This article might actually need a quick introduction. Mainly because most people I have met have never heard of a “country” called Gorno Badakhshan. In fact, even some Kyrgyzs people I have met this week were unaware of the existence of this disputed state, an autonomous region that has been claimed by China, Russia and Taiwan down the years, yet the United Nations (and most people) class it as part of Tajikistan. In fact, when you read up on the history, its even more confusing, its actually Taiwan that claim to own the land that Gorno Badakhshan is based in, with Russia and China seemingly staking less of a claim these days. When the civil war broke out in Tajikistan in 1992, the local government in Gorno-Badakhshan declared independence from the Republic of Tajikistan. So yes, Gorno Badakhshan should have been a new country, but remains to this day as part of Tajikistan with different laws attached to it. So you’ll need a visa/permit to backpack it!
However, for a tourist there is one complication with Gorno Badakhshan:
Neither a Tajikistan Visa or a Chinese Visa allows you to enter Gorno Badakhshan. Therefore you need a separate permit, in fact a separate visa – it uses up a new page in your passport.
Where is Gorno Badakhshan?
The easiest way to answer this one is to show you a map:
Yes, the blue region above is the massive unknown state of Gorno Badakhshan. Officially it’s known as Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). It borders China on the east, Afghanistan in the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and there is also a “border” between the Gorno Badakhshan and the rest of Tajikistan, which for purposes other than visas and political debates, is the same country. Yes, imagine that Gorno Badakhshan is part of Tajikistan that somehow has a border with Tajikistan. It’s not actually as confusing as it sounds, so I hope you got the gist of that. As a tourist I only want to visit these places and encourage more of you to do the same.
What is the capital city of Gorno Badakhshan?
Gorno Badakhshan has a population of just over 200,000 and its capital city is the barely known Khorugh (pronounced “Horrog”). Khorugh has a population of 28,000 and sits at a lofty 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) above sea level. The city sits only a bridge away from Afghanistan, its right on the border. Getting to Khorugh can be done by bridge from Afghanistan and on the Pamir highway which is the main road in Gorno-Badakhshan and connects the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe to the west to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan to the northeast. The highway is very difficult to pass in both directions, especially during winter and spring.
Getting Your Visa for Gorno Badakhshan
As this is a separate region, you need a special permit to visit Gorno Badakhshan, and there are literally only two ways to do this:
1.Apply for the Gorno Badakhshan Permit at the same time as applying for your Tajikistan Visa.
2.Wait until you are in Tajikistan and apply for your Gorno Badakhshan in Dushanbe.
I chose to get both my Tajikistan Visa and Gorno Badakhshan permit together and I went to the embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to sort both of them out.
Problems with Visas for Gorno Badakhshan
Up to and including 2014, a lot of Tajikistan Embassies were not issuing permits or visas for the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. Also in 2015, due to severe flooding, permits were also not issued from Embassies outside of Tajikistan. In some of those instances, applying in Dushanbe was the only option. Due to the road network and conditions in winter, be aware that for safety, you may be refused your permit to visit Gorno Badakhshan.
The Gorno Badakhshan Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
As I was based in “the Kek” for a month or so, I chose to get my Gorno Badakhshan permit at the same time as my Tajikistan visa. But is there a Gorno Badakhshan Embassy in Bishkek? Of course there’s not. This is a region of Tajikistan, and except for the fact they have a flag, border and permit/visa to enter, there is no way they will ever have embassies abroad. So yes, you’ve guessed it, permits for visiting Gorno Badakhshan are simply handled by the Tajikistan Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!
Where is the Tajikistan Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan?
The Tajikistan Embassy is based in the south eastern part of Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan when I applied for my Kyrgyzstan visa in January 2016. It’s in an area known as Kok-Jar Microdistrict, but that’s just too complicated. Head to the south east of the city, which is the same area you need to go to in order to get your Afghanistan Visa.
To get to the Tajikistan Embassy, I suggest walking it from the city centre, walk south straight down along Jukeev Pudovkin Street – it’s a half hour walk south from Victory Square or the Junction where Chui Avenue meets Jukeev Pudovkin Street. You’ll see the Blonder Pub on your right just after the flyover for the train line. At the first petrol station (on your right at Kulatov Street), continue to head straight along Jukeev Podovkin until you come to a second petrol station, on the corner of Jukeev Pudovkin and Gorky Street.
Take a left here, pass the shopping centre and then right down Karl Marx Street (also known as Yunusaliev Street). From here look out for the fourth street on the right, which is Zhigulevski Street (also known as Suvanberdiev Street). Follow this street right to the end and hey presto facing right at you is the Tajikistan Embassy.
It’s quite a nice walk too – through some raw streets and an unusual part of Bishkek! Bishkek is an easy city to get your bearings, roads are typically in Soviet style square blocks. You can also get a taxi from the city centre (shouldn’t be much more than 100 Som), a Marshrutka number 132, 196 or 212 at least seemed to go nearby and they cost 10 Som.
Tajikistan Embassy Address: 36 Karadarynskaya, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Phone:+996 702 942 968
Opening Hours of the Tajikistan Embassy in Bishkek
As of January 2016 when I visited, the opening hours are Monday to Friday from 9 am to 17.00 pm. There is a 1 hour closure for lunch between 13 and 14 pm. However, the real opening times for tourist visas seem to be:
Visa applications and submissions are from 9am – 12 noon.
Visa collections are from 15 – 17 pm.
So it’s simple – turn up first thing in the morning at 9am and submit your application.
Filling in the Application form for your Gorno Badakhshan Visa
So by now you will be aware that the application for the Gorno Badakhshan Visa and Tajikistan Visa are done on the same day at the same time in the same place, 9am on a weekday. So what’s the difference? The difference is simply an extra piece of paper. So after filling in your Tajikistan Visa Application Form and following my guide on getting the Tajikistan visa here in Bishkek, to also secure the Gorno Badakhshan Visa at the same time, simply fill in this piece of paper:
Just fill in all the details on this sheet of paper and submit it simultaneously with your Tajikistan Visa application. For purpose of visit, all you need to put is: Tourism GBAO region. This is very easy. The staff working in the Tajikistan Embassy are aware that some travellers also apply for the Gorno Badakhshan visa. However if you don’t tell them that you plan to visit Gorno Badakhshan, they will only issue you with the standard one page Tajikistan Visa. I must say that even if you don’t plan to visit Gorno Badakhshan on your trip to Tajikistan, I’d still advise applying for the permit. It costs no extra cash, only uses up an extra page in your passport and takes two minutes filling in the simple form. Travel is unpredictable, when you arrive in Tajikistan you might then decide you do want to head to Gorno Badakhshan. It’s better to have the option.
Collecting your Gorno Badakhshan Permit
Predictably it’s the same as collecting your Tajikistan Visa. After submitting your application in the morning at 9am and asking them for same day collection of the visa, you simply go back to the embassy between 3 – 5 pm and you have your visa. The Gorno Badakhshan Permit looks like this and is on a separate page in your passport from the Tajikistan Visa. You will now have two visas in your passport – one for Tajikistan, one for Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast.
How Long Does the Visa for Gorno Badakhshan Last?
The date on the visa will be for the day after you get it and it is valid for 30 days from that date. You need to specify your date of entry and exit into the country. I put a 2 week stay at the start of February 2016. However, when you get the visa, all visas issued are for 30 days, single entry from tomorrow’s date. Unless you ask for otherwise. Unless the visa is later extended, you must enter the country and leave the country within this 30 day bracket.
So there you go folks, if you are based in Bishkek, it is a great city for picking up visas for the neighbouring countries and disputed regions. I’m not done yet here though – more visas to apply for this week and next as I try and delve properly into the Stans region.