The Pamir Highway is one of the highlight of traveling in Central Asia. The highway is considered to be the second highest international highway in the world with the highest point standing at 4655m. The highway stretches over much of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan through the Pamir mountains starting from Osh and ended in Dushanbe. In order to traverse this remote highway, extensive planning is required and within this guide, I will explain to you how I, as a solo traveler, was able to find people to go with, picked which route to take and decided how long the trip would be.
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When to go
People usually prefer going in mid-summer (July-August) as the weather is more present but I would personally recommend going in Autumn (September) where the weather is a little cooler but the scenery is the most colorful at this time of year with trees turning orange all over. Another reason is that there will be fewer tourists traveling the highway so you will most likely have the whole place to yourself both in the mountains and in the guest houses.
How to Get Here
You can fly into either Bishkek and then book a flight to Osh to start your journey from Osh or you can fly into Dushanbe and start your road trip from the opposite side. Either or I would recommend you to browse through Skyscanner or Momondo before to compare prices so you will get the cheapest flight possible.
How to Get Around
Hired Jeep and Driver
This is the best option for backpackers who are not keen on biking themselves and have limited time. You will be able to see everything in 8 days while not breaking the bank.
Who should you go with? I went with Osh Guesthouse who organizes these trips regularly at a reasonable price. The cost of both the jeep and the driver are calculated by kilometers so it will depend entirely on your itinerary but the going rate we got was 0.70$/km + 15$ daily allowance.
For this 8 days itinerary (off season), the total cost was 704 USD (jeep + driver) so if you can find 3 more people, you will only pay 176 USD each excluding food and accommodation. For food and accommodation, it should cost you around 15 USD per day.
What I did was I got around 200 USD out from an ATM machine (Optima or Demir give out USD) in Osh and changed 150 USD into Tajikistan Somani and the rest I kept it for emergency.
And of course.. with a goat
How to find more people
If you are a solo traveler like me, doing road trips alone is not just expensive, but also boring as hell so in order for me to plan this trip, I went onto Caravanistan Forum and started a post to see if anyone wanted to join. In only a few days, I got 4 emails and my plan began to take shape from there.
The key is to be flexible in your schedule as much as you can by posting it on Caravanistan Forum in advanced with as much information as you can.
Which Route to Pick
There are many routes to pick from but after careful consideration, I decided to go with the traditional Pamir Highway route from Osh to Khorog through the Wakhan Valley which diverted off from the Pamir Highway to Langar and gave me a chance to glance at Afghanistan from the Tajik side.
This route took us 7 days on a private jeep and an extra day on a public jeep from Khorog to Dushanbe. Here is my itinerary:
- Day 1: Osh - Lenin Peak - Sary Mogul
- Day 2: Sary Mogul - Crossed to Tajikistan - Karakul Lake
- Day 3: Karakul Lake - Murghab
- Day 4: Murghab - Bulunkul (Hiking possibility)
- Day 5: Bulunkul - Wakhan Valley - Langar
- Day 6: Langar - Hotspring - Ishkashim
- Day 7: Ishkashim - Khorog
- Day 8: Khorog - Dushanbe (public jeep)
Osh - Osh Guesthouse - 5 USD/Night (Not the best hostel but you are likely to find more people for your Pamir Highway trip here)
The Pamir Highway - Mostly Homestays and Guesthouses - 10 - 15 USD/Night with dinner
Dushanbe - Green House Hostel - 6 USD/Night
Things to Prepare
- Be prepared for the cold: During autumn, especially at high elevation, the temperature may go down to 0 or even minus so bring layers.
- Be prepared for the Altitude: You will be sleeping above 3000m elevation half of the trip and it can get quite uncomfortable at times so prepare some painkillers or altitude sickness pills. Also, keep yourself hydrated at all times!
- Sleeping bag not needed: All the guest houses should provide you with warm blankets and heaters.
- Snacks: Somedays you will be in a car for 8 hours so a little snack will make the trip a little more enjoyable.
- Prepare Kyrgyz Som and Tajik Somanis: In Osh, be sure to exchange your money into Tajik Somani and leave a few Kyrgyz Som before leaving as you will need to pay for accommodation and food along the way and the closest town you can exchange after Osh is Murghab with questionable rate.
- Prepare card games: You will be spending 8 days off the grid in guest houses with strangers so prepare a deck of cards or games to keep your group entertained. A good party app to use is "Heads Up!" (Android | iPhone).
- Visa and GMAO Permit: Be sure to get e-visa with GMAO permit for Tajikistan beforehand. There will be plenty of checkpoints that will ask you to show it.
- Expect Unreliable Internet throughout the trip : Tell people that you will be away for 8 days as you will not find any reliable internet until Dushanbe. You can get a Megaphone SIM card at Murghab but the internet rarely works reliably on the Pamir Highway.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Tajikistan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
The Pamir Highway Highlights
Day 1: Osh - Sary Mogul
First day of the trip, we set off from Osh to see the Lenin Peak base camp and slept at Sary Mogul.
This day alone made me excited for what was to come as the scenery shifted from city to mountains to large orange plain and to a stunning view of a snowy mountain range.
This is the Lenin Peak.. or somewhere within those clouds.
Day 2: Karakul Lake
The next day, we crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan and continued our way up through the No Man's land, passed this famous ram statue and stopped for a night at the Karakul Lake.
Here is one of the most memorable view I captured along the way.
The Karakul Lake is definitely best experienced during sunset.
Day 3: Murghab
The third day, we drove up a 4655m Ak-Baital Pass, the highest point on the highway and stopped in Murghab for a night.
If you are expecting Murghab to be a proper city with all the facilities you need, you will be disappointed. To my eyes, Murghab seems more like a large settlement than a city.
Day 4: Bulunkul
The fourth day, we set off early to Bulunkul so that we can do some hiking around the Bulunkul lake. The walk took us around 3 hours both ways. It was relatively easy but the altitude was quite taxing on my body.
That night at the Bulunkul lake was the coldest night we experienced during the entire trip as it was snowing lightly in the evening.
As the snow stopped in the morning, the entire scenery in Bulunku changed overnight. From orange hills and mountains to an all white and bright landscape. It was quite a sight to behold.
Day 5: Langar and the Wakhan Valley
The fifth day was quite exciting as we diverted from the Pamir highway and drove through the beginning of the Wakhan Valley where we could get a glimpse of Afghanistan.
I hope one day we can cross this river and travel through Afghanistan proper.
The Wakhan Valley was definitely one of the most beautiful stretch of the Pamir Highway. We stopped multiple times to just relaxed and played frisbee. The fact that Afghanistan is only a stone throw away made it even more fascinating.
We spent the fifth night in Langar, a nice cozy town tucked away within the Wakhan valley. In the evening, we decided to walk around the town but ended up playing frisbee with the kids in a park. It was one of the best evening we had as we were able to experience first hand how much they appreciate us being there visiting their hometown.
Day 6: Ishkashim
On our sixth day, we stopped several times for a few photos of the never-ending snowy mountains on the Afghan side.
We also stopped for a cultural visit at a local museum to learn more about the history of the Pamirs.
After the museum, we visited a few ancient fortresses that scattered around the valley. One of the more impressive ones was the Yamchun fortress. Built in the 3rd century BC, the fortress give us a clue as to what belief system (Zoroastrianism) was widely used in the Pamirs back in the days.
We went into a hot-spring and relaxed for a few hours before we continued our ways to Ishkashim and spent a night there.
Day 7: Khorog
The seventh day was a short day as we headed straight to Khorog in the morning and spent the entire day exploring the town and preparing for a big goodbye party as everyone went their separate ways the next day.
Day 8: Dushanbe
I decided to get a shared jeep (taxi) early in the morning to Dushanbe as we have heard how bad the road was and how long it took people to traverse this stretch of the Pamir Highway. It took us 16 hours as expected with a few big incidents but other than that, the scenery was definitely worth seeing.
There you have it. A guide and a suggested itinerary for the best road trip of your life along the Pamir Highway. I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did! If you have any question about the route, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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