The historical Pamir Highway, officially the M41, running 1,252 kilometers between Osh and Dushanbe and traversing Pamir Mountains, is one of the world’s most famous routes for the adventurous traveler. Pamir Highway lies mostly in Tajikistan, the highland country of Central Asia.
Though it is called "highway" there is not much highway about it, at least in the modern understanding. Instead, it used to be a prominent road or a "highway" across ages. Now the shape it is in is an excellent challenge for a 4x4 adventure traveler.
The Pamir highway leads from the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, through Tajikistan (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province, Khorug, Dushanbe), via the eastern part of Uzbekistan, to Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Most of the Pamir Highway is paved, except for the mountain passes. Secondary roads are mostly unpaved and are in very bad condition. The Pamir highway is mostly one-lane. The condition of the asphalt depends; sometimes it is really bad. Driving mistake can have deadly consequences, because the road is small and goes along deep valleys. No barrier stands between the road and the cliffs.
Please keep patience, relax and be ready to wait for a days in some places. The number of cars is tended to zero on part from Kalaikhumb to Sarytash. From Kulob to Khorug up to 50 in a day in both directions, mostly heavy trucks and fullfilled taxi. From Khorug to Murgab up to 25 in a day in both directions. From Murgab to SaryTash up to 5 cars in a day. There is a truck with gasoline from Murgab to Tajik border control in Sarytash direction and back 2-3 times in a week. Also there is 23 km of no mans land between Tajik and Kyrgyz control points. Be ready to walk this distance through mountain pass Kyzylart 4200 meters altitude. Best option to start hitchhiking through Pamir track is to start from Osh, then move to Sarytash and then move to Murgab. This direction gives advantage of new transit cars (buses, trucks, tractors etc.) going from China to Tajikistan. There could be up to 50 transit cars in a day in Sarytash>>>Murgab direction. Most trucks on Pamir track transport cargo from China, so before going to Pamirs find out schedule of holidays on Tajik and Chinese border controls. In some periods of year China got up to 10 days holidays, so up to 1 week there will be no cargo trucks on Pamirs.
Sources disagree on the termini of the highway, with Mazari Sharif, Afghanistan; Termiz, Uzbekistan, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; and Khorog, Tajikistan all being offered as the beginning of the highway; however all sources agree that the historic Pamir Highway ends in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Traditionally, however, the Pamir Highway is considered to begin on that road just east of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, passing northward into Uzbekistan and passing Termiz before turning east and crossing another border into Tajikistan.
It then follows a general eastward route through Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, to Khorog, crossing the Kafirnigan, Vakhsh, and Bartang Rivers.
From there it continues east for a distance of 311 kilometers (193 miles) to Murghab, there crossing the Murghab River before turning northward. The Pamir Highway passes through the altitude 4,655 meter (15,270 ft) Ak-Baital pass and past lake Karakul before crossing into Kyrgyzstan and on to Osh. The Murghab-Osh leg is 417 kilometers (259 miles) in length. The stretch of road between Khorog and Osh attracts a small amount of tourism due to its rugged natural beauty.
The Pamir Highway is designated as route M-41 over much of its length in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and is known as the second-highest altitude international highway in the world (4,655 m). The section between Dushanbe and Murghab has the European route number E 008. Construction and maintenance levels vary substantially along the highway.
The roadway sometimes paved but often unpaved, and heavily damaged in places by erosion, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches. However, it is the only continuous route through the difficult terrain, serving as the main supply route to Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.
The decaying roads make traveling difficult and dangerous with lack of any rest stop plastic sheds. The high elevation of the highway is no stranger to high winds, another gruelling danger while driving on weathered cliffs. A Pamir Highway traveler must be experienced and completely devoted to safe, slow and obstacle-conscious driving to deter danger.
The route of the Pamir Highway has been in use for millennia, as there are a limited number of viable routes through the high Pamir Mountains; the road formed one link of the ancient Silk Road trade route.
Throughout the area, the land is typically rugged and dry. This road is sometimes referred to as “The Road from Hell”.
Construction and maintenance levels vary substantially along the highway. The roadway is paved is some areas, but is mostly unpaved. The road is heavily damaged in places by erosion, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches. The road has been built during Soviet times, to connect parts of their imperium in this region. Since the breakdown and Central Asia’s independence, not much coherent maintanance has been done to the road, only in spots, where damage has been caused by flash floods or scree.