Visas are required for travel to Tajikistan; in addition, a special permit is required for travel to the Pamirs (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast - GBAO) and other border areas. Additional permits are required for travel to Lake Sarez (and probably to Zorkul in the Great Pamir, although this is subject to confirmation locally). Tajikistan has now introduced an e-visa, thereby greatly simplifying the visa process. Full details and a step-by-step online application procedure can be found here. The procedure will guide you through the various options, including GBAO permit, and indicate the consular address applicable for your location.

Entry to Tajikistan - and especially to border areas such as the Pamirs - may be subject to temporary restrictions for security and other reasons, even for holders of valid visas - check the various Embassy travel advisories, such as here.

In case, for some reason, you do not obtain the GBAO permit before leaving home, you will find very helpful information below from Pawel Palucha on obtaining the permit in Dushanbe:

"a) Generally you need to go to OVIR (Department of Visa and Registration), which is situated in Dushanbe at 5 Turzunzade Street.
b) But first you need to go to the nearby AMONATBONK bank branch, which is situated at Bukhoro Street 30 - N38.57126, E068.7972. You need to fill in the short form (sometime bank workers can help you with this, you need only to write your name) and pay 25 Somoni (about 5$). You will get your form stamped.
c) With filled form you go to the OVIR and give it together with your passport to the guy in the first window on the left. He will give it back with some additional papers, you give it to another guy in the third window on the left ;-)
d) If you do it before noon, you should be told that the permit will be ready at 4 pm the same day.
No more payments are necessary; also currently you don't need to state the regions you want to visit."

Taxes and permits

As mentioned above, apart from the GBAO permit, special permission is required for travel only for Sarez - see here - although an "entrance ticket" is required for Zorkul; it can be obtained from the PECTA Information Centre in the Khorog Park - see here.

There is also a fee of 10 Somoni payable on entering National Parks and other protected areas. However, beware of scams: some unscrupulous individuals pose as Park rangers at places where there is definitely no National Park and try to collect much higher fees (the National Parks and other protected areas are clearly marked on Markus Hauser's maps). Some border guards and local police may try the same trick. Ask for documentary proof that an individual is authorised to collect fees and threaten to go to the police - again, bluff is a good weapon. N.B. Loic Paulet reports that in 2016 there were no official checks on tourists entering the "Pamir National Park", the boundaries of which - despite UNESCO recognition - exist on paper but not on the ground.

Finally, beware of scams on exit from Dushanbe: some corrupt officials at the airport try to extort money from tourists claiming that they have not registered with OVIR (this is not the same thing as the GBAO permit). If they have been in the country for thirty days or less, travellers with a tourist visa (see below) are NOT required to register with OVIR. Claiming a fine from tourists on these grounds is therefore illegal and should be vigorously refused, threatening if necessary to report the official concerned to the head of airport immigration or to the Tourism Minister see here).

N.B. It is very important that you check your visa immediately on getting your passsport back from the consulate to be sure that it is indeed a tourist visa: a tourist visa is indicated by the category "T" (or cauŽxu, tourism in Tajik). Travellers with a private or business visa MUST still register with OVIR.

I welcome first-hand accounts by travellers of how this works in practice.

Kulma Pass to or from China

Despite official confirmation that it is possible for foreign tourists to cross the Kulma pass into or from China, I have only one first-hand report of a tourist crossing - see Travel Page. (If anyone else has done so successfully, please send me an e-mail via the link on the Home Page.)

N.B. Another scam by Tajik border guards - when going through the Kara Kul checkpoint on your way out of the Pamirs to Osh be careful to get back your immigration/landing card from the border guards. Otherwise, it has been reported, their colleagues at the exit checkpoint at Kyzylart will impose a heavy fine because you don't have it. I have written to Lochin Faizulloev, Deputy Minister of tourism on this issue asking that the persons concerned be punished as it will destroy tourism.

Lake Sarez

Access to Lake Sarez is now permitted (since 1 July 2015 - see here). The Sarez permit can be obtained at the Committee for Emergency Situations at Lohuti Street in Dushanbe, opposite the Tajik Sodirot Bank. There is no fee - N.B. if you use the services of any tourist company, they will charge a fee.

As with many things in Tajikistan (and especially the Pamirs) the reality on the ground is very different from what is officially announced (and with a little skill and bluff much can be negotiated on the spot, but don't count on it).

In theory the permit is supposed to cover the area from Barchidev to Irkht and there are employees of the Committee for Emergency Situations who are supposed to check all foreign travellers. However, they are not always around. N.B. No permit is required for local people.

It may be easier to travel to Sarez via Bachor or Yashil Kul - in 2016 the employee at Irkht was reported to be happy to see tourists, with or without a permit. N.B. On the way down towards Barchidev, it is possible to avoid the village by turning off right just before the bridge over the Murghab river and following the path to Savnob and the Bartang valley.

[Many thanks to Loic Paulet for this first-hand account]

Karamyk Pass (Daroot Kurgan) crossing from the Alai valley in Kyrgyzstan to the Rasht valley (Garm) in Tajikistan

To the best of my knowledge, this crossing is not open for tourists. The Kyrgyz border guards have recently strengthened their presence on the Kyrgyz side to prevent drug trafficking, smuggling and terrorism. Don't even try to cross here. See reports here and here.

If anyone has relevant personal experience, please send me an e-mail via the link on the Home Page.

All text and photographs (c) Robert Middleton 2002

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