Upon arriving in Khorog I never really gave much thought to visit the Pamir Botanical Gardens. I had my mind on one place and that place was in Tajikistan’s Wakhan Corridor. As chance would have it though, I departed from the Wakhan a little early to ensure for a timely departure out of Khorog and into Dushanbe. With this new slightly unplanned time to kill in Khorog my guide, Teo and I decided to check out the gardens to see what all the Lonely Planet hype was about or not about. Now allow me to back track for a moment and describe what facts I know of the garden. The Pamir Botanical Gardens rest about 5km from the center of town and are known as the second highest gardens in the world at 3,900m. From the sign below we learn that the gardens sit on 624 hectares of arable land and house 2,300 plant varieties. Pretty impressive, but the further I went the more I began to find that the gardens were more than anything secret – they are a hidden gem in Tajikistan’s rough mountain terrain.
Follow me into the Pamir’s Botanical Garden. I promise you it will be worth your while.
Teo and I had arrived at the gardens by mini bus and to our advantage one of the employees of the gardens hoped off with us. The young fellow was on his way into work, but had the time to give us what ended up being about a two-hour tour. I couldn’t help pondering where he should have been and why things like this didn’t happen in America? If it had been America our friendly tour pal would have had to rush to some time clock, punch in and charge us a mint to provide any kind of details on the gardens. This alone made me smile even if I couldn’t get the full skinny from our new guide. In fact, my Tajik speaking guide, Teo couldn’t get all the details on much of what the young man described as he knew the plant and tree names only in Russian. Neither, Teo or I spoke Russian fluent enough to translate any of the plant terminology into English. It didn’t take away from our time spent in the gardens. There were many eye-catching sights along the way starting with a view of the city from the top.
From the gardens you can see all of Khorog and the Panj River, which snakes its way through the town. In regards to the senses it was a spectacular view to say the least, but the air quality was equally phenomenal. Cool, crisp and pure I breathed deeply hoping to take some back home with me. No such chance.
We proceeded through a row of colorful flowers. The purple ones seen here appeared to be some of the happiest looking ones, but the one with the visiting bee instantly became my favorite.
From the flowers we escaped to an area of trees. There were trees from every region of the world as told by our guide. The first ones we encountered were apple trees and a large variety of them from Asia. My guide plucked an apple off and suggested I use the opportunity to get fresh fruit right from the limb, but I was weary of the fruit. I passed on the offer. It felt forbidden even while Teo noshed on one apple followed by another. Taking photos was enough pleasure for me. After the various fruit trees we pushed further into the land. Many of the trees felt familiar as if I had once seen them in a park nearby my place back home. Others were strange. As Teo spoke in Tajik with our guide I wished and longed for more info. I wanted to know the names in English.
We continued walking snapping shots of trees, leaves and even some etchings or graffiti found on the trees. There was far more than we had anticipated.
Our guide had decided it would be a fine time to check out the seeds. Even this turned out to be fascinating. There were all sorts of plant seeds and what have you located in the room along the window sill. Most sat on old Russian newspaper dating as far back as 1985 which made for a visually pleasing backdrop while others were placed atop of plastic bags or in old shoebox lids. In short something about the room filled with seeds felt very cool. Teo and I were impressed yet again.
As we continued moving through our guide stopped us to point out these 13 trees. Back around 1948 sometime a man planted a tree for each one of the Soviet Republics. I can’t recall which two trees weren’t apart of the Republics during the time these were planted or if our guide even said so, but anyone out there can correct me if I’m wrong. In any case the trees like most found the gardens were a refreshing sight.
Not too far from the Soviet trees were these trees with crumbly looking bark. They looked like something I’d seen in America and go figure we had made it to the North American sector of the gardens! I was so taken with their appearance that I took multiple shots from various angles and my pal Teo did so as well.
As we found our way to the end of the gardens we discovered more amazing views of the surrounding mountains through the trees. There were so many colors and the weather couldn’t have felt better up in the world’s second highest botanical gardens. I could have stayed longer, but I was afraid the magic would quickly dissolve and disappear. I even debated writing this piece for I am afraid upon my next visit the gardens will have been invaded by my readers. Then again it is in Tajikistan – a far away land in Central Asia in which no one goes to or even gives much thought. Only a lucky handful will have heard the rustling of the leaves from the wind’s breeze or will have felt the rough peeling bark before it crumbled off and onto the ground. Oh, if photos could tell it all! Hear my whisper of advice when I say “GO” and head there in good speed. For the gardens are no longer a secret, but a gem they will always be.
Getting to Tajikistan can be difficult depending on your schedule and flight plan. I went from Tampa-JFK-Istanbul-Dushanbe, on Delta then Turkish Air (approx. $1,900 USD) which I highly suggest flying Turkish Air into the country rather than Tajik Air which has can be fickle at times. However, Tajik Air flies through Munich, Moscow and St. Petersburg to name a few international cities of interest. Check their website for flight times and departure cities. Once in Tajikistan you can either fly into Khorog ($60 USD) to start your Pamir journey or you can take the 15-18 hour drive from Dushanbe down ($30 USD). I went by flight down with Tajik Air and drove back up. The ride is bumpy, long and filled with terrifying close calls with the mountain edge. If you can stomach it or on a tight budget go for the drive.
When planning a trip down to the Pamirs more than money you’ll need time. You can get by on $30 USD for 10 days according to my guide if you have the time. Most of the cost goes towards transportation and accommodation is typically provided by a friendly stranger or two along your path. For more detailed information on visiting Pamirs I suggest heading to this Pamirs website first. They’ve got tons of background details, panorama photos of the region, as well as this page of links to help you in your travel planning. Lonely Planet has only a wee-bit of information, but you may find a nugget of useful information somewhere. The Great Game Travel Company has great information and can provide you with a guide as well. I’m told their schedules are pretty strict and it might be better to go with a local should you speak some Tajik or Russian.
Visit other Hidden Gems in Tajikistan by clicking here.
(All photos taken by Adrienne Wilson.)