Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

Leaving Dushanbe, we begin the long drive to Kalaikhumb. We begin on a good highway that climbs to the Nurek Reservoir Dam. IMG_20180712_092513 En route to Kalaikhumb, we stop at the massive Nurek Dam, one of the largest artificial lakes in Tajikistan. The reservoir is a  huge earth-filled dam built by the Soviets between 1961 and 1980 across a deep gorge on the Vakhsh River. It forms a beautiful 38 square-mile reservoir that is the source of irrigation for the Dangara Valley’s wheat fields.  The geopolitics of water in Central Asia, particularly between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and recent improvements in relations has led to re-establishment of cooperation on hydroelectric projects, the re-opening of border crossings, the easing of visa restrictions for citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan traveling back and forth; and the re-launch of the direct air route connecting the capitals of Tashkent and Dushanbe after a 20 year hiatus. 


About four hours out of Dushanbe we see the River Panj, a tributary of the Amu Darya or Oxus River. The river is 1,125 km long and forms a considerable part of the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border and the Pamir Highway follows the river to the city of Langar.


Says: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

We travel through the city of Kolub that was celebrating its 2700 years of history.  The road is  winding but an asphalt road. This days journey has been 9 -hour drive before reaching  Kalaikhum.


Modern hotel in Kalaikhumb with Afghanistan looming in the background

During this long trip we had several stops, one at a women’s cooperative to observe the local embroidery in Kolub. IMG_20180712_141626~22CCE5EA3-510D-4C57-9C1A-24E18B4D84A5Also a to visit to the Hulbuk Fortress, where, as guest, Mr. Khojaev, caretaker, presented me with roses in appreciation for the visit. 91586F21-140C-45C8-9B16-69E6B2455473Hulbuk Fortress historically was an important stop over for the Silk Road between the 8th and 11th century.IMG_20180712_115044 IMG_20180712_113034_HDRDestroyed by the Monguls, little remains or the original structure of the once mighty fort-palace. The citadel lies approx 30 km southwest of Kulob. Already in the Bronze Age, people settled in the area in sight of the salt mountain Chodscha Mumin, which rises 1334 m above the valley. This bronze cat that is now in the Dushanbe Museum of Antiquities was unearthed at Hulbuk Fortress:


But mainly, as we drove along the road that clung to the side of the Tajikistan mountains, my attention was to the other side of the river and Afghanistan. The road on the Afghani side was like a mirror image of the Tajik side. Here are a variety of photos.

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Driving to Khorog, the road becomes mostly gravel, narrow, and leftover asphalt from the Soviet days. It was 7 hours of exhausting, bone-jolting drive but thanks to Zafar, my driver, we arrived into Khorog before dark and in one piece. The Serena Hotel in Khorog is worthy of a mention. It is an old Pamiri house converted to a hotel. Pamiri houses are square and follow the Zorestrian elements of wind, earth, fire, and rain. The view of Tajikistan’s mountains  are stunning and only a stones throw to the Afghan banks.


Serena Inn hotel garden


Across the Panj River is Afghanistan

The Pamir regions occupy a unique position within Tajikistan and is strongly linked to the contest between Russia and Great Britain in the Pamiri in the second half of the 19th century known as the “Great Game”. At the end of this contest, the two dominant superpowers in the region agreed in 1895 to form a Pamir Boundary Commission to define the borders that are still in force today. When Soviet power was established in the Pamiri, the region incorporated into Pamirskaya oblast in 1923. In 1925 a decision of the central executive committee of the USSR remanded the area as the ‘Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast’. After independence and the end of the Cold War, GBAO’s special autonomous status remains.


Pamir Highway on Tajikistan side. Panj River is the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan

GBAO in Tajikistan is roughly separated into two parts: Western and Eastern Pamiri. The Western Pamiri are marked by deeply incised valleys and a multitude of villages inhabited by Pamiri mountain farmers who mails belong to Eastern Iranian language groups. All major rivers flow westward to the Panj (also know in antiquity as the Oxus).

The Eastern part, is named Murghab district has high plateau landscape. Predominantly Kyrgyz livestock herders who speak Kyrgyz, a Turkic language.

The capital of the Pamiri is Khorog combining river terraces with flat area at the confluence of the Panj, Shakhdara and Ghund rivers.

From Kalaikhumb to Khorog we see signs referrring to the Diamond Jubilee on fences and trees.

On July 11, 2017 His Highness the Aga Khan is marked his Diamond Jubilee, or 60th year as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) promoted a worldwide celebration brings together the global Ismaili community, partners of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and government and faith community leaders in over 25 countries.Along the Pamir Highway villages have dedicated 2018 as a year of celebration so on Saturdays the villages come together for song and dance to show their appreciation. Along the road, we passed some Pamiri girls dressed in traditional Pamiri costume walking to the festival.IMG_20180713_161409

And today, Saturday, we spent at the festival where there was wrestling and dancing. I sat with an elder group of volunteers. Each neighbourhood gets together and with their own money organizes musical groups. Here is the Gulaken Folk group. E7A1E11B-550E-47EB-98C4-BFA6EEC42CEEThey are women my age who have just started to learn English and go to the Agha Khan center for lessons once a week. They have written their names for me using Latin letters. 9E6EAC28-93A2-40E9-A739-DD84E9C54C52

IMG_20180714_122227The local Khalifa (religious leader) organized a musical performance and food was blessed and given out for free.

Each region along the Pamir Highway is designated with a gate:


All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the written permission of Lesley Lababidi 2023.(all rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

6 thoughts on “Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

  1. Fascinating! Khorog looks very interesting. And with a Serena Hotel!
    Impressed by your dancing skills! Wish you a good continuation of this amazing journey.

    • I really appreciate your comment. No Internet for the last 6 days. Now in Bishkek but the site is not responding so don’t know if I can post more…but thanks so much . L.

  2. Dear Lesley,
    I am thinking about you! It must be truly amazing… to be back on the Silk Road and following your heart. You are making me long for a ‘big journey’! Take care of yourself. Ingrid

    • Finally Internet! Thanks so much for your comment and following this incredible journey. I am in Xining now and hope to catch up with posting before going to Lhasa, where Internet will be a problem again.

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