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The Pamir Highway

by Huw Owen

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The USSR did transport with a capital "T". Huge railway lines blasted through miles of solid rock (the Trans-Siberian), space shuttle launch pads in the middle of the steppe (Baikonur) and more than 7000 airports from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. There were regions, however, where railways and airports could not be built. The Pamir mountains of Tajikistan are perhaps the most famous example. Apart from the tiny airstrip at Khorog, which to this day is not equipped with radar, the Pamir Highway, or M41, was the only way in, and the only way out.

For the statistical geeks amongst you, this is the second highest international road in the world after the Karakoram Highway, connecting the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan with Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Its highest point - the Ak Baital Pass (4655m) is higher than the summit of the Matterhorn.

Pamir MountainsFor the adventurous traveller this is the perfect antidote to days spent staring at laptops in suburban offices. Within three days of leaving home you can be taking in the view from the fort at Yamchun (Tajikistan), looking across the Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan) to the Hindu Kush (Pakistan).

Travelling the Highway is also about discovering the Pamiri people. There are stops enroute that really show you what life in the Pamirs is all about - homestays in the Geisev Valley, sipping tea with the Kyrgyz of Murghab or breaking bread with a local family in an authentic Pamiri house. Accommodation is local, authentic and simple, but with often humbling generosity from your hosts.

So pack your bags, a sense of humour, and the best camera you can afford and head for the high and mighty Pamirs.

Make it happen

Our local partners in Central Asia can arrange trips along the Pamir Highway. It is not a run-of-the-mill destination. Conditions are quite basic and costs on the high side, though the experience is second to none. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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