Mysterious Tajikistan. Possibly one of the last destinations on your endless travel list, right? Tajikistan is a fascinating country located in the eastern part of Central Asia.
International tourism statistics show that the annual number of arrivals in Tajikistan is not higher than a quarter of a million. Although being among one of the least visited countries in the world, Tajikistan has a lot to explore. In my humble point of view, the most beautiful mountain landscapes in Central Asia are in Tajikistan.
But wait, my page is not about Tajikistan, the country, but a region that is even more remote. I’ll focus on the small 220 km / 140 mi stretch of road from Khorog to Langar, inside the Ishkoshim District of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, the “infamous” GBAO province of Tajikistan.
OMG!!! Central Asia? Tajikistan? Gorno-Badakhshan? GBAO? Ishkoshim District? Whakan?
Are you confused now? Yes! I know… Let me keep explaining.
Nowadays, the historical Badakhshan has divided between Tajikistan Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region aka GBAO in the north and the Afghanistan-Badakhshan Province in the south.
You might have heard about the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan, right? OK, so, the northern part of the historic Wakhan is now part of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in Tajikistan.
On different trips, I made the road Khorugh-Langar three times, so I think I can give you some tips about it. Visiting Tajikistan is easy because it’s very safe and full of friendly and hospitable people. This blog post is exclusively about the Tajik Northern Wakhan Corridor. I’ll point out some amazing places to visit along the Panj River, from Khorugh all the way to Langar.
Quick facts about Gorno-Badakhshan:
- Autonomous region in eastern Tajikistan
- Located in the Pamir Mountains
- Capital city is Khorugh
- The main road of GBAO is the famous M41 – the Pamir Highway
- Population is about 206,000 people
- Area of 64,200 km2 (24,800 sq mi)
- The predominant religion is Ismaili Shi’ite Islam
- 9 different local languages are spoken
- You have to get a special permit to travel in GBAO
- The region covers 45% of Tajikistan territory
7 Things I like about the Tajik Wakhan
Top things to experience
- Remote stone castles
- Friendly and hospitable people
- Incredible mountains
- Picturesque Tajik and Afghan villages
- Ancient petroglyphs
- Several homestays, where you can find cheap accommodation among local Wakhis, the people from the Wakhan Valley
- Dunes inside the Panj River
Top places to visit
- Afghan Villages
- Khaakha Fortress
- Panj River Sandy Beaches
- Shrine Of Ali
- Darshay village
- Yamchun Fort
- Yamg village
- Buddhist stupa in Vrang
- Kala-e Panja
- Fortress Abrashim Qala
- Langar Petroglyphs
- Ratm Fort
Visit Wakhan Corridor in Tajikistan
Khorugh is the capital city of GBAO. With a bustling bazaar and friendly people, this city is your starting point to explore the region if you’re coming from Dushanbe, or, the ending point if you’re coming from Murgab. Until the late 19th century, Khorugh was disputed between the Emir of Bukhara, the Shah of Afghanistan, Russia, and Britain. Khorugh is located in a narrow valley just aside Afghanistan. In Khorugh you can exchange money; get money out of ATM’s with Visa card as MasterCard/Maestro don’t work; there are homestays as low as $10 dollars per night with breakfast; eat at local restaurants inside the bazaar; visit the Afghan market on Sunday morning; many supermarkets available.
Dasht is a small village on top of a mountain off the main road to Ishkoshim. To reach Dasht you have to go up the dirt road after Andarob. The highlight of this place is the super friendly people that will probably invite you to visit their homes, and the wonderful views of the valley below.
Ishkoshim is a small border town located 105 km away from Khorug. On the other side of the border, there is an Afghan town called Ishkashim. The famous Afghan Ishkashim border market is closed for a few years due to Taliban threat.
All along the E009 road from Khorug to Langar there are plenty of picturesque villages on the Afghan side of the Panj River. Stop, take your time to watch the life on the other side of the border. Contemplate and enjoy.
» Did you know that on a previous trip to Central Asia, I traveled to Afghanistan with my own car?
Read my page: Driving in Afghanistan
Khaakha Fortress is located in Namadgut village, 15 km from Ishkoshim. This is the first impressive castle you’ll be able to visit if you’re coming from Khorug direction. This place dates back to the Kushan-era around the 3rd-century BC. You can go up the walls and enjoy the magnificent views of the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. There is a military post on top of the fortress so be friendly to the army guys and don’t be intrusive. It’s OK to take pictures.
Panj River sandy beaches
Sandy beaches between Tajikistan and Afghanistan? Really? On the road coming from Dushanbe, starting in Khirmajo town, all the way to Khorug and furthermore to Ishkoshim, you will have plenty of beaches with fine sand. This area is patrolled by the army, so don’t be surprised if someone wants to check your passport and ask you a few questions. You are not allowed to take pictures at some specific sections of the border, especially near border crossings and bridges.
Shrine of Ali
Upon the death of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and to avoid the desecration of his grave, his exact burial site was kept secret. Forty different mausoleums were built in different countries and one of them is located in Namadgut village. This is one of the places to be said to have the body of Ali, the first Imam of Shia Islam. The doors of the site are open and you can just go inside on your own.
On the main road just before Darshay village, there is an impressive slot canyon. A slot canyon is a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. You can go up the hill and trek to the top of the big mountain where you can enjoy amazing views of the Darshay Gorge entrance from above. You can have a nice hike for two or three days in Darshay Gorge up to 25 km far and observe the wildlife and the beauty of the landscape. Up in Darshay Gorge, there is a yurt camp where you can stay. The ranger of the protected region will guide you and tell you more about the history of Sarshaydara and show you the wildlife and the ancient petroglyphs. This area is home to the Alpine ibex wild goat, the snow leopard, and different bird species such as the Himalayan vulture, the bearded vulture also known as the lammergeier, the Asia chukar partridge, and many others. Also interesting is the Mazar or holy place/cemetery 500 meters before the village on the Ishkoshim side. Here you can view some ancient petroglyphs and a shrine built up with Alpine ibex wild goat skulls and horns.
Yamchun Fort is one of the most spectacular of all Wakhan defensive structures. The upper panoramic views of this 12th-century construction are astonishing. You can explore the area with multiple rooms and enjoy the views from the windows of the various rounded watchtowers. The way up the hill is indeed worth the effort. Sleep at Chorshanbe homestay just 2 km away from the fortress; lovely family, and tasty food at an affordable price of $15 dollars per person (half board).
Yamg is a small village 80km from Ishkoshim. When you pass on the road you can’t really tell about the existing charming labyrinth of houses inside. Exploring a bit deeper inside Yamg, you will be surprised about the interesting Mubarak-i Wakhani Museum, the Solar Observatory, and Mubarak cave. The Yamg Observatory consists of pieces of carved stone used in sky observation. The stone components have the following names, respectively: Chilla-sang, Hamal-khona, Darvoza Sangi. As scholars concluded, the Yamg Observatory is believed to be the most sophisticated in the region. Mubarak-i Wakhani, is labeled as “The Ismaili-Sufi Sage of Pamir“, and he represents the interesting esoteric tradition of the Pamiri Muslims.
Buddhist stupa in Vrang
What? Yes, there is an ancient Buddhist Stupa in the middle of Tajik Wakhan Corridor. Interesting, isn’t it? From Vrang village, you can go up the hill following the path carved on the stone floor. Fro the top of the building and try to imagine how the Wahkan used to be when Buddhism prevailed. The Buddhist temple in Vrang bears the lost resemblance to ancient monuments of Eastern Turkestan. Its origin is traced back to archaeological findings dated back to the 5th and 6th-century AD. This is the only monument of this kind in the region. Based on old written reports by Chinese travelers, there used to exist another Buddhist temple with an old statue of Buddha on the left bank of the river in the town of Khandut, the ancient capital of Wakhan.
Kala-e Panja can’t really be visited when you’re in Tajikistan since it’s located on the Afghan side. But the strategic position it holds creates a lovely photogenic scenario: Panj River, the mountains, Tajik and Afghan villages. If by chance you spot some army patrolling the border, avoid taking pictures. Just wait until they pass and go for it.
Fortress Abrashim Qala
Abrashim Qala is located in Zong village, just 7 km before Langar. It was built to protect the Silk Road from Chinese and Afghan invaders. The strategic location of the castle makes possible to view the junction of River Panj and River Wakhan, where the Wakhan Valley geographically ends.
Langar is located 113 km / 70 mi away from Ihskshim. This is the last village of my proposed Tajik Wakhan itinerary. If you love Rock art, Langar will have a double impact on you: from one side, you will love to explore and discover the ancient engravings, but, from another side, your heart will be broken to notice a large number of destroyed carvings. So, explore far from the village. Near the cemetery is where the most destroyed figures are located. Get yourself a guide or walk farther to enjoy over 6000 ancient petroglyphs!
Ratm Fort is located 6 km away from Langar. Although my proposed itinerary would stop in Langar, I just can’t write this article without mentioning this interesting castle. This building has more than 2-millennia of history, and after a good 15-minute walk you can reach it, crossing fields and some isolated houses.
Read the pages: A guide to the Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan by @AgainstCompass and How To Visit Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor (Safety, Visas, Cost) by @expertvagabond.