KyrgyzstanTajikistanThe Pamir Highway: difficult roads with cosmic landscapes

The Pamir Highway

Do the words “Pamir highway” tell you anything? If not, the Pamir Highway (or M41) is a unique road and tourist attraction of Tajikistan with a length of more than 1300 km, which connects two largest Central Asian cities – Osh in Kyrgyzstan and Dushanbe in Tajikistan.

The road passes through the Pamir Mountains. The Pamir itself is a mountainous system with peaks of more than 7000 m in height. This system occupies the largest part of Tajikistan. Tourists who drove the Pamir Highway say that it has quite unbelievable views and landscapes. But this adventure is not for everybody as travelling there is really hard because of the difficult roads, severe climate and the absence of a developed tourism infrastructure.

A little bit of history: the Pamir Highway as an instrument of the “Great Game”

Once upon a time there were small villages and small state formations in this area isolated from the entire world. But in the XIX century between the British and Russian empires started a struggle for influence in Asia, the famous “Great Game”. During that “game” the British were moving into Afghanistan from India while the Russians were going from the North through the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Preparing for the potential war clash, the Russian Empire began to construct new roads through the mountainous regions of Pamir, in such a way started the history of the Pamir Highway. Nevertheless, what we know today as the Pamir Highway dates back to very ancient times when this area was part of the Great Silk Road.

What will you see while travelling along the Pamir Highway?

Brave travelers who made such trip say that it is a magic journey, during which virgin nature can be seen, as well as, cosmic landscapes and very good-natured, hospital local people of nomadic culture – Sarykol Kyrgyz, Shugnans, Vakhans. You will see many animals – Marco polo sheep, mountainous goats, foxes, wolves, snow leopards. You should taste local cuisine, consisted of ecological products. But perhaps the most important part of the trip is the Pamir Highway itself – unbelievable nature and a very difficult road

Difficulties of the Pamir Highway

Many tourists say how difficult the road through the Pamir is – serpentine, rocks and cliffs and in some places the absence of any road infrastructure, many stones, sand and dust. Those who made the trip along the Pamir Highway recommend it to all the lovers of the extreme. Nevertheless, the landscapes around the road will not leave anyone indifferent. You will see Sasyk-Kul lake – a unique lake which is translated as “a stinky lake”. It is called so, because its shore and water have a specific smell. There is no fish there, only small red crayfish around. There are no trees or plants either. Local people know that Sasyk-Kul water can’t be drunk and it is harmful for health. In Soviet times here rich uranium deposits were found. Despite all above-mentioned things, the view of the lake really impresses the travelers’ mind.

Murghab village 

You will get Murghab village – an obligatory stop for tourists as it is the only place in hundreds of kilometers where you can spend a night in more or less comfortable conditions. Murghab village was built in Soviet times; here there was a Soviet military unit. After the collapse of the Soviet Union until the beginning of 2000 there were Russian militaries based here. After they left, a small Tajik military contingent bases here, the most part of the barracks are abandoned.

The life in Murghab looks quite difficult: severe climate conditions (in summer the temperature can reach +40 degrees with a very high level of ultraviolet, in winter -40 degrees) and electricity and water supply running only at times during the day due to economic reasons.

Infrastructure of Murghab village includes one small mosque, a small hospital, one market, one hotel and several guest houses. The population is no more than 6300 people, represented by the Kyrgyz and the Pamirs. They speak Russian language. During the touristic season you can also meet 50-100 foreigners making a trip to the Pamir highway. Among its attractions can only be noted the Lenin monument and the monument to those killed during the Second War World, constructed in Soviet times. And, perhaps, a wonderful retro “park” of Soviet time cars…

Kara-Kul lake

On the Pamir highway you can also see Kara-Kul lake – it is translated as “a black lake”. It is called so, because at certain time of the day the water of the lake acquires a black color. It is located at an altitude of 3914 m. The taste of Kara-Kul water is salty-bitter. It is surrounded by rocky hills. Opportunities for trekking in the mountains are unlimited here.  As experienced travelers say, despite the region of Kara-Kul is very severe, here everybody would be astonished by savage, virgin, pristine views.

Pyanj river

Pyanj river is one of the main rivers in Tajikistan. It starts on the south-west of the tajik-afghan border as a result of fusion of the rivers Vakhandarya and Pamir. It falls into Amudaryariver. Pyanj flows along practically all the tajik-afghan border. On the river there are the Ishkashimskyi and Langharskyi bridges. At present time the water of Pyanj is used for irrigation of vegetable gardens. Pyanj changes its character: at some places it is of calm currents, at some other places – it is a dangerous rapid river.

Nurek water storage

Nurek water storage was constructed on the Tajik river Vakhsh. Visitors say that this place is unbelievably picturesque. If you travel there in summer, the water can be so warm that it is possible to swim all the day there. Some tourists who were at Nurek water storage tell that Nurek is magic and water in it is really turquois blue. At the shore of the water storage beautiful almond trees are growing.

In conclusion let us say that travelling to the Pamir Highway really gives you the most astonishing impressions. Don’t be afraid of the difficult road, take the risk and make, perhaps, the most unforgettable trip in your life!


If you want to know more about Central Asian countries, read our blog! If you are planning to visit Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, browse our database of local tourist service providers and find [verified] guides, drivers, accommodation, activities and tours organized by local professionals! Discover Central Asia with us!


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