The Pamir Highway from Osh to Dushanbe is rightfully famous as a glorious stretch of road with spectacular sights at every turn. Less well-known is the stretch of the M41 that takes one from the southern capital of Kyrgyzstan, Osh, to the administrative capital in the North, Bishkek.
The drive not only takes you through some amazing scenery and a host of different vegetation levels and climactic zones, it’s also a trip across the natural and cultural divide of the country. South of the Tien Shan range, ethnic Uzbeks drink green tea while growing watermelons in the Fergana Valley, while north of the Tien Shan shepherds watch their sheep graze under the enjoyment of a black tea.
The M41 from Osh to Bishkek: a visual guide
At the time of writing, the Osh-Bishkek highway is one of the best roads in the country, with good tarmac and tunnels to bypass tricky cols, making year-round traffic a possibility (we do say: a possibility, see bottom for more on that). It’s a full day’s drive by car. For cyclists, dangerous driving, calf-biting cols and scary tunnels offset the natural beauty.
The holy mountain above the city, Sulayman’s Throne bids you farewell as you leave Osh’s bustling markets behind.
The Fergana Valley is a hot and productive place in summer. Here, ethnic Uzbeks work the land.
A stop in Uzgen is recommended for its Kharakanid mausoleum and minaret.
There is always food sold along the road. In summer, succulent watermelons are not to be missed.
Should you be taking public transport: this is what bus stops look like in Kyrgyzstan.
Cramped seats in the bus or shared taxi are a part of daily life, though.
At the town of Suzak, before Jalalabad, a rise in the landscape points to the edge of the valley.
At Bazar Korgon, a curious red soil starts to dominate the landscape, only to disappear as suddenly as it came.
Follow the twists and turn of the Uzbek border. From hereon out, large reservoirs and hydropower installations form a continuous backdrop to the roadscape.
The back of the Tashkomyr dam on the Naryn river.
Great tarmac and green hills past the industrial town of Tashkomyr.
This must be Kyrgyzstan.
Yup, it’s Kyrgyzstan.
Until the Toktogul reservoir, the landscape remains one of bald, dry, rockface, cut by smooth tarmac and tamed rivers.
Eventually, the road descends to kiss the main basin of the Toktogul reservoir. She’s a real beauty.
After the Toktogul reservoir, a big view opens up onto Talas province. This is black tea land.
There is more green on the slopes again as you descend and ascend, and descend, and ascend.
Typical landscapes of the lower northern Tien Shan await you. Almost in Bishkek now. Just have to pass this tunnel.
A view inside the tunnel underneath the Too Ashuu pass. Scary?
After Too Ashuu, it’s all downhill towards Bishkek.
Since most people will take this route in summer, we selected summer images for the above. Of course, that’s not entirely honest. Here is a look at how winter looks on the road.
P.S: it’s always winter at the top.
Roads are generally covered in snow.
Then again, sometimes the M41 is cleared in places.
Snow storms and avalanches are a constant danger in winter. Check the news.
The upside of winter driving: incredible beauty.
Did you drive here? Let us know what it was like!