The Pamir Highway is the only continuous road in the Pamirs and the second-highest road in the world, after the Karakorum Highway. Officially known as the M41, it starts in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and, at its greatest length, traverses the whole of Tajikistan to end in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. The most scenic part however, is that between Osh and Khorog, traversing the “Roof of the World”.
Obviously, it’s very cold on the Pamir plateau for most of the year. But summer sees dry, warm weather in most of the region. The higher you go, the more unpredictable the weather gets, though. Local differences can be big and unseasonal weather is not uncommon, so inform yourself with locals and other travelers whenever you can.
The road from Osh to Khorog is in a decent condition: it is paved for most of the way, though there are numerous potholes. After Khorog, on the way to Dushanbe, it’s a very bad gravel road which sees landslides and rockfalls often. The road is apparently open all year now, but wintertime (late November to early May) will see much less traffic and more chance of avalanches and heavy snow blocking the way. Spring and early summer is vulnerable to landslides as heavy rains may erode the rock face.
For recent updates, see this forum topic.
Pamir Highway Map
Driving the Pamir Highway
There are 2 ways to approach this: have your own motorcycle or car to drive across, take a shared taxi, or rent a 4WD. Shared taxis don’t drive between Khorog and Osh, so for this part you will have to rent private transport or hitch a ride from one of the Chinese trucks passing by on the way to the Qolma pass. You can rent a 4WD from a number of tour companies. It’s definitely not cheap, so try to find some companions if you’re traveling solo.
Cycling the Pamir Highway
Cycling the Pamir Highway has become a popular adventure for die-hard cycle tourists. It’s tough: due to the height you only have half of the oxygen you would have at sea level, there are blazing winds and you have to watch out for oncoming traffic in the form of Chinese trucks. Nonetheless, don’t expect to be a pioneer.
Water is Tajikistan’s liquid gold, and provided you have a good filtering system you will have no problem to find drinking water in the many streams and lakes. Food is a bigger issue. You will have to pack 3 to 4 days worth of food to survive some longer stretches.
Read an excellent account of cycling the Pamir Highway here.
Sights and Pamir Highway guide
We’re working on an extended guide to the Pamir Highway, but in the meantime, check out Robert Middleton’s Odyssey Guide to Tajikistan and the Lonely Planet to Central Asia (see our review). Both have good information on the sights on the way and the conditions you might encounter.
Check out our list of Tajikistan tours.