The Pamir Highway is one of the highest international highways in the world, with the Aik-Baital Pass reaching 4,655m. Snowy mountains, dirt roads, hundreds of rocky valleys and lakes all make the Pamirs a stunning adventure suitable to anyone willing to explore a seemingly untouched culture by tourism.
Testing old Russian motorbikes with Evgeny
It turns out that old russian motorbikes were less than good, they were terrible... Lovely on the eyes, but famously unreliable and uncomfortable (even the owners told us not to do the Pamir on the bikes they were selling us). We had to change our plan on the first day of the trip.
We ended up renting 2 Yamaha XT600s from Oibek in Osh, this was definitely the best decision we made on this trip. We couldn't have reached some of the places that we visited with other, heavier, touring bikes. We are also huge fans of XTs, we use XTs every day to go to our office in Barcelona.
Oibek runs a workshop in Osh, we call it the oasis of Central Asia. He can hook you up with reliable motorbikes, all kinds of 4x4, mechanics, spares, tools, even accommodation...
If you want more information regarding rentals, send us an email or DM us on instagram and we will put you in touch with Oibek to get you a good deal.
The Pamir Higwhay has the main road, the M41, and a few side roads that run along different valleys. We decided to do a loop around the Wakhan Valley and the M41.
Day 1: Osh - Turpal Kul, 260 km
We left the city of Osh around midday, the heat was intense so we were only wearing t-shirts. The road south starts to gain altitude, the trees slowly fade away and give way to lush green mountains.
Two hours into the journey it started to rain heavily, the road climbed higher up to the Taldok Pass at 3,615m. We were not ready for this. Soaked, freezing and with bikes low on power we trotted up and down the hills to the town of Sary-Tash, where we warmed up, changed clothes and got supplies for the night.
This was the moment we realised this trip was going to be tougher than we thought.
Life on the M41
That's a QuadLock mount, we use these practical mounts on our adventures to keep our phones in place at all times.
Day 2: Turpal Kul - Karakul (Tajikistan), 230 km
We woke up to what looked like a desert full of sand dunes, the only difference was that these "dunes" were green. With Lenin Peak (7,134m) looming just a few kilometers away, we spent the morning riding around the green desert.
Riding the green dunes of Turparkul
The crossing into Tajikistan was easy and straightforward, we were even invited by the border guards to eat some watermelon. No bribes, no unnecessary payments, all in order.
No man's land, the Kyzylart Pass
Kyrgyz - Tajik border, 4.282m
The late afternoon sun welcomed us to the Pamir, even though it was July we were well equipped for winter riding. It snows around these parts quite regularly.
Heading deep into the Pamir
No traffic jams on the M41
Day 3: Karakul - Alichur (via Murghab), 190 km
Karakul is a small village located by the shore of Karakul Lake at 3,900m. We wandered around the village in the morning before setting off into the heart of the Pamir Mountains.
With 6,000m peaks all around us, we headed south to Murghab to get some petrol.
Ak-Baital Pass, the highest point in the Pamir Highway
We found an abandonded military base near Murghab, where we met Abidash, the local school teacher. He welcomed us into his house for a lovely lunch.
An old military Soviet base with the remains of a tank
The Pamir highway has few petrol stations, we bumped into these guys who needed a litre or so to get to Murghab.
Cruising along the highway towards Alichur
Day 4: Alichur - Langar (via Wakhan Valley), 180 km
We slept in a Yurt surrounded by snowy peaks and a huge valley. Alex was feeling a bit rough and didn't sleep well, altitude sickness was starting to get to him.
Suffering through altitude sickness
The road started to descend, the terrain got drier and sandier, the villages and tarmac stopped. We reached the Panj River, the physical border that separates Tajikistan and Afghanistan, we spent the next three days following this narrow river.
Having some fun with the soft sand of the Panj River
The Wakhan Valley, overlooking the mountains of Afghanistan just ahead
Day 5: Langar - Ishkashim, 150 km
We followed the Wakhan Valley stopping over at different villages and hot springs. This was the first time we found fuel since Murghab, we were very close to running out, luckily the road had been mostly downhill.
A petrol station on the Pamir Highway
We had a small breakdown, Alex's chain came off and got stuck and bent with the rear sprocket. It took a while to get it sort of fixed, we were worried that it would come off again, and it did, a lot of times during the next few days.
Fixing the chain
We reached Ishkashim early in the afternoon, we walked around the town and went to visit the border with Afghanistan. The guards told us to leave.
Day 6: Ishkashim - Rivak (via Khorugh), 200km
We finally reached the city of Khorog, the first time in 4 days we had phone signal. The city is relatively modern compared to the rest of the Pamir, we felt oddly uncomfortable being so comfortable, so we only stopped for lunch and carried on. Camping in the middle of nowhere felt like a better decision.
Always a tense moment during a river crossing
Camping is the best solution to keep on a low budget, but also when there's nothing around...
Day 7: Rivak - Alichur (via Bulunkul), 190km
We set off early towards the village of Bulunkul, the coldest inhabited place of Tajikistan, reaching temperatures of -60ºC in winter. The road started to climb again, the trees disappeared and the dust began once more, this time around we encountered some fesh-fesh.
On our way to Bulunkul Lake
Day 8: Alichur - Karakul, 220 km
Alex ran out of petrol in the morning, around 15km before Murghab, this just meant sitting around for a while enjoying the sun while waiting for petrol.
In Murghab we met with Alic again, we had met him on our first time in Murghab and he told us he would take us fishing when we returned. He fulfilled his promise and took us fishing.
Fishing with Alic
Leaving the Pamir behind us
Day 9: Karakul - Osh, 270 km
We spent most of the last day riding. It was a cold morning in the Tajikistan border, it had snowed the previous night. We reached Sary-Tash just before lunch, the border crossing went just fine once again. We knew there was rain coming, so we pressed on hard over the Taldok Pass once again (just like the first day). The rain eventually got us, but were were better equipped than the first day, so we didn't get cold or wet. Apparently it rains on most afternoons around that area, so if you are planning on crossing it by motorbike, make sure you do it in the morning!
We reached Osh 2,100 kms later, exhausted but grateful for the adventure we had just experienced. The Pamir had much less infrastructure than we expected, limited power, few petrol stations and no shops; but it does have some of the most spectacular landscapes both of us have ever seen.
You can buy the official PetroCampistan adventure t-shirt here.
If you would like to know more information about our trip, to get in contact with Oibek or John, please don't hesitate to ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to help fellow adventurers!
If you read this far, then here is the code PETROCAMPISTAN10 to get 10% discount on the trip t-shirt!