Day 1 - Bishkek
Welcome to Central Asia! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception or call our local operator on +996 555 30 30 25. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. You should also bring a couple of extra passport-size photos for your GBAO permit and Tajik visa in case they are required. We will normally visit the Tajikistan Embassy on Day 2. If you arrive early, be sure to explore Bishkek. You'll find it's a relaxed city of wide streets, trees and parklands, and a palpable Soviet past. TsUM Department Store in the city centre is renowned for having the best range of Kyrgyz souvenirs for shopping. Also check out the State Historical Museum, which can't hide from its former guise – the National Lenin Museum.
Day 2 - Chychkan/Toktogul
Depart Bishkek and travel to Toktogul (approximately 6 hours). This is an urban settlement in the Jalal-Abad province of Kyrgyzstan. You will arrive in the early evening, then enjoy a night of free time. Due to the limited options in this area, the accommodation tonight might be in Chychkan rather than Toktogul. Your leader will advise you on Day 1 as to where you will stay for your departure.
Notes: Throughout the trip you will be travelling in 6- to 8-seat private vehicles, with some sightseeing or transport to dinners included, as well as optional activities by local transport or taxis. In the private vehicles, your leader will generally take the front seat in order to communicate with the driver, and in cases where the group is split across multiple vehicles, you will take turns travelling in each, to mix things up. Due to the dusty conditions of the roads, photography from within the vehicles will need to be done with the windows closed. Frequent stops will be made along the way for photos at the most scenic spots.
Day 3 - Osh
Travel onward from Toktogul to Kyrgyzstan's second city, Osh (approximately 8 hours). Located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country, Osh is often referred to as the capital of the south. It has a mostly Uzbek population, which is evidence of its proximity to the border. While you are here, you'll visit Suleiman's Mountain, a site of huge Islamic importance that dominates the centre of the city. While the walk is not strenuous for those with good fitness, you will need sturdy footwear as there are many slippery and steep steps and slopes. You will also visit the Osh Bazaar, one of the biggest markets in Central Asia. As well as browsing this intriguing bazaar, here you can change some money into Tajikistan Somani for the journey ahead. Depending on the arrival time, some activities in Osh will be scheduled for tomorrow instead of today.
Day 4 - Sary Tash
After a morning of exploring Osh, continue to Sary Tash (approximately 3 hours). On this journey you will cross the Taldyk Pass (3,615 m). Conveniently located in the Alai Valley, bordering Tajikistan, Sary Tash is a junction for explorers heading off in many directions on the road to Osh, Murgab (Tajikistan), and Kashgar (China). You will spend the night in a basic homestay in this small, remote village at the junction of the Silk Road.
Notes: As with many of the homestays on this trip, accommodation is multi-share and, depending on space and the configuration of the group, may be mixed-gender. In some parts of the year there might be the option to stay in a yurt pitched in the yard of the homestay. The bedding consists of mattresses, pillows and blankets on the floor. As temperatures can often get close to or below freezing at night, and as homes are not centrally heated, it's best to bring warm clothes to sleep in. Your homestay in Sary Tash does not have running water or bathing facilities, and the toilet is a simple squat facility outside. Meals may be taken in a 'dining yurt' set up in the yard. As in many destinations on this trip, lighting is minimal at night, so a head torch is recommended for getting around after dark and for bathroom visits.
Day 5 - Murgab (Kyrgyzstan/Tajkistan Border Crossing)
Today you will head to your homestay in Murgab (approximately 6–7 hours). Firstly, after breakfast, drive the 50 kilometres from Sary Tash to the Kyzyl Art Pass (4,280 m). In this spectacularly remote spot, you will cross the border from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan. Remember to be patient as officials work through the various permits and procedures. This will, however, all be taken care of by your leader. Once inside Tajikistan, you'll make your way down the 95 km to Karakul Lake for lunch, with yet more dramatic scenery and photo opportunities along the way. Karakul Lake is too high to support aquatic life and is the largest out of 800 lakes in the Pamirs; these lakes were created by earthquakes, tectonic activity and glaciers. The final 135 km today takes you to Murgab via the Ak-Baital Pass (4,655 m), the highest pass on the Pamir Highway and in the former Soviet Union. Murgab is located in a valley at approximately 3,000 m above sea level, surrounded by high peaks. This region is inhabited mainly by Kyrgyz people. From here, on a clear day, you can see Muztag Ata (7,546 m), the highest mountain in the Pamirs. While here, your hosts will prepare you a simple dinner and breakfast – homemade bread, plov (rice pilaf) and fried eggs or porridge. Keen stargazers will be treated to a great display on a clear night, with very little light pollution affecting views of the night sky.
Notes: As tonight's homestay does not have a reliable electricity source, power cuts are frequent. This is another reason a head torch will come in handy. Your leader will allocate rooms for the night. Some have simple wire-frame beds and others have mattresses on the floor. Bathroom facilities are outside, with the possibility of a shared banya (simple sauna) if your hosts are able to source enough water to heat up.
Day 6 - Langar
Today is a long day of driving (approximately 10 hours). Drive through the picturesque Alichur valley, over the Khargush Pass (4,344 m), to the Wakhan Corridor. As you enter the Wakhan there are amazing views of the Pamirs to the right and of the Hindu Kush to the left. On the other side of the pass you will cross through another check point and travel along the Afghanistan border. In contrast to the previous village stays, the surroundings here are more fertile, with families growing tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages and flowers on their own garden plots. A stop will be made somewhere along the way for lunch in a local chaikana (teahouse/cafeteria). Tonight you will stay in a traditional Pamiri house, which consists of a large pillared central room where all home life takes place. Home cooking awaits – perhaps lagman (noodle soup) or shorpa (meat and vegetable soup). After dinner your hosts will roll the mattresses and you'll share a sleeping area with the rest of the group.
Day 7 - Ptup
Today is one of the most active days of the trip. After breakfast there's the option of hiking to an interesting petroglyph site above the village. The images, carved into the rocks high above the village, depict goats, caravans, horses and Ismaili symbols. You'll hike up a gravelly slope for at least 30 minutes (depending on fitness) before the first carvings are visible. There is little shade and it's hard going, but it's well worth the exertion, especially after so long in a vehicle. Next you will drive to nearby Vrang, where on a cliff-side pitted with caves stands a Buddhist complex with 4th-century origins. It's another climb to get there, but the path is flatter in places and not as physically demanding as the hike to the petroglyphs. Continue to Ptup via the stunning valley that follows the winding river (approximately 3 hours). You'll stop en route for lunch. Ptup is the location of your next Pamiri homestay in the traditional Wakhan style. The multi-generation family who live here have a beautiful garden and house with a flush toilet and shower with solar-heated water. While you're in Ptup you'll visit the stunning Yamchun Fort, which some claim is the most spectacular sight in the country. To get to the fort you'll follow very windy, narrow mountain roads, so for safety reasons this journey will be made well before nightfall. Access to the fort itself is via a tricky scramble down and along the rocky valley. The views out over the valley are amazing. If time and road conditions permit, you might be able to visit Bibi Fatima hot springs too.
Notes: Depending on departure and arrival times, you'll visit the sights around Ptup either today or tomorrow.
Day 8 - Khorog
From Ptup you will travel to Khorog (approximately 6 hours), which after our village experiences might seem like a bustling metropolis. You will pass through Ishkashim, perhaps stopping for lunch there, and continue along the Afghan border. Look out for the watchtowers and border crossings which, despite the proximity of the countries (sometimes only 100 m apart), are few and far between, with very little contact between people on each side of the divide. Also watch out for ovrings, the spectacularly scary footbridges that Afghans have built along the cliff faces in order to be able to commute from one village to another. The contrast across the river valley here can be quite stark in places. Tajikistan is undoubtedly a poor country; in general the roads are sealed and buildings are connected with electricity, but over the river you will see locals living in much simpler conditions. You'll often be able to get a wave from your neighbours across the river as you travel along. Once in Khorog you will be in the capital of the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). Here you'll stay in a guesthouse with private bathrooms. Meals will be taken at the guesthouse, with perhaps a dinner at an Indian restaurant in town – one of the city's best.
Day 9 - Khorog
While you are here, there will be time to explore Khorog's sights, including the bazaar. As you wander throughout this intriguing marketplace, your leader will be able to point out to you which stalls are selling Afghan goods. There will also be time to check out the lovely botanical gardens that are perched high above the town, which boast some great panoramic views.
Day 10 - Kala-i Khum
Set off to Kala-i Khum (sometimes written Kalaikhum), a small town on the Pamir Highway (approximately 10 hours). Today is mostly a travel day, and since the town is so far away, most groups will arrive too late to be able to explore on arrival. Tonight's accommodation is a homestay which sometimes also accommodates other independent travellers. The guesthouse is multistory, so be prepared for some steep steps to get to and from the sleeping spaces, dining area and bathrooms. There is a simple shower, some running water and both a flush and pit toilet in the courtyard. In the evening there will be dinner, perhaps local style dumplings.
Day 11 - Dushanbe
Enjoy some breakfast at the homestay before setting off for the nation's capital, Dushanbe (approximately 8 hours). In Dushanbe you will stay for two nights in a nice old mansion that has been converted into a charming guesthouse. The rooms have private bathrooms, a communal lounge and breakfast area, plenty of books to borrow, and internet access. The beautiful grounds feature fountains and landscaped gardens, not to mention two friendly resident Burmese cats. For dinner tonight, the group might head out on the town to a Middle Eastern restaurant – one of the city's finest – or to a popular Chaikhana which has been in operation since Soviet times.
Day 12 - Dushanbe
Check out the local central parks, fountains and monuments, with the option of visiting the main bazaar or Soviet-era Central Department Store for some souvenir shopping. Just outside of Dushanbe (around 30 km) is the 18th-century Hissor Fort. Though this fort is being heavily restored, its colourful 20th-century history makes it quite an interesting visit. Back in Dushanbe, you'll check out the excellent Museum of National Antiquities. This relatively new museum reflects Tajikistan's diverse pre-Islamic cultural heritage, with exhibits from Bactrian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Hindu eras. The giant sleeping Buddha on the second floor may well be the highlight here. Enjoy your last night with the group this evening, perhaps over one last dinner.
Notes: While we aim to include all of the above activities in your time in Dushanbe, there may not always be time to fit everything in, as travel times and weather conditions can vary. Sites of interest can also close unexpectedly. In these cases, your leader will talk to you about the options and any decisions that need to be made as a group.
Day 13 - Dushanbe
Your journey comes to an end after breakfast in Dushanbe.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money