After going for a morning stroll in the small village of Karakul with one last look at the half-frozen lake, it was time to get on the road once again and head towards Murghab, the biggest town in the eastern part of the GBAO. The ride took only 2 hours and offered beautiful views throughout. On the drive, we saw a sign that told us that we were now at an altitude of 4.600 m., which just seemed crazy to me. Thankfully, none of us had experienced any altitude sickness yet, although both Steve and I felt slightly lightheaded and got quickly out of breath when walking.
Murghab has a population of 4,000 and is the only significant town on the eastern side of the GBAO. Murghab and Karakul were the only towns that we saw along the highway in that part of the country and the map didn’t show any other towns in this enormous region. Murghab is more remote than any place I’ve ever been to before (including Svalbard!). It’s located in the middle of the Pamir Mountains in the most remote part of Tajikistan, a country that is already very remote, and the nearest bigger town is 300 km. away. It seems amazing to me how people can live in such remote places!
At 3,650 m. above sea level, Murghab is the highest town in Tajikistan and also the highest town in all of the former Soviet Union. Although Murghab in itself is not a pretty sight, the town has an impressive mountainous backdrop that makes it beautiful.
Arriving in Murghab was an interesting experience. I was expecting it to be just slightly bigger than the Karakul village, but with better and more facilities, but Steve was expecting a big-ish city. None of us were right. Murghab is a decent size, but definitely no city, and it definitely lacks a lot in terms of facilities. During our first walk in the city, we came across a sign saying “Tourist Information”. When we went to the building, we saw a sign in the window saying “The tourist info centre is close until 2015”… Well, if I’m not mistaken, it’s now 2016 and that place was far from being open.
When we arrived in Murghab, our driver drove us to a hotel in the center, where they had dorms for just 10 USD each, although the owner gave us our own twin room for the same price. Unfortunately, they had no wifi, which we really needed for planning our further travels, but they had a hot shower, which I had been dying for ever since we left Osh.
We weren’t exactly sure what we were doing in Murghab or how we would eventually get away from there. We wanted to continue on the Pamir Highway towards Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, where we could travel onwards to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. But the guy at the CBT office in Osh had told us that the price for a private taxi from Murghab to Khorog with stops in several places would be 520 USD, which was way over both of our budgets. We weren’t going to pay that price, so we only had two options left: Find other travellers to split the price with, or get a share taxi straight through to Khorog, which would only be 15 USD each.
After saying goodbye to our friendly driver, we decided to ask around to see if we could get wifi somewhere, so we could do some research, but when we went to check out a homestay, we met two other travellers, a German girl and a Swiss guy, who had travelled in Central Asia three times before as well. They told us that there was no wifi in town, but that they could help us plan our further travels. They told us that the best (and cheapest) way to get to Khorog would be to take a share taxi straight to the city and then travel from there to the beginning of the Wakhan Valley by public transport. The Wakhan Valley road is the one tourists usually take, despite it not being the actual Pamir Highway, but it’s supposed to be more scenic. Getting a share taxi would be much cheaper than hiring a private taxi, but it would mean having no stops along the way, which wasn’t ideal. But then they told us about another option in Khorog; Apparently it’s very easy to get an Afghan visa there and then we could go to Afghanistan, which is just across the border near Khorog. How awesome would that be!??
It was a no-brainer really. Save money on the travel to Khorog, get there in just one day, go to the Wakhan Valley for one day, get visas for Afghanistan and go to FREAKING AFGHANISTAN!!!
The plan was sorted, so we had the rest of the afternoon to relax in Murghab, a town that doesn’t really have much to offer, other than people watching, which is always interesting, especially in this part of the world. I have a new-found love of photographing people, so when the children of Central Asia always ask me to take their photo when they spot my camera around my neck, I never say no. It’s an opportunity every time and children are my favourite object. Just look at these cuties below:
After dinner and Tajik beer at the hotel, we decided to have an early night, so we could get up early to catch the share taxi to Khorog the next day. We so hoped that everything would go to plan in Khorog, as going to Afghanistan was now all that we could think about. But we would have to wait until the next day – the last day of travel on the legendary Pamir Highway – to find out!
How to travel the Pamir Highway – Osh to Murghab:
- You can hire a private taxi from Osh all the way to Murghab, and if you want a night at Karakul Lake or another destination on the highway, you only have to pay the accommodation as extra. The price should be 10.000 soms for the car, petrol, driver and driver’s accommodation and food. The price can be split with up to four people, depending on how much comfort you want.
- You can also get a share taxi from Osh straight to Murghab, which takes 8-10 hours and costs 2000 soms each. This doesn’t give you much comfort though and won’t allow you to stop for photos anywhere, not even at the beautiful Karakul Lake, which you shouldn’t miss when you’re in that part of the world.
- It’s easy to find cheap accommodation in Murghab. There are homestays for about 12 USD each including dinner and breakfast or you could stay at a dorm in the hotel for 10 USD including breakfast and a hot shower. Don’t expect wifi anywhere in town though, as it apparently doesn’t work very often.