Gateway to the Pamirs

Khorog Travel Blog

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This lil' ole plane and 45 minutes through awe-inspiring Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains

The tiny plane reeked of jet fuel and only held 20 people, including the pilot. The "checked baggage" was stuffed underneath the seats and I placed my carry-on on top of my feet between my legs. The seats folded down, the seat belt did not pull tight and the seats themselves were barely cushioned with cheap foam. The whole aircraft appeared to be made of aluminum and cardboard, but once the propellers started whirring and we were off the ground, the ride was nothing but exhilarating. We soared over the suburbs of Dushanbe and onto rippling hills and meandering streams. About 15 minutes into the flight, the first coatings of snow were visible. Tiny villages were carved into the niches between the foothills and the vertical walls of the jagged mountains.

Up in the clouds
Snow covered the shadowed sides of the mountains, looking like whipped cream perfectly frosted on an uneven cake. Rocky spikes like jaws surrounded the plane, as we drifted through light clouds, passing snowcapped mountaintop after mountaintop, each one a little higher than the previous, until the next valley. Wide turquoise rivers snaked through vast glens and off into the interminable distance. These majestic mountains were the birthplace of glaciers and rivers, and at points it seemed we were within a couple hundred feet of the nearest peak. Surprisingly the flight was smooth and definitely worth all the hassles of getting the ticket.

The Khorog airport runway is located in a pocket of land next to the Pyanj river and literally within a stone's throw from Afghanistan.

The city of Khorog
The airport building itself is only as large as most roadside convenience stores and located about 5 kilometers west of town. I called the number for Pamir Tourism and a friendly voice told me to "wait 15-20 minutes" but he was there in less than 10. Khorog is not a very large city, or at least it doesn't seem so. It's spread out on either side of the Gunt River, which flows into the Pyanj, and is the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, for which I needed a special permit to enter. I had no more stepped two feet off the plane when a bulky man in fatigues approached me for my passport. He wanted to know why I was in Khorog. But I was soon on my way. Khorog is also the largest city in the Pamir Mountain area and quite distinct from Dushanbe and the rest of Tajikistan. The languages here are even different: Pamiri, Badakhshani, Shugnani, etc.
Sun shines on the Khorog aqimyat, or government headquarters seems that there are many dialects and every village in the area must have its own. I am still getting by on broken Russian and occasional English.

My travel agent took me to his office and explained the price for a homestay here as well as the cost for hiring a car and driver to see the Wakhan Valley. I was dismayed to learn that about 3-4 days will cost nearly $500, although that cost could be split if I found other tourists to share the ride with. So I have been walking the streets of Khorog looking for tourists, if that isn't ironic! I must have covered 10 kilometers today, but only found tourists here at the Internet cafe, and they just came from the opposite direction. I may opt to take some side trips on public transportation, but most buses or taxis don't go to the towns that are most interesting.

The Gunt River, taken from a suspension bridge near where I'm staying

My quarters in Khorog are with a family who lives on the banks of the Gunt River, and my room is a traditional Pamiri house with surrounding platforms and domed ceiling with a window. Meals are on request, and I am supposed to have dinner tonight at 7:00 pm, and will probably end up going to sleep soon after, having been up since 5:00 am. The room is not particularly warm, or it wasn't at 10:30 this morning, and I've been assured that despite the pleasant 60-degree weather during the day, it gets right chilly once the sun dips behind the mountains. At this rate, I expect that to happen within an hour.

So, while I'm a little upset at the prospect of not seeing the whole valley, I'm enjoying the serenity of Khorog and the peacefulness that seems to accompany mountain towns. There is a university here, and the hip looking students have been walking the streets all afternoon. I seem to have attracted more attention as a tourist in Dushanbe than here, with only the youngest of children quickly saying "good morning" or "hello" to me. I visited the tourist agencies here and have been able to speak English and get as much help as possible, but this is off-season and most tourists have already passed through. But I can't be bound by seasons and plan to enjoy the idyllic blue skies, soaring mountains and calm that I've found here, and see where the dusty road takes me next.

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This lil ole plane and 45 minutes…
This lil' ole plane and 45 minute…
Up in the clouds
Up in the clouds
The city of Khorog
The city of Khorog
Sun shines on the Khorog aqimyat, …
Sun shines on the Khorog aqimyat,…
The Gunt River, taken from a suspe…
The Gunt River, taken from a susp…
photo by: Biedjee