After seeing nothing but humble villages and even the largest town (Khorog) with a little wear-and-tear out in eastern Tajikistan, it was jarring to see the roads improve rapidly and the level of development rise once we continued into the west and left the Tajikistan/Afghanistan border. The scenery changes into a generally more monotonous flat, hot, and dry valley, and I found myself missing the dramatic Wakhan and Pamir mountains pretty quickly.
There were exceptions though: aside from the fleeting glimpse of the ultra-blue Nurek Reservoir, take the clearly-reconstructed yet still very different sight of the Hulbuk Fortress, dating back to the 11th century. There was a wedding going on outside. Joined by Israelis Oren, Erit, and Ido on our ride with Munar to Dushanbe, Oren must now have cemented himself as a legendary figure who descended upon a wedding party, proceeded to dance circles around everyone, then disappeared as the police broke up the party before even getting to introduce himself. Heh.
Then a few hundred more kilometres and then bam, Dushanbe.
Pamir Highway and Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan
Map approximate, border not crossed.
Tajikistan stands in contrast to its other ex-Soviet (Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS) neighbours. Where the others all speak Turkic languages and look anywhere between Eurasian and Mongol, Tajik people are Persian. The change in demographic is jarringly visible once encountered.
But never mind Tajik people for now: the Gorno-Badakhshan region on the country, comprising of the eastern half (almost 50% of Tajikistan) yet containing only 3% of its population, is nearly all Pamiri (also Persian) and Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz yurts dot the sparse landscape in the far east, and small, humble Pamiri villages are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it occurence along the road. Detouring off the Pamir Highway leads you to the Wakhan Valley road, which traces the Panj River (the merged Pamir and Wakhan Rivers) that also marks the border of Afghanistan for over a thousand kilometres. The Pamir Highway itself, if you stay on it the whole time, goes from Kyrgyzstan through Tajikistan to Afghanistan via a shorter route.
Transport in such a region is very sparse, and so I joined up again with Tom (Ireland) and hopped into a 4×4 with Munar, the manager of the guesthouse we stayed at in Osh, who was also heading to Tajikistan for the first time. With a 1600 km route to Dushanbe and only 6 days to get there, we still managed to squeeze in more than enough stops.