Pamir on the world map: mountain system in details

Where is the Pamir on the world map

The Pamir is a major mountain system in southern Asia and an extraordinary beauty of mountains with the highest peaks in the former Soviet Union.

Pamir is one of the highest mountain systems in the world, located in southern Central Asia. Pamir is situated at a point where the greatest mountains of Asia converge: the Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Tien Shan, Gissar-Alai and Kunlun.

The Pamir Mountains are located on the territory of several states: Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan. But in a narrow sense the Pamir is usually understood as Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan, since most of the mountain system is located here. The Pamir Mountains in China are also commonly referred to as the Kashgar Mountains. Pamir in Afghanistan is located on the territory of Badakhshan Province.

Up until 100 years ago, it was thought that it was the Pamir Mountains that were the highest in the world. After the appearance of modern methods of measuring the altitude the Pamirs rolled back in the list of altitudes in the middle of the first ten. But on the territory of the former Soviet Union it has no equal. However, the highest peaks are located in the Chinese Pamirs. They are Kongur (7,649 m), Kongurtube (7,530 m) and Muztagh-Ata (7,546 m). In the Tajik Pamirs the highest peaks are:

  • Somoni Peak, formerly Communism Peak (7495 m – the highest peak of the ex-USSR);
  • Peak Avicenna (Ibn Sina), which on the Kyrgyz side is still called Lenin Peak (7134 m);
  • peak Korzhenevskaya (7105 m).

How to get to the Pamirs

Putting aside the hard-to-reach ways to get to the Pamirs via Afghanistan and China, there are two main routes to get to these mountains:

  • North through the Kyrgyz city of Osh;
  • The western route via Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

The northern route via Osh is much easier, but it has one critical drawback. Traveling from Osh, you almost immediately get to an altitude of over 4,000 meters above sea level. Such a sharp rise in altitude is extremely dangerous to your health because of the risk of contracting mountain sickness, which can lead to death. The western route via Dushanbe is more favourable because the altitude increase is gradual and the human body has time to adapt. Therefore, the main route across the Pamirs lies through Dushanbe, passes through the mountain system, and ends at the exit from the Pamirs in Osh (Kyrgyzstan).

To visit the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan, foreigners need official permission from the country’s authorities. It is easiest to get it in Dushanbe. It takes 2-3 days to obtain a pass. One has to go to a police station and present a scan of his passport and the date of intended entry into the region. The cost – about 20 TJS if you get it in person, if you do remotely through a travel agency, the price increases to 90 TJS – 100 TJS.

There is only one road to the Pamir from Dushanbe – the Pamir Road (part of the M41 Mazar-e-Sharif – Osh highway). From Dushanbe you need to head east and in the town of Vahdat take one of the two roads leading to Khorog:

  • south through Kulyab;
  • east through Faizabad.

Most of the eastern-Pamir route runs at the mouth of the Panj River on the border with Afghanistan. The road also bifurcates at Khorog:

  • The southern route continues into the Panj valley;
  • The more direct and shorter, but difficult route lies through high mountain villages.

Traveling along the Pamir Tract is only by collective cab, private or rented car, or by hitchhiking. Up to the village of Kalaihum, the road is paved with fresh asphalt, then it is paved with old Soviet asphalt, in some places in a “dead” condition, or unpaved ground.

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Weather and climate in the mountains

Like any mountains, Pamir is characterized by extreme heterogeneity of climatic and weather conditions. The climate of the mountain peaks in the Central and Eastern Pamirs is highland and sharply continental with a minimum amount of precipitation. On the inhabited mountain plateau of the Eastern Pamir there are harsh winters, in January, the temperature at night can drop below -30 °C, the average temperature in January is -15.5 °C. Summer temperatures in the Eastern Pamirs rarely exceed +20°C, the average temperature in July in Murghab is +13.8°C. The winter season here lasts from October to April.

Southern and especially Western Pamir is a zone of subtropical climate influence. The inhabited valleys here are up to 2000 meters above sea level, so the weather conditions are very different from the Eastern Pamirs. Precipitation is twice as high as in the east of the mountain system. It can be very hot in the valleys in summer: the average temperature in July in Kalaihum is +25 °C, in Rushan +22.4 °C, in Khorog the average temperature in August is +22.6 °C. Given the low temperatures at night, this means that during the day the air can heat up to 40 °C. Winters in the south and west of the mountain system are much milder: the average temperature in January in Khorog is -6.2 °C, in Vancha -4.9 °C and in Kalaihum -1.8 °C.

When is the best time to go to the Pamirs

The best time to visit the Pamirs is spring or autumn. The ideal time – May and September, when it is not too hot in the valleys, and in the highlands the weather is comfortable with positive temperatures. In summer it can be very hot in the mountain valleys, but as the altitude increases the heat goes down, so the summer months may also be considered for a trip. In late autumn, winter and early spring, climatic conditions above 3.5 km above sea level are too harsh for travel. In Murghab, for example, the winter months are more suited to survival rather than tourism. In addition, snowfall in winter can completely paralyze traffic on the Pamir highway and secondary roads.

Population

The Pamirs are first of all inhabited by Pamir people, who have been autochthonous in this area since times immemorial. For thousands of years, the Pamiris constituted a single kinship community, but after the partition of the Pamir between the surrounding countries (USSR, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan) contacts between them have almost disappeared due to the closed borders.

The total number of Pamiris, or as they are called Badakhshans, is 300 thousand people, half of whom account for Gorno-Badakhshan Region of Tajikistan. The Pamiris speak East Iranian languages, which distinguishes them from the Tajiks, who speak the language of the West Iranian group. There are 8 Pamir nations in total, some of them (Ishkashim and Munjan) have no more than several thousands people, while the Sanglich has a critical number of 100-150 people. The largest Pamiri people are Shugnans, with a population of 110,000, of whom 80,000 are in Tajikistan.

The Pamirs stand out among other Central Asian peoples by their unusual appearance: there are a large number of fair-haired and light-eyed people among them, especially light pigmentation is common among children. This is the result of inbreeding – the fixation of rare genes in populations isolated from the outside world. However, the unusual appearance of the Pamiris has led to opinions that they are the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army.

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Another factor that unites most of the Pamiri peoples is religion. Unlike all the surrounding peoples, the Pamiris are not Sunnis, but are Ismaili-Nizarites – adherents of one of the branches of the Shiite trend in Islam. Multilingualism is another characteristic feature of the Pamirs. In addition to their native language, all of them know an interethnic language of communication (Tajik in Tajikistan, Uighur in China), while the Pamiris of Tajikistan know Russian almost in their entirety, at a level exceeding that of the main population of the country.

The Pamiris inhabit the high mountain valleys in the southern and western Pamirs, while in the eastern part at the highest altitude live the Pamir Kyrgyz, one of the highest mountain peoples in the world. The number of Pamir Kyrgyz is 11 thousand people.

Cities and towns nearby

Severe environmental conditions and mountainous terrain do not allow for large settlements in the Pamirs. The only city in Pamir is Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, with 30,000 people. The rest of Pamir population lives in kishlaks and settlements, the biggest of them is Murghab with population of 6300 people. This is the highest populated area in the entire territory of the former Soviet Union. The large kishlaks can also include:

  • Rushan (4,000 inhabitants);
  • Karakul (3,500 inhabitants);
  • Vanch (2,600 people);
  • Kalaihum (1,600 inhabitants);
  • Mun (1,200 inhabitants);
  • Midensharv (1,150 inhabitants).

Large villages are the centers of jamoats (village councils) that unite subordinate villages. Together with them, the number of inhabitants of one village council may reach 10 thousand people.

Animal and plant life

Because of harsh conditions, the Pamir’s animal world is relatively poor. There are populations of mountain goats, argali (mountain sheep), brown bears, marmots, snow leopards, wolves and foxes. Wild boars, bobcats, and porcupines live in the western part of the mountain system. A ubiquitous domestic animal, bred for thousands of years by the locals, is the donkey. In the Eastern Pamirs, inhabited mainly by the Pamir Kyrgyz, the yak plays the most important role. These hardy animals are indispensable as a source of meat and wool.

The flora of the Pamirs is much more diverse than that of the animals, but in the Eastern Pamirs the flora is represented by steppe and desert vegetation such as wormwood, teresken and cushionberry. In the valleys of the Southern and Western Pamirs the diversity of flora is much greater: the river mouths are covered with riparian forests of birch, poplar, willow, barberry, shrubs. With the increase in girdle size, the forests are replaced by mountain steppes and then by alpine meadows with thickets of Artemisia, Tipchak and feather-grass.

Transportation

There is no public transportation in the Pamirs. There are several ways for tourists to get around here:

  • arrive in their own cars (motorcycles);
  • rent a car and a driver for the whole trip;
  • by helicopter;
  • by collective cabs going from one kishlak to another;
  • hitchhiking.

Once, small planes flew to Khorog and Murghab, but now the airfields are no longer in operation. The best way to get around the Pamirs is to arrange with a travel agency to rent a jeep for the entire route. The route from Dushanbe across the Pamir to the Kyrgyz town of Osh would cost around 10000 TJS. The route takes 5-6 days with overnights in the villages.

You can also get from Dushanbe to Khorog by helicopter, which costs around 400 TJS, but tickets sell out fast. Helicopters don’t fly further than Khorog.

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Collective cabs are usually 7-seat jeeps over 10 years old, going from one kishlak to another. Despite capacity limitations, they can also carry 9 to 10 passengers if the driver so desires. Departure is not according to the timetable, but according to the occupancy, and waiting for several hours until the car is full is common. The cost depends on the distance and “height”. For example, a trip from Dushanbe to Khorog (520 kilometers) at the easiest part of the road will cost 300 TJS. Farther away, it is more expensive.

Hitchhiking is the most extreme way to travel in the Pamirs. You should keep in mind that because of the high cost of gasoline and the poverty of the local population, even hitchhiking is likely to be paid, and it is better to negotiate the price of the journey in advance. The exception is the military, which usually gives free rides. One more nuance: the higher into the mountains, the less likely one is to come across a hitchhiker. Beyond Murghab, cars pass through the roads several times a day. But the sparseness of Pamir has its own pluses: the cars always stop in front of the traveling travelers.

Going to the Pamir by your own transport is probably the best option, but since Tajikistan itself is thousands of kilometers away from Russia, it is not very common. The disadvantages of such a trip are expensive fuel (the higher into the mountains the more expensive, the price reaches 10 TJS), terrible fuel quality and the total absence of the usual gas stations. At best they pour out canisters of gasoline or diesel fuel, at worst there are no petrol stations for a couple kilometers.

Ecology

Ecological condition of Pamir leaves much to be desired, but it has little to do with the tourist visit. The main Pamir ecological problem is not the pollution of soil or air by industrial wastes but the degradation of pastures and rare agricultural lands because of cattle grazing. There are no industrial enterprises in the Pamirs, so the air here is absolutely clean. In general, sparseness of Pamir population and general backwardness of Gorno-Badakhshan region reduces the influence of anthropogenic factor to minimum.

Pamir sights

Material culture of the Pamirs is very poor and that is why there are very few man-made sights in Pamir. Among them are remnants of ancient forts:

  • Kaahka (Ishkashim region, 17 km from Ishkashim, the village of Namanguti-poyon);
  • Yamchun (Ishkashim region, 72 km from Ishkashim, Yamchun village);
  • Ratm (Ishkashim district, 3 km from Langar village).

One should also note the ruins of the ancient Buddhist monastery Adjina-Tepa in Wakhan valley (Ishkashim region).

But the main treasure of the area is unimaginably beautiful nature. Almost any place on the Pamir highway may be referred to as a tourist attraction because of its breathtaking views. In addition to the mountains and peaks, the Garm-Chashma hot mineral spring is especially noteworthy. The water of the spring is considered to be healing, so it is equipped with a bath. Another mineral spring, Bibi-Fatima, is less spectacular, but is also used for bathing.

The unique mountain lakes of the Pamirs are of most interest to tourists: Karakul (the largest natural water body in Tajikistan), Rangkul, Sarez, Zorkul, Yashikul, Bulunkul and others. The lakes of Pamir are of volcanic origin, and the water in them has a very unnatural turquoise color.

A French copy of the map of the Pamir, made after the surveys of Jesuits Felix da Roche and Joao de Espinha (1739-1760)

The history of mountain conquest

The conquest of the main Pamir peaks fell in the 1920s and 1930s, the period when the interest in exploring the Pamirs was the greatest. Lenin Peak, also called Kaufman Peak after the discoverer, was the first Soviet peak to be conquered. The German mountaineers K. Wien, O. Allwein and E. Schneider were the first to conquer the peak. At the time of the ascent it was believed that Lenin Peak was the highest mountain in the USSR.

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The second fall was that of an unnamed peak, now known as Ismail Somoni peak. The peak had been discovered by chance in 1932 during an attempt to conquer Garmo Peak, when it became clear that 20 km away from it there was an undiscovered mountain that turned out to be the highest peak of the USSR. In 1933 it was decided to conquer the peak, for which the best Soviet mountaineers were thrown to climb. Only E. Abalakov had managed to climb the peak in September 1933. The peak was named after Stalin, and in 1962 it was renamed Communism Peak. It was renamed Somoni Peak in the independent Tajikistan.

The smallest peak of the Soviet Pamirs, Peak Korjenevskaya, was conquered later than all of them. Only in 1953, a group of climbers led by A. Ugarov had reached this peak.

As for the Chinese Pamirs, the Kongur Peak was conquered in 1981 by a British team, led by C. Bonington. On Kongurtub, a group of Soviet and Chinese mountaineers led by E. Beletsky climbed for the first time. Muztagh Ata was conquered by the same expedition.

Tips for the Tourist

Civilization in the Pamirs ends in Khorog. There are no big stores and, most importantly, no pharmacies in the mountain villages. Therefore, on the road be sure to take a powerful antibiotic, analgesic, absorbent, a remedy for intestinal poisoning and a remedy to help with sunburn. Even on a summer trip be sure to bring warm clothes – nights in the local mountains can be very cold.

For the time of the trip one can forget about such benefits of civilization as cellular phone and Internet. Most mobile carriers have no signal in the Eastern Pamirs. There is still no electricity in some villages.

On the Pamir Road, there are often checkpoints of the local traffic police and military where documents are checked. Therefore, one should not forget the regional pass obtained in Dushanbe. These checkpoints often collect a small tribute from local drivers, but they usually do not bother tourists traveling in private cars.

Traveling in the Pamirs is absolutely safe in terms of crime. The locals are very friendly to tourists, if you want you can always stay overnight in the first house you see – the tradition of hospitality is very strong here. However, communication with the Pamiris can be difficult. Despite their good knowledge of Russian, they do not think in the same way we do. The logic of the Pamiris is so different from that of Europeans that it often leaves us baffled.

Pamir is one of the few places on earth, where you can feel like an alien on another planet: this is a completely different world with amazing colors of high mountains, with people who are completely different from us, with a history counting thousands of years.

Pamir – Mountains of Central Asia

The Pamirs are a giant mountain system located in southern Central Asia and north of the Himalayas. The Pamirs occupy several countries: Tajikistan, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The peoples of Central Asia call the Pamir “the roof of the world” and “the foot of Mitra”, in the 18-20 centuries, this very region became an arena of confrontation between Britain and the Russian Empire.

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“The Seven Thousand Mountains of the Pamirs

The highest mountain of this giant mountainous country is located in the Eastern Pamirs in the lands of modern China. It is called Kongur and its height is 7,649 meters.

The highest point of the Pamirs

There are many other “seven-thousandths” peaks. For example, the former peak of Communism, the highest mountain in the former Soviet Union (today in Tajikistan), its height is 7,495 meters.

Pamir Climate

The Pamir Mountains are always covered with snow. Winters are very cold and summers are short and cool, i.e. the climate is continental. In the Central and Eastern Pamirs, the temperature fluctuations are large, and they only increase to the east.

The average temperature in the Pamirs can fluctuate from -20C to +5-+7C in a day in winter. This mountainous country is located in the subtropics, but in summer, judging by the humid air masses, it is a real tropics. In winter, the minimum temperature can be as low as -50C.

The temperature changes in the Pamirs are very big.

The average summer temperature is about +14C, the maximum is +20C. The warm season begins in May and ends in October. These statistics are very generalized, because the temperature depends on the altitude at which it is measured.

It is significantly colder in the Eastern Pamirs. In some of its regions, there are frosts all year round. And the Western Pamir is characterized by a fairly warm climate. There, in January, the average monthly temperature is positive and there is more rainfall.

Famous glaciers of Pamir

  1. Fedchenko Glacier . This is a real natural phenomenon with a length of about 77 km. It is the largest in the world, if you exclude the glaciers of the North and South Poles. The glacier is located in Central Asia in Tajikistan.
  2. Bear Glacier . It is also located in Tajikistan and lies in the valley of the Khirsdary River. Along the entire body of the glacier are plumes of continuously crumbling rocks. The shifts (surges) Medvezhiy occurred many times during the 20th century.

Geology of the Pamir Mountains

The Pamirs have a complex geological structure. It consists of limestone and sand, granite, rock crystal and semi-precious stones. According to its geology, this mountainous country is divided into several districts and regions.

Roads of Communication in the Pamirs

There are mountain roads in the Pamir.

Pamir villages are connected with each other by mountain trails. The construction of roads here is very complicated and costly. The region has a high seismic hazard, with frequent landslides, rockfalls, avalanches, and floods.

In ancient times, there were roads that were used to travel on foot, by donkeys and camels. To this day, the donkey is the most common animal used to move passengers and goods. Pamir used to be part of the Great Silk Road.

The most famous local road is the Old Pamir Road, built by the Russians during the Russian Empire. This secret military road was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was designed to move troops through the pass.

Pamir Excursions

Travelling along the Old Pamir Road is the most interesting adventure that tour operators in Tajikistan can offer. Travelers will see snow on top of the mountains, unique lakes, high mountain tundra, fast rivers in the canyons, etc.

These tours last for several days, tourists have time to get acquainted with life in mountainous villages of Badakhshan, explore villages located on the Silk Road, admire the Panj River flowing on the border with Afghanistan, Lake Karakul and so on.

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