Travelling the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan (officially known as the m41 Pamir Highway) is one of the best adventures you can have in Central Asia, and one of the best roads trips in the world.
What makes me an expert on the Pamir Highway? Well I have been on it 4 times now.
I try and inspire a lot of people to visit places, and I have told many people about the Pamir Highway and they naturally always ask how to do it. So in that respect I figured I should get around to writing a post about it so you can read how to do this awesome trip.
The Pamir Highway is the second highest motorway in the world ( the Karakoram Highway in neighbouring Pakistan is the highest) and takes you through stunning mountain scenery in the Pamir region of Tajikistan, with an optional side trip to the Wakhan Corridor that has views across to Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountain range.
This is an ultimate road trip.
Get a Pamir Mountains map here: Pamir Mountains Map
How To Travel The Pamir Highway
You can start the trip in either 2 directions.
- Starting from Osh in Kyrgyzstan.
- Starting from Dushanbe/Khorog in Tajikistan.
So it just comes down to where exactly you are that will determine how you will arrange the trip.
Either way the prices are the same. Try and bargain them down if you can but they generally don’t change.
The best way to do it is to have a group of you renting a private 4wd car with driver as this will give you control of where you stop, where you stay, etc. Make sure you get a 4wd! The road is very rough in many parts.
A private 4wd car costs roughly $100 a day plus $20 more for a driver, so $120 total. Technically you pay by the kilometre, in September 2016 it was roughly $1 per kilometre, but the standard route works out to be around $100 a day. Ask in the place you are staying at min Osh or Khorog if they have a number for a private driver, otherwise head to the tourist office and ask there. CBT in Osh is one option.
Make sure you make sure you know what you are getting – a 4wd, bags in the back or on top of the roof so not around you, the driver will be the same for the whole journey (we had a driver halfway try and switch with another so he could go to his wife!), you have the option to change where you go (if that adds up to extra kilometres then that will be calculated at an extra cost.
You can get up to 6 people in a car. My second to last Pamir Highway trip was with 6 people and it was fine, although the back seat is not the best you can play musical chairs and move positions.
The other great thing about the private 4wd is that you can arrange the side-trip to the Wakhan Valley from the highway down a side road that the shared taxis etc never go along, although you can head down to the Wakhan Valley from Khorog by public taxi.
The next option is to take the local shared taxi. This will cost you roughly $20 a person from Osh to Murghab and $15 – 20 From Murghab to Khorog and the same going the other direction.
You can always try hitch-hiking as well. Although I’ve never tried it I know it can be tough as it’s not a well travelled road. Any cars going there are generally always full so the best bet is to try to get a lift with the truck drivers that ply the route from China. You may have to pay them a small tip of $5 or something similar. Coming from Kyrgyzstan get to the small town of Sary Tash to start the hitching. From Khorog in Tajikistan it’s better to get a little bit out of town onto the highway to start hitching.
Then there is the other option – cycle touring 🙂 I love these guys as they are hardcore. This ones self explanatory – you have your own bicycle and cycle across.
You could always walk but I’ve never heard of anyone who has done that.
Coming From Osh In Kyrgyzstan
If you haven’t got the Tajikistan visa already then you can get an online evisa that most travellers seem to get in only a day. However the online option was not available last time I looked so if it’s down when you try then your best bet is to head to the Tajik embassy in Bishkek and apply there – you can apply in the morning and get it in the afternoon same day, or if youre lucky same morning.
After Bishkek head by flight (around $30) or shared taxi (around $15) to Osh. The shared taxi is long at a 12 hour ride but an awesome drive up through mountain ranges.
In Osh stay at Biy Ordo guesthouse in as it has the most travellers passing through which is great if you are trying to meet others that may be doing the same trip to share a ride.
The staff are great at helping and can point you in the direction of the shared taxis that make the trip and they also have a board up where people post who are going to do the trip and want to share.
Be sure to check out the Osh mountain view when there.
The route you choose is entirely up to you but if it’s your fist time doing this then this is what I would recommend if you have your own private car and the option to do what you want. Get some supplies in at Osh central market before leaving, such as fruit and vegetables as some are less common in the Pamir.
Go from Osh to nearby the Tajikistan border just pass Sary Mogul where you can stay near Lenin Peak in a traditional Kyrgyz yurt. It’s a beautiful area and if you leave Osh in the morning around 10-11 you will have a few hours of daylight when arriving to walk around.
Next day you will cross the border into Tajikistan (there is a long 30 minutes drive of no-mans land between borders) and head to Lake Karakul. Stop there for lunch at a guesthouse and have a look at the lake. Some tours recommend stopping here for the night but in reality you will have a lot of time in the day still and there’s nothing to do there so I recommend moving on to Murghab.
Stay in Murghab for the second night at a simple guesthouse or the Pamir Hotel if you want to spend a little more. Murghab is nothing special but is just a remote place to break the journey. There is not much food options there except for what the guesthouse will serve up.
The next day if the weather is good you have the option to do a day side trip of hiking across a nearby mountain area. We didn’t do this due to very bad weather, but if it’s nice it’s an option. You would stay another night in Murghab if doing that.
Otherwise just keep on the road trip and head towards some small lakes where some tours recommend staying a night, but just like Lake Karakul they are just something to look at for an hour or so then move on, and leaving Murghab around 9-10 in the morning you will be at the lakes by early afternoon, so I recommend heading down of the highway on a side road to the Wakhan Valley and staying at the start of the Wakhan Corridor at a guesthouse in Langar for the third night.
On the way to those lakes from Murghab you should stop at a cafe in the very remote town of Alichur to have a good noodle soup at a cafe there for lunch. The driver will know the place.
When you wake up the next day you will be greeted by the jewel of the Tajikistan Pamirs, the Wakhan Corridor. Spend the drive along the corridor stopping at villages and meeting some locals before making the the steep drive up the side of a mountain to reach Yamchun Fortress and Bibi Fatima hot spring. This is my favourite place in the Wakhan Corridor and is not to be missed.
Some drivers suggest moving on and staying the night in Ishkashim but fuck that! There is nothing special about Ishkashim, stay the night at a cheap guesthouse just by Bibi Fatimah hot spring. From there you can walk 15-20 minutes to the awesome Yamchun Fortress and the best views across the Wakhan and to to the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. You will also be only a minute walk from the hot spring where you can get cleaned up and relax.
The next day maybe have one last hot spring dip before leaving towards Khorog. Get the driver to occasionally stop in a village to break the journey and meet some locals. If you are travelling on a Sunday there will be almost nowhere open to eat so bear that in mind (we forgot)!
There is another hot spring en-route to Khorog but it doesnt have the same chilled atmosphere as being up in Bibi Fatimah so you can give that a miss if you want.
In Khorog you then can get off the private 4wd and use public car (around $35) and takes an average of 16 hours to Dushanbe. It’s a really nice drive following the river with Afghanistan on the other side for half the drive.
Or head back across the Pamir Highway in 2 days (a night in Murghab en-route) back to Osh. If doing that you will take a shared car to Murghab for around $15-20 from the market in Khorog to Murghab and then take a different shared car the next day from Murghab market.
When in Khorog make sure to head to the travellers favourite food stop at the Delhi Darbar Indian restaurant for cheap and tasty Indian food.
Coming From Dushanbe/Khorog In Tajikistan.
Check the visa situation for Kyrgyzstan for yourself but many countries these days get a free 60 day visa on arrival at any border.
Basically everything that I have mentioned coming from Osh way is the same for doing it the other way as well. Take the shared car from Dushanbe to Khorog (ask your guesthouse where from, roughly $35) and stay at the Pamir Lodge or Lalmo Guesthouse nearby in Khorog. This is where all the travellers stay in Khorog and the best place to meet others who might be doing the Pamir Highway to share a private 4wd. Same prices as from the Kyrgyzstan direction. It’s also where many private drivers will come to check if there are travellers wanting to do the journey and the Pamir Lodge owner can call drivers for you to check.
If you don’t want to do the private 4wd but still want to see the Wakhan Valley then take a shared public taxi to Ishkashim (around 3-4 hours drive ), stay there for a night and next morning try and find a taxi heading up to Langar (it could take a long time) or try hitch-hiking, although not many cars come through going all that way.
Unless you are very lucky hitch-hiking from Langar to get on the Pamir Highway by way of that side road mentioned before, then you will have to hitch-hike/taxi back to Khorog then take shared taxi from there to Murghab. No public taxis do the road from Langar up to Murghab.
If you don’t go all the way to Langar doing it the public way then don’t worry just make sure you get to Yamchun Fortress which is around halfway up the Wakhan Corridor.
The Ultimate Road Trip On The Pamir Highway
Remember that this is about the Pamir Highway road trip. There are plenty of hiking options etc that you can do in the Pamirs, but that is best to do after the road trip as you will spend a few days up in the mountains etc and a waste of time having a car around, unless you plan just a 1 day hike somewhere like the one mentioned from Murghab.
Enjoy your time on one of the most adventurous road trips in the world!
If you are interested in going to the Afghanistan side of the Wakhan Valley then read my post from a trip I did there. I explain everything you need to know here – Adventure in the Afghanistan Wakhan Valley
Also what I recommend to pack for a trip to Tajikistan and the Pamirs (in warmer months).
This is my favourite guidebook to learn more about the region: Tajikistan (Bradt Travel Guide)