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The Pamir Highway Summarized

The first view of the Pamir Mountains

The Pamir Highway is a term now liberally used to describe the Mountain roads between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but the original Pamir Highway was built by the Soviet around 1935 linking Osh in Kyrgizstan and Mazar e Sharif in Admfghanistan, passing through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the way.

The first of very many times that the cars along the way got overheated

Lots of people rent 4*4 cars or cycle this route in the summer months, but I was not willing to spend the money on a car or time to cycle and decided to try to do it by hitchhiking, which proved to be a bit harder than I first thought. Most cars passing by this road are already loaded with people and goods, as hospitals, fresh food and other neccessities are hard to come by in the villages in the Pamir Mountain. I think the way I did it is the cheapest way possible:

The cargo van that took me from Bishkek to Osh

Bishkek to Osh in a Chinese cargo van: 10$/600km/14hours

There are 4*4 jeeps that run this stretch during day time, but as they demanded 40 dollars and seemed very cramped I opted for the night option with a cargo van with Chinese goods. The vans had two matresses that were shared between me, three women, two children and the two drivers, but I spent most the time sitting in the front seat to soak in the sunset over the mountain tops as we drove at altitudes over 4700meters.

Osh to Murghab in a shared 4*4 tsxi: 2000som/30$/400km/15hrs

I showed up at the shared taxi stand early morning, but as the cars had to wait to fill up before leaving, we didnt get going before 4pm. The sunset over the mountains was just as good as the previous ride and we arrived the Tajikistan border right after nightfall and at Murghab early morning. I had a really nice English speaking woman sitting next to me who invited me for breakfast and some sleep as we arrived at our destination, possibly because I helped her by having her sleeping baby on my lap for some hours.

Some people are driving like race car drivers, most likely your taxi driver will too!

Murghab to Khorog in a shared 4*4taxi: 30$/300km/14hours

This is where it started to get interesting. We passed many small villages on the way and had a stop with some delicious fried fish at a local restaurant. Again I met a guy in the taxi who invited me to eat and stay in his home and to show me around his beautiful city when I was there.

One side is Tajikistan and the other Afghanistan

Khorogh to Dushanbe: hitchhiking 22$/600km/2 days

Hitchhiking with some Australians who were driving a crappy 2 wheel drive Daewoo car was by far my favorite part of the Pamir Highway. Most of the road went along the river sepparating Tajikistan and Afghanistan where we could see farmers living in mud huts and narrow dirt roads in the steep mountains on the Afghanistan side. We had two full driving days, being invited for lunch in one of the villages and camping the to the river in the night. It was liberally just a few meters to Afghanistan from our tents and it felt as safe as ever. The 1st, 2nd, 5th gear and reverse had stopped working by the time we reached Dushanbe but that made it feel even greater when we had managed to get out of the mountains and could enjoy Cole beers and cook good food at the Green House Hostel in Dushanbe.

Andy from Australia who I hitchhiked with the last part

People swimming in the river between Afghanistan and Tajikistan

All in all the Pamir Highway was a great experience and had the most scenic roads I have ever driven. I think driving the Pamir Highway is something everyone should have on their bucket list!

A shower and car wash at the same time

People wearing burquas on one side of the border and just underwear on the other

Most cars are stuff ed with people, goods and.. Goats? Dont expect to get a ride

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Murghab-First stop on the Pamir Highway

The road between Osh and Murghab took us about 16 hours, including the border crossing. The road condition quickly deteriorated when we crossed from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan around midnight but the driver didnt seem to mind and was trying to keep his raceing speed throughout the night.

When we reached Murghab it was already morning and the small town was starting to wake up. Because of the high speed, bumpy roads and some screaming kids in our car I had not gotten much sleep, which a woman must have picked upon on as she invited me to her home for some breakfast and some sleep. My first encounter with the Pamirian Hospitality.

Probably not the only car that has died on the Pamir Highway

In Murghab there was nothing really to see and do. Prices were much higher than anywhere else and the restaurants and shops all offered the same things, probably as it is hard to get stuff here.

This old oil tank was the only public toilet in town

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The Historical City of Osh

Osh is the starting point of the so-called Pamir Highway and has been a central city in Asian history as a trading hub along the Silk Road. Today, 2500 years after the city was founded it is Kyrgyzstans second biggest city, but has still kept its unorganized, ancient architecture, different to the more newly founded and therefore more organized Bishkek.

In the morning, after having spent 12 hours in a cargo van coming from the capital, it was too hot (nearly 40 degrees!) to do anything, so I had to wait until the late afternoon to start exploring the city.

The main square had a huge flag, which locals claimed was Central Asias biggest and a big Lenin statue facing it. Like Bishkek there were lots of parks, some nicely decorated for the wedding season that had just started.

The main attraction in the city was the Suleiman-Too Mountain and Solomons Throne, which is a muslim place of pilgrimage, supposedly because Prophet Muhammed once prsyed there. The mountain top was a great place to watch the sunset and get a good view of the city.

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Day Trip to Ala Archa from Bishkek

The entrance to the National Park

As part of the Deputy Minister of Culture wanting me to see as much of Kyrgizstan before leaving she said that I would have her driver at my disposal the whole last day.

She advised me to go to Ala Archa, a National Park about 50kilometers from Bishkek, which I thought was a good idea. The park also seemed easily enough to visit on public transport, by first taking a mashrutka to the gate and hitchhike from there, but this was was way more comfortable where we could stop and take prictures along the way.

If you have days at your disposal you can trek and camp for days in the Ala Archa Canyon, visiting lakes, mountain tops and waterfalls, but I was going on a night bus to Osh and only had the day. I ended up walking on the paths between the parking the river where locals were having picnics and horses were walking around freely. Climbing a massive rock for some views of the valley was the last thing I managed to do before I had to head back for my onwards transport to Osh.

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Cholpon Ata on Lake Issik Kul

Issik Kôl (or Ysyk Kôl) is the second largest alpine lake in the World, after Lake Titicaca in South America. Its thermal activity ensures that it never freezes over in the winter and is also the reason why Cholpon Ata grew as a big beach and spa destination during the time of the USSR.

Cholpon Ata is like the Cancun of Central Asia, but also with beautiful mountains in the background

I had been invited to join a commitee who were going there to plan the upcoming World Nomad Games, and felt very lucky to explore the beach town in the day and eat, drink and dance with these fantastic people at night. It was like an all in one package for local culture, relaxation and adventures.

Although the city is famous for its beaches, fun parks and spas, there are also lots of history and cultural sites that can be explored. The nearby village of Gregoryevka offers paths for trekking and horse riding up the Chong Ak-Suu Valley, have falconers and reasonable yurt stays.

See how long you can hold the 5kg bird on an outstreched arm outside of Ruh Ordo Cultural Center

Above Cholpon Ata town you will find a huge field of hundreds of boulders all brought there by the glaciers. Some of the rocks have petroglyophs of ibexes, wolves, deers and hunters dating back to the bronze age (about 1500BC) and it is good fun just walking around in the beautiful landscape trying to spot them.

Cholpon Ata is also where the World Nomad Games will be hosted from September 2nd to September 8th this year. There is a gigantic hippodrome that has been built for the occasion and 2018 might be the last year where Kyrgizstan will host the games before it is passed on to another country. Its like the olympics for nomads where nomadic sports, displays of strength, intelligence games and nomadic culture is displayed for thousands of visitors from all over the World.

The brand new hippodrome for the World Nomad Games

So, if you ever consider going on a beach holiday, forget about Spain, Mexico or Thailand. Kyrgizstan and Issyk Kul can offer a unique, more genuine cultural and natural experience and the people are more welcoming than anywhere else in the World. Im sure I will be back soon.