Khorog Tajikistan, A GateWay to Pamir Highway
Khorog is the capital of Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast(region) in Tajikistan and is the largest town on Pamir Highway. It is situated near the border of Afghanistan in the southwestern Pamirs range at an elevation of 7,200 feet (2,200 m) and on the Gunt River where it flows into the Panj River. If you go to travel on Pamir Highway, then Khorog is the last settlement where you can get internet and electricity. Furthermore, it is located approximately in the middle of the Pamir Highway, about 600km from Dushanbe and 730km from Osh (Kyrgyzstan).
What is GBAO Permit and Where to Get it
If anyone wants to visit the Pamir region of Tajikistan then he needs a GBAO(Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) permit. So, we have to get it beside the embassy visa with one additional stamp on our Tajikistan visa. Otherwise, we can take it from Tajikistan after our arrival. Here I enlist few points on how to get a GBAO Permit from the OVIR(Office of Visa and Registration) office in Dushanbe.
- I went to OVIR office Dushanbe Mirzo Turzunzade Street 5.
- After entering going right side and entered from right most door. You can ask from any person from there or just simply say GBAO and they will direct to the GBAO counter
- A lady will take your passport and provide you a printed copy after entering your relevant information. You will pay 10 Samoni for the fee of this entry
- You will then go to a near by bank Amonat Bank and will deposit a fee of 20 Samoni. Bank official will check your passport and entered the relevant informationin into the challan form Receipt.
- You will come to the OVIR office again and provide the challan form receipt along with your passport to the adjacent counter in the same previous room.
- They will receive the form and ask you to collect back the permit on next day. In my case I have a plan to leave right next morning, so they provided me the GBAO permit within next half hour.
- This permit will be checked on several places during your travelling from Dushanbe to Pamir region.
How to Get to Khorog Tajikistan
The journey to Khorogfrom Dushanbe takes 14 to 18 hours by shared taxi. Due to the road conditions, only 4*4 vehicles are recommended on this tour and most of the shared taxies leave early. Make sure you are at the station between 6 AM and 7 AM to find a ride. The cost varies per season, but expect to pay between 300 – 400 somoni. Nowadays the Per person rates are as under
- Front: 400 Somoni ( for single occupancy) and 350 for double Occupancy
- Middle row: 350 Somoni
- Back Row: 300 Somoni
Important to know that the Shared Taxi will leave to Khorg when it is full. Most of the locals booked their seats by calling the driver. In my case, I met the driver one day before in the Shared Taxi Stand(Avtostaniya) in Dushanbe. I reached the stand at 07:30 in the morning as per the time given to me by the driver. Finally, the taxi left the stand around 11:00 as a couple of passengers were very late.
Travel to Khorog on Pamir Highway
At last, we left the Avtostaniya around 11:00 with Mr. Iqbal our Taxi Driver. There are a couple of Shared taxies that leave for Khorog every day. However, which shared taxi will leave first is an unsolved question to us. Although, a part of the difficulty for an early start to Khorog is that the shared taxis are not managing a single queue for customers. The drivers run as independent businesses competing with each other. Resulting in many partly full taxis waiting before leaving. As a foreigner, it is not easy to determine which one may leave first. In addition, the drivers are receiving bookings by phone, sometimes family bookings and instantly the taxi gets full and leave the place in front of you. But it is a part of the fun and you have to prepare for this practice to enjoy your trip.
From Dushanbe, we took the Pamir highway and in a few hours reach Kulob, the third-largest city in Tajikistan. Here we got our lunch. Further our path leads along the border with Afghanistan. We rode narrow serpentines, along the mighty Panj river. The river acts as a border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, so it had a unique opportunity to watch the life of remote Tajik and Afghan villages. So, we can see the Afghan villagers at the other side of the river passing by on motorbikes or walking around with their cattle. At some places, the Panj River was so narrow that we could hear the Afghan people talking and waving to us.
How to Get Around Khorog Tajikistan
Khorog is a compact city and you can visit all of the city attractions by a simple walkthrough. Some places like the Botanical Garden or the University of Central Asia need a ride to go for a visit. Marshrutkas is what former Soviet countries call their public minivans. They are really cheap and travel between most towns and cities. Within Khorog, you can travel from one point to other for 2 TJS.
Taxies are also available and you can get one from 10TJS to 30TJS.
Where to stay in Khorog
We have very few options particularly in Khorog and specifically in Pamir Region. There are a few Hostel/Hotel options in Khorog. In addition to Hotel options, you can avail the facility of homestays there. In my case, I stayed two nights in Sarez Hotel Khorog. I have also marked the location on the map. There is also a high-end Hotel Pamir Palace that has very good reviews on Booking.com
Places to Visit in Khorog Tajikistan
It is the most visited place in Tajikistan or The legendary Pamir Highway also called M41 Highway. That route starts at Osh(Kyrgyzstan) and ends at Dushanbe(Tajikistan). It also said that the highway goes all the way to Mazar Sharif (Afghanistan), passing by Tajikistan(Khorog). The Pamir Highway goes along the border with Afghanistan, and the two countries are separated by a small river (the Panj River).
For the complete travel leg from Dushanbe to Osh (or vice versa), you need to rent a 4×4. The best thing to do is to travel with other travelers to split the costs. Ask your hotel/hostel if anyone plans to travel the Pamir Highway. From Dushanbe, you can get a car for 1000 USD. So, if you are 5 people then you can do this tour at 200USD per person. This cost includes your transport, meals, and stays.
As we traveled from Dushanbe to Khorog so, we covered a little part of Pamir Highway. On our way to Khorog, we have a couple of stay points at Kulob and Rushan for lunch and dinner.
As Khorog is the last major settlement on the Pamir Highway where you can get essential food items as well as necessary arrangements for your next days towards Murghab or Osh(Kyrgystan). In the Khorog Bazar, you can find food items, vegetables, fruits, bakery items, and even electronics too. I purchase a couple of memory cards from an electric store beside the victory park.
Ismaili Center Khorog
Stylish Ismaili Centre is a luxurious and minimalist modern example of Pamiri architecture. It is a community center and providing many types of educational training to kids, youth, and women of the Khorog area. You can visit this Muslim Community center with a Volunteer guide and learn the objectives of the center in a quite memorable way. My visit day was Sunday and I was accompanied by Ms. Sitara who was a volunteer guide. Indeed, she told me about the history and details of the center in a friendly way. Pictures are not allowed in most of the central places. Only at designated places, you can get pictures. There was a giant lawn chess set where I played a memorable game with kids. Besides all these activities, it’s worth visiting just for the architecture too.
Khorog City Park
The central park is the highlight of the town. It is a pleasant park where you will find one of the best local restaurants in town (Choi Khona), by the river. There is a large swimming pool that is fed by the ice-cold river water and open to everybody. It is free too. The famous festival, Roof to the World is also celebrated here. I went to the Park and found a largely empty place without water. It was mid-may and the water level was still low so the swimming pond was waiting for the water. While in the park, I got my lunch in Choikhana, and the views were amazing with a chilled atmosphere.
PECTA Information Office Khorog Tajikistan
The Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association in Khorog is the best way to get information about your tours in Pamirs. It is situated in Central Park beside the Choikhana. Here you can buy detailed maps of the Pamirs, enquire about hiking trails and transportation, and find up-to-date information about the Afghan visa and safety situation for those interested to visit the Afghan side on a day tour. The same building houses a souvenir shop, and coffee and Wi-Fi are available. Apart from a few hotels, this is the only place in town to find halfway decent internet.
Botanical Garden Khorog
You can visit the world’s highest Botanical garden in Khorog at 2200m. The overgrown botanical garden on the east end of the Khorog city offers another excellent view, as well as making a terrific picnic spot. Importantly, it has thousands of species and varieties of flora. You can use Marshrutka #3 that brings you to the entrance of Botanical Garden. The fare was 2 Somoni. After 5 minutes of the hike, I reached the entrance gate of the Park. There I read that Botanical Garden is closed on Sundays. Beside the Gate, there was a security Hut and the guard on duty said you can visit. So, then again a long hike of about 20 minutes started from the entrance gate.
Finally, after many twists and turns, I reached the green gate of the Botanical Garden. There were armed guards inside the entrance gate of the Botanical garden. After inquiring about the walking route I chose a path to walk through the serene beauty of the garden. However, you can take a taxi from Khorog Bazar for 20 Somoni and can avoid this hike. From the overgrown Botanical Garden, we can take an excellent view of Khorog City.
Khorog Saturday Market
Undoubtedly, it is a great business market for Tajik/Afghan border peoples. This market used to hold in TEM which is about 3 km from the city towards the North(Dushanbe side). You can get to this place by Marshrutka#1 &3 for 2 Somoni. Alternatively, you can go by Taxi for 10 TJS. There is a TEM bridge that connects Tajikistan with Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, this market is closed nowadays due to security issues as well as Covid related issues.
What we missed in Khorog Tajikistan
Khorog is a town where you can relax as it is a mid-way town of the Pamir region. Most of the people who go to Pamir highway make it a stop rather than a destination. But if it is your sole destination then you can plan it for at least 5 days. Two days for travel and three days for Khorog to relax and visit. As I have very limited time, so I couldn’t visit the University of Central Asia, which is considered the best education as well as travel attraction. A day tour to Ishkashim is another must-do attraction to visit the south most point of Tajikistan near the Wakhan border of Afghanistan. Hope to do these things on my next tour whenever got time to make a complete route of Pamir Highway.