The best way to enter Afghanistan is via Tajikistan. From the capital Dushanbe arrange a jeep to Khorog (around 50 dollars, price changes all the time). In Khorog you can arrange an Afghan visa in one day. For another 10 dollars you can get a shared taxi to the border with Ishkashim. Easy border crossing, border guards on both sides are nice. The Afghan border police can even arrange a pick up for you since it is 5km from the actual Afghan town of Ishkashim (it is pricy, 25 dollars one way). My local contact was Waffialah, the local fixer. He speakes English and can get you a driver, arrange all the permits (4x) and a guide. A jeep with driver all the way to Sarhad-e-Broghil cost 450 dollars one way (!!). You could arrange permits yourself for a total of 10 dollars and have it arranged for 50 dollars. A guide is 25 dollars a day. You will need to provide his food as well. Try to arrange a guide up front since there are only four of them in the entire region. The yak is arranged in Sarhad (ask for Safdar). The journey to Sarhad could be done in one day but is usually done in two days. You can stay in one of the guesthouses half way (25 dollars per person per night). There are three guesthouses in Sarhad, take your pick. And there is a hot spring, very nice when you come back! From Sarhad you start the trek.
1. the last place where you can buy food for camping is Ishkashim. Even better to get your supplies in Dushanbe (more choice).
2. Bring enough dollars, there are no cash machines...
3. I brought along an extra tent for the guide and yak man. That gave us more freedom to camp anywhere rather then having to go to a settlement.
4. Dress respectfully (no skin and women should cover up the hair)
Little Pamir Trek
- Distance: 182km
- Total altitude difference: 4750 metres
- Highest point: 4880 metres
- Highest camp: 4600 metres
Sarhad-e-Broghil (3260m)-Baharaq (3510m)
East of the village of Sarhad-e-Broghil an easy, clear path winds up the 4215 metres high Dalriz Pass. This route is a short cut from the course of the Wakhan River. The actual pass is broad with stunning views ove the 6000m+ peaks of the Hindu Kush. Before and after the pass are several water points (both small streams and springs). Keep following the obvious path until it meets the wild Wakhan River again. There will be a number of streams to cross, all ok for wading through or hopping from boulder to boulder. Baharaq is situated at the first wider river bank, with trees and a small stone building. Water is taken from a spring. Excellent camping spot.
How to get the animals started...
Baharaq (3510m) - Langar (3630m)
↑ 400 metres
↓ 280 metres
The path goes up up the hill rising from the river valley just after the stone building. 200 metres higher the path descends again to a bridge crossing a raging river. The track follows the river. Bare in mind that for the first three hours there is no drinking water, so fill up properly at the camp. After three hours there are several places to fill up the bottles. From here it is easy cruising with mostly flat track. There is one river wading. The beautiful tower of Gerek peak (5400m) is constantly visible. The camp spot is high above the river on a plateau. Despite the fact that Langar is on various maps it is not a permanent settlement. A few building and ruines offer shelter for caravans of yak and their herders that are passing by. There is a good water supply. Enjoy the great views of Gerek.
Langar (3630m)-Khachigosh (4080m)
↑ 450 metres
Approaching the Little Pamir Plateau
From Langar the valley widens. The mountains on the left (Pamir) are red and yellow, on the right enjoy the views over the peaky Hindu Kush covered in ice and snow. The route follows the Wakhan for an hour, then it makes a shortcut leaving the Wakhan River for a bit and staying left of the side river called Varm. A river crossing involves wading through the Varm river, potentially tricky in early summer. Keep on walking through the wide valley. The path will meet with the Wakhan River after a couple of hours. Just before reaching the plateau the path forks. Take the left route and enter the plateau and give permit to the ranger at Khachigosh. 20 minutes further eastwards to Chaqmaqtin is a good camp place on a meadow dotted with yaks.
Khachigosh (4080m) - Chaqmaqtin Lake (4030m)
- 3 river crossings involving wading
Wading through icy rivers
The Little Pamir Plateau is a vast, windswept strip of land surrounded by majestic peaks of over 5000 metres. The deep blue Chaqmaqtin Lake forms the "eye". Around 2000 Kyrgyz live a hard life, surviving of their live stock and the scarse products that come in from lower altitudes. We were treated with a carpet of snow although it was the first week of September! Summers are very short.
The route to Chaqmaqtin Lake is fairly easy walking. Cross the wide stream after 1km and proceed walking on the plateau. Stay on the left side of the river (going up). Pretty much flat all the way but the route can be very muddy. After 1 hour you pass Bozai Gumbaz (the caravanserai and little after the settlement with CAI school). The big the valley on the right leads towards the Wakhjir Pass going into China. After 4 hours cross the river (wading) as the route is a lot easier to walk. From here you could stay on the foothill of the mountains leading to a small settlement with guesthouse Ouch Jilga (around $20 per person per night) and left towards Chaqmaqtin Lake. Both are roughly two hours walking from the crossing. Lots of wading birds, ducks and even sea gulls (despite the fact that the nearest sea is 2000km away!). This is possibly the most spectacular scenery in Central Asia! Near the shores of the lake are excellent camping spots.
Chaqmaqtin Lake (4030m)
Great things to do around the like is visiting one of the Kyrgyz settlements. Long strolls along the shores of Chaqmatin is another thing to do. And what about exploring one of the side valleys to see the hanging glaciers from up close!
The stunning mountains of the Hindu Kush
The trail continues further east all the way to China, another 5 days of walking!
Chaqmaqtin Lake (4030m) - Khachigosh (4080m)
Kachigosh (4080m) - Showr (4300m)
Our yak reluctant to venture the snowy conditions
This is a short walking section. From the settlement there's a path going up the big U-shaped pass. Look behind you and enjoy the stunning view over the Little Pamir Plateau for the last time this trip. Keep left of the river. The path ascends gradually which makes it easy walking. Cross the river at around 4300m. The route crosses the Achbliss Pass (4600m) and a Scottish-like Loch marks the pass on your left. The descend is easy as well, with sheep and yaks accompanying your walk. Camp at the river at the yurt settlement.
Showr (4300) - Barnoz (4400)
- High snowy pass
Struggling up the 4880m high Varm Pass
From Showr go up the wide, bouldery river valley of Varm. The climb is gentle along the left bank and later on the river bed. After a few kilometres, where two rivers come together, take the left valley. After crossing the Varm you get to a path that leads clearly up to the Varm Pass (4880m). Early in the season but even in summer snow can be expected. The path is never steep or technical. After the pass (there's a small pond on top) the descend is easy as well. The mountains on the right form the border with Tajikistan. After 1,5 hours you see a wide river valley. Stay on the right side of the river and go up the second seasonal settlement to Barnoz which makes a good spot to spend the night.
Barnoz (4400m) - Dara River (3985m)
Crossing this river is not as easy for the yak...
From Barnoz traverse towards the end of the ridge on the right side of the river. After 1 hour there's a good path leading up the Karabil pass (4805m). Weather permitting there are great views over the Big Pamir. Sharp peaks are wrapped in snow year round. Down is the river Chapdara with glacial blue waters. The descend is straightforward. When the slope levels out traverse left towards the village of Witzirum. After the village continue for 45 min where the river is easy to cross over big boulders. Take the valley to the right (Dara River) after another 30 min cross a tributary river at the confluence and keep going along the Dara (there's a village on the other side). There is an obvious place to cross 20 min after having passed the village. Camp on the other side.
Our yak man Safdar warming up
Keep going up along the left bank of the Dara River. After about an hour there's quite a steep gorge to cross. Look carefully, there is a proper path, though steep. No major river crossings, all hoppable. Snowcapped peaks become visible. At around 4450m cross the stream and go up the hill on the right. You'll see a turqoise blue pond. Stay left of the river but pass the rocky outcrop on the right. Traverse this very same hill up until you reach the high altitude alpine lake which is an excellent base for exploring the spectacular area.
Dara Bik (4600m) - Sarhad (3250m)
Dara Bik plateau
Up the Dara Bik Pass (4700m). You'll pass a fantastic alpine lake just before the pass. The terrain is rugged with white peaks all around. The way down is very rough at first but gets clear after 30 minutes. The views over the Hindu Kush are unreal. At 4200m there's a small summer shelter. Keep following the valley down (stay left of the river). At around 4000m cross the river (a little further down it's impossible to continue on the left side). At the valley's end the path goes up steeply, though very short distance. After this section Sarhad is visible, with views over the direct surroundings of Sarhad (The valley towards Broghil, which forms the border with Pakistan). 45 minutes to Sarhad winding right around the right side of the gorge. Enjoy the hotspring!
Mura Pass Trek
Getting to the trailhead from Dushanbe
Not the easiest, but definitely the cheapest way is taking a mini bus or marshrutka. From the main bus station hop on the marshrutka bound for Shakharov (5 TJS), which is about 50 km west of Dushanbe. It will only leave when full and filling up could take a while. The journey takes an hour. From Shakharov a taxi can take you 15 km up the Karatag River to the end of the asphalt road (20 TJS). A dirt road only suitable for 4WD vehicles continues to Hakimi village.
- Distance: 58km
- Total altitude up: 2825m
- Total altitude down: 1460m
- Highest point: 3780m
- Highest camp: 3100m
End of the tar road – Hakimi
- Lack of water points
- Tricky trail sections
- Military border post
- Shepherd dogs
- Snow traverse(s)
View on the other side of the Mura Pass
- Steep snow fields
- Deep river crossings
Home stays are found in Sary Tag and on the shores of Iskander Kul.
Trekkers who plan to continue their trek into the Fann Mountains can restock at the Turbaza (former Soviet holiday park) at Iskander Kul.
There are no buses to Sarvoda, which serves as the main hub to Ayni/Penjikent and Dushanbe. You can hitch a ride or arrange a taxi from Iskander Kul at the Turbaza (US$25) to Sarvoda and continue the journey by bus or shared jeep. Prices need verification.
The last sun rays of the day light up the Chimtarga summit
The approach to the Kaznok Pass (we were doing the route north bound, much more difficult!)
Along Kaznok River
Lakes Loop – Kulikalon / Alaudin Lakes
Total altitude difference: 3145 metres
Highest point: 3775 metres
Highest camp: 2850 metres
Getting to the trailhead from Penkjikent
Artush Village (1770m) – Kulikalon Lake (2850m)
From Artush Village it takes two hours to walk (8km) up to the turn off to the Alplager (2150m). It is possible to hire a donkey. It is a lovely walk up along a dirt road. The Alplager offers accommodation, food and snacks.
To continue to Kulikalon Lake keep following the dirt road on the left side of the river. After 2km the road ends. A bridge connects with a path that winds up in a SE direction. On both sides big walls give some shade later in the day. Half way up the slope you’ll pass a waterfall on your left hand side. The last bit up to the lake is very steep. Once up you enter a big open space dotted with deep blue lakes surrounded by glaciated peaks reaching over 5000 metres. The smaller lakes are wonderful for swimming. Pitching your tent is easy, many spots all around the lakes. Several shepherd families live around the lakes in summer time.
Kulikalon Lake (2850m) – Alaudin Lake (2780m) via Laudan Pass (3640m)
Camping at Alaudin Lake
Around Kulikalon there’s an extensive network of paths. The paths leading in easterly direction all come together on the mail trail towards the Laudan Pass (3640m). It is a bit swampy in places, but generally easy to walk. The pass is free of snow in trekking season. On top you are treated to stunning views over the lakes. The descent remains in north easterly direction. The path that’s bending right is a short cut to the Russian climbing camp, not far from Alaudin Lake. The way down along the river Pasruddaria River is long (about 1100 altimetres), but pretty straight forward (path goes down left of the river). At the junction with the Chapdara River there is a CBT homestay (more a mountain hut) that needs to be booked in advance (10 US$, Zerefshan Tourism Development Association in Penjikent) unless you’re lucky. At this junction turn right on the landrover track. Gradually this track goes up with awesome views of the big peaks of the Fann Mountains. 3,5km (1 hour) further the dirt track ends at a Russian climbing camp. After that it’s 45 minutes (1,5km) up to Alaudin Lake. All around are camp spots and local guide Rashid has a small selection of food and drinks and can also prepare warm meals.
Alaudin Lake (2780m) – Artush Village (1770m) via Alaudin Pass (3775m)
Donkeys struggling up Alaudin Pass
The Alaudin Pass is west from Alaudin lake. On both sides of the valley up a trail goes up very steeply. As you gain altitude views over Chopdara, Zamok and other 5000m+ peaks unfold. Having taken the left trail, after 400 altimetres up (a bouldery section) the path disappears. Follow the donkey tracks until you cross it again. Once the path is found again, it remains very straightforward. Also this pass is free of snow during the summer months. The path winding back down to Kulikalon Lake is at times steep. Left at around 3000 metres you’ll see the emerald Dushakha Lake. Cross the river that comes from Dushakha high before it is too steep. Going down the donkey tracks through barren landscape brings you back to Kulikalon Lake. Go back to Artush Alplager and Village as you came. Note that the first section of the descent from Kulikalon is steep and can be extremely slippery. Take care on this section!
Plunge into one of the beautiful lakes!
The trek could be prolonged by going back to the Alplager via the Chukurak Pass, an easy pass at 3180 metres.
- Potentially tricky river crossing
- Not many water sources
- Big snowfield (no crampons needed)
- Tabaspin Pass 4040m!
- Eroded/damaged path
- Crossing Yagnob River
- Difficult finding right path
- Small rock fall prone section
- Not many water sources
- Potentially difficult river crossing
- Very hard to find path to the pass
- Feisty shepherd dogs
- Steep and slippery descent
View of the Zamin Karor Massif
- Lack of water points after Tagrich Pass
- Feisty shepherds dogs
- Spectacular wobbly bridge
- Horse Fly country!!
- Tricky descent
The last hurdle: big moraines
The bridge, the gateway back to Bachor
Pik Engels Meadows Trek
Langar – Plateau at base Pik Engels
From the Wakhan Valley nothing gives away the existence of one of the most beautiful peaks in the Pamirs, just half a days’ walk away: Pik Engels (6510m). In summer time the green pastures at the base of the peak are inhabited by Pamiri shepherds. From the suggested campsite it is possible to walk up to the base of the mountain which is guarded by a white wall of glaciers; and the mountain ridge leading to the shoulder of both Pik Karl Marx and Pik Engels offers the unique possibility of a relatively easy trek up a six thousand metre mountain.
Make sure you carry enough water for the first section of the trek: the steep trail is exposed to the sun virtually all day and there is no water until the trail meets up with the gorge. Finding the trailhead is tricky. Cross the bridge at the MSDSP office and follow the path that stays on the top end of the village. This will lead to the sign for the petro glyphs (N37˚03.295, E072˚40.566). Several (shepherd) trails wind their way up the dry and rocky slope. Avoid walking close to the slabs that dominate the left part of the slope. Herds of goats often cause rocks to roll down in great speed. All the trails lead upwards at varying gradients and meet with the man made trail along the irrigation channel, about six hundred altimetres above Langar. This section takes about 1.5-2hr.
Approach Pik Engels
On the horizon a dramatic landscape unfolds, dotted with the white spiky peaks of the Hindu Kush on the Afghan side of the Wakhan Corridor. The wide valley is split by the Panj River, the confluence of the Pamir River (in the old days known as the Oxus) and the Wakhan River. The views from this part of the trail are absolutely breathtaking. The most distinct mountain visible is the pyramid shaped Baba Tungi (6513m).
Continue the almost level trail towards the gorge while keeping Langar on your right hand side. The path turns left into the gorge. From here you’ll catch the first glimpse of Pik Engels. Keep walking along the irrigation channel for another 2km until you reach the little dam that partly diverts the glacial stream (3500m). The view, the space and the availability of water makes this an excellent place for a rest. From here it will take another 2hr to reach the Pik Engels Meadows. The path roughens a bit and sometimes you’ll have to find your own way along the river bank over boulders. It’s straightforward where to go: after the boulders a grassy plain leads to the well worn trail that zigzags up about hundred fifty altimetres. After this section the valley widens and levels out as you approach one of the most spectacular places you’ll ever camp.
Admiring Pik Engels
Side trip 1
Pik Engels from close up
From the campsite it is possible to walk up to the base of the mountain. This will take 4-6 hr return; the actual distance and gain in altitude is more than it appears to be. As you approach Pik Engels, stay on the left side of the pastures. You have to cross the glacial stream twice until you reach the moraine (20min); take care not to lose your footing as you cross the stream, and pick your crossing points carefully. You pass the glacial lake on the left hand side. The path fades, but finding your way is easy as the direction is very obvious. After one hour you will reach the tongue of the glacier, which at this stage is covered with soil and rocks. The terrain becomes rough and steep with big and sometimes unstable boulders. Again stay on the left side of the glacier. The climb up this moraine section (three hundred altimetres) will take about an hour. On the top at 4400m the view of the mighty Pik Engels is unforgettable. The return trip is the same way back with Baba Tungi dominating the horizon.