Travelling the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan (officially known as the M41 Highway) is one of the best adventures you can have in Central Asia, and one of the best roads trips in the world.
This is how to do it.
What makes me an expert on the Pamir Highway? Well, I have been on it four 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.
This is the ultimate road trip.
Overview of 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,
It’s 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 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 six people in a car. My second to last Pamir Highway trip was with six people and it was fine.
And 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 Pamir 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 as well.
The Wakhan Valley has views across to Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountain range.
In fact, visiting the Wakhan Valley can be a highlight of the whole journey.
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 – Pamir Highway cycling touring. I love these guys as they are hardcore.
This one’s 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 on The Pamir Highway
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 the same day, or if you’re lucky the 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 is going to do the trip and want to share.
Be sure to check out the Osh mountain view when there. (Separate post on how to spend a day in Osh).
The route you choose is entirely up to you, but if it’s your first 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 Karakul Lake.
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 Karakul Lake they are just something to look at for an hour or so then move on.
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 Valley 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 Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, the Wakhan Valley.
Spend the drive along the valley stopping at villages and meeting some locals before making 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 screw that!
There is nothing special about Ishkashim and it’s better to 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 has 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 doesn’t 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 a 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 two 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 a 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 Valley.
The Ultimate Road Trip On The Pamir Highway
Remember that this is about the Pamir Highway road trip.
There are plenty of hiking options that you can do in the Pamirs. 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 one 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 Guide to the Afghanistan Wakhan Valley
Be sure to take some travel insurance for your trip. I use World Nomads and find them to be excellent for adventure travels like this and they really helped me out of a bad medical incident I had (you never know).
Get a travel insurance quote:
This is my favourite guidebook to learn more about the region: Tajikistan (Bradt Travel Guide)
And if you’re interested: before I wrote this in-depth guide after my 7th time crossing the Pamir Highway I had written previously in 2014 a rather simpler post about the experience.
I have since deleted that older post after writing this new and better one but for memory sake, I have saved the text and pictures and have added it here to the end of this one.
So a bit more reading about the Pamir Highway if you want it!
The older post starts here:
The Pamir Highway
If you’re looking for a great road trip then the Pamir Highway could be perfect for you.
As the second-highest motorway in the world, it rises to a peak altitude of 4,655 metres, passing through mountains and the high desert-like plateau of the Tajikistan Pamirs.
This makes an adventurous journey for a group of friends to undertake by renting their own 4WD, or you could also join in with the locals and share transport, which is the best way if travelling alone.
The route itself has been around for a long time, going back to the silk road of times past, although mostly what you see today was built by the Soviets in the 1930s, and is in a state of disrepair in many places.
The road does pass through other countries, but most people associate it with starting in Dushanbe Tajikistan and ending in the ancient city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan.
You could also do the route the other way around, but I personally did it from the Tajikistan side first.
Take a look at some of the world’s most dangerous roads if you’re interested in this kind of journey.
Leaving the rather unexciting city of Dushanbe, you head across rolling hills until after several hours you reach a river with Afghanistan on the other side.
Following this river, you can see all the activity on the Afghan side, with people walking on a small path often straddling the side of cliffs, which becomes mesmerising to watch.
In parts paved and fast, while in others a sheer drop where trying to overtake becomes a nightmare, the road goes on.
After another several hours or so, depending on the psychotic driving speed of the driver, you reach the town of Khorog at 2’300 metres high, where it’s best to stop for a few nights to help acclimatise to the altitude.
If you are lucky enough to be around Khorog during a Saturday, you can pay a side trip to Ishkashim a few hours drive further south where a border market takes place.
There you can mingle with traders from Afghanistan and maybe try your bargaining skills to pick up a souvenir, such as a traditional Afghan hat.
Moving on you can choose to either continue along the main route from Khorog up to Murgab, the main provincial town up in the Pamirs or take a side trip through the Wakhan Valley before ascending through the mountains to reach the same destination.
On the main route, you will see small villages following a river up the valley, until reaching 4000 metres high where the terrain becomes Tibetan in nature, with a dry lunar landscape and mountain peaks.
I went through the Wakhan Valley a few years previously, so this time just went straight up along the Pamir Highway itself. Either way is stunning too see.
You will stumble upon truck drivers bringing supplies in from Kashgar in China sitting and enjoying a hot cup of tea in a cafe. Women on the side of the road with that famous of high altitude animals, the yak.
Reaching Murgab is nothing special, but simply a stopover for the night and a chance too put on all your warm clothes in the chilling air.
The only saving grace here is the warm hospitality of the home-stays host.
Continuing the journey in the morning you pass through similar terrain as seen the day before with more spectacular mountains. This is where you go over the highest pass at 4’655 metres.
As one Polish mountaineer with me said:
“Sitting in the car you won’t feel the altitude as much, but get out and go for a 5 minute run and then we will talk”!
Further along is one of the best sights on the trip, Lake Karakul. Shimmering in the sunlight surrounded by snowy mountain peaks it makes for a good place to stop for lunch, and to meet some of the friendly people in the village.
The children are especially inquisitive and eager to have their photo taken.
Leaving the hospitality of the people in the Pamirs, you reach the border, and after passing through a 15km barren neutral zone between the 2 countries, enter Kyrgyzstan.
From here it is only a 4-hour drive to Osh, one of the greatest cities along the silk road long ago.
Osh is the perfect end, or beginning, depending on which way you take, to one of the best road trips in the world.
Stop in the ancient bazaar for a bite to eat, including cheap and tasty walnuts and pistachios mixed with shashlik kebabs, and finished with some fresh fruits.
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