Tajikistan has recently introduced e-visa system so getting the document now is trouble-free, takes about two days and costs 50$. (https://www.evisa.tj/index.evisa.html)
You can get your GBAO permit together with your e-visa but it costs 20$. You can get the same permit in Dushanbe’s OVIR office (Mirzo Turzonsade Str.5) for 20 somoni (about 2$). One day you come with your passport, go to the bank to pay the money and bring back the receipt. Next day you come back to collect the permit. Nothing complicated. On the e-visa website there’s information that you need to declare when exactly you enter GBAO which I suspect is not entirely true. On my analogue permit there are issue and expiry dates (the same as the visa) but it doesn’t mean at all that you need to enter GBAO on a specific date.
Uzbekistan – Tajikistan: (Denov – Tursunzoda) After getting the stamp you need to declare the amount of foreign currency in your possession which is written down in a book and that’s all.
Tajikistan – Kirgistan: (Karakul – Sary Tash) Quick and trouble-free. Just remember that the Kirgiz check point is quite distant from the Tajik one.
– You can withdraw dollars in Kazkom ATMs in Dushanbe (no commission).
– Get the cash before hitting mountain roads. You will find ATMs in Kalaikhum, Rushan and Khorog but they might not work. In Murghab there’s a bank but not an ATM.
– In Jelondy (on M41) there are hot springs and it’s pleasurable to use them. Those are houses (called sanatoriums here) with indoor ‘pools’. There are at least a few and accommodation prices vary from 20 to 50 somoni. You can bathe as long as you wish.
– Tajiks do their best to hide shops in villages. They are unrecognizable, often closed (then you need to knock on the nearest doors) and sometimes hidden somewhere in the village away from the main road. Look carefully and ask the locals.
– In the shops you can find basic products (pasta, rice, groats, cans, potatoes, instant soups and candies). What you can’t buy are fresh fruit and vegetables. You can only find them in bigger towns (Kalaikhum, Rushan, Khorog, Murghab).
– In villages there are often public baths where you can wash. Local people (which also means guesthouses) usually have their private banyas. Sometimes it will be a regular shower (rarely), sometimes a stove heating the water that you need to pour into a bucket, sometimes you just get a bucket of warm water to wash yourself.
– Local restaurants (oshonas) often have guest rooms (no information outside, you need to ask). You can also sleep in homestays where you will also get dinner and breakfast.
– Prices demanded to foreign tourists are very different from real, local prices. Usually owners of guesthouses and homestays ask for 15$. The real price for accommodation is 1 or 2$. For accommodation with two meals it’s between 3 and 5$ depending on how popular the place is (more popular = more expensive). If you come in saying ‘Zdrastwuj cie’ instead of ‘Hello’ and negotiate in Russian, prices drop.
– You can easily communicate in Russian. By writing this I also mean (as I don’t speak any Russian) that you can get across speaking Polish for example 🙂
– Road conditions were better then I expected, after having read so much about this horrible Pamir highway.
Dushanbe – Kulob: good asphalt
Kulob – Kalaikhum: good asphalt until the pass, then again good from Shurobod until some 40km from Kalaikhum
Kalaikhum – Khorog: asphalt on and off with the most bumpy part between Kalaikhum and the crossroads for Vanj
Khorog – Karakul: good asphalt apart from the high passes plus one very bumpy part (washboard road) between the descent from Akbaital to Muzkol
– In the most deserted areas there are sporadicly some shepherds’ houses or yurts. Near Koitezek, Akbaital and Kyzyl-Art passes there are single houses of people responsible for clearing the roads from snow in winter.
– Drinking water is easily available. In villages there are pumps and wells and between villages there are mountain streams so you don’t have to worry too much about it.
– There are almost no dogs.
– Phone aerials are present in every village which means that you will be able to connect to the Internet there. I used Megafon SIM card, which apparently is the best, and found range everywhere except for Jelondy.
– In the whole Murghab region (after Jelondy to Karakul) there’s no electricity. People use solar panels and generators. It means that you will always be able to charge your phone, but your camera or computer only when they turn on the generator for the evening (meaning: if there are more people in the guesthouse because for one or two people they probably won’t).