Introducing The Pamirs
Gorno-Badakhshan (eastern Tajikistan) is almost a different country and indeed it has its own special entry requirements. Officially called Kohistani Badakhshan, though commonly abbreviated to GBAO for its Soviet-era name (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast), the region accounts for 45% of Tajikistan’s territory but only 3% of its population. Most of the 212,000 souls who do live here are Pamiris whose irrigated villages lie deep within dramatic rocky valleys above which snow-dusted mountain peaks rise. The eastern region, however, is mostly a stark moonscape plateau, well over 3000m altitude, sparsely populated with Kyrgyz herders whose sheep and yaks eke out an existence in those areas fertile enough for grass to grow.
Locals romantically nickname the region Bam-i-Dunya (the Roof of the World). Westerners talk about ‘the Pamirs’ often assuming that the term refers to the 5000m+ mountains. You will indeed find three of the four highest peaks of the former Soviet Union here. But the word pamir actually translates from ancient Persian as ‘rolling pastureland’, referring to the valleys between those interconnected mountain ranges.