If you had asked me 18 months ago what I knew about Tajikistan it is a conversation that would have lasted just about long enough for you to repeat the question, and that’s about it. But begin to delve a little deeper and it will soon become apparent that this country is not the hard ex-soviet, vodka-drinking*, Boris-naming, fist-fighting place you might have thought it was. Nor, in case you were worried, does it harbour overt amounts of religious extremism.
*OK so maybe a little vodka drinking.
In fact the first thing that will strike you when you arrive in Tajikistan is the warmness of its people. This is of course not a trait unique to Tajikistan, but is something you are likely to be astounded by nonetheless. Whilst many young men and women from remote villages migrate to Russian cities to find work, those left will inevitably force upon you offers of tea, food and accommodation you will struggle to refuse.
There are three, equally valid reasons you might chose to visit Tajikistan: either you are touring – by bicycle or 4×4 – you are trekking, or you are climbing. For the latter two there are considerable opportunities throughout the Pamirs depending on the degree of remoteness you wish to pursue. The further east you travel in Tajikistan, the drier and more arid the mountains become. One of the best, and certainly one of the most accessible of these regions, is the Fann Mountains. Here, after a stunning unpaved drive which takes you deep into the range, you find a mixture of lush, green valleys, stunning alpine lakes harbouring crystal clear waters, big walls and high peaks culminating in the mighty Chimtarga at 5489m. For those with the appropriate equipment, motivation and acclimatisation, there are numerous alpine routes accessible within just a few days. The region also boasts the most developed rock climbing in the country and you can find anything from bouldering and sport climbing to big mountain trad routes. A week’s trekking will take you over high, often snow-covered passes and back down to clear, warm and picturesque lakes for an afternoon swim and, if you’re lucky, maybe even a cold beer. If you are looking for higher peaks and greater remoteness, peaks such as Karl Marx (6726m) or treks such as that to the Grumm-Grjimailo glacier provide astounding views. The very nature of Tajikistan, however, means that the majority of the Pamirs remains, to this date, unexplored.
A morning view of the snow ridge leading to Chimtarga
Views on the Grumm-Grjimailo glacier. Photo credit: Lisa Murray Photography
Morning in the Fann Mountains from Energia base camp.
Alpine lakes in the Fann Mountains
Those travelling along Tajikistan’s southern border will find themselves traversing the bank of the river Panj, with the valley sides rising over 1000m and occasional villages nestled in tiny sections of relative flat terrain where a small stream tumbles down the rock face above. What makes this particularly spectacular is that the other side of the torrent that is the river Panj, almost within touching distance, are equally small and isolated communities of Afghanistan, which are so close you feel you could almost touch them. If you travel this way, which if you are touring by bicycle or 4×4 you probably will, your route options are so spectacular that even the most decisive will struggle with their choice for fear of missing out. Whether it’s continuing along the river Panj into the Wakhan Valley – a region of ancient and undisturbed nomadic culture stretching across the Afghan border – the legendary Pamir Highway, the second highest paved road in the world, or the remote and often impassable Bartang Valley, which offers some of the most spectacular mountain views and trekking opportunities in the country, you are in for a treat.
Once you’ve made your decision, the drive (if that’s how you chose to travel) east takes you through remote, high and desolate mountains. The eastern towns of Tajikistan feel like they belong in a soviet-style Clint Eastward film. Straddling any rare water source that can be found in this rugged, mountainous desert, you can almost hear the buildings screaming complaints about the harshness of life. The winters here are cold and desolate, and the people hardy.
Put all of this together in one package and Tajikistan offers one of the most unique and incredible travel experiences available to you today.
Remote Corner Adventures offers fixed date as well as bespoke climbing and trekking trips to Tajikistan. Our 2018 expedition takes us to the Fann Mountains to climb Chimtarga (5489m) and Energia (5120m) in July / August this summer. Check out the website or get in touch by emailing email@example.com or completing the contact us form.
Sunrise in the Fann Mountains