Self-drive experience on the Pamir highway and Wakhan valley
What to expect from a road trip on a
Pamir Highway Tour
The Pamir Highway is one of the great mountain road trips in the whole world. It takes you all the way from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan over the Pamir Plateau and to the Kyrgyz border and even further to Osh, the second-largest city of Kyrgyzstan. The highway goes through one of the most remote areas of the world and good preparation is therefore essential. But it is also one of the best trips you will ever take. Here are some things to expect on this awesome road trip. We rented one of Sergey's cars (Toyota 4Runner) from Bishkek and did a 3500km loop. You can also check other cars and drivers.
Pamir Highway Map (incl. Wakhan valley)
6000m peaks as far as you can see
The Pamir Plateau has amazing mountains. Most of the time you will drive on a road which is at above 4000 meters sea level, let alone the mountain peaks surrounding you. Some are even more than 7000 meters. A breathtaking view! If you’re lucky you’ll see the peaks of the Muztagh Ata (7509m) and Lenin (7134m). If you decide to leave the Pamir Highway in Khorog to include the Wakhan Valley in your trip (highly recommended) you will also see the glacier strewn mountains of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The nicest local people
The population of Tajikistan is a mix of different peoples. It consists of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Russians, Kyrgyz, and Pamiris. Hospitality among these people is very high and especially if you are driving in isolated areas you will always get the help needed from the local people. Communication problems can be overcome with hand signals.
The Pamir Self-Drive experience
The Pamir Highway is a high mountain road. Even though if there is a tar road, it’s usually in a bad condition. So a good 4WD car is essential. Most travelers hire a driver for the Pamir highway. If you're a good driver, it's possible to self-drive. Be prepared, it is a bumpy ride but off-road-lovers will be rewarded big times. In winter you can expect lots of snow but from May until October the roads are usually free and open. After a rainfall, watch out for rocks on the road. There is not much traffic but sometimes you’ll have to pass one of the big Chinese trucks coming from Kashgar. So be careful if the road is narrow.
Thousands of photogenic spots
You will want to stop every couple of hundred meters. The valleys and mountains are pristine so make sure to bring a good camera and enough memory cards with you. Bring an extra portable charger or a car charge because in some accommodations there is no electricity.
Animals of the Pamir mountains
There is a good chance to see some wildlife in the Pamirs too. Eagles and vultures are often seen next to the road or flying high above you. You can also see a lot of yaks, fat marmots and hares running around. If you are really lucky you even can see Marco Polo Sheeps and Ibexes. If you are interested to see these animals, the community-based conservancies offer different wildlife tours. They even have snow leopard tours. But only in winter as the chance to see them is much higher than in summer.
Passing dangerous Tunnels of the Pamir highway
When coming from Osh through Khrushand to Dushanbe you’ll have to pass two tunnels which are the worst part of the whole trip. Once constructed from the Iranians they were never finished and are indeed dangerous. There are no lights in the tunnels. There is a possibility that there are constructions inside the tunnel which are not marked so drive really slowly. The air is really bad because of the lack of ventilation so wear something to cover your mouth and nose. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid these tunnels.
A glimpse of Afghanistan in the Wakhan corridor
In the Wakhan corridor, you’ll be driving along the Panj River which marks the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In some places, the valley is so narrow that you have a great view of the Afghan side. You’ll pass Afghan villages and you are able to see Afghan people riding their donkeys, motorcycles or sitting along the shores of the river and the children will wave at you from the other side. You might also see camel caravans passing by.
No Gas stations
Be prepared that petrol is rare in some areas especially between Ishkashim (Wakhan) and Alichur (Pamir Highway). If you really do run out of fuel than just ask a local for “Benzin” or “Gas” and they might find somebody who will sell some liters. The price will be higher than in Dushanbe or Khorog so another option is to bring a canister or two just to be safe.
A real homestay experience
After Khorog there are no more hotel options available, just homestays like Gulnara's (see Tajikistan Homestays Map). To stay with a local family is a very unique experience. The mattresses on the floor might not be as comfortable as a real bed but the hospitality and warmness of the people will make it up. The food will be simple but delicious. Take as much in of this experience as you can. Afterward, you will be happy you did.
There is no public transport in these areas. You will see people waving down cars on the side of the road. If you have any space, take someone or kids going to school with you. They will be very grateful and you will likely be invited for a cup of tea or they will share bread with you or just give the best smile ever. It is not dangerous at all.
A bunch of Pamir Mountain passes
One of the most impressive parts of the highway are the mountain passes. The highest pass is the Ak-Baital at 4655 meters above sea level between Murghab and Karakul. The views from these passes are just amazing!
Police and check points
There are a few checkpoints along your trip but don’t worry. Usually, they let tourists pass by without any problems - if you have your visa and GBAO permit ready. If there is any trouble, try to stay calm and don’t get intimidated by them. After half an hour of not understanding each other, they are very likely to let you go anyway.
Pamir Highway Video