explicit high peaks and the unattainable mountain massifs exceeding 5600 meters in height, with deep rocky gorges and the rivers at the bottom.
Long ago, Bactrians and troops of Alexander the Great walked here and later many explorers like Tamerlane, Babur, Marco Polo and a number of other pioneers, have left their traces in these majestic mountains and glaciers. Silk road traders also used to travel through the valleys of Pamir with Silk, lapiz lazuli, rubies and other valuables and there are still some of the old fortifications as a reminders of those times.
The Pamir Mountains are a mountain range located in Central Asia that have formed by the union or collection of the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and the Hindu Kush ranges that is sometimes also called a knot of mountains. Pamir peaks are among the world’s highest mountains and Pamir is quite commonly known as the “Roof of the World” (translation from Persian). The Pamir range mainly lies in the Tajikistan‘s region of Gorno-Badakhshan but some parts are in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indian Kashmir and China.
Pamir Mountains hold countless glaciers including the 77 km Fedchenko Glacier, which was the longest in the former USSR and is the longest glacier outside the Polar region. The glaciers of the Pamir are the largest water sources for all of Central Asia. They are also the source for the Pyanj and Vakhsh rivers that unite and form the Amu-Darya river providing most of the irrigation water for the extensive agricultural enterprises of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and flow all the way to the slowly drying Aral Sea.
The highest peaks in the Pamir mountains are:
- Ismoil Somoni Peak 7 495 m, also formerly known as Stalin Peak and Peak of Communism.
- Ibn Sina Peak 7 134 m is still more known as Lenin Peak
- Peak Korzhenevskaya 7 105 m
- Independence Peak (Revolution) 6 974 m
- Karl Marx Peak 6 726 m
- Engels Peak 6 507 m
- Mayakovsky Peak 6 096 m
Being one of the highest mountain areas on Earth, the area also has some of the harshest climates and natural extremes on the planet. The weather here is cold most of the time of the year and prevents the growth of trees and shrubs in most areas. Therefore, most of the area is only covered by grasses and shrubs, revealing the tortured geological forms of the peaks and valleys. Yearly precipitation is high, which supports grasslands but only few trees survive in the area. Tourist season lasts only few months, from June to August. During other times the roads can be blocked by snow and it is not safe to move in the Pamirs.
The fauna in Pamir contains rare and majestic threatened species such as Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) and snow leopard (Uncia uncia). Additional mammalian species known to occur in the region are ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), lynx (Lynx lynx), Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul), stone marten (Martes foina), Altai weasel (Mustela altaica), stoat (Mustela erminea), long-tailed marmot (Marmota caudata), hare (Lepus tolai), pikas (Ochotona sp.) and a host of smaller mammals. People have with them sheep, goats, camels, cows and yaks.
Fortresses of Pamir
Two millennia ago, a key route of the Silk Road traversed the Pamir region, witnessing the construction of a network of fortresses. These structures had a dual purpose: safeguarding traders from raids and protecting the empire from neighboring societies, with traders subject to taxation. Presently, only one fortress continues to serve its original function for border protection, while others have lost their significance, leaving behind scant remains of walls.
Yamchun Fortress stands out as the most well-preserved among these constructions, also known as Zamr-I Atisht Parasht or Kafir-Kala. Positioned between the modern borders of Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the Ishkashim district, this fortress is likely the most impressive and ancient monument in Wakhan. Associated with fire worship, indicative of prevalent Zoroastrianism during that era, the fortress may have housed a fire temple. Archaeological findings suggest its construction in the III-I centuries BCE, spanning extensive areas of the Wakhan Valley and the Hindu Kush Mountains in the northern territories of Afghanistan. The fortress takes on a triangular shape, divided into three sections.
Khakha Fortress (Kaakha), situated on a massive 10-meter cliff measuring 700×220 m on the right bank of the Panj River near the Ishkashim village, is another ancient landmark in the Wakhan Valley and the broader Pamir region. Functioning as a defensive structure on the southern side from the 2nd to the 7th century, it now exists only as ruins, providing evidence of its once robust fortification. A portion of the fortress is repurposed as a border checkpoint for controlling the Afghanistan border, with entry and photography prohibited in this section.
Various lesser-known fortresses, including the one near Savnob village, Deruj Castle near Roshtqala, Ratm Fortress, Mausoleum of Bekbulat near Yashil-Kul Lake, castle in Shashbuvad, and Abrashim Qala, contribute to the rich historical tapestry of the Pamir region.
Travel to Pamir
Most travelers choose to start their journey to Pamir from Dushanbe and end it in Osh, Kyrgyzstan or the other way around. The M41 is the second-highest highway in the world, after the nearby Karakorum Highway. It passes the whole Pamir region of Tajikistan, running from Osh, through Murghab and Khorog to Dushanbe. From this road, you can look at China, have a peek into Pakistan and wave to villagers in Afghanistan in the Wakhan corridor. The road stretches for about 1250 km of dramatic landscapes. You will meet hospitable locals, hike, see wildlife as well as camp along the magnificent lakes and rivers.
The Pamirs are isolated and certainly going to be a challenging destination to test one’s body, mind and soul. It is also possible to for example drive through the Pamirs by bike but it will require a lot of experience, pre planning and great physical condition to do so. In order to enter Pamir, you need to get GBAO (Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast) permit with you visa that will be checked at different military checkpoints on the way. Permit duration has a maximum of 45 days. Keep in mind, that you are expected to also obtain a Tajikistan visa if required for your passport.
Pamir destinations & Sights
Page updated 13.12.2022