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Pamir Highway
From Bishkek to Dushanbe
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The M41, known as the Pamir Highway is a road traversing the Pamir Mountains through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The route 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. M41 is the Soviet road number, but no road number is generally signposted along the road today, only destinations.
Bishkek becomes an ideal place to buy food on the go. There are several markets in Bishkek, with Osh and Dordoi probably being the best way to buy food. With the atmosphere definitely far more fun than in boring modern shopping malls.
Ever since the Great Silk Road era, bazaars have always been the heart of an any Central Asian city. Compared to markets in Southeast Asia, India or Central and South America, for example, the market atmosphere in Kyrgyzstan is somewhat quiet.
Dordoi market is the biggest market in Central Asia, and people from all around ex-Soviet countries and Turkey come to buy things and sell in their home countries.
Dried fruits, spices and nuts at reasonable prices (probably the best prices in all of Bishkek) is best to shop at Osh Market.
During the Soviet Union commerse was illegal. One couldn't sell fruits from his garden, or couldn't buy and resell anything because it would be a violation of a law against enterpreneurship. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when many lost their jobs at factories and mines, enterpreneurship had a second breath.
Compared to the Dordoi market, Osh bazaar is smaller but nevertheless you can find anything here from food, clothes, building materials, golden jewelry, furniture, and (this might interest tourists) the cheapest traditional souvenirs.
For a tourist bazaars in Bishkek could be interesting to find rich possibilities for shopping, observe caleidoscopic scenes and be part of chaotic loud life. Pictured tobacco vendors in Osh Bazaar..
Bread seller, Osh market. Despite the woman in the picture, not every bread saleswoman in Kyrgyzstan has the assassin face after taking a heroin dose.
The historical Pamir Highway travels through the Central Asian nations of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The modern M41 extends further from Osh to Kara-Balta in the western suburbs of Bishkek.
The road between Bishkek and Osh is not exactly fun for drivers. The roads are relatively new and made of asphalt, but already full of holes. Even worse than a broken road are Kyrgyz policemen looking for a bribe.
As can be seen in the picture, the rush hour on the road near Bishkek is hairy, often horned and has four legs.
Bazaar in Osh. Everyone in Kyrgyzstan knows that the best trademen are from Osh. Historically, Osh was a trading city and had the best bazaars in the region. Last chance to stock up before entering the mountains in the south. In addition to marketplaces, Osh is a relic of Soviet engineering. A city with an amazing history transformed into a concrete wreck of hopelessness.
Sugar seller, market in Osh. As can be seen from the condition of the teeth, the seller himself is an enthusiastic consumer of his own goods and a ruthless enemy of toothpaste and toothbrush.
Yes, watermelons. Central Asia is a paradise for watermelons, and getting a few watermelons for a trip to the mountains is not a bad idea at all. The bad idea, on the other hand, is to throw watermelon into the trunk of a car and set off. The road is full of stones and holes and the result is a watermelon in the form of a sticky mush.
Only after leaving the city of Osh does the journey get a touch of what traveller expect from the famous Pamir Highway. The picture shows a traffic in a village of Sary Moghul, a village of around 3000 people on the north side of the Alay Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan. From Sary-Moghul one can make daily excursions in the area, including to the basecamp or further up the slopes of Pik Lenin.
The Alay Valley is a valley running east-west across most of southern Osh Province, Kyrgyzstan. It is surrounded by the Alay Mountains in the north, and the Trans-Alay range to which it provides access to Pik Lenin (7134m) and other climbable peaks.
This kind off-the-beaten-track area offers some of the best landscapes, trekking and nomadic cultural experiences in all of Kyrgyzstan. Not demanding on physical condition, relatively easily accessible and not expensive.
There are few mountains in the world that combine Peak Lenin's jaw-dropping scale (7134m) with such ease of access.From an yurt camp a 90-minute walk takes you to the foot of glaciers tumbling off the massive peak.
Alay Valley, in the background several of the many named and nameless peaks. Peak Lenin can be seen on the left.
Lenin Peak, rises to 7,134 metres on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and is the second-highest point of both countries. It is considered one of the less technical 7000 m peaks in the world to climb and it has by far the most ascents of any 7000 m or higher peak on Earth, with every year seeing hundreds of mountaineers make their way to the summit.
The peak was discovered in 1871 and originally named Mount Kaufmann after Konstantin Kaufman, the first Governor-General of Turkestan. In 1928, the mountain was renamed Lenin Peak after Vladimir Lenin. In Tajikistan, the peak was renamed again in July 2006 and today it is officially called in Tajik Qullai Abuali ibni Sino after Abu Ali ibn Sina. In Kyrgyzstan, the peak is still officially called Lenin Chokus - Lenin Peak.
The Alay today is primarily home to Kyrgyz herders who bring their cows, sheep, yaks and horses to fatten in the summer pastures, setting up yurt camps in the lush alpine valleys from June to September.
Turquoise lakes fringed with yurts sit at the base of towering 7000m peaks, offering some of the world's most glorious mountain views at every turn. It is simply a stunning corner of Central Asia that is relatively unknown.
Mountains, yurts and horses. What makes the Alay region really special is the network of Community Based Tourism (CBT) providers that offer no-hassle vehicle and horse hire, guides, homestays and a network of herders' yurts.
The yurts in the Alay Valley are simple but perfectly adequate. In addition, the area around the yurt is often romantically lined with feces from horses, yaks and stray tourists.
Yurts are heated in winter, simple beds are also equipped with a mosquito net.
Road from Sary Tash to Kyzyl Art Pass, the mountain border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Welcome to the Pamirs on the old and famous Pamir Highway.
The highway spreads over 2000km from Samarkand in Uzbekistan to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, although informations on length, beginning and end are often very different.
The village of Karakul, a pleasant stop on the shores of the lake of the same name.
Pamir villages are so remote that they barely receive food and other supplies, besides all the basic stuff, of course. In all homestays and guesthouses, meals are included. Usually.
Computers, mobile phones and televisions are not common children's entertainment in Karakul. Instead, children have fun staring at tourists, stepping on frogs or throwing stones at stray dogs.
The Pamir Road has everything, both good and bad, as this road is also the main channel for heroin coming into Europe from Afghanistan, the largest opium and heroin producer in the world.
View from 4655m Ak-Baital Pass, the highest point on the highway.
Rarest of all anmials on Pamir Highway is the enormous, spiral horned “Marco Polo sheep”; their population has declined because of hunting, so unless you’re very lucky the closest you’ll get are the horned skulls that adorn the border crossing post with Kyrgyzstan.
The Pamir Highway is one of the highlight of traveling in Central Asia. The highway is considered to be the second highest international highway in the world with the highest point (in the picture) standing at 4655m.
Except for its stretches in Kyrgyzstan and nearing Dushanbe, the road is heavily damaged in most of its length by erosion, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches.
Every major town in Central Asia has its own bazaar. The one at Murgab, at a desolate 3600m above sea level, spills out of old metal shipping containers.
Gentlemen at the market in Murghab. Kyrgyz distinctive national hat, the kalpak, won Unesco intangible heritage status. The bell-shaped felt headgear worn by men is white with black motifs on its four panels and an upturned black rim.
The city of Murghab is not exactly the center of the world for lovers of architecture, but the surrounding landscape is nice with nice people, mountains (in the background the snowy peaks of China) and cattle.
Carpet care center near the town of Murghab.
Murghab is one of the few places in the world where you can wash your feet while cleaning the carpet.
Clothing for adults and children reveals that people do not roll in bundles of banknotes and the handles in public toilets are not made of gold. But the unhappy economic situation does not mean that the locals laugh less than millionaires in the USA, Russia or China.
Mosque in Murghab. The picture shows the old mosque outside the city. New mosques are architecturally more boring.
Of course, civilization also reached Murghab. Nice gas station, one of the best options for filling the tanks on the way to Afghanistan.
The gas station operator has a sexy uniform and sophisticated gas equipment.
Construction and maintenance levels vary substantially along the highway.
The most common animals on the Pamir Highway, in addition to sheep and goats, are yaks.
Wolves, yaks, bears and snow leopards all roam the Pamir Mountains. Sometimes even enthusiastic tourists.
Sassyk Kul, one of the less visited lakes along the Pamir Gighway. In addition to the lake, the picture shows the horns of the famous sheep Marco Polo, the iconic animal of the Pamirs. And a Soviet motorcycle, also iconic. By the way, basically every Soviet machine is an icon today.
Yashilkul, one of the many lakes along the Pamir Highway.
The scenery along the Pamir Highway is surprisingly idyllic, despite the huge mountains, glacial rivers, harsh winters and the scorching sun in summer.
On a trip, it is possible to enjoy camels, for example. Pictured Afghanistan and Pamir river.
Mosque in Langar, a small town on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The decoration of the skulls of Marco Polo sheep and the absence of typical minarets is quite unique.
The Pamir argali is also known as the Marco Polo sheep; the Italian traveler Marco Polo, who crossed the Pamir highlands in the 13th century, was the first Westerner to describe the argali.
Threshing grain with donkeys.
Donkeys run around on the scattered grain. Young men with slightly sadistic tendencies drive donkeys with screams and dozens of blows with a stick.
The border crossing between Tajikistan and Afghanistan on the beautiful Pyanj River.
The US military base in Afghanistan reminds that Afghanistan will not become a typical holiday destination in the near future, where drunken tourists would dance half-naked on the table.
Pyanj River (also Panj or Pyandzh) headstream of the Amu Darya in Central Asia. It is 1125 km long and constitutes part of the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
View of Afghanistan and Pyanj river.
Originally built in 300 BC (or something like that, depends on a source), Yamchun overlooks large swathes of the Wakhan Valley, and large sections of the Hindu Kush mountains in the northernmost Afghan territories.
Also known as Zamr-i-Atash-Parast or Kafir-Qala, Yamchun fortress is probably the most impressive and oldest monument in Wakhan built on the top of the cliff overlooking the valley.
There are nice views of the Pyanj River, Afghanistan from the fortress, and if you are lucky, a careless tourist may fall to great depths.
Historians claim the the road through the mountains was a part of the famous Silk road and along the way we can see archaeological evidence that support that theory.
The border between Tajikistan and Afghnistan was inherited from the old Soviet Union-Afghan border, which largely took its current shape during the 19th century Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia, known as the Great Game.
With the Russian Empire having conquered the Khanate of Khiva and the Emirate of Bukhara, and with the British Empire controlling the British Raj, the two powers agreed to leave Afghanistan as an independent buffer state between them. Tajik soldiers, Khaaka Fortress.
Tourists pass by one of the few beaches that Afghanistan has to offer.
The photo is not a bullfight with Afghan rules. Only a child can have fun other than watching a mobile phone.
Afghan village by the river Pyanj. From the point of view of tourists from Europe, these are not exactly the places with the easiest living conditions.
Even horses show how poor Afghanistan and especially the Wakhan Valley is.
Once, once, once ... I'd like to go down the Pyanj River. On a raft, kayak or barrel. In a barrel with a small window so I can enjoy the beauty of the Wakhan Valley.
The modest city of Khorog is located in the heart of a deep canyon, near the Tajik-Afghan border. Some say, that the city has scenes unparalleled to anywhere else in the world. Ehm. It depends on the angle of view, I would say.
Mac Doland, probably some little known McDonald's brother from Khorog.
Of course, every educated traveler knows that KFC means Khorog Fried Chicken and nothing else.
Bartang River. In addition to the "main" Pamir Highway, it is possible to make many detours to the valley valleys and mountains. The Bartang River is the border between the Rushan and Yazgulom ranges.
The valley of the Bartang River is full of small fields, small villages and small bridges. And great beauty.
Driving along the Bartang River. Boring steering wheel turns into great fun here
One of several bridges over the Bartang River. Bridges usually connect the distance of a mountain village with civilization.
A bridge leading to a valley that can be climbed to the village of Jizaw. Pleasant change compared to the main tourist route Pamir Highway.
The Afghanistan–Tajikistan border is 1357 km in length and runs from the tripoint with Uzbekistan in the west to the tripoint with China in the east, almost entirely along the Amu Darya, Pyanj and Pamir rivers, except for the easternmost section along the Wakhan Corridor.
Views of Afghanistan are offered all the way along the Pyanj River.
Along the Panj River the Pamir Highway runs mere metres from Afghanistan. Its tiny villages, cut off almost completely from the outside world, seem to be preserved in time: donkeys stacked with hay, sheep and cows. And death-defying scooter riders are the only people travelling between them.
Afghanistan and its men. Contrary to many people's imaginations, not every Afghan sleeps with a backpack full of explosives and does not shoot everyone passing by.
The landscape along the Pyanj River can seem monotonous and boring. Especially after hundreds of kilometers and a few days. However, I like such a landscape, so I was still smiling for several hundred kilometers and several days. Looking at me, the psychologist would probably say something about less intellectual equipment.
The Pyanj River valley somewhere between Khorog and Rushan. Afghanistan on the left, Tajikistan on the right.
After days and weeks on the Pamir Highway, the end of the trip is a return to civilization, a return to toilet paper supplies. Plus the girls in Dushanbe definitely have shorter skirts than those riding donkeys in the Pyanj River Valley between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. A monument to Rudaki, called the father of Persian poetry, in Rudaki Park in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
Statue of Ismoil Somoni, Dushanbe. Ismail is known in history as a general and a strong ruler. With the end of Soviet empire, Ismail's legacy was rediscovered and rehabilitated. The Somoni currency of Tajikistan is named after Ismail. Also, the highest mountain in Tajikistan (and in the former Soviet Union) is named after him.