Roadtripping The Pamir Highway, Tajikistan, August 2018


I have just travelled the Pamir Highway- an epic road trip across the roof of Central Asia. The road runs through the middle of the Pamir mountain range linking Kyrgyzstan with the western part of Tajikistan (a region called Kohistani Badakhshan). As the crow flies the distance would be around 500km but it is a notorious track that pits road against vehicle dipping above and below 4000m altitude. 

The bone-jarring journey is matched by achingly beautiful scenery: crossing mountain passes that open up into wide lush grassland plateaus, passing through sheer shimmering rock canyons that threaten to swallow you and skirting by indigo lakes nestled under cliffs. The land is so vast, rock spires so steep, the sky so blue in the high altitude that a sense of your smallness comes over you amid the wonder in every twist in the track.

The towns are nothing much to speak of – outposts made up of mud brick houses with dust blowing through the streets and yaks grazing at the edges. Petrol is pumped by hand from a 24 gallon drum when you need it. News travels by the bush telegraph via the people and vehicles crisscrossing the highway.

Everyone travelling the Pamir Highway has some sort of story to tell – indeed probably crazy on some level to start with. I met some guys on the tail end of the Mongol Rally – a cross country rally that starts in Prague and ends in Mongolia with the only race rule being you have to drive an original car with a maximum engine capacity of 1.2 litres. The potholes could have easily swallowed the 3 wheeled British Reliant Robin that we saw. We stopped to talk to some Swiss lads making running repairs to their little Fiat which was struggling up a 4300m mountain pass. Later we saw them being towed 100km back into Murghab town – but neither they nor the locals who stopped to help had a tow rope. One of the Pamiri men had scaled the now defunct electricity poles and cut down some electrical wires (there hasn’t been a functioning electrical grid in the Pamirs for 27 years since the civil war) that got the job done. 

If that wasn’t enough insanity we rubbed our eyes when rumbling along the rutted track came a red London double-decker bus. News was that it had driven overland all the way from London and painted on the back as it disappeared in a cloud of dust was “LONDON TO SYDNEY”. Yes being crazy might just help!

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