Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

Tajikistan and Pakistan

Where the Himalaya and Karakorum collide

2nd - 15th June 2023

Leader: James Eaton

This exciting addition to our tours sees us combine Tajikistan and Pakistan in search of some of the regions least-known species. Visiting three of the most spectacular mountain ranges on earth – Himalaya, Karakorum and Pamir  –  to bring together dramatic scenery, rare wildlife, pretty alpine flowers and some of the most exciting birds in Asia. The tour is focused around four species in particular, Large-billed Reed Warbler, White-cheeked Bushtit, Orange Bullfinch and Long-billed Grasshopper Warbler, the latter virtually unknown in recent history until we found the species on our scouting trip in 2022. A mouth-watering array of ‘supporting species’ include Blyth’s Rosefinch, White-throated Bushtit, Kashmir Nutcracker, Brooks’s Leaf Warbler, Lanceolated Jay, Mountain Chiffchaff, and one of the world’s most formidable ungulates, Markhor!

Day 1:
Early morning arrivals into Dushanbe International Airport (DYU), in Tajikistan. After resting and refreshing in a Dushanbe hotel, we leave the city behind and head to a idyllically-located village on the edge of the Pamir mountains. From here we hike up into the mountains to our camp, with mountainsides beginning to bloom with the onset of summer. We will be very well looked after tonight, through a community-led initiative to conserve the local wildlife. Night camping.

Day 2:
We wake early to scan for Markhor, in an area where both male and females are present – we’ll be hoping to obtain good scope views of huge, corkscrew-horned males. After hiking down, we stay with another family-run conservancy, in another area of outstanding scenery. Birding wise, we can expect White-capped, Red-headed and Rock Buntings, Hume’s Whitethroat, Indian Golden Oriole and Chukar.

Days 3-4:
Two days birding alongside the mighty Panj river. Our reason for coming this far is simple – Large-billed Reed Warbler. A species known only from a single specimen collected in 1867 before being sensationally rediscovered after being found in a mist-net in central Thailand in 2006. Subsequently, it was discovered here in the Panji River Valley, and in neighbouring Afghanistan. Meanwhile, revisiting museum specimens of Blyth’s Reed Warbler, which is it extremely similar to, further specimens were found from this area, along with Myanmar, India and Pakistan. To this day however, Tajikistan remains the only accessible area to reliably see the species. Birding the tamarisk-dominated riparian habitat, we can also expect Hume’s Whitethroat, Common Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, Streaked Laughingthrush and Indian Golden Oriole.

Day 5:
Drive back to Dushanbe, perhaps soaking in some of the cultural highlights that are dotted around the city too. Night in Dushanbe.

Day 6:
A travel day as we head to Islamabad (ISB) in Pakistan via Dubai (DXB).  

Day 7:
Birding in and around Islamabad. Visiting the Margalla hills in both the morning and afternoon with the primary objective to find White-cheeked Bushtit, a near-endemics shared only with a small area of Afghanistan. Walking a wide track through the forest, at around 1,500m we also can expect Grey-hooded Warbler, White-throated Fantail, Indian White-eye, Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler to be common while we search for the low-density bushtit. There is a small stream that is an absolute magnet for birds coming to drink and bath between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. On a previous visit, large numbers of Indian Paradise-flycatcher, Speckled Piculet, Grey-winged Blackbird, Black-chinned Babbler, Blue-throated Barbet, Crested Bunting, Kalij Pheasant, Orange-headed Thrush, Ashy Drongo, and a variety of bulbuls were a constant presence, offering views down to just a few metres as they were unconcerned by our presence. Birding the higher hills, where conifer is the dominant tree, there’s a good chance of both Lanceolated (Black-headed) Jay and Himalayan Parakeet. Night in Islamabad.

Day 8:
A flexible morning depending on our success the previous day, before we head north into the Himalaya. An excellent new motorway takes us much of the way before we suddenly hit narrow, windy roads as we enter the Kaghan valley.

Days 9-10:
We have a day and a half birding the gorgeous Kaghan Valley, our primary target here is Orange Bullfinch that breeds in small numbers along the treeline. The early to mid-morning here is alive with birds, with regional breeding endemics including White-cheeked Nuthatch, Spectacled Finch, Black-and-yellow Grosbeak, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Rufous-naped Tit, Golden Bush Robin and Tytler's Leaf Warbler are possible, as is White-throated Bushtit, a species we rarely see in India. The afternoon of day 10 is a long and slow drive north, as we head up the windy road up the Kaghan Valley towards Babusar Pass, with few birding opportunities.

Day 11:
Continuing north, we head over the 4,173m pass at Babusar and enter Gilgit-Baltistan province. The habitat changes markedly once over the high altitude pass, with vegetation disappearing as the mighty Karakorum comes into view, with some of the most dramatic scenery on earth as we head north along the fabled Karakorum Highway, to Gilgit. From Gilgit, where we will have lunch, we head up into a remote valley, to our homely guesthouse for the night.

Days 12-13:
We have two full days birding the Naltar Valley where in June 2022, James rediscovered Long-billed Grasshopper Warbler, a species that has only been seen on four occasions since the 1930s, anywhere in its tiny range that occupies here to Sonamarg and Kargil, on the Indian side of the border in Jammu & Kashmir. Obviously this is the main purpose of our visit here, and we will spend the early morning in search of it in what little habitat remains for the species. The rest of our time will be spent birding the scrub and higher altitude coniferous forest. In the scrub, Mountain Chiffchaff, Himalayan Rubythroat, Hume’s Whitethroat, Fire-fronted Serin, Rock Bunting and Black Redstart are fairly common, while we have a good chance of finding the extremely seldom-seen Blyth’s Rosefinch. Higher up the valley, birding in the conifer forest we can expect to find Kashmir Nutcracker, Brooks’s and Tytler’s Leaf Warblers, White-cheeked Nuthatch, Rufous-naped Tit, Dark-sided Flycatcher, while we also have a chance of Kashmir Nuthatch and Blyth’s Rosefinch. Night in local guesthouse.

Day 14:
We head down to Gilgit, to fly back from Gilgit (GIL) to Islamabad. Late night departures from Islamabad International Airport (ISB). Note: we can organise an extra night in Islamabad if required.

Tour details

Cost: £ TBC or $ TBC

Deposit: £ 400 or $ 700

Single room supplement:
£ TBC / $ TBC

Maximum group size: 7

Tour cost includes: all accommodation, main meals, internal flights as stated in itinerary, overland transport, entrance fees, drinking water, tips to local drivers and guides, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes: International flights and departure taxes, visa, travel insurance, drinks, tips to tour guides, and other items of a personal nature.

Accommodation: comfortable twin-bed, and single rooms, all with private facilities.
In Pamir mountains it will be simple tented camps, with porters carrying our equipment.

Walking difficulty: fairly moderate hiking in/out of Pair mountains. Elsewhere, generally easy, though at altitude, up to 3,500m, when even walking on the flat requires some effort!

Expected number of species: 150+ species.

Number of endemics and range-restricted species: the focus is on four species in particular, Long-billed Grasshopper Warbler, Large-billed Reed Warbler, Blyth's Rosefinch, and White-cheeked Bushtit, as these are not possible elsewhere. In addition, Orange Bullfinch and White-cheeked Bushtit are difficult species outside of Pakistan, while for those not visiting Indian Kashmir, expected a a number of other new species.

Map of the tour