BDSC Communications Assistant, Itgelmaa Chavgaa, had a great chance to talk with Sharaf, the founder of Pamir Guides Association, about the development of ecotourism in Tajikistan.
Sharaf was born in Khorog City, Tajikistan, located in a 2500m elevation, known as the small administrative center of High Pamir. He received his Masters degree in Linguistics (English major and Arabic minor) from the Khorog State University in Tajikistan. Later in 2007, Sharaf entered the University of Central Asia to study tourism and guide training. At the same time, he was a student at the Slovanic University and received a degree in Economics.
Shortly after graduation, in 2008, he founded the Pamir Trips, which is an association of guides for development of eco-tourism in the Pamir region. Before founding the tourism association, Sharaf worked as a porter, tour/mountain guide, climbing instructor, and finally as a tour-operator. Pamir Trips specializes in organizing tours and treks along the ancient Silk Road destinations of Central Asian countries. The tours range from group tours to individual adventure holidays to all Central Asian regions and Afghanistan. In addition to tourists, Pamir Tours’ clientele ranges from professional photographers, scientists, filmmakers, and media professionals.
Traveling through the scenic mountains of Pamir and enjoying the pristine nature of Tajikistan is indeed rewarding and breathtaking. However, we often overlook the efforts of Pamiri locals who maintain their beautiful natural resources and unique culture. Thus, when asked about why he loves his work, Sharaf said, “I think the most rewarding aspect of Pamir Trips is that our business contributes to how other locals in the Pamirs earn a living.” Sharaf’s trips usually take place in remote regions, where access to electricity, hot showers and good roads are limited. However, with the help of tourism, the local population gets to provide the tourists with excellent tourism experiences, which in turn helps them improve their well-being. Sharaf enjoys his job a lot, as it provides him with great satisfaction every time he sees a smile on a Pamiri child’s face whose family benefits from his business.
Although managing a tourism company has many rewarding aspects, Sharaf emphasized two major problems in tourism industry in Tajikistan: 1) the lack of professional guides and other qualified service providers in tourism and 2) the lack of quality tourism equipment. The tourism season takes about 6 months, meaning that after 6 months, the guides leave the country in order to find a replacement job. However, sadly, many of them never return, leaving Pamir Trips in an aggravated situation. As a way of solving this problem, every year Sharaf organizes training with various organizations and institutes, interested in tourism development, in order to prepare new guides and service providers, however, this alone does not solve the problem. Having accessible tourism equipment such as sleeping bags, climbing gears, tents, and kitchen gear is an important piece of good tourism service. However, there is a lack of qualified stores in Tajikistan that sell good tourism equipment, as Sharaf said, “... locals are still not interested in development of domestic tourism.” Thus, it becomes necessary to purchase these equipment from Europe or the US, which is not an affordable option for local service providers.
In addition to these challenges, Sharaf mentioned that COVID-19 has significantly affected the Pamir Trips and their employees as everyone else around the world. In the beginning, they all hoped that soon everything would be over and the world would return to its order, however, as the time passed by, it became necessary for Pamir Trips to cancel group orders and dismiss all staff. As the company is on the verge of bankruptcy, Sharaf is looking for ways to survive in this pandemic.
When asked about his professional accomplishments, Sharaf said, “First, I really love my job. When you do what you love, it means that your efforts come from the heart, on time, and with high quality - this is where success lies.” Surely, Sharaf’s love for nature, culture, and people of Tajikistan and Central Asia has helped him accomplish success.