Travel advice: Are the Pamirs really unsafe?
The Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are one of the top places to visit in the former Soviet Union. So it is unfortunate that governments including the British have issued a negative travel advice for the region. Comtourist are planning to go there in the summer of 2015, travel writer Susan Holden looked into the situation to see if travellers should avoid this exiting region.
Contributor: Susan Holden When it comes to virtually every topic, the mainstream media in any particular region can play a significant role in regards to cultural perception, and travel - particularly that which takes place outside of the Western Hemisphere - is not exempt from this general trend. When governments issue warnings like those from eastern regions which offer negative travel advice for the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast in Tajikistan, an area of the world which does not draw particular attention is suddenly exposed and characterised by the very nature of the incident for which brings it to the surface. And for those unfamiliar with Badakhshan, this can result in a misconception of the region, and even negatively reflect upon it when it comes to tourism revenue. But on the other hand, recent incidents have rightfully sparked a caution to travellers who are Pamir-bound on behalf of governments. Itís important to question how valid these cautions are and how much merit they hold in the context of travel.
Clashes between protestors and the government in Badakhshan have emerged since four people were killed by gunfire earlier this year in a drug-related operation run by police. Several buildings were ignited by flame by the protestors, who are demanding a probe into the incident. This is the latest in a series of incidents - including violence which occurred in 2012 - which have occurred in the somewhat tense region, which has additional factors to consider such as religion (Shiite and Sunni) as well as ethnicities and nationalities. Like much of the region which encompasses not only the Pamirís but Tajikistan and surrounding countries, this part of Asia is home to a magnificent array of diversity, as the crossings of people who have come thousands of miles across the globe are merged into its dynamic history . Today, it continues to be a passing point, but a long legacy of differences have also brewed sensitive tensions between specific groups, especially where language is concerned.
Does this mean that the Pamirs are a no go area? Not necessarily. Borders between countries in the region can be dangerous (land mines being a risk), but overall the area poses more danger from natural circumstances than social or political ones, such as its rough (yet breathtaking) terrain, shaky road infrastructure (much of it was built in Soviet times, and is in need of repair), and high altitude (hard on those not used to such elevation). These are factors which are prevalent in many places simply by the nature of their geography, and should not be a deterrent. In fact, the Pamirs are growing in popularity for many avid outdoor adventurers like cyclists who are travelling the Pamir Highway , as well as a number of other travelling modes - proof in point that yes, people from all over the globe can venture here and enjoy a thrilling and fulfilling experience. For the most part, those living in these spectacular climes are hardy, but incredibly hospitable people, and like most, are happier to extend a hand of friendship than withdraw it in conflict.
Indeed, in light of these events and fraught history, travellers would be wise to think cautiously about approaching political hotspots in the region, and governments such as the UK have emphasized that travel to this region should only be conducted if absolutely necessary, and to be aware of what they state is a poor infrastructure in regards to health, travel, and tourism. Certainly, as with any given region, a responsible tourist will adhere to these warnings and do a sufficient amount of research before stepping foot in unfamiliar and potentially dangerous terrain, but there is a world of difference between logical, rational planning and simply not travelling at all. Keeping track of the events of the region and understanding no go areas as well as customs are integral, and having a back-up plan if you're travelling from countries such as the UK - which includes proper coverage - should be sufficient should a traveller choose the Pamir region as their next destination of choice.
There is no clear-cut answer on the safety of the Pamirs, because like many places around the world, they have their own cultures, histories, and environments which make them both wonderful yet risky at the same time. Savvy travellers who take the time to educate themselves about what is going on in the region and plan their itinerary, as well as prepare for the challenging natural conditions they will face, can still enjoy the magnificent beauty that this region has to offer. Of the vast expanse of landscape, as well as cultural and social richness it has to offer, chances are the experience will be one of the most memorable yet for many visitors - just be smart and responsible about it.