A guide to Self-Driving on Pamir Highway

A guide to Self-Driving on Pamir Highway

Mirzo Nazar 14 hours ago
By Mirzo Nazar | Friday 2 November, 2018 2 November, 2018

 

The Pamir Highway is one of the worlds recognized and famous road-trips and definitely one of the highlights of Central Asia. Long, Rugged, Remote and incredibly scenic it starts in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe and finishes in the southern city of Kyrgyzstan, Osh. The Pamir highway route has been used as a trade route from ancient times when the Silk Road traders from China exchanged goods with Iranians and Europeans. Paved by Soviets in the early 1930's, the highway became the second highest in the world after Karakoram Highway and today it offers a lifetime road-trip experience for adventure lovers. The easiest way to do the trip is to hire a car with a driver either from Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, but for those willing to explore and drive the highway by themselves I suggest a thorough research and preparation before hitting the road.

Why would you consider self-driving?

Of course you can save yourself the hassle by hiring a car with driver, however, if you prefer exploring, being independent and flexible, then self-driving is what you need. Having your own transport means that you can adjust your travel plans on a whim, whether that means making a spontaneous stop in a village or on a site that you discover en-route to somewhere else; taking a detour to visit side valleys that you hear about from local people or other travelers en-route; or leaving somewhere early if you find that it's not quite what you expected. The independence of a self-drive tour on Pamir highway is ideally suited to explorers.

 

Route planning and road information

Border crossings, checkpoints, and police

Renting a car

Practical information

 

Route planning and road information

Once you have decided to self-drive, you should at least make some plan on how many days you will do the trip, where you will start and where you will finish. There are two possibilities where to start the Pamir highway tour, it's either Dushanbe or Osh. These cities are also the places where you can find car rentals. The route, there is only one Pamir Highway - M41 (a red line on the map), however, what makes the trip even more adventurous and exciting are the side-trips and detours like Wakhan valley, Yashilkul and Bulunkul lakes, Bartang valley and others. Therefore, before deciding on a number of days, consider which places you want to visit along the highway and plan your trip accordingly. The minimum days I suggest for the driving on Pamir Highway is Seven days and the ideal is 10-11 days, but that doesn't mean you can't do the trip in less or more days. Doing the trip in less than seven days means you will be in Rush at some points or miss the detours which I do not recommend as the whole idea of the road trip is to enjoy the landscapes and spending time in villages and towns to learn about the culture and visiting the incredible sites. By rushing you will just miss the experience!

To help you in developing a plan and decide on a number of days to travel on Pamir Highway I broke the route into five parts starting from Dushanbe. You can surely plan your trip starting from Osh as well.

 

Part 1: Dushanbe to Kalai Khumb

You have two options to go with if you start your Pamir Highway road-trip from Dushanbe, via south - Kulob city and via north Tavildara and Khaburobot Pass, later being more demanding.

For the southern road, start driving east from Aini street in Dushanbe to Vahdat town and then south to Norak where you can make your first stop to enjoy the view of Norak reservoir and try some local dry fruits and meals at a road bazaar near Norak sea viewpoint. Then continue on the highway to Kulob passing by Dangara and making another stop in Vose town to visit Hulbuk fort and museum. Make a longer stop in Kulob to visit Hamadoni mausoleum, the bazaar and have lunch, as there will be no better options for lunch until Kalai Khumb. From Kulob you can either continue on to Kalai Khumb or make a detour to Muminobod town - 60km and visit the Childukhtaron valley (40 girls in the Tajik language), a beautiful nature reserve area with rock-formed mountains. A visit to Muminobod will also give you a perspective of rural Tajik life and southern Tajiks culture. You can also meet the honey keepers and visit apple gardens in Muminobod. Allow 1 night for Childukhtaron detour. In Kulob take a right turn before the central park and after National TV building then right again on to - ulica pervogo maya (1st may street), and continue on to Surobod and Kalai Khumb on the straight road. The traffic from Dushanbe to Shurobod is heavy and there are a lot of police patrolling so keep your speed limit to 60 km/h maximum. After passing Shurobod pass you will encounter a police and border checkpoint, to save time make a copy of your passport, visa, and PoA beforehand. Once you pass the checkpoint and start descending the first views of the Panj river and Afghanistan will appear before you and you continue to Kalai Khumb along the river. Just 15 km before the Kalai Khumb town in the village of Patkunob there is a beautiful resort called Chorchaman, which is a nice stop for a short walk and rest near the river and waterfalls.

As mentioned the Northern road is more challenging, because of the road conditions, although the distance is shorter. From Vahdat town roundabout make a left turn and continue on the M41 road passing through Faizabad, Obi Garm and Nurobod. 16 km after Nurobod there will be a turn to Tavildara, the road signs will point it to you, and the M41 highway continues south to Kalai Khumb from here. A possible detour on this route is the Obi Khingob valley. If you happen to travel with the bike, it’s a perfect place for Mountain biking along the river through villages. In the upper valley, there are lots of day trekking options to side valleys with incredible snowcapped peak views. Allow a day or two for Obi Khingob valley detour.

Food: Make sure you take enough water and snacks from Dusanbe, my suggestion is to buy several 5 liter bottles and refill your bottle along the way, the best place to stock up in Dushanbe is Ashan Mall or Mergon Bazaar. On this route have lunch in Kulob and dinner either in a road restaurant in Kalai Khumb near the bridge or if you want something of upper scale in Karon Hotel. If you will book a homestay in Kalai Khumb like that of Roma or Bahrom, dinner is included in the price. If you take the Northern road, make lunch either in Nurobod or Tavildara towns.

Accommodation: There are several options to stay overnight in Kalai Khumb, see homestays map.

Homestays: Roma or Bahrom

Guesthouse: Pamir Guesthouse in Dashtak village 5 km before Kalai Khumb

Hotels: Luxury Karon Palace hotel

Gas stations: There are a lot of Gas stations on the road from Dushanbe to Kulob, but better to full your tank in Dushanbe as it is cheaper there. The further from Dushanbe you drive the more expensive gas becomes. You can refill your tank either gas, patrol or diesel in Kalai Khumb to continue the trip. As for the northern road gas station are available in Nurobod and Tavildara towns, further Tavildara to Kalai Kumb there are no gas stations.

Road conditions: The southern road is all paved from Dushanbe to about 20 km before Kalai Khumb, many parts being new asphalt. As for the northern route the road is paved only to the Tavildara turn, and from the Tavildara to Kalai Khumb there is mostly mountainous dirt road.

Dushanbe - Kalai Khumb via Southern road - 370 km

Dushanbe - Kalai Khumb via Northern road - 300 km

Kulob to Muminobod - 60 km

Dushanbe to Kalai Khumb on Pamir Highway map

 

Part 2: Kalai Khumb to Khorog

This part of the Pamir Highway lies along the border all the way to Khorog in 240 km. Right after Kalai Khumb the bad road starts and the first 98km to Vanj valley junction is going to be a challenging driving test for you. Try to keep the speed limit to 25-30 and max 40 km per hour as there are many twists and turns here. After 10km from Kalai Kumb above the village of Ruzvai there is a site of a historical Karon town, which also offers spectacular views of Panj river. You will need to use your 4wd to drive up to the site. Once you reach Vanj valley junction there will be a police checkpoint where you will be asked to present all your documents including your driver's license, car documents, PoA, your visa, and Passport. After passing the checkpoint you cross a bridge and for about 20 km enjoy a relatively good road. Further, the road becomes partially paved and partially deteriorated, but definitely better than the first 98 kilometers, all the way to Khorog. There will be another police checkpoint on this road, just after passing Vomar town in Rushan district.

There are several detour options on this part of the route, first is the Vanj valley. After 98 km from Kalai Khumb when you reach the checkpoint, you can turn left towards a wide valley called Vanj and drive 88 km to the last village - Poi Mazor, beyond which splendid views back down the valley available. Before the Poi Mazor village, there is also a hot spring with warm water. You can leave your car in Poi Mazor at a homestay and go for a Bears glacier trek with an overnight camping. Another detour option is the Bartang valley. In Bartang valley there are two points of interest, Khijez valley, and Sarez lake. For Sarez lake you should drive about 120km to Barchadiv village on a dirt road. Allow two full days for a hike to Sarez lake and make sure to get the Lake Permit before you hit the road from Dushanbe. People in Tajikistan are extremely hospitable, and these villages are in very remote parts of the country, although people are very responsible about tourists belongings, it is better to ask your host to look after the car and park it inside the house, while you are on a hiking trip. As for Khijez valley, it is only 40km off the Pamir Highway and has several homestays, where you can leave the car and go for hiking. You have probably heard or read about Jizev valley in Bartang which is a very popular valley for hiking. It is only 7 km before Khijez, but unfortunately, there is no road to the village and an option to leave the car. So Khijez valley is a good alternative for hiking to Jizev valley, with an option of leaving the car in the village. If you happen to carry a tent with you, consider also making a detour to Khuf village and valley. After 15km from the Rushan checkpoint at the village of Pastkhuf turn left and drive up to Khuf village, from where you should drive another five km along the river and find your perfect spot for camping, with an incredible view of the valley.     

Food: There are fewer restaurants and café options on this road. One of the places you can have lunch is Khekhik road café which is about 30 km after the Vanj checkpoint, or if you don't feel that hungry by the time you reach Khekhik, drive another 30km and stop at another road café which serves better food, or you can also drive to Vanj town 15km west after the checkpoint and have a full lunch in one of the town restaurants. There are several options for dinner in Khorog, try Deli Darbar, Khorog Park or Shugnan restaurants. If you make any detours you can have lunch in homestays which are usually included in the accommodation price. 

Accommodation: There are many hotels, guesthouse and homestay options in Khorog.

Hotels: Lal Inn, Serena Khorog, Pamir Grand hotel, Deli Darbar

Guesthouses: Parinen Inn, Khorog Hostel

Homestays: See the homestays map

Gas stations: Fill up your tank in Kalai Kumb today, as the gas stations are scarce on this part of the Pamir Highway, especially if you run on diesel or propane gas. There will be gas stations in Vanj town, Vomar and eventually in Khorog.

Road conditions:

Most of the road on this route is in a bad condition with potholes. The first 90 km from Kalai Khumb to Vanj is extremely deteriorated asphalt. After Vanj the road becomes better and thus continues to Rushon. From Rushon to Porshnev the deteriorated asphalt resumes and from Porshnev to Khorog the road is good. 

Kalai Khumb to Khorog - 240km

Detour to Vanj valley:  to Poi Mazor village - 90 km

Detour to Bartang valley: to Barchadiv village 120km, to Kijez village 40km

Detour to Khuf valley: about 15 km to the camping site              

Kalai Khumb to Korog map, Pamir Highway

 

Part 3: Khorog to Bulunkul

From Khorog you have two options to go with, you can either make a side trip to Wakhan valley, which takes at least two days or drive straight to Bulunkul village or even further to Murgab.

Most people choose to do a detour to Wakan valley, and I recommend you do it too. Not only you will be rewarded with fantastic views but also with the many fortresses, shrines, Buddhist and Zoroastrian remains left from thousands of years ago. In fact, most travelers consider Wakhan valley to be the highlight of the whole Pamir Highway trip. To continue the tour via Wakhan valley cross the bridge after Khorog central park and turn right to join the Panj river again, then drive along the river all the way down to Ishkasim. As mentioned there are plenty of sights to see in Wakhan valley, if you depart from Khorog early in the morning you can drive all the way to Yamg village  in Wakhan valley for overnight and reach Bulunkul the next day or if you spend some time in the morning visiting Afghan bazaar in Khorog and other sights and depart after lunch you can make an overnight stop in Ishkashim which is 110 km south of Khorog. One of the detours on this road is the Garmchashma hot spring (see the map). From Ishkashim you can either spend the whole day exploring the sights and making another overnight stop in Langar village or drive to Bulunkul village via Khargush pass, about 240 km. There is a possibility to extend this part of the road for up to 4 days, doing various hikes like that of Engels meadows (see trekking routes map).

If you choose to skip Wakhan valley, you are probably doing a quick Pamir Highway tour or may be interested in trekking around Bachor and Yashilkul area. If the latter is your choice, then keep driving on M41 Highway. For Bachor reach the village of Sardem and make a right turn to cross the Ghund river, then continue another 20 km on the dirt road to the village. For trekking options in Bachor see the trekking routes map. Bulunkul village is located at 16km off the Pamir Highway. If you are driving from Khorog on M41 highway look for a Bulunkul sign after descending from Koitezak pass, and if you have taken the Wakhan valley road turn left once you reach M41 highway after crossing Kargush pass.      

Food: In Wakhan the best option for lunch is Ishkashim where several restaurants and cafes are available, further Ishkashim don't expect to find any place to eat except the homestays. If you are driving on the M41 highway the good option for lunch would be Jelondy hot spring café located just before the Koitezak pass, or you can have lunch in Bulunkul village at Nisos homestay. 

Accommodation: There are no Hotels further Khorog until Murgab. Only homestays and guesthouses available.

In Wakhan the most popular Homestays are in Yamcun, Yamg and Langar villages, and in Bulunkul there are a couple of other homestays besides Niso's and sometimes even a Yurt available. See the Homestays map.

Gas stations: Make sure you fill up your tank in Khorog, be it gas, petrol or diesel. If you are running on diesel, fill up your extra tank as well. In Wakhan the gas station will be only in Ishkashim with petrol and diesel, but more expensive than in Khorog, and on the M41 highway there are several gas stations before Koitezak pass with petrol only.   

Road conditions: From Khorog to Ishkashim the road continues along the Panj river on a narrow gorge with mostly asphalted road closer to Ishkashim. The beginning of the road from Khorog to Andarob goes through a dirt road. The second part of the road from Ishkashim to Langar is gravel mixed with once asphalted road and some parts with tarmac. From Langar to Pamir highway the road lies through Khargush mountains pass on a dirt road with some tarmac sections. The ascend to the Pass starts right after Langar. Pamir Highway from Korog to Jelondy is paved with some potholes. About 10 km of the road in Barsem village was washed away in 2015 and lies through a side dirt road.

A track west of the junction between the Pamir highway and the road from Khargush pass leads to the village of Bulunkul. The road is tarmac and has many side extra roads parallel to the main which are better according to local drivers, however, be cares with this side roads as they can lead you away from the main one. If you are driving from Khorog there will be a sign "Булункул", and if you are driving from Murgab the road will appear from your right after the Khargush road fork. Another 4 km from the village with the same condition road leads to Yashilkul lake. A permit is needed to enter Yashilkul lake, which can be obtained at a booth near the lake road. 

Khorog to Bulunkul - 200 km

Khorog to Murgab - 315 km

Khorog to Bulunkul via Wakan valley - 345 km

Khorog to Iskashim - 105 km

Garmchashma detour - 7km 

Ishkashim to Langar - 115km

Langar to Bulunkul village - 125 km

Khorog to Bulunkul map, Pamir Highway

 

Part 4: Bulunkul to Murgab

This part of the Pamir Highway tour goes on the Roof of the world or locally known as "Bomi Dunyo", and a detour can be made to a greater Pamir which encompasses the area south of Murgab and the very East of Afghanistan. The majority of the Murgab area population is Kyrgyz and thus it is possible to meet a lot of pastures with Yurts especially around side valleys along the M41 highway. If you are not into driving literally off the beaten track than escape they side trips and drive straight to Murgab or Karakul making couple of stops en route to see Ak Balik lake, 10 km from Alichur - a beautiful clear pool with fish, revered as a holy place by the local Kyrgyz, and Chatyr Tash mount 20 km further the Ak Balyk pool - which is a huge rock in the middle of Alichur plain on top of which there are graves, and a possibility to take Alichur plain panorama photos. A small detour on this road can be made to Bashgumbez settlement - 30 km from Alichur (see the map), which has been around for thousands of years, and the ancient Chinese tomb just near the Bashgumbez is a proof to its historical existence. If you drive straight to Murgab without stops, you will reach Murgab by noon. This gives you an opportunity to drive further to Karakul lake in another 4 hours. For the detours on the road from Murgab to Karakul see Part 5.

If you are kind of a traveler who likes to get lost and discover the places only a handful of outsiders had ever been to, then the detour to Jartygumbez is just a perfect place. Apart from being one of the remotest places in Tajikistan Jartygumbez also features the Hot spring, Saka tombs, old Kyrgyz graves and a possibility to spot Marcolo Polo sheep and ibex. Nowhere else in Tajikistan the chances are high to see these unique animals than in Jartygumbez area. To reach the place drive 75km from Alichur and turn right into a dusty trail where the road takes a u-shape and continue on the track another 60 km. It is very easy to lose the track so if you meet any shepherds en-route, which is very likely, ask for Jartygumbez direction. In Jartygumbez you have two options to go with, you can drive to Zorkul lake in the morning of the next day and back to M41 highway or continue to Kyzylrabot, Shaimak and on to Murgab thus making a loop drive. For Zorkul lake you will need a special permit which can be obtained in Dushanbe or Khorog. The track that leads to Kyzylrabot is very difficult to find, at one point the track disappears into a seemingly impenetrable rock face, through which there is a narrow passage, therefore it is recommended to take a guide who knows the roads. If you choose to make the Kyzylrabot loop consider making another overnight stop in Kyzylarabot or Shaimak before reaching Murgab, though it is possible to drive straight to Murgab in one day, in case you have someone to show you the road and not get lost.           

Food: Due to the remoteness of the Murgab area and the low population, there are practically no restaurants in the area. Ones that are available are the road café in Alichur and a Pamir hotel restaurant in Murgab. In Jartygumbez the lunch and dinner are served at hunters camp, which is also an overnight stay option. In Kyzylrabot or Shaimak you can dine in homestays. I recommend you stock up with food before making the detours, in case it will take more time for you to find the place, you can always use your own food.  

Accommodation:

Apart from Pamir hotel, there are plenty of nice homestays available in Murgab. See homestays map

In Jartygumbez you can stay in a Yurt or at a lodge in hunters camp

In Shaimak there are several homestays available, see the homestays map

Gas stations: The only gas station available in this part of the Pamir Highway route until Murgab is in Alichur, don't expect to find a propane or diesel. 

Road conditions: The road from Alichur to Murgab is paved with some bumpy parts. All the detour roads including Bashgumbez and Jartygumbez are dirt roads and a 4weeldrive car is essential to be able to drive there.

Bulunkul to Murgab - 145km

Bashgumbez - 20km off the highway

Jartygumbez  - 60km off the highway

Jartygumbez to Murgab via Shaimak - 200km

Bulunkul to Murgab map, Pamir Highway

 

Part 5: Murgab to Osh

The culminating part of the Pamir Highway road trip goes through the highest point of the M41 highway - Ak Baital pass, 4655m. From Murgab the Pamir Highway continues north to Kyrgyz border and on to Osh passing Karakul lake and Sarytash town in Kyrgyzstan. Doing the whole route in one day is possible but not recommended as its too long (420km) and several must make detours can be taken. The most popular stops between Murgab and Osh are Karakul village and Tulparkul yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan. If you skipped the Jartigumbez - Shaimak loop and still would like to visit Shaimak, which is a remote area known as little Pamir and the junction of four countries Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, you can drive to Shaimak and back in one day. Shaimak is one of the landmarks known to early Silk Road travelers and sits at the foot of a huge white/yellowish cliff. There is a hot spring, beautiful mosque and Scythian graves in Shaimak.

To the west of Murgab there is a road leading to Madian valley, but unfortunately, the road was washed away and it is not possible to drive to the valley anymore. Driving north of Murgab before Akbaital Pass two detours can be made, to Pshart valley and to Rangkul lake and village. The Pshart valley road begins 5 km north of Murgab near the graveyard. The road in Pshart valley can be driven only by 4wd and stretches for 25 km. To the end of the valley, you can encounter pastures with Yurts and see beautiful rainbow mountains. Further up the highway 20 km past Murgab a side road leads to iridescent lakes of Shorkul and Rangkul. It is possible to catch the view of Mustagh Ata peak in China (7546 m) on a clear day from Rangkul village and rent a Bactrian camel for a ride.

Some 40 km from the Ak Baital pass a turn-off leads west along a track to the Muzkol valley, then north to Tanimas river and southwest again to Bartang valley. This route can be taken as a way back to Dushanbe, however, it's doable only during the specific time of the year, when the Tanimas river water levels are at lowest. Passing the Muzkol valley turn, the road continues north to Karakul lake along the Chinese border. Karakul is a spectacular lake at an altitude of nearly 4000 meters which is the biggest natural lake in Tajikistan. Nearby the lake there is a village with several homestays and Yurts, which can be a good overnight stop before driving to Osh. 58km past Karakul you will reach Kyzyl Art border. First, you will go through Tajik border checkpoint - Kyzyl Art and 30 km after you will officially enter Kyrgyzstan yet at another border checkpoint called Bordobo. For border crossing formalities see border crossing & checkpoints below. Once you enter Kyrgyzstan after 22km of the potholed road, from the junction of A371 and M41 highways the road becomes paved and thus continues all the way to Osh over Taldyk (3615m) and Chiyirchyk (2389m) passes. The drive usually takes 3 hours from this point and offers beautiful views especially from the passes.

One of the last detours on the Pamir Highway trip that I personally think is a must is the one to Tulparkul Yurt camp south of Sary Mogol town in Kyrgyzstan. To reach the place turn west at a junction of A371 and M41 roads and drive 30 km to Sary Mogol town. From Sary Mogol drive south crossing the bridge at the south end of the town and drive another 25 km on the right track on the dirt road. All along the way to the town and the yurt camp, you will be treated with incredible views of snowcapped Trans-Alai mountain range peaks. In Tulparkul you can spend a night in a yurt and hike to the first Lenin Peak base camp to see the Peak (7134m) if the weather allows.       

In Osh, you will either conclude your trip, hand over the car if you have rented it or you can continue on to Bishkek in two days via Toktogul lake and Suusamir valley and in 3-4 days via Naryn and Songkul lake. Most of the Car rental providers in Dushanbe rent the car only until Osh. So from here if you want to continue your journey to Bishkek you can rent a different car to Bishkek. For the list of Car rental providers see Renting a car section below.

Another option to continue from Osh is to return to Dushanbe, which is explained below.

Food: There are no restaurants and cafes between Murgab and Karakul or Between Karakul and Sarytash. Depending on where you want to drive from Murgab you can have lunch at homestays in Karakul, Rangkul and Sary Mogol if you decide to visit Tulpalkul. There are a couple of cafes in Sarytash and on the road from Sarytash to Osh. Dinner in Tulparkul camp can be arranged by the camp host.

Accommodation: If you dice on a stop between Murgab and Oshmake it either in Karakul village or Tulparkul Yurt camp, though Sarytash and Sary Mogol can also be an option.

Karakul: Several homestays and a yurt are available. See homestays map

Sarytash: Several guesthouses and a hostel available. Consider Muras Hostel, Pamirextreme, Eliza and Shamurat's guesthouses. 

Sary Mogol: There are a number of CBT (community-based tourism) homestays available in Sary Mogol including that of Lenin Peak and Abdilla homestays.

Osh: Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and many Hotels, Guesthouses, and homestays available. It is possible to book a hotel, hostel or a guesthouse via online booking platforms or refer to Indy Guide accommodation options in Osh.

Gas stations: If you haven't refilled your tank in Murgab or ran out of fuel the closest place after Murgab to get Fuel is Sarytash town. Propane, Diesel or patrol from Sarytash to Osh there will be several gas stations en-route in bigger towns. Also, there are gas stations on the road to Sary Mogol and in the town as well, if you decide to go to Tulparkul. 

Road conditions: In general most of the road between Murgab and Osh is paved. Only a portion of the road on Akbaital pass and the 30 km of no man's land between the border checkpoints are tarmac and dirt. The road from Sarytash to Osh is a perfect asphalt and you will definitely enjoy it after the no man's land road. In Osh there are plenty of restaurants and cafes, just go outside and walk any direction from your place.  

Murgab to Osh - 420km

Pshart valley - 25km from the road

Rangkul village - 36km off the road

Shaimak - 126 km south of Murgab

Pamir Highway to Vomar town in Rushan via Bartang valley - 280km (Can be done in two days)

Tulparkul yurt camp - 55km from the M41 highway

Karakul to Osh - 285km 

Murgab to Osh map, Pamir Highway

 

Return to Dushanbe via Isfara and Khujand

It takes at least two days to return to Dushanbe from Osh and most of the car rental providers in Dushanbe would like you to do so to save time and money for car pick up in Osh. The road west of Osh via Nookat and Sokh region of Uzbekistan enclave to Batken leads to Kyzyl Bel border with Tajikistan and eventually to the northern cities of Isfara and Khujand in Tajikistan. The trip can be broken into two parts, from Osh to Khujand and from Khujand to Dushanbe. On the road from Khujand to Dushanbe, it is possible to make several detours to Fann mountains of Tajikistan in one or two days to Iskanderkul lake or 7 lakes and Penjikent city. The Iskanderkul lake detour can be made on the same day, however, if you want to visit 7 lakes, I recommend to make an overnight stop. In Khujand follow the Dushanbe signs from Khujand bazaar and drive south to Shahristan. You will go through two tunnels on this road Shahristan tunnel - 4km and Anzob tunnel-5km. 

NOTE: The road from Osh to Batken may be confusing as it crosses Uzbekistan territory if you look on maps. In fact, it only crosses Uzbekistan territory in Sokh region which is an enclave of Uzbekistan in Kyrgyzstan and you do not need any extra visas or permit to drive through it.

To enter Tajikistan again you will need another e-visa, I recommend you apply for the second Tajik e-visa after you enter Tajikistan and use your first one or you can arrange a multiple entry stamp visa at any Tajik embassy abroad before arriving in Dushanbe.         

Food: If you start driving to Batken early, consider making lunch in Isfara. Sometimes the border checkpoint can be heavily trafficked and it may take several hours to cross, so having food with you or doing the lunch in Batken would be wise. There are plenty of restaurants in Khujand. Actually, Khujand is famous for having delicious and cheap food in Tajikistan among other bigger cities, so you won't have problems finding food here. The problematic places to have lunch would be the Iskanderkul lake and 7 lakes, make sure you eat somewhere on the road before making these detours.  

Accommodation: There are many hotels, guesthouse and homestay options in Khujand.

Hotels: Deluxe hotel, Sugd Hotel, Grand Hotel

For homestays and guesthouses see homestays map.

Gas stations: Not a problem at all, I suggest you fill up in Kyrgyzstan before entering Tajikistan as the fuel is cheaper in Kyrgyzstan.

Road conditions: All the road from Osh to Dushanbe is paved. Except for the road to Iskanderkul which lies along Iskander river. Finding a road to the lake is easy, look for a wall decorated with mosaics and a sign "Зарафшон 2" and turn right or left depending on where you are coming from. Drive through the bridge and continue straight uphill all the way. The road condition here is bad, with potholed asphalt in the villages and extremely deteriorated road with a lot of potholes closer to the lake, the same is true for the road to seven lakes.

Osh to Khujand - 360 km

Khujand to Dushanbe 310 km

Detour to Iskanderkul lake - 36km from the main road

Detour to 7 lakes: 140km to the 6th lake from Aini 

Osh to Dushanbe via Batken map

 

Border crossings, checkpoints, and police

Most countries in central Asia share the same border crossing rules and formalities.

If you have rented the car in Dushanbe and driving with Tajik car, you won't pay any taxes at Tajik border checkpoints when exiting Tajikistan, same is true for Kyrgyz cars if you exit Kyrgyzstan. Re-entering Tajikistan with Tajik car will require you paying 25-30 Tajik somonis for disinfection, not the case with Kyrgyzstan though.

Entering Kyrgyzstan at Bordobo border checkpoint, after Kyzyl art pass on the road from Murgab to Osh with a non-Kyrgyz car.

Here you pass the immigration booth first and get entry stamps on your passport, after immigration you drive under the canopy and enter the customs office where you will be asked to fill out two paper forms, a temporary importation form for the car and export obligation form for the same car, the copies of which you should keep as you might be asked during exit. There are two obligatory payments to enter Kyrgyzstan with a car, eco-tax, and insurance. Eco-tax costs 1200 KG soms (17,2 USD) and insurance costs 1000 KG soms (14,5), if your car has the insurance which covers Kyrgyzstan as well you can skip this payment. Always ask for the payment receipts and keep the copies of receipts. After filling out the forms and payment your car will be searched for prohibited items/goods, which are basically the same in each country. It's ok to have alcoholic drinks and even knives.

Entering Tajikistan at Kyzylart border checkpoint, after Kyzyl art pass on the road from Osh to Murgab with a non-Tajik car.

First, you enter the immigration booth and get the entry stamps in your passport and e-visa if you have one. Past the immigration you drive under the canopy and go through the customs where you fill out the import/export form for the car. Make sure about the validity of importation document as the customs guys tend to give it for fewer days than your visa validity, ask the officer to match with your visa which is 30 or 45 days. The car importation fee is 25$ for 4wd cars and 35$ for bigger ones. Make sure to get the receipt and keep it until you exit the country. Another document you will be asked to get and pay for is Control Card and registration of Vehicles which costs 60 Tajik somonis. After the customs come sanitation and disinfection container which should actually disinfect your tires for a 25 TJS fee, but they don't do this don't pay anything.

The entire process of border crossing usually takes two to three hours if there is small or no traffic both ways.

Police and Military checkpoints in Tajikistan. As you may have noticed on the map there are a number of checkpoints along the Pamir Highway road. They are police and military checkpoints. Military checkpoints usually the ones that are on the border zones like Shurabad, Khargush Pass and Shaimak checkpoints, they will check and register your Passport, visa, GBAO permit and have the right to check your car and belongings, but never do so with tourists. At police checkpoints, the police check your car documents, including PoA and your driver's license. The roads in Pamir are not patrolled by police and there is no radar police on the road, however in southern Tajikistan on the road from Dushanbe to Shurabad and in north, on the road from Isfara to Dushanbe via Khujand there are a lot of them, so be careful and do not speed. In Kyrgyzstan, there are no checkpoints but occasionally may be radar policemen standing on the roads, especially in towns.

The speed limit in Tajikistan is as follows:

Urban and rural roads (including villages and settlements) - 60km/h

Highways - 90 km/h

Car service: Before self-driving on the Pamir highway make a research and learn basic car service. You will very likely get a flat tire somewhere on the road, sometimes maybe several times. Note that car repair and spare parts shops available only in Dushanbe, Khorog, Osh and a small one in Murgab. 

 

Renting a car

There are a handful of car rental providers on Indy Guide, see the list below. But do take into account that it is better to book one before you hit the road from your home, as the cars for rent are way fewer than the demand to rent them. Also do not get surprised by the high rent prices, as the roads on Pamir highway and climate do make significant harm to cars. Usually, the price ranges from 80$ min to 130$ max per day, depending on the type of the car and the number of days you rent it for. Different providers have the different drop-off and return conditions, some charge extra money for a drop-off in Osh if you rent the car in Dushanbe or vice versa, some don't. Most of them prefer giving the car with a condition that you return the car to the same place where you rented it.

Insurance: Make sure your car is insured by a private company. And if you rent the car in Kyrgyzstan make sure the insurance covers Tajikistan territory as well and same is true for Tajik insurance. If your Car provider does not have insurance you can ask him to get one for extra 50-70$ payment from a private company.

Most car rental providers in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will require a deposit, usually 500$ in case you damage the car. This is a confusing moment when the insurance is supposed to cover any damage made. But you should understand that private insurance companies will take a lot of time to investigate and compensate the damage especially if an accident has happened somewhere in Pamirs. Therefore the rental providers will ask for this 500$ deposit and charge you out of it for any damage you make to the car. Anything above 500$ will be covered by the insurance company. If no damage is done they will refund your deposit.

Always check the car thoroughly and take pictures of the body, interior, under the hood and transmission before renting the car and ask for rent contract.

Tajikistan car rental providers:

Kyrgyzstan car rental providers:

 

Practical Information

General tips and recommendations about touring on the Pamir Highway

  • Plan your trip beforehand, at least 2 months before departure
  • Learn some basic Russian words, asking the directions and places, this will help a lot
  • Apply for Tajik e-visa at least 10 days before your departure and if you are making a loop from Dushanbe to Osh and back, apply for your second e-visa after you use the first one once you are in Dushanbe.
  • Try to always keep your tank full of fuel
  • Make at least 10 copies of your passport, visa, and GBAO permit if you have it separately
  • Stock up with snacks and water before hitting the road from Dushanbe or Osh
  • Get a Map
  • Bring a worm closing, a sleeping bag just in case
  • Try to book accommodation in advance, this can be done via your car rental provider, usually for free
  • Take altitude sickness and diarrhea pills
  • If you are able to, get a good camera, you will take hundreds of pictures
  • Buy souvenirs from homestays, you will help local people and contribute to their development
  • Be a responsible traveler

 

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