Situated in Badakhshan in the heart of Asia, ‘The Pamirs’ is an area of sky-scraping, snow-capped, majestic mountains, transparent clear blue waters of lakes and rivers, wide valleys and bone-dry deserts. For hundreds of years, people have called these highest mountains of the world “Poy-e Mehr”, the literal translation being, “the foot of the sun” or “the Roof of the Word”. Since Soviet times, the highlands of the Pamirs has become known as Gorno-Badakhshan.

Situated in Badakhshan in the heart of Asia, ‘The Pamirs’ is an area of sky-scraping, snow-capped, majestic mountains, transparent clear blue waters of lakes and rivers, wide valleys and bone-dry deserts. For hundreds of years, people have called these highest mountains of the world “Poy-e Mehr”, the literal translation being, “the foot of the sun” or “the Roof of the Word”. Since Soviet times, the highlands of the Pamirs has become known as Gorno-Badakhshan.

Geographically, the Pamirs represent a huge mountain chain, located almost in the centre of the Asian continent. It links the greatest mountain ranges of the world: Tyan Shan, Hindukush, Kun-Lun and Karakoram. The proper territory of the Pamirs is divided between Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan along the demarcation lines drawn to designate political boundaries. The major part of these mountains is nonetheless, situated in the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan.

Second only to the section of the Himalayas in Tibet, the Pamirs are the highest mountains in the world with human habitation. The area is isolated and land-locked. The highlands of the Pamirs form a variety of landscapes, ranging from sub-tropical to alpine. Here, flat plains and sharp mountain peaks alternate in relatively short distances. The vast highland desert of the Eastern Pamirs is located at elevations ranging from 3,500 - 4,200 meters above sea level.

Gorno-Badakhshan is known for its wealth of mineral rock deposits; the most important include molybdenum, gold, silver, wolfram, granite, marble and lapis lazuli. Another inexhaustible source of the Pamirs is water, flowing to the flatlands of Central Asia from the main tributaries that feed the Amu-Darya river.

The region is associated with ancient Aryan tribes—nomadic herders and traders, wandering this wide landmass for millennia. Through these mountains passed the famed Silk Road, in its time, the principal route for inter-continental trade. As a hub for ancient commerce, Badakhshan has also served as a place where peoples would come into contact from as far away as the Middle East, Europe, Iran, India and China.

In ancient times, the most important routes via the Hindukush led through the Wakhan valley, Ishkashim, Zebak, Faizabad and Balkh to Yarkand and Tash-Kurghan, the latter two regions now in China. These were also the main communication roads for inhabitants of the mountainous areas of Central Asia on their way to India.

The Pamirs area linked with communication roads to Faizabad in Afghanistan, India, the Ferghana valley and Tashqurghan. These roads helped the population engage in regional commercial transactions, despite the difficulties of the terrain and less efficient transportation, until the pre-modern era. The first motor-road, constructed by Tzarist Russia, appeared around the beginning of the twentieth century, leading from Osh to Khorog via Murghab, and was used primarily for military purposes.

Up to 1936, the population of Soviet Gorno-Badakhshan enjoyed relatively unrestricted commercial ties with Afghanistan and China, at which point the Pamir borders were closed at the orders of Stalin. It was not until the disintegration of the Soviet Union, that serious trade re-commenced with the outside world. To this day, the Pamirs is still isolated within Tajikistan. The zone continues to be restricted and (up to October 2011) a permit is still needed to enter the area. However, plans are underway to do away with this entry requirement.

The region now known as Gorno-Badakhshan is autonomous, and comprises seven districts.

The population in GBAO is over 200,000. The administrative and economic centre of the region is Khorog with a population of approximately 28,000. The majority are Ismaeli Muslims (a denomination of Shi’ia Islam). While the inhabitants of Shugnan, Rushan, Ishkashim and Rosht-Quala districts, including the residents of Yaged, a sub-district in Darwaz, are Ismaelis, most of the indigenous population in Vanj, Darwaz and Murghab are Sunnis.

Mountain roads, constructed during the Soviet Era connect the various districts to Khorog and beyond. The primary means of public transportation is via Chinese built so called ‘tangems’, small mini vans that carry up to seven passengers for a minimal fee.

The Pamirs has an extreme Continental climate; summer temperatures range between 25-38 degrees Celsius in the daytime, with very low humidity. Winters are very cold, with temperatures ranging between -2 to -30 degrees Celsius. Owing to limited air lift and passes blocked by heavy snows, it is difficult for international travellers to access the Pamirs out of the main summer tourist season (May - October).

Over the centuries, the Pamirs have inspired the world’s greatest explorers - Marco Polo, Hsuan Tsang, Mirza Muhammad Haidar were amongst them. They were among the first to report on the richness of the region: precious gems, mineral springs, awe-inspiring peaks, ancient glaciers, wide green pastures and of course, the peoples of the Pamirs. During the Soviet era, hundreds of tons of minerals and stones were extracted and shipped North.