The Pamir Highway (officially called M41 road) is the second-highest road on earth. Indeed the highest point crosses the Ak-Baital Pass at 4655 meters (15260 ft) above sea level. This road, more or less in good condition depending on the location, links Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan, and then to Afghanistan. The Pamir Highway or the M41 is one of the most beautiful mountain roads in terms of scenery. You can drive the road by yourself rent a 4×4 or a motorbike or find a Pamir Highway tour organized by a travel agency.
Where is the Pamir Highway located?
The Pamir Highway crosses two countries: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It links the second city of Kyrgyzstan Osh to the capital of Tajikistan Dushanbe. In Kyrgyzstan, the road connects the country to China and in Tajikistan, if you continue the drive, you can cross the border and then go to Afghanistan or even further to Pakistan.
The road crosses the Pamir Mountains and was built on the way of the Silk Road. Even today it is a major axis of transport in the region as it connects many countries, valleys, and locals who are dependent on this road for their supplies.
You can situate the road on the map below:
Enlarge the map
What you should know about the Pamir Highway?
The scenic road crossing the Pamirs is mostly a two lines highway. It has multiple coatings, indeed some segments are well-paved others are graveled and others are just made of mud. Also, there are a lot of segments that are paved but have a lot of potholes.
The M41 road is about 1250 kilometers (775 miles) long and is the second-highest road in the world after the nearby located Karakorum Highway. Indeed, the road passes through the 4655 meters (15270 ft) high Ak Baital Pass. The majority of the road is situated located higher than 2500 meters (1550 miles).
It will take you approximately 4 days (with 8 driving hours and stops) to achieve the Pamir Highways. It can be reduced to three days but it will be more dangerous as the road requires a lot of concentration and driving skills that will make you feel tired.
This road is also known as the “Heroin Highway,” because the majority of heroin and other contraband supplies that passes from Afghanistan through Tajikistan cross the country along this route. The same situation is observed on the Khyber Pass road between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
If you want to travel on this road you can rent a car or a bike in Dushanbe for example. Also, there are a lot of Pamir highway tours proposed by travel agencies. The road is also quite popular among bicycle tourism fans.
What’s the history of the Pamir Highway?
As already mentioned before, this itinerary was already used by the Silk Roads. In modern history, it is related that the first construction of a road there, was made by the Russian Empire in the late 1900s during the “The Great Game” a historical period where the Russian Empire and The United Kingdom had a diplomatic confrontation for some strategic territories around Afghanistan.
The road as it is today was built by the USSR on the order of Stalin in 1932. After the fall of the USSR, the road is not maintained as well as it was after its construction.
In the 2000s the Pamir Highway was linked to China and the Karakoram Highway. That increases a lot the truck traffic on the road.
Is the Pamir area dangerous?
Despite the neighborhood with Afghanistan, the Pamir area is not known for any major problems. Of course like everywhere you can face some issues but in general, locals are warm and welcoming people. The road itself can be dangerous because of accidents or hard weather conditions.
On the Pamir Highway, there are tour operators and guides who offer guided tours, but it is considered a difficult and remote area to travel to, and it is not for the faint of heart. A guided tour can offer assistance and support with logistics, including planning for travel, lodging, and securing required licenses. A guide can also help with navigating the weather and road conditions as well as valuable information on the local history, culture, and customs. However, it may be challenging to find a guide who speaks your language, and guided tours can also be more expensive than independent travel.
How to get to Pamir Highway?
In order to drive Pamir Highway, you should find the M41 road which is the official name of that road. If you start from the north you will start in Osh in Kyrgyzstan. And if you start in the south you will start from Dushanbe in Tajikistan. It’s a heritage of the old silk roads.
If you are lost you can always ask locals or even the truck drivers many of them take the road to bring goods from Kyrgyzstan and China to Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the other side.
Remember that you will need a 4×4 car to drive the road, it is not recommended to drive there on a low clearance 2×4 car!
You can visualize the drive and how to get there on this map of the drive:
Is the Pamir Highway Open?
The road is generally open all year round. Although, the road is often closed in winter because of the weather conditions.
Road closures can be common also in other seasons. So check the situation before heading into the area.
Depending on the season and altitude, the weather along the Pamir Highway can change dramatically. In the heights of the mountains, temperatures can fall sharply during the summer, reaching as high as 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in the lower elevations. Wintertime lows can reach -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), and avalanches and heavy snowfall frequently cause the road to be closed. The Pamir Highway also has a reputation for having strong winds, which can make driving conditions difficult. Because of the high altitude and remote location, the weather is unpredictable. So it’s crucial to be ready for any eventuality.
A preview of the Pamir Highway:
If you want to have a preview of the drive on this mythical road, you can watch this Youtube video. You will have an idea of the majestic landscapes there. Obviously, the road is more than 1000 kilometers (620 ft) long this video shows only a segment, and you can find more on Youtube:
If you are planning a road trip to Central Asia, the Pamir Highway should definitely be on your list. There is a lot to do in this region and discovering the region by driving there will be an awesome experience that you will never forget! Even if you drive not the entire way planning a segment of the M41 road for your trip is a must-do!
Pictures sources: By Kondephy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61741110 / By Hylgeriak / Wikipedia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20915793
Discover other scenic roads around Asia: click here or see our road trip map!