Driving the Pamir Highway – (Where Are We – Tajikistan 1)


Nature has been kind to Tajikistan, bestowing the country not only with breathtaking beauty but with a moderate climate too. Mountains and glaciers, lush river valleys and dense forest.

~Bradt Travel Guides

As mentioned in our previous Where Are We update, Tajikistan was our next destination. More specifically, we were going to drive the famous Pamir Highway.

What can we say? Tajikistan has us blown away! Sometimes literally with the almost continuous fierce winds that howl across the Pamir Region.

Locally known as the Roof of the World, the Pamir Mountains, in eastern Tajikistan, are home to jagged mountains, high-altitude plateaus, churning rivers, unpaved roads that more than challenged the Land Cruiser, and sparsely populated valleys home to the most incredibly kind and hospitable people.

Sheep and and snow-covered Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan

Driving the Pamir Highway

Best known in the region, at least among travelers, is the Pamir Highway. Built by the Soviets in the 1930s, the road cuts through the eastern and southern part of the Pamirs Whether you travel by car, motorcycle or bicycle, the 1106-mile Pamir Highway in Tajikistan (which continues in Kyrgyzstan to Osh with additional 237 kilometers) is a challenge.

Of course, compared with bicyclists, of which there are many (often cycling from or to Europe/Southeast Asia), we overlanders with motorized vehicles are having a mere Sunday outing when driving the Pamir Highway and have no right to complain. But we do nonetheless because the road surface is a car killer with incredibly bad sections.

Houses along the Pamir Highway, Tajikistan (©Coen Wubbels)
Haystacks along the Pamir Highway, Tajikistan (©Coen Wubbels)

Driving the Wakhan Corridor

The Pamir Highway is on the ‘must-see’ lists of many visitors and, so, the intrepid travelers search and find new challenges beyond this famous road trip. As such we drove the Wakhan Corridor along the southernmost fringes of Tajikistan’s Pamirs. Here, literally a stone’s throw away across the Panj River, the Pamirs continue into Afghanistan.

What do we know about Tajikistan, or Central Asia for that matter? The Silk Road may conjure up images of a prosperous trade route long ago, but have you realized it’s actually through these ‘Stan’ countries that the famous Silk-Road caravans were finding their way? Remote and little known as they are today, Central Asia once literally was the center of the world.

Land Cruiser driving in the dry Wakhan Corridor, Tajikistan

Marco Polo describes his journey through the Wakhan Corridor in The Travels, one of the many foreigners who traveled from West to East and back to trade and explore.

However, the region’s history is much older than Marco Polo’s era of travel. Along the way we stopped to admire the remains of fortresses built more than 2000 years ago and came across petroglyphs (rock carvings) at least 6000 years old.

Yamchun Fortress (Tajikistan) with Afghanistan in the distance.
Yamchun Fortress with Afghanistan in the distance.
Sharing a good campfire with fellow overlanders Paul, Lia, Jennifer, Stew, Thomas and hitchhiker Machek.

Recommended Reading about the Silk Road

Driving the Bartang Valley

The youngest of the challenging road trips in this part of the world, however, is the Bartang Valley. A region prone to landslides and with a history of earthquakes, bicyclists have seen their bikes washed away as they tried to traverse too-deep, raging rivers. September, however, seems the perfect month for this challenge, when rivers are low. Of course we had to go.

The Land Cruiser had its first serious breakdown in 16+ years on the road in the middle of this valley, 25 kilometers away from the first village and cellphone connection. A broken steering kept us working for 48 hours in a river bed to find a solution. Oh yes, the Bartang Valley is bound to bring you challenges, no matter how you explore it.

Reading the map, Tajikistan
Land Cruiser driving on a bridge in the Bartang Valley, Tajikistan

Resources to Prepare your Overland Trip in Tajikistan

Getting the Land Cruiser Back into Shape – Who can Help?

All this is, in a nutshell, what we have been up to for the past three weeks. With the Land Cruiser now about to seriously fall to pieces – the gear box having its first serious troubles and needing an overhaul, and the front section of the bodywork no longer attached to the roof and getting more damaged by each additional fist-sized stone we have to drive over, among other things – we are leaving the Pamirs.

Off we are, limping our way to Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, where new parts for the steering are waiting for us. Here we will have to find many other solutions for the Land Cruiser troubles.

Read More: Tajikistan Overland Travel Guide

Fixing broken steering, Bartang Valley, Tajikistan

Do you have any suggestions for good workshops, welder, mechanics, electricians (yes, we need them all) in the region (that can be Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, or Kyrgyzstan)?

We’d love to hear about them!

Leaving the Pamir Highway and eastern Tajikistan doesn’t mean we have seen all that the Pamir Region has to offer. On the contrary. We will be back. Many valleys will be waiting for us to be explored, by car or on foot. But for now, bye-bye, Pamir Highway.

We will miss you!

Read More: Schedules, Books and Maps for Central Asia, Russia and Mongolia

Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

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2 thoughts on “Driving the Pamir Highway – (Where Are We – Tajikistan 1)”

  1. As usual, a beautiful and informative description of your travels. Stunning pictures, well written narrative, and wonderful stories. As a fellow Land Cruiser owner (mine is a 1978 FJ40) I wish you good fortune and good luck as you make the needed repairs. Best wishes for returning to the road as soon as possible.


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