TRAVELING IN THE PAMIRS

TRAVELING IN THE PAMIRS

July and August are the best times to visit the Pamirs although it possible to travel in the region from late May to October. Transportation, accommodation and food other than bread, rice, potatoes, yoghurt and koumiss are hard to come by but things are a little better than they used to be. There are few places to buy food other than small kiosks and canteens set up for truckers and essentially no places to change money. Bring your own food, a tent and warm clothing. Many farmers and herders are willing to put you up in their homes or shed and prepare you some tea and goat’s milk and porridge for a small fee

There are no buses. The only way to get around is to hitch a ride with a truck, hire a vehicle or go on an arranged trip with a travel agency. The best way to reach some of the mountaineering camps is by helicopter. The best places to organize everything are Khorog, Dushanbe, Bishkek, Osh or even Almaty. A fair number of trucks traverse the route but they are slowed by check points set up to look for drugs. Hiring a vehicle and driver is expensive.

The region was largely spared from fighting during the civil war and is regarded as politically stable. Even so poverty is widespread and some people have turned to banditry out of desperation. The only area that has a reputation for being unsafe is the section of the M41 highway which hugs the Afghanistan border between Komsomolabad and Rushan. There are numerous check points on the roads here set up to catch drug smugglers. Many travelers avoid this section by flying into Khorog.

Have the right travel permits and paper work is vital if you want to avoid being arrested or turned back or pressured into paying a bribe. It is essential to have the places you are going, particularly in the Khorog and the Gorno-Badakhshan regions, in your visa. To do this you have to get these places mentioned in your letter of invitation used to get your Tajikistan visa.ITMC Tien Shan Travel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan can do this for you. The best places to get the visas for the Pamirs are Dushanbe and Almaty.

GBAO Permit for Pamir Travel

According to caravanistan.com: “If you want to travel in the Pamir region, you need to get a GBAO permit. This will be checked on various military checkpoints along the Pamir Highway. Permit duration is maximum 45 days. Don’t forget, you are likely to also need a visa for Tajikistan. To find out where you can cross into the Pamirs, see border crossings of Tajikistan. For people traveling to Afghanistan: if you exit Tajikistan and re-enter, you will need another GBAO permit.

A GBAO permit can be obtained: 1) online when applying for the e-visa (US$20); 2) at most embassies, also when you do not need a Tajik visa (US$2-60 depending on embassy) 3) in Dushanbe at the Migration Police (OVIR) (20 somoni); 4) in advance through a tour operator (US$40). For the budget conscious, following the DIY procedure at the Dushanbe OVIR, rather than checking the box on the e-visa page, is a great money saver. If you do not need a visa, you cannot apply for the GBAO permit online. You will need to go to an embassy or do it in Dushanbe, or through a tour operator.

OVIR Dushanbe: Address: Mirzo Turzunzade Street 5 (map) – N38.57126, E068.7972 or 38.571829, 68.796566. Tel. 227 67 22 (no English). Opening hours: 8am-5pm. Amonat Bank (Gmaps) is just round the corner on Bukhoro St, (GPS: 38.5739224, 68.7928644).

Updates in the GBAO permit in Dushanbe OVIR forum topic. 1) July 2018: No bribes needed, quick and easy, 20 somoni. 2) May 2017: 40 somonis, they refused to do it unless 10 somoni bribe was paid to the guy who filled out the form. 3) September 2016: 20 somoni and 1 day turnaround. Bit messy but doable with help from locals. 4) May 2015: A friend and I got our GBAO permits without any hassle in Dushanbe yesterday. We applied Friday afternoon (just after their lunchbreak ended at 1pm) and picked it up on the following monday (also 1 pm – could have been earlier but we were busy). As far as we can tell it is valid from the day of application until the expiry of our Visa.

Roads in the Pamirs

Khorog is approximately halfway between Dushanbe and Osh, Kyrgyzstan and Kashgar, China along the Pamir Highway (M-41). Khorog is 525 kilometers from Dushanbe, 825 kilometers from Osh, and 615 kilometers from Kashgar. In May 2004, the Khorog-Murghob-Kulma Pass highway on the border of Tajikistan and China opened. Connecting with the Karakoram Highway that runs between China and Pakistan, it crosses 4380-meter-high Kulma Pass at the Tajikistan-China border and was completed with a $10 million loan from the Islamic Development Bank and support from a Turkish construction company. Driving east from the border, the nearest Chinese town of Tashqurgan is populated mainly by Tajiks. Kashgar is to the northeast.

A372 (begins 150 kilometers northwest of Dushanbe) is an important road that takes a direct route across northern Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan to Osh. In Kyrgyzstan the road provides access to trekking routes that reach the Pamir Allay Valley It passes through the GHarm Valley, which may still regarded as unsafe. Fighting during the civil war took place here in the early 1990s. The IMU Muslim extremists was active along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border in the 1990s. Even in the best of times it is a restricted area that requires special permits to visit. Traveling here is best arranged through a travel agency with experience in the area....

Kulma Pass Road road has been upgraded. The pass is generally open from May to November. The road splits off of the Pamir Highway (M41) in Murghab (Tajikistan), goes through Kulma Pass and ends at the Karakoram Highway (G-314) in Karasu (China). The road is the only overland connection between Tajikistan and China.

Pamir Highway

The Pamir Highway is a spectacular, poorly-surfaced, 728-kilometer road between Khorog in Tajikistan and Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Regarded as one of the most awesome stretches of road in the world, it crosses 4277-meter-high Koi-Tezek Pass, 4137-meter-high Naizatash Pass and 4655-meter-high Ak-Baital Pass, passes by Lake Karakul and then crosses over 4282-meter-high Kyzyl-Art Pass at the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. Because snow often closes the passes. This route is usually only passable from June through October but is most comfortably done in July and August.

Much of the route is above 3,000 meters. Along the way are small herding settlements, blue Alpine lakes, snowcapped mountains. The road was built in the 1930s to move soldiers and weaponry to remote outposts along the Chinese and Afghanistan borders. The route has been covered in 20 hours but usually takes two days or more. The road between the Gorno-Badakhshan Region and Osh is steep and winding in some sections. It generally stays open in winter. After crossing the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border, the road descends through the Kyrgyzstan town of Sary Tash towards Osh.

The Pamir Highway is a part of the M-41, which begin in Termiz, Uzbekistan and stretches for about 1,200 kilometers between Dushanbe and Osh. The One branch of the road begins in Mazari Sharif in Afghanistan, passes through Dushanbe, Khorog and Murghab in Tajikistan and ends in Osh in Kyrgyzstan

The section which hugs the Afghanistan border between Komsomolabad and Rushan may be dangerous. It runs near the Afghan border and passes through Wakhan Valley, a narrow valley with steep mountainous sides and a river running through it. Many travelers avoid this section by flying into Khorog. Worries about Muslim extremist and drug dealers has made traveling this route difficult. The road has many military check points and has a restricted area in Kyrgyzstan that require special permits to visit. Travel is best taken care of with the help of a travel agency.

The M-41, Pamir Highway is is the second highest international route in the world and was part of the ancient Silk Road. It is the only continuous route through the Pamir Mountains and is the main supply route to Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. In the Pamir Plateau, the road is often blocked in spring by flocks of sheep and goats. Strong winds, common at higher elevations, can make driving or cycling difficult. Rain storms can develop quickly.

According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT): Road conditions vary considerably along the route. Some sections are paved, but many are unpaved. Some sections are steep and winding. Hairpin curves are common in mountainous areas. Earthquakes, erosion, landslides and avalanches have heavily damaged some sections.Provisions for drainage are inadequate. Many small streams run over the road. Flooding can close the road. Rockslides or landslides can occur after or during heavy rains and can block [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2009]

Khorog

Khorog (along the Afghanistan border, 525 kilometers west-southwest from Dushanbe) is a small town with 30,000 people. Located at an elevation of 2000 meters, it is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan region and has little arable land or industry but lots of unemployed people. Many Ismaili Muslims, followers of the Aga Khan, live in the Khorog region. The Aga Khan Foundation is the largest employer. There is a cross-border market at the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.

Khorog is situated on high narrow terraces near the confluence of the Ghunt and Shohdara rivers. The river valley here is narrow, so the town is actually two large streets lined with poplars. One of the two main campuses of the Central Asian University, financed by the Aga Khan Foundation, is being set up in Khorog. There is a reasonably good regional museum. The bazaar sells produce grown n nearby villages. Homes stay can sometimes be arranged here.

Khorog is the scientific, cultural, educational and economic center of the Gorno-Badakhshan oblast. The city hosts the Humanities Institute, the Pamiri Biological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Khorog State University, a vocational school, a medical college, and a Music & Drama Theatre, as well as a hospital with modern medical equipment. The University of Central Asia is now being built. Opposite the stadium in the town center, the Museum of History and Regional Studies displays materials on the ancient and modern history of Pamirs, its natural resources, and scientific and cultural achievements.

The climate in Khorog is dry with great temperature variation between summer and winter and day and night. The precipitation fluctuates depending on meteorological conditions and altitude. The annual average temperature here is 8.7ºC. The average temperature in January is —7.9ºC, while in June it reaches 24ºC. There are at least 130 days each year without frost. Morning frosts in spring and fall are a normal phenomenon even on hot days.

The air route flight between Dushanbe and Khorog, through valleys with mountains and rock faces rising up from the sides, is one of the most technically difficult and one of the most spectacular in the world. There are regular flights between Dushanbe and Khorog on Yakovle V-40, Antono V-26 and Antono V-28 planes, and Mikoyan-8 helicopters. and, at the same time, the most scenic and impressive in the world.. Recently, a new bridge over the Panj River was opened in Khorog, connecting Tajikistan with Afghanistan (Badakhshan Province). At the same time, the Consulate of Afghanistan began functioning on left bank of Khorog in Shosh district.

See Separate Article SOUTHERN PAMIRS AND SOUTHEAST TAJIKISTAN, NEAR THE AFGHANISTAN BORDER

Driving from Khorog to China and Kyrgyzstan

Khorog is approximately halfway between Dushanbe and Osh, Kyrgyzstan and Kashgar, China along the Pamir Highway (M-41). Khorog is 525 kilometers from Dushanbe, 825 kilometers from Osh, and 615 kilometers from Kashgar. In May 2004, the Khorog-Murghob-Kulma Pass highway on the border of Tajikistan and China opened. Connecting with the Karakoram Highway that runs between China and Pakistan, it crosses 4380-meter-high Kulma Pass at the Tajikistan-China border and was completed with a $10 million loan from the Islamic Development Bank and support from a Turkish construction company. Driving east from the border, the nearest Chinese town of Tashqurgan is populated mainly by Tajiks. Kashgar is to the northeast.

Khorog to Murgrad is covered by a 300-kilometer section of the Pamir Highway that passes through popular-lined Pamiri villages in the Gunt Valley and then climbs up series of switchback to 4272-meter-high Koi-Tezek Pass. Before the pass is a small village of Jelandy where you can hike to the lake Turuntai-kul and enjoy the views of 6773-meter-high Pik Karla Marxa. After the pass the road traverses the “Roof of the World” Pamir plateau on a narrow one-meter-high embankment that trucks sometimes topple off of.

Murgab (300 kilometers from Khorog) is a small town with 4,300 people on the Pamir Highway. Occupied by Kyrgyz and Tajiks, it is a rough place used primarily by truck drivers as place to spend the night and break their journey. Homestays and treks to Sarez Lake, Yashilkul Lake and other destinations can be organized here.

Kulma Pass Road to China road has been upgraded. The pass is generally open from May to November. The road splits off of the Pamir Highway (M41) in Murghab (Tajikistan), goes through Kulma Pass and ends at the Karakoram Highway (G-314) in Karasu (China). The road is the only overland connection between Tajikistan and China.

Mugrab to Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan is covered by a section of the Pamir Highway that straddles the Chinese border, sometimes within 20 meters of the barbed-wire fences that mark the no-man’s land. Spectacular mountains shadow the road as it climbs to 4655-meter-high Ak-aital Pass, the highest point on the highway. From here the road descends to Karakul Lake then rises again to 4282-meter-high Kyzyl-Art Pass at the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border, after which there is a long up and down descent to Sary Tash. . The checkpoints for the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border are at considerable distance from the border: in Karakul in Tajikistan and Sary Tash in Kyrgyzstan.

Lakes Yashilkul and Bulunkul

Lakes Yashilkul and Bulunkul (north of the midway point of the road between Khorog and Murghab) are located in southern portion of the Tajik National Park in the Pamirs. Yashilkul means “green lake”. It is situated 3,700 meters above sea level and is 19 kilometers long and 1-4 kilometers wide, with a maximum depth of 50 meters. According to the Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “The water temperature is never above 14ºC. The water is fresh and pure; schools of fish swim in the shallow water, and sprouts of seaweed can be seen between stones through the clear deep water. In the wilderness of the Pamir mountains, such places as Yashilkul Lake are very rare. The lake was formed as the result of a dam that blocked the Alichur River. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“The length of the dam is more than four kilometers, width is 100—110 meters. The water flows over the southern edge of the dam. The Ghunt River starts here and 200 kilometers later arrives at the Panj River. There is an old path on the dam near which geologists found a granite block with inscriptions in Arabic, which indicated who had laid the path many centuries ago. The Alichur estuary area is swampy, with a lot of sedge.

“The shallowest eastern part of Yashilkul is located here. A green spot marks the place where the river feeds into the lake. Near the Alichur estuary there is a hot hydrogen sulphide spring named Issyk-bulak. The water wells up from four geysers located along the foot of the granite mountain, with temperatures reaching 71ºC. The spring is surrounded by ruins of clay buildings (probably tombs), and local residents consider it to be holy. One small clay construction has a pool for collecting hot spring water. On the northern side of the lake, steep granite rocks come close to the water, leaving only a narrow strip of the bank several meters wide for passing. If you travel along the northern bank you will arrive at the obstruction which formed the lake. An automobile track from the northern side runs as far as the point where the Big Marjanay River joins the lake, and then there is only a trail up to the dam. To reach the northern bank of the Yashilkul, it is necessary to cross the shallow water of the Alichur River where it joins the lake.

“There are many legends and myths relating to the lake. The most ancient one is about a huge animal named Tyuya-su (water camel) by the local Kyrgyz, which lives in the lake. A hydro system is being constructed at Yashilkul, which will help to regulate the flow of water for agricultural and electricity-production needs.

“Bulunkul Lake is much smaller than Yashilkul and is connected to it by a narrow channel. The water in Bulunkul is fresh. Water plants grow here, and one can see ducks and geese swimming on the smooth surface of the water, and gulls gliding overhead. It is interesting that the first fishing in the Pamirs was organized on this lake. From September to October, fishermen place their nets in the mouths of the rivers where they join the lake, to catch osmans and seascapes. Bulunkul Lake region is also known as having Central Asia’s lowest recorded temperature of -63ºC. The best period for visiting the lakes is July — September. One can stay overnight in the guest-house in Bulunkul village, which is located near the lake.”

Getting There: Lakes Yashilkul and Bulunkul are located Location — Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Murghob district. Alichur River valley, between Bazardara and South Alichur ranges. One can reach the area by helicopter or car. If you drive along the Pamir highway, somewhere between the Koytezek pass (4,271 meters) and Alichur, there is a signposted turn-off from the main road which leads to the Bulunkul and Yashilkul freshwater lakes. The turn to Yashilkul is located at the 145th kilometer marker from Murghob. From the main road, the turnoff to Bulunkul is about 18 kilometers, and from Bulunkul to Yashilkul Lake is another 15 kilometers path.

Karakul Lake

Karakul Lake (130 kilometers from Murghob, near the Kyrgyzstan and China border in Tajik National Park) was described by Marco Polo and created 10 million years ago by a meteor impact. It is deep blue in color, salty, void of life and frozen over and covered with snow during the winter and through late spring. Local Kyrgyz call it Ulyy Karakul (“Big Black Lake”). There are number of treks in area. A guide with a gun is recommended due to the presence of wolves. On the shore of the lack is the village of Karakul, which has Russian and Tajik border checkpoints, which are notorious for thorough time-consuming searches and passport checks. If you plan to do any trekking in the area it is a good idea to inform the authorities.

Karakul (also spelled) used to be called by the Tajik name Siob. It is 25 kilometers (16 miles) in and lies with a 52 kilometers (32 mile) circular depression interpreted as an impact crater. The crater is estimated to have been made 5.3 to 2.6 million year ago. The impact is large that it may have an effect on climate, perhaps contributing to cooling and ice cap formation in the Northern Hemisphere as the smaller Eltanin impact (2.5 million years ago) appears to have done. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Karakul impact structure was first identified around 1987 through studies of imagery taken from space. The lake-crater lies at an elevation of 3,960 meter (12,990 feet), with the lake covering an area of 380 square kilometers (150 square miles). A peninsula on the south shore and an island off the north shore divide the lake into two basins: a smaller, relatively shallow eastern one, between 13 to 19 meters (43 to 62 feet) deep, and a larger, deeper western one, 221 to 230 meters (725 to 755 feet) deep. In the late 19th century the northern part of the island was linked to the bank by a narrow isthmus. The isthmus has now disappeared. The small Qara-Jilga, Qaraart, and Muzqol rivers and several streams feed into Karakul. No river or stream drains the lake. The water in the small rivers’ estuaries is reasonably fresh, and loaches can be found there.

Things to Check Out at Karakul Lake

Although the Karakul lies within a national park, much of the surroundings are used as pasture. The bank of the lake is typical of highmountain desert, and only near the water’s edge can one find sedge, Pamiri buckwheat, and some saltworts The lake’s islands, marshes, wet meadows, peat bogs, and pebbly and sandy plains support significant populations of various bird species that live, breed or migrate theree. These species include bar-headed geese, ruddy shelducks, common mergansers, saker falcons, Himalayan vultures, lesser sand plovers, brown-headed gulls, Tibetan sandgrouse, yellow-billed choughs, Himalayan rubythroats, white-winged redstarts, white-winged snowfinches, rufous-streaked accentors, brown accentors, black-headed mountain-finches and Caucasian great rosefinches. The lake's islands are the main places where waterbirds rest and nest. Brown-headed seagulls and Tibetan terns nest here.

According to the Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “A curious feature of Karakul is that its banks rest on ice for a considerable length, and ice also covers the bottom of the lake. Scientists do not agree on the source of this ice. Some think that these are the remnants of ancient glaciers, and some explain it as the remains of an ice shield that filled the hollow during the ice age. Others suppose that the ice is a modern formation. However it got there, the ice on the banks melts slowly, creating waterfalls, straits, tiny lakes, and small islands separated from the banks. The lake itself constantly changes in size. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“The Karakul hollow is also remarkable in that it is the most desert-like place in the Pamirs, with the lowest level of precipitation — about 20 mm/year. The water surface of the Karakul is not actually black (as it is named) but ultramarine, dark blue, or a greenish colour, depending on way the sunlight hits the smooth transparent water. Karakul village is on the eastern bank of the lake near the road, and is mostly inhabited by Kyrgyz.

“The Markansu valley is located few kilometers from the lake. Some people translate it as the “Valley of Sandstorms”, and others as “Death Valley”. The most common translation is “Dead Water”. It is difficult to say why the people gave it that name. Perhaps it was because it was the first area seen by travellers coming to the Pamirs from the flourishing and fertile Alai valley, and the contrast between the two places was so marked.

“The settlement of Oshhona (8th century. B.C.), which was a home for seasonal hunters, was discovered here. Near Qaraart village, approximately one kilometer from the Murghob-Osh highway, at 3,950 meters, there is a 1st century architectural complex which combines an observatory with the cult of animals. Karakul region has a severe climate but it is also beautiful. It is the primitive, untouched nature due to its relative inaccessibility that attracts tourists..

Getting There: Location — Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Murghob district.130 kilometers from Murghob along the Pamir highway towards Osh. It can be reached by helicopter or car.

Bazar Dara: Medieval Mining Town

Bazar Dara (100 southwest of Mugrab) was a medieval mining area in the middle of nowhere in Tajik National Park in the Pamirs. According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “In the Middle Ages, the Pamirs were famous for silver mining, an industry that started in the 10th century with the exploitation of silver deposits near the Tokuz-Bulak River (the left tributary of the Ghunt River), in the Bachor range. Capitalisation of the deposits in this area resulted in the establishment of settlements of miners and metallurgists in Chartim, Varshez, Shazud, Miyonakuh, Kugantukoy and many others.” [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“Initially, “the mining was not extensive. It grew in the 11th century during the “silver crisis”; silver deposits were developed and intensely exploited in the Eastern Pamirs. Bazar-dara was built up as a miner’s town, in order to control work in the mines and the transport of silver ore to the smelting furnaces. The town is located in the Ak-Jilga valley, on the northern slopes of the North-Alichur range at about 4,000 meters. There is a caravanserai, a residential area of about 80 houses, and a cemetery (about 500 graves) here. Residential premises are equipped with sufa and fireplaces. An administrative complex, a fire temple, and a bath with kan (under-floor) heating are among the remains from the public buildings. At the peak of production, around 1,200-1,500 people lived in the town.

“Local materials, such as slate and rounded stones from the river, were used in the construction of buildings. Slate, due to its bedding, was very good for laying. The buildings were all erected without foundations. Particularly large stones were used at the bases of the walls. It is interesting to note how the town got its water. Although the river was very near, it was inconvenient and difficult to reach, so the people relied instead on small wells or water reservoirs. Bazar-dara residents’ food was quite diverse.

“It seems that the people relied mainly on hunting and cattle breeding to provide meat. Interestingly, the remains of legumes, grains, melons, gourds, fruits, and walnut shells were found here — plants that did not and could not grow in the area. It is assumed that some of these goods were Pamiri and others were delivered from the Ferghana valley, probably in exchange for silver or silver ore. Silver deposits were mined for 70—80 years. A natural question arises: what made people establish a permanent settlement in such a remote and desolate place in the East Pamirs, an area which is difficult to access even now? The primary reasons are, of course, economic.

“While silver mining in the East Pamirs was increasing, a rapid growth of towns, commodity production and monetary trade was occurring in Central Asia and adjoining regions. Undoubtedly, this turn of events required resources — namely, huge quantities of gold and silver. Silver mines in Afghanistan (Pajkhira area) and Iran (Esfahan area) were already exhausted by that time and could not meet the increasing demand. Silver was particularly in demand, and so an intensive exploitation of the deposits was organized, despite the extremely complicated physical and climatic conditions accompanying its mining in the East Pamirs. The high altitude and corresponding climate conditions of the region have helped to preserve the remains of many domestic items which have enabled modern researchers to fully reconstruct the lifestyles and work conditions of the miners and their families, and to discover their trade contacts and the legal status of mine ownership. Paper document fragments discovered in the ancient city, written in Arabic script with black ink, contributed to the research. The paper was made from mulberry tree and hemp fibre.

“Climate conditions in the region are unique. From mid-July till September — the best time for visiting the area — the wind almost invariably begins blowing at exactly noon (give or take five minutes) and stops at 6.00 pm. The weather is cold here, even in summer. It is possible to get to this ancient city from Khorog or Murghob by following the Pamir highway to the small Ak-Balyk lake, several kilometers from Alichur. The lake is well known among local residents because it is considered holy. After reaching the lake, turn north from the main road (left if driving from Khorog, right from Murghob) and continue for several kilometers on the relatively passable country road until obliged to stop. It is difficult to say how far any given vehicle can go, since it depends on the state of the road at the time, the model of the vehicle, and the driver’s experience. The situation changes constantly depending on weather conditions, precipitation, temperature and many other factors. It is best to use a four-wheel drive “off-road” vehicle. However, whatever form of transport you use, you must complete the journey on foot.”

Getting There: by helicopter, by rented car, on foot. Location — Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Murghob district. Right bank of the Ak-Jilga River, six kilometers above its juncture with the Bazar-Ryk River, at the terrace-like ledge on the right side of the Elgi-Sai River (the right tributary of the Al-Jilga River).

Pamir Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs (very old carved rock drawings) can be found at various locations in the Pamirs. More than 50 sites have been found in Tajikistan. They are found in the valleys of the Ghunt River (at the Chertym Dam), Panj (near Namatgut), Langar, Porshnev, Shohdara, Yazghulom, North Ak-Jilga villages and in the Bartang River estuary.

According to Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: “These are the main points of concentration of petroglyphs. They are divided into groups according to their approximate age. The earliest ones are dated from the bronze age, and the more recent ones are from the early medieval, developed medieval and modern periods. The greatest number of known petroglyphs are found in the Langar and Kisht village area in Ishkashim district. The total number of the rock drawings has not been counted, but there may be more than 6,000.[Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“The drawings are carved on the surface of granite rocks. They are combined into several “fields” connected by a chain of separate pictures. They are found in the area starting from the foothills of the Shohdara range and extend almost as far as the watershed. The petroglyphs are usually drawings of mountain goats, yaks, deer, riders, and hunters with bows and dogs. Some drawings have been found at 3,200—3,300 meters above sea level.

“The majority of the pictures were done using a “spot technique”, i.e. engraved by a metal tool or a stone. In odd cases one can find deeply engraved pictures made with a metal object. Sometimes pictures have been scratched using a sharp knife-edge. The pictures in Langar contain frequently repeated themes — scenes of hunting and of nakhchir (mountain goats). Most of these are drawings 10-20 centimeters long, with occasional ones 30-40 centimeters long. The biggest figure is 80 centimeters, the smallest one six centimeters. Also interesting are drawings of rubobs — a favourite local musical instrument. It is remarkable that there have been no other discoveries in Central Asia of a comparable quantity of petroglyphs showing musical instruments (about 300).

“A hypothesis, based on Pamiri folklore, is that a rubob represents a man, therefore the discovered pictures are actually stylized pictures of the people. Another region with interesting petroglyphs is Vybist-dara. It is located 7-8 kilometers higher than the Debasta village (30 kilometers from Khorog) at the end of a valley of the same name. There are four groups of rocky manuscripts. The central one has the biggest concentration of petroglyphs. Unlike the majority of Pamiri petroglyphs, in which themes of hunting wild goats with bows and dogs dominate, pictures in the Vybist-dara are devoted to the portrayal of people and ornaments. The oldest group of pictures comes from the second half of the 1st century B.C.

“There are many petroglyphs on the 23 х 19 meters black shale stone of the Ak-Jilga River valley (left side of the Bazar-dara River) in the East Pamirs, a few kilometers from the remains of the ancient mining town of Bazar-dara. You can see pictures of mountain goats, an archer with a hooked nose and a pointed hat, and a two-wheeled chariot harnessed by horses and driven by coachmen. Pictures of chariots are well known in Central Asia and date from the bronze age.

“It is difficult to say what the ancient people intended by their drawings. They may have had religious significance, or described their daily life. Perhaps it was just an expression of their imagination, or the desire to leave a permanent memento of themselves. One thing is clear — the drawings reflect the centuries-old history of the people who lived in this area or came here from other places..

Getting There: The main location of the Pamir petroglyphs is in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast Kikhnjarv Valley area, Isor village, Chikordur sai, Debasta village, Ak-Jilga River area. There is regular bus between Khorog and Ishkashim. After that you can hitchhike or take a taxi to Langar village, and then travel on foot. To reach Debasta village, take taxi from Khorog to Debasta village and walk to the petroglyph sites. The River area can only be reached by private car, foot travel or by helicopter.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan traveltajikistan.tj, Tajikistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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