Pamir Highway What You Need To Know. The Pamir Highway offers some of the most spectacular views on the globe. This is a remote and desolate area and is lacking in many creature comforts. In this post, I have shared with you some things you should know to make your trip more enjoyable.
I traversed the Pamir Highway with a driver and guide, but other people opt to travel the Pamir via their own rented vehicle (crazy), riding a bike (crazier), or hitchhiking/walking (craziest). These alternative options are quite hardcore. I found the driver/car to be tiring enough, but the amazing landscapes and experiences easily dwarf any discomforts. The Pamir Highway is also known as M41 Highway, but Pair sounds pretty cool.
Too crazy for me. These guys were riding their bikes at 4000 meters
Kyrgyzstan visa for many nationalities is visa on arrival. For Tajikistan, many nationalities need to apply online to receive an evisa. An email will be sent to you with your visa letter, please print and save for your entire trip. If you are planning on traveling the Pamir Highway, you need to check the GBAO box on the online application for the Tajikistan visa. This is required to travel on the Pamir Highway. There is no added cost for the GBAO permit.
Some people add on a side trip to Afghanistan to the Wakhen Corridor, a sliver of a finger of Afghanistan that jets out. The Wakhen Corridor is “safe” compared to say Kabul, but of course double check the security situation. If you opt for this side trip, you will need a double-entry Tajikistan visa. Many people opt to get the Afghan visa in the town of Khorog, a Tajik town of 28,000, which has an Afghan consulate. This visa can be issued in less than a day, and is also quite expensive, setting you back $200. It is only valid for the Wakhen Corridor.
Osh to Dushanbe Or Vice-Versa
These trips typically begin either in Osh, Kyrgyzstan or Dushanbe, Tajikistan. There is not a major difference in which city you begin in, but I would lean toward starting in Dushanbe for two reasons. First, Dushanbe to Osh is better from an acclimatization point, otherwise you will be starting the trip off at over 4000 meters. Second, the views are not as impressive from Dushanbe to Khorog, so it is better to work your way up to the spectacular views from Khorog to Osh.
Tis The Season
It is a short season to drive the Pamir Highway. You should be planning your trip to take place from June to September. Expect some nights to dip below freezing at times on the Pamir. Otherwise it is too cold, and the roads are too dangerous.
Cold out here
How Many Days
I spoke to people who were spending a month (that would be way too much for me) on the Pamir. I traversed the highway in 6 nights and 7 days. This trip was the bare minimum, since I was in the car virtually 8 hours a day. I would suggest a trip of 9 days, which would allow for a slower pace and some more down time.
On The Road
Expect long days on the road. And these roads are rough, virtually all unsealed tarmac. Expect varied conditions from bad to really awful. I spent at least 50% of my trip bracing myself in the car to prevent myself from being thrown around and hitting my head on the ceiling.
The portion of the Pamir Highway that traces the Wakhen Corridor is also very dangerous. It is a gravely, dirt road that dances on the edge of the mountain, with a precipitous fall. So when choosing a car/driver make sure both are in a superior category. At bare minimum, make sure you are traveling in a 4-wheel drive truck. I was in a Mitsubishi Pajero.
Dancing on the edge of the road
The Pamir Highway is second highest international road in the world, meaning you will be sleeping at over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). So depending how you to deal with high altitudes, you might want to consider medication for high altitudes. Also, make sure you bring medicine for your stomach like Pepto-Bismol and maybe a course of Cipro or Z-pack, an anti-biotic. And finally, bring a supply of aspirin. For the high altitude, bring sunscreen and lip balm.
Way over 4000 meters
For most of your stays on the Pamir Highway, you will be staying in a local homestay. In general, these homestays are rudimentary. Expect a home with several bedrooms and a shared space. Your bedroom may be shared or not. The simple rooms will have several beds or bed rolls on the floor. They were either rock hard or way too soft.
I was on the Pamir Highway in mid-September and was subject to bone-chilling temperatures. Some of the homestays were heated, others were not. So be prepared for a very cold night under a stack of thick blankets. The electricity is also limited.
Either before or after your trip, relax in Osh with Shanghai City or in Dushanbe with Twins Hotel.
Do not expect rain shower heads and marble floors in the bathroom. Many of the toilets are in a separate outhouse, some with holes and some with western toilets. Not a fun walk at 3 am in freezing weather. There are also separate showers, some with cold water and others with hot water.
A highlight at one of the guest houses on the trip was a natural hot spring that was piped into the house into a pool. This was a fantastic way to end of the day, soaking in the pool.
This place was awesome! A hot spring piped into this pool.
Make sure to bring your own soap and toilet paper. And no towels are provided in the homestays, I would encourage you to get a quick drying towel.
There is a range of guest houses on the road, from good to bad. My guide/driver due to their experience worked with the better-quality guesthouses during our stays. The cost per person is approximately $20 per person.
To keep things clean, bring some wet naps and Purell.
This is not a trip for the gourmand. The food at the homestays is basic and meat centered. Don’t expect a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. The homestays are not set up for vegetarians and less so for vegans. I was typically served breakfast and dinner at my homestay. And for lunch, we would usually visit another homestay on the road. And also, expect to be drinking a lot of tea, either green or black, which is served at every meal. A kettle of tea, will set you back $1.
Whether in Osh or Dushanbe, stock up on your snacks before you start your road trip. There aren’t really any shops on the road, so again make sure you are well provisioned. I was happy with my supply of peanut butter, protein bars, and pistachios.
There did not seem to be any bottled water to purchase on the trip. My driver/guide supplied two boxes of bottled water to hydrate us during the journey. I had also purchased a SteriPen to purify water, but had no need to use it.
Have a great meal in Osh with incredible shaslik at Tsarskiy Dvor or in Dushanbe for great Indian at Taj or awesome Lebanese at Al Sham. All three restaurants are very cheap.
At the tail end of the season, expect cold temperatures, at times below freezing at night. I wore a shell and a wool sweater (and would sleep in this). Also, consider wearing hiking shoes for walks and treks. Bring a baseball hat and sunglasses for the strong sun at the high altitude.
In The Car
ABC, always be charging. I brought this great device to charge my devices while in the car.
Also, to entertain yourself bring a cable to pipe in your own music into the car stereo.
I stocked up on a bunch of downloaded podcasts, Netflix movies (check out Ozark!), and some books on Kindle.
Do not expect internet on the Pamir, and if there is some, it sucks. I bought a local Tajik SIM card, but was basically worthless. I would suggest downloading Google Maps as well as Google Translate for Russian.
It is safe until it isn’t. I felt completely safe during my trip on the Pamir Highway. Sadly, four cyclists were killed in a terrorist attack in 2018. But this appears to be more of a one-off. And yes, much of the Pamir Highway traces Afghanistan, yet for my trip, this did not pose a security threat. As you drove along the border, you would watch life take place on the other side. Of course, do you your own research and check with the US State Department.
A memorial to the murdered bikers
My trip was $1675. This included a Mitsubishi Pajero, fuel, driver, guide, housing, and meals (and endless tea). This was for two people for six nights/seven days. Beyond that I spent $40 on various sundries during the trip. I also tipped my guide and driver a total of $250.
Who I Used
I used Pamir Offroad Adventures based in Murghab. Overall, I would recommend them, but they were not perfect. Januzak, the owner, and I communicated several times and was generally responsive but was unable to answer basic questions like the amount of drive time per day. Both my driver and guide were really good people. My driver at times for me, drove too fast. And my guide, at times was not able to answer rudimentary questions about the region or sights.
Your home away from home: your car
Pamir Highway What You Need To Know
Pamir Highway What You Need To Know
Disclosure: Yes, if you order through Amazon or book through Agoda, I make money. And that is a good thing. 😉
Tajikistan is my 125th country.