Report from whistlestop Pamir trip (September 2013)
Replies: 6 - Last Post: Nov 19, 2013 9:51 AM Last Post By: barah50
Sep 12, 2013 10:08 PM
Report from whistlestop Pamir trip (September 2013)I tried to post this as an update to my earlier pre-trip post, but hat seems to have disappeared into the Thorntree ether.
We have just returned from our trip to the Pamirs and I thought it might be useful to update the forum on our experiences. As I mentioned in my original post, we did not have a lot of time and were prepared to spend some money to see as much as possible. I emailed all of the vehicle providers mentioned in the new Bradt Tajikistan guidebook and one gentleman recommended here for quotes Sary Tash to Dushanbe via the Pamir Highway, with overnights in Murghab, Khorog (x2) and Qalai Qum. I got quite varied responses. Most were based on a per km charge of 0.65 or 0.75 USD with a daily rate for the driver of around USD20. Most (but not all) also wanted to charge for the drive to Sary Tash for the pick up. The range of quotes was USD 1000-2500. We went with the cheapest - Tour de Pamir, based in Khorog (no French spoken).
To get to Osh from Tashkent, we took a taxi through the Fergana Valley. We probably overpaid a little at USD 110 to the border, but the driver also paid for lunch. From the border, we were able to change money at the going rate and took one of the waiting minibuses for a negligible sum. In Osh, we stayed at the former Intourist Hotel Osh. It cost about USD25, for clean but very basic facilities (bathroom a bit grotty; wifi in the lobby). We looked for the Chinese restaurant mentioned in the guidebook, but it seems to have already closed down and has been replaced with a nightclub-cum-restaurant called Las Vegas, which still serves Chinese food, alongside more traditional Kyrgyz fare. We managed to get a plate of fried rice before the power went out. After an hour, we gave up and felt our way home.
The next morning, we had a wander through Osh and had some lunch. We then asked around about a lift to Sary Tash. The best price we could negotiate was 3,500 KGS (USD 73). We took this, the guidebook having advised that public transport was only available in the early morning. In fact, we later met some Polish travellers who had got a minibus around the same time as us, which took four hours to our three.
Sary Tash is a very small settlement around an important road junction, with a wonderful setting. We were staying there to acclimatise a little, as it is over 3,000m - about the same as Murghab. There are a few accommodation options, which we considered and settled for the Sary Tash Guest House. We paid 600 KGS for dinner, bed and breakfast in our own room, which was very comfortable. There was no running water, but the outside toilet was clean and relatively sweet-smelling. After dinner, a haystack was delivered over the fence blocking access to the toilet, though that was cleared by morning!
Our driver, Ergash, had arrived and was staying at the neighbouring homestay, which was 500 KGS. It had quite a strong odour of dairy products and had everyone sleeping in the same room. Ergash said we had to leave at 7 am to make it to Mughab, so we were ready at the crossroads then. A Japanese traveller was there too, hitchhiking to Pakistan. He was picked up after about 30 mins. Ergash arrived at 7.40, having been to get petrol.
So, we started out on the Pamir Highway proper. Kyrgyz border formalities were quite time consuming (about 30 mins, but we were the only people there). We then drove up through the snowline into Tajikistan, stopping to take some shots at the pass, where there were various Soviet and post-Soviet edifices to pose by. Tajik formalities, somewhat further on, were more perfunctory. This was all handled by Ergash, which insulated us somewhat from the ability to chat to the officials, usually a source of good anecdotes. It also meant not filling in any immigration or customs forms, which we were later asked for on leaving Tajikistan. It wasn't a problem though.
We took tea in Karokul and walked down to the lake, which was very atmospheric. We got some good photos of yaks grazing nearby.
On to Mughab, where we arrived shortly after 1pm (fewer than 7hrs from Sary Tash, including 1 hour time difference). This was to become a theme. The road was in very good condition, presumably a feature of the time of year (early September) and Ergash never drove slower than the fastest he could go and had little inclination to point out anything of interest, though he did stop for photos when asked. He had brought an assistant with him and they spent the entire four days engaged in animated conversation in Tajik.
There is very little to do in Murghab. The bazaar was shut, but we did manage to find somewhere to sell us a bowl of cabbage soup. We also went to the Yak House, which entertained us for about 10 minutes. There is a statue of Lenin.
On Ergash's recommendation, we stayed at Guest House Mansur Tulfabeck which is on the main highway as you come into Murghab. It apparently has Murghab's first flushing toilet, though for some reason, it is still outside. We again got a private room, which was a little dirtier and draftier than in Sary Tash, but hot showers were available. Dinner, bed, breakfast and showers came to 105 TJS (USD 21) for two.
On day two, we left at 08.30 for Khorog. Again, the road was quite good and had little traffic. We stopped at a hot spring near the sanatorium (which was closed for renovations). It was a metal roofed building with a greenhouse attached, a little way back from the road and had a large indoor hot pool with adjacent showers and hot-flushing toilet. It looked like they also provided rooms and food, though we were too late for the latter. We were not charged.
We got to Khorog at 16.30. Ergash had discouraged us from staying two nights in Khorog as "there is nothing to do", but it seemed a pleasant place where we could have spent a day. The original intention had been that we would need a day to break the arduous journey, but it wasn't that bad, despite the Landcruiser's worn out suspension, non-functional (or at least not switched-on) AC and the manic driving. An extra day would also allow us to see Bukhara, so we agreed.
We wanted to stay at the Serena, but it was full. Instead we got a huge and very nice room (with breakfast) at the LAL Hotel (including a rare double bed, cable TV and en suite toilet and shower). USD 100 - quite a bit less than the Serena, which is poorly located out of town.
We wanted to leave at midday on Day 3 to give us some opportunity to see Khorog, but Ergash said it would take all day to get to Qalai Qum. We left at 8am, with a friend's dishwasher in tow, and got to Qalai Qum at 3pm. The journey along the Panj was spectacular, but the last bit of the road was in bad condition. Ergash gave us the option of staying in Qalai Qum, pressing on to a hunting lodge a couple of hours further or continuing to Khulob. We opted for Khulob. We got there just after 7pm, as it was getting dark. In Khulob, we stayed at the Sano Guesthouse, recommended by our guidebook and Ergash. USD 20 for bed and breakfast with shared bathroom inc. shower (though we were the only guests). The room looked nice enough for the money, but on closer inspection it was quite filthy (especially the mattress), mouse-infested and had potentially lethal wiring, including a bare flex on the TV, which one was expected to introduce to the uncovered outlet on the wall! To add insult to injury in the morning, USD 20 per person was demanded, whereupon an argument ensued. We paid USD 30 for an easy life.
As we were most of the way to Dushanbe, we suggested to Ergash that we stop at some of the sights in our guidebook: the Khoja Mumin salt mountain in Vose; the Hulbek fortress in Kurbon Shahid and the Nurek dam. We rendezvoused at 07.30 and were taken on an unsolicited two hour drive up a nearby sanddune, which we think was a substitute for Khoja Mumin and for which a charge of USD 30 was suggested. Instead we wrote off the 100 TJS Ergash had borrowed from us. The Hulbek fortress was closed for renovations, apparently, and we glimpsed Nurek reservoir from afar, but not the dam. We got to our hotel in Dushanbe at 3pm. The quality of the road was generally good, especially closer to Dushanbe.
A few days later, we caught the number 8 bus to the Zarnisar Bazaar and there picked up a taxi to the Uzbek border for a very reasonable TJS20 (USD 4!). The journey took 1.5 hours altogether (very good road). Formalities took another hour. On the other side, after much messing about, we secured the back seat of a shared taxi to Samarkand for UZS 160,000 (USD 60 approx.). Altogether, with a stop for dinner, the journey from the border to Samarkand took 9 hours. The road was generally in very good condition.
Reflections on the Pamir Highway:
One can comfortably cover the route in four days by car. There was no part of the road where we were not accompanied by 2WD vehicles, though some stretches would be a struggle in anything less than perfect conditions. Incidentally, something like 80% of local cars were Opel Astras, if thinking of bringing a car with you and relying on availability of spare parts.
For cyclists, the rougher stretches were along the Panj and that was where traffic was heaviest, but the road is generally quite wide for its whole length.
The whole route was quite spectacular, with the early stretches north of Murghab and the parts which trace the Panj being most interesting to us.
Although we had good reason to do the route Sary Tash to Dushanbe, the altitude gain would be easier in reverse and we did suffer a little in Murghab from the altitude.
We would use Tour de Pamir again, because of the vast difference in price, but consider something to protect you from the dust from the open windows and do some detailed research on what there is to see along the way and how to get to it and be assertive about stopping/detouring. The Bradt guide was pretty poor on that front; maybe LP is better?
We had GSM mobile signal a lot of the time and certainly at the overnight stops, but no data signal between Osh and Khorog. Even then, our phones would not pick up data in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, but were fine in Uzbekistan (UK O2 roaming). We found no wifi en route, but it may exist.
Also, between Osh and Khorog, the only bottled water we could find to buy was extremely salty cabonated mineral water - so salty in fact that one litre would give you you daily recommended maximum of sodium! Food was good - we were being quite careful and my girlfrend does not eat meat, but we got by fine.
We had a great time - hope this post is of some use to those planning similar trips.
Sep 13, 2013 2:29 AM
Sep 14, 2013 12:45 AM
Sep 14, 2013 9:24 AM
3It's probably a little late now but it is worthwhile spending more time on the route than you had available. Obvious options might have been:
- Overnight in Karakul (worth it if you can get Pik Lenin at sunrise)
- Trip to Rangkul - beautiful lake and views, camel treking and dune riding
- Trip down to Zorkul - wildest parts of the Pamir
- Trip down the Wakhan
- Trip up the Bartang or Vanj (Geisev and Poi Mazar are both beautiful)
LP is in the process of writing their new edition. www.meta.tj and www.pamirs.org are good web resources.
Sep 20, 2013 8:57 AM
Nov 5, 2013 8:35 PM
Nov 19, 2013 9:51 AM
Bags feeling light?
Coffee table looking bare?
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