Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tajikistan - from Dushanbe to Khorog

After the climbers were killed by Taliban insurgents at Nanga Parbat Base Camp in June (see previous posts), we abandoned our plans to climb in Pakistan this year.  We made a last minute decision to go climbing in the Pamirs in Tajikistan instead, largely because there are no permitting requirements.  Without any of the red tape, all we needed to do was buy tickets and go.  The little we knew was that Tajikistan had almost no tourism, so there were no adventure tour companies readily available to help us with our logistics.  We would have to do that ourselves.  This combined with little information on climbing objectives guaranteed that at a minimum it would be an adventure.

Tajikistan is one of the former Soviet Central Asian Republics and borders Afghanistan which is to the south.  We flew into the capital city of Dushanbe arriving at 2 AM, and without spending the night, got in a jeep for the 13 hour drive to the city of Khorog in the southeast part of the country.  We would provision there and then head into the Pamirs.

It was a beautiful drive up and over some mountains and then a big descent to the Panj River that separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan.  The drive follows the river the rest of the way to Khorog and was spectacular with huge relief from the valley to the tops of the rocky mountains above us.  It reminded me of the drive  to Skardu along the Indus River in Pakistan.  

Driving up the Panj River
We could look across the river to Afghanistan and the contrast with development was striking.  Tajikistan looked to have benefited considerably from the Soviet years with much better infrastructure (roads and power lines).  All we could see in Afghanistan were donkey tracks along the river and mud walled villages scattered along the dry hillsides where they had access to water for irrigation.

Afghan village on the other side of the Panj River
The road to Khorog is also called the Pamir Highway and was full of Chinese trucks hauling goods from the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang to Central Asia and further west.

Chinese goods along the Pamir Highway
In Khorog we met with Zhandia who is in charge of the Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA), a new tourism agency funded by a grant from the Aga Khan Foundation to help develop a local industry for trekking and climbing in the region.  Bo White, an American who has been active in Tajikistan both climbing and helping the locals to develop a tourism industry, had put us in touch with her.  Zhandia lined us up with jeeps, assigned other staff to help us in the bazaar to buy all our food and supplies, and found us a cook and assistant cook/interpreters.  Our cook and assistant was something I had never had before, – a mother and son team - Zadifa and Bakhtiyore.  They both spoke some English and in this far flung outpost of the former Soviet Union everyone spoke Russian as a second language to their local tongue and all the writing was in Russian.  So having someone to interpret for us was important since none of us could speak or read Russian.   

Provisioning in Khorog
In the bazaar, three interns from PECTA, Sayora, Forugh and  Safina helped us with our shopping.  The people in Tajikistan are Muslims, but they are Ismailis, a liberal branch of Shia Islam.  In Tajikistan the women can dress in modern western clothes, are visibly active in educational institutions and commerce, and alcohol is readily served in restaurants and outdoor cafes.  

Our helpers from PECTA, Forugh and Safina
Although it was more work to have to do all this shopping ourselves, it was a fun way to connect with how everyday life is conducted in this part of the world.

Doug and his new friend
There was not a lot of information about what had been climbed in the Pamirs in the Soviet years.  Much of that information was not divulged to the West.  But after looking at the maps and photos that we could find, we decided to head up the Shakhdara Valley by jeep to the village of Jawshangoz and then walk to the base camp for two mountains, Karl Marx Peak and Engels Peak.  These peaks had been given Communist names during the Soviet occupation and although some had been given new names the old ones seem to have stuck.


  1. That's a great place to travel. I wish to visit the place in the future. I still love to eat "osh".

  2. Interesting and informative post all the information is useful and well written.
    Saribung Peak Climbing

  3. Special Holiday is Wholesale Tour Operator in India, recipient of National Tourism Award presented by H.E The President of India, International Quality Award from Europe & also World Travel Brand Award, to name few. We have our own transport fleet and offer most attractive deals for tour packages, hotels and car rentals.

  4. Merry Christmas,
    You are so interesting! I don't believe I've truly read through anything like that before. So wonderful to discover another person with a few unique thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This website is something that is required on the internet, someone with a bit of originality! If you want to read Welcome Speech For Christmas Program you have to see the link
    Thank you,