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What’s A Trip to the High Pamirs Really Like? M41 Pamir Highway Tour Adventure | Koryo Tours

Ever wondered what it’s really like to travel the High Pamirs? How you do even go about travelling on one of the world’s highest highways? And… is it worth it? 

Rich Beal, an expert in the Central Asia region and Koryo Tours tour leader, tells all. 


Why the High Pamirs?

Central Asia: Before the High Pamirs

The First M41 High Pamir Adventure

M41 High Pamirs Tour (how to join)

Why the High Pamirs?

Every August, we run an adventure through the heart of Central Asia, delving into the deep valleys and stunning mountain passes of the Pamir Region.

This mountainous area dominates Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. So that’s where our adventure takes place.

However, I’d been travelling to the region for years, and I never entirely managed to traverse this epic journey myself…

So, here’s the story of my first mountain crossroads adventure!

Central Asia: Before the High Pamirs

Throughout my years as a tour leader for Koryo, and before that at other companies, I’d spent a lot of time in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

However, I never managed to link them together and travel through the Pamiri region.

I’ve always been a big fan of road trips. As a firm believer that the journey is more important than the destination, I’d long been enamoured by the idea of driving along the incredible M41 Pamir Highway. This stunning ribbon of tarmac winding through the region had always eluded me.

History in the High Pamirs

The region itself is steeped in history.

The site of ‘The Great Game’ which saw the British and Russian Empires facing off over their control of the mountain passes which dominate this part of the world.

Later, as part of the Soviet Union, the M41 Pamir Highway was constructed to cement control and bind together these mountain republics, keeping them closely connected and traversable. Finally, it linked up the small towns and villages and introduced infrastructure and connectivity to their communities.

So, with all this history so nearby, yet so inaccessible, I decided one day I would find a way to travel the length of the M41 Pamir Highway.

Since that time, I’ve spent many years working for Koryo in the region, eventually becoming the director of our tours to the region and becoming our Central Asia expert.

It was at this time I began pushing for the creation of a Pamir tour. And eventually, we created one.


The First M41 High Pamir Adventure

Our first Pamir mountains tour began in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

Here I met the tour group. A collection of seasoned travellers and intrepid adventurers who were just as keen as I was to take on this epic challenge!

Unlike subsequent adventures, I didn’t have the experience I have now. So, despite a lot of knowledge in theory, I felt very much like I was joining them as a fellow tourist experiencing all of this for the first time.

Bishkek – Osh

From Bishkek, we travelled south to the city of Osh. This was the starting point for our adventure.

After spending a night in this city surrounded by Soviet grandeur and equally impressive ancient history, we boarded our trusty vehicles and set off into the countryside.

Into the Countryside & Rolling Hills

The further south we drove, the more impressive the landscape became. The flat lands became rolling hillsides which, in turn, turned into shallow mountain peaks and rocky outcrops.

Eventually, the foothills of the Pamir Mountains began to dominate our surroundings and finally, we arrived at our overnight halt. A small homestay in the village of Sary-Tash in the Pamir mountain range.

A Homestay in the Pamir Mountains

This homestay was basic. It’s run by a local family and nothing to brag about.

However, I would choose it over a 5-star hotel any day. Purely for the view which greeted us every time we opened the front door!

This little village boasted one of the most incredible views I have ever seen – looking out into the high peaks that we would soon be travelling to.

That evening, I sat with the group and our local hosts, enjoying some beers, chatting, and steeling ourselves for what would be an incredible adventure.

Kyrgyzstan – Tajikistan

The next day, we bid farewell to our local hosts and set off deeper into the mountains. Eventually, we reached the Kyzyl-Art Border Checkpoint where we would say goodbye to Kyrgyzstan and head into Tajikistan.

It took us about an hour to cross from the Kyrgyz side to the Tajik side, trundling through this no man’s land between republics. 

Eventually, the formalities were complete and we headed onward into Tajikistan. Along the way, there was of course stunning scenery all around. But we also stopped to visit Karakul Lake.

This is a huge lake created by a meteor strike, and now a beautiful rest stop in this strange, high-altitude world.

In many ways, travelling through this region felt like driving on mars, or some other completely alien world. The lack of people, or even evidence of people becomes strange after a while.

That is until you crest the top of the latest hill and suddenly see a town or a village where local culture and community exist even here in the middle of nowhere.

Towns & Villages Along the M41 Highway
Visiting Towns & Villages

Eventually, one of these small towns was our stopping point. The town of Murghab.

The site of a former Russian base, the town marks the furthest south the Russian Empire ever reached. A statue of Lenin still graces the middle of the town, and despite the slight falling-downness of our hotel, the character of this little settlement was rather endearing.

The next day, we set off from Murghab.

We continued our adventure as we headed south towards the famed Wakhan Corridor.

From now on, much of our adventure would follow the Panj and Amu Darya rivers which serve as the Tajik-Afghan border.

Travelling the Pamir Highway Travel Guide


Afghanistan/Tajikistan Wakhan Corridor

Winding along this valley road, with the mountains of Tajikistan on our right and the vast mountains of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan to our left is a sight which will truly never leave me.

Since then, I’ve yet to find a view more spectacular than the view of that mountain range in the distance as we peered over into the forbidden land of the Afghans.

Despite the reputation of this dangerous neighbourhood, the people all across Central Asia are some of the kindest, sweetest, and most hospitable I’ve ever encountered.

A fact which made this perilous journey just that little bit easier.

We continued along the valley with the roaring Panj river a constant distraction from our perilous drive.

In fact, one of the reasons we do the adventure in this direction, rather than starting in Tajikistan, is to make sure we’re always on the safest side of the road during this section of the trip. I’d always rather be up against the cliff face than out near the edge.

Vast Open Fields

Finally, the valley opened up and the view changed from stunning mountain terrain to vast open fields, all cultivated by local farmers (Tajik and Afghan). This created a magnificent patchwork of greens and yellows, punctuated by the river and the mountains behind.

It’s here that we encountered the first road sign for miles pointing us in the direction of Afghanistan.

Turning the opposite way, we followed a mountain road leading away from the river, taking us across the plains of central Tajikistan and finally into Dushanbe. One of my favourite cities.

Dushanbe City

It was a relief to be greeted by a city I knew so well.

Dushanbe is incredible. The people, the food, the architecture.

Tree-lined streets, small hidden cafes, huge Soviet-era buildings. On any other trip, this place would feel surreal, but after our adventure through the Pamirs, this felt like home.

An M41 High Pamirs Tour

Since that trip, we’ve been running our High Pamir Trip every August.

Despite now having taken that route many times, every time brings up some new adventure or creates a new distinct memory.

Perhaps that’s why I keep doing it.

It truly never gets old.

And if you join us on this expedition, you can be sure you’ll depart with some memories that will stick with you for life, trust me.

AUGUST 17 – AUGUST 30 2024

The Pamir Highway Mountain Crossroads Tour

Travel across the roof of the world!

A unique tour from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan.

This 10-night tour traces the route of the ancient Silk Road and the adventures
of Marco Polo. Starting in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, we will follow
the M41 Pamir Highway to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, while passing the most amazing
mountain scenery.

From 2900 USD per person

More Information & Sign Up Here

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