Pamir Highway and Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan
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.