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Pamir Highway

Pamir Highway, the second highest altitude international highway in the world

The historical Pamir Highway, officially called M41, is an excellent challenge for a 4x4 adventure travelers. Most of the road is paved (in very bad conditions) and the length of the road is 2.038 km kilometers linking Termez (Uzbekistan) and Kara-Balta (Kyrgyzstan) going through the Pamir Mountains. The road is heavily damaged in places by erosion, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches.

Some sections of the road have a notorius lack of oxygen that tests the organisms and a high degree of steepness. Most people feel altitude sickness at around 2,500-2,800 meters. Most of the Pamir Highway is located in Tajikistan, a country situated in the middle of Central Asia with India to the south and China to the east, but the highway also goes through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The majority of the Pamir Highway is a 2-lane paved road. Do expect many potholes, uneven road, chunks of asphalt missing and many twists and turns.
The Pamir highway leads from Termez (37.211442, 67.271871), a small city in the southernmost part of Uzbekistan in the Surxondaryo Region at 301m above the sea level, to Kara-Balta (42.828822, 73.880219), a city in Chuy Province, Kyrgyzstan at 764m above the sea level, via the eastern part of Uzbekistan, to Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan. It’s one of the world’s most famous routes for the adventurous travelers. An average speed of 40-50km/h is reasonable. There is mobile reception almost everywhere along the Pamir Highway, although it can be weak in places.

The condition of the asphalt depends; sometimes it is really bad. Construction and maintenance levels vary substantially along the highway. The roadway is paved is some areas, but is mostly unpaved. 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. Travelling through here is like a trip to a parallel world, where the landscape is bigger, bolder and infused with the eerie, all under the high, wide presence of a brilliant blue sky. Landslides and earthquakes do happen and they can disrupt traffic for days. Hygiene standards in the Pamirs are low. The highway is known as the second-highest altitude international highway in the world (climbing up to Ak-Baital Pass, at an elevation of 4.655m above the sea level). The section between Dushanbe and Murghab has the European route number E 008. Pamir Highway is usually open all year, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. The high elevation of the highway is no stranger to high winds, another gruelling danger while driving on weathered cliffs. Road closures can be frequent, so check conditions before traveling to this area. Weather in the area is extreme; winter lasts from mid-September to late May, and temperatures in winter may reach -50 C (-60 F). In summer temperatures can reach +40 C (105 F) in July and August. The area is considered to be a high desert, with little rainfall, though downpours do occur. Strong winds blow all year and severe storms may appear suddenly; it may snow any day of the year, even in the valleys. Basic adventure driving rules apply. Know (how to fix) your car, don’t drive at night, concentrate on the road and adjust your speed.

The Pamir Highway was built during Soviet times

Portions of this roadway may be temporarily closed due to road work or inclement weather. The road was built during Soviet times, to connect parts of their imperium in this region. The road was constructed partly in the 19th century (during The Great Game), partly in 1930s. 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. Heavy or prolonged rain can cause local flash floods that cover the road with water or wash out culverts or bridges. In the 1985 film Spies Like Us, the decoy GLG-20s played by Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd are told to meet their contacts on the "road to Dushanbe," a reference to the M41 highway.
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 PamirMountains; 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”. It’s a very demanding drive, with heavy traffic (especially trucks) and an extreme risk of rockfalls. The road surface is awful. The weather is extreme, even in summers, up in the mountains. The road is not terrible nor terribly dangerous, but there obviously isn’t much tolerance for driver mistakes. Riding the Pamir Highway in a sedan 2-wheel drive is possible all the way, although some parts will be a struggle.


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