Travel Tajikistan
Adventure on the Roof of the World [Atlas Silk]

Arriving by Road

Contents

Tajikistan shares land borders with Uzbekistan, Kirgyzstan, Afghanistan and China. If you are travelling across Central Asia it is likely that you will cross at least one of these borders.

If you would like to be picked up at the border, please use the transport form to get a quotation or make a booking.

Arrival formalities

If you are arriving at a land border, you must obtain your visa in advance. Visas are not issued at any land border in Tajikistan. See the visa section for details.

Arrival formalities at the border can take some time to negotiate. You will have to clear customs and passport control for the country you are leaving and then go through the procedure again for the country you are arriving in. You may have to spend up to one or two hours at the border. If you are accompanied by a local guide you will probably be able to complete the formalities more quickly.

If you are driving your own car into Tajikistan, see here for the law on bringing foreign-registered vehicles into Tajikistan.

Arriving from Uzbekistan

In the late 1990s, Uzbekistan took a confrontational attitude towards Tajikistan and occasionally this has caused problems for travellers. Sometimes the Uzbek government will close their borders without prior notice. Recently there has been a warming in the relationship between the two countries, but it is still wise to check on the situation, especially if you are travelling around the time of important events such as elections or public holidays.

Vehicles with Tajik number plates may not cross the border into Uzbekistan. Uzbek vehicles may enter Tajikistan but must pay a tax at the border. So if you hire a vehicle and driver or take a seat in a shared taxi, it is likely that they will only take you as far as the border. You will have to walk across the border (a couple of hundred metres) and get another vehicle on the other side. If you have heavy bags you can pay a baggage handler with a wheelbarrow or cart to transport them for you.

Tashkent to Khujand

The A376 from Tashkent crosses the border into Tajikistan and goes directly to Khujand. The road then passes along the southern edge of Kairakum Lake to Kanibodom and back into Uzbekistan near Kokand.

Tashkent to Khujand is a short two-and-a-half hour drive on quite good roads. This is the most convenient route if you are flying into Tashkent and want to get to Dushanbe quickly; there are several flights each day from Khujand to Dushanbe.

Samarkand to Penjikent

Take the A377 east out of Samarkand and keep driving. Penjikent is just across the border, only 60 Km from Samarkand.

There is a weekly helicopter service from Penjikent to Dushanbe, but the schedules are not very reliable. The drive to Dushanbe takes about nine hours, see here for details.

Termez to Dushanbe

As the roads between North Tajikistan and the capital are closed by snow for half of the year, there is an alternative route which skirts around the mountains. From Tashkent or Samarkand, this route to Dushanbe is significantly longer than travelling over the passes (963 Km/684 Km respectively).

Arriving from Kirghyzstan

Tajik and Kirgyz vehicles may pass into each other's territory, so these border crossings tend to be easier than at the Uzbek border.

Pamir Highway

The M41 starts at Kara-Balta in Kirgyzstan (60 Km west of Bishkek), travelling south to Osh in the Ferghana Valley. From Osh, the road ascends into the Alau Range of mountains to the crossroads at Sary-Tash. The M41 continues south, ascending to Kizyl-Art Pass (4,280 m), which forms the border with Tajikistan. The road then crosses the Pamir Plateau (Karakul Lake) and up to Ak-Baital Pass, at 4,655 m the highest stretch of road in the former USSR. The M41 continues through Murghab and Khorog to Dushanbe.

A four wheel drive (4WD) vehicle is necessary to negotiate this road. You should allow a minimum of four days to drive the 1,252 Km from Osh to Dushanbe; more if you plan to do any sightseeing along the way. In spring and early summer there is a risk of the road being blocked by mudslides, so plan to allow an extra day or two just in case. In winter the high passes are closed by snow. The best time to travel is July to October.

As this road passes through Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), you will need a GBAO Permit in addition to your visa.

Karategin Valley

There is a shorter route from Sary-Tash to Dushanbe through the Karategin Valley (497 Km). From Sary-Tash, go west along the A372 for 146 Km to reach the border. From here the road becomes mountainous and a 4WD vehicle is required.

The guards at this border are not accustomed to seeing tourists, but it is possible to cross here. You should register with the KGB in Jirgital on your way down the valley.

There were some security incidents in the Karategin Valley/Tavil-Dara area as recently as 2001, and there is also a risk of uncleared landmines in the mountains. Please check your government's travel advice and take local advice before travelling along this route.

Batken Region to Isfara

There is a border crossing from Kirgyzstan's western Batken Region to Isfara (North Tajikistan, 150 Km from Khujand). The crossing itself is straightforward enough, but the route across Batken Region is complicated by the Uzbek enclaves along the way. These are islands of Uzbekistan's territory within Kirgyzstan, which the main road passes through. If you are not in possession of a multi-entry Uzbek visa, you will have to go around these enclaves, along very bad minor roads, which adds hours to the journey.

There are many checkpoints along this route and the people manning them are not accustomed to dealing with foreigners. Expect to be stopped and have your documents checked and vehicle searched many times.

In addition to these obstacles, there may also be security concerns. Check your government's travel advice for Kirgyzstan before attempting this route.

As if all the above were not enough problems, I also found that my road map (GiziMap Central Asia 2001) was not accurate for Batken Region.

For all of these reasons, this route is not recommended. The road travels through the Ferghana Valley rather than the mountains, so even the scenery is not particularly interesting.

Arriving from China

A new road was completed in 1999 from Tashkurgan in Xinjiang, China, over Kulma Pass (4,362 m) to Murghob in Tajikistan's Pamir region. This road joins the Pamir Highway to the Karakorum Highway, connecting Tajikistan with Kashgar, Urumchi and Pakistan (via the Khunjerab Pass). This road opened for traffic for the first time in May 2004.

The bad news is that at the time of writing, the road is not open yet for foreigners. Only Chinese and Tajik nationals are permitted to use this crossing. It is hoped that this situation will change within the next couple of years, but we are not optimistic that there will be any change in 2005.

In the meantime, there is an alternative route through Kirgyzstan. The road west from Kashgar crosses Irkeshtam Pass (4,867 m) and becomes the A371 to Sary-Tash (333 Km). From Sary-Tash, see the information on the Pamir Highway above.

Arriving from Afghanistan

Most of Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan is described by the Panj River. Border crossings are therefore by bridge or barge.

Please check your government's advice on the advisability of travel in Afghanistan. If you do decide to travel in Afghanistan, you should employ a reliable local guide. You may also find the following site helpful:

Kabul Caravan: An Online Travel Guide to Afghanistan

Nizhnii Panj

From Kunduz, take the road north to the Tajik border at Nizhnii Panj (50 Km). In January 2004, the USA signed an agreement with Tajikistan to finance construction of a bridge here. In the meantime, crossing is by barge.

On the other side of the river, the A385 leads east to Kulob (150 Km) or west to Qurghonteppa (70 Km) and Dushanbe (155 Km).

Badakhshan

Warning! It is necessary to obtain a GBAO permit before entering Tajik Badakhshan. This permit cannot be obtained in Afghanistan. It is not known whether the Russian border forces will allow travellers to cross without this permit. Therefore it is recommended that you arrange for a local guide to meet you on the Tajik side.

There are mountainous roads from Faizabad into Tajikistan, southeast to Ishkashim and northeast to Khorog. There is a fully operational bridge crossing at Ishkashim. At Khorog, a new bridge was completed in 2003 but at the time of writing, there was no border control on the Afghan side. Apparently the Russian border guards on the Tajik side will allow people to cross into Afghanistan (as long as they have the correct documentation). It is not known whether they allow crossings in the opposite direction.

There is another bridge at Langar, in the Wakhan Corridor, close to the Boroghil Pass into Pakistan. The crossing at Langar is currently closed. However, there are plans to build a new bazaar on the Afghan side, so the bridge may open for traffic in the near future.

[February 2005] There is a rumour that Pakistan and Tajikistan have signed a contract to link Ishkashim/Langar with the Baroghil Pass by road. We will add more information here as it becomes available.



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