Exploring the Pamir Highway by car
The Pamir Mountains in the tiny Central Asian nation of Tajikistan have lengthy been referred to as “The Roof of the World”. And by way of these dramatic, snow-capped peaks runs the Pamir Highway, arguably the world’s biggest street journey.
Although the actual begin and endpoints are a bit blurred, the core route stretches from Dushanbe, the capital, to Osh in Kyrgyzstan and with epic surroundings and a way of remoteness it’s very best for journey journey.
TIP: the native lingo is Tajiki, and be warned – English isn’t broadly spoken.
Here’s our prime 10 must-sees on the Pamir Highway.
The newly modernised capital metropolis of Tajikistan has seen a surge of recent condo blocks popping up alongside lush city parks. Old buildings are being knocked right down to make manner for modernity and the panorama is more likely to carry on altering.
Dushanbe began life as a small village is now the largest metropolis in the nation and data present archaeological proof of a settlement right here since the fifth century BC.
Nurek Dam & Reservoir
The Nurek Dam and Reservoir is the second-highest man-made dam in the world. The development for the dam started in 1961 and it was accomplished 19 years later, whereas Tajikistan was nonetheless underneath Soviet rule. The dam’s objective is to generate hydroelectric energy for Tajikistan’s factories and cities, however the lake it created has change into an idyllic trying vacationer web site.
The busiest time is in the Summer when the climate in Dushanbe is unbearably scorching there’s an exodus of native residents to the lakeshore: you possibly can go on a ship, keep the evening in a guesthouse, and luxuriate in a soothing swim, all whereas being surrounded by beautiful mountain surroundings.
Travelling south from Nurek alongside the Pamir Highway, not removed from the metropolis of Kulob, is an enormous, unmissable roadside fortress. The authentic construction at Hulbuk was destroyed by the Mongols, however the outer partitions have just lately been reconstructed round the untouched central a part of the archaeological web site.
Across the street is Hulbuk’s museum house to high quality carvings and ceramics, plus a 3D mannequin that can assist you perceive the scale, structure, and significance of the fortress when it was in its prime.
Castle Karon. dubbed as “The Machu Picchu of Tajikistan”. can solely be reached by driving alongside a steep and windy monitor which climbs excessive above the Pamir Highway. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Karon is not only a citadel however a whole metropolis the place folks lived and labored. Entertainment was at the polo floor so giant it may accommodate 10,000 spectators.
Walking round Karon is a superb however barely unusual expertise. From the prime you look straight down on the Panj River, which is the border with Afghanistan. How is it potential that such an in depth web site wasn’t found earlier?
The metropolis of Khorog is the largest settlement in the Pamir, and the cultural centre of the area. It’s right here you’ll discover a campus of the prestigious University of Central Asia, the cross border market frequented by Afghans and Tajiks alike, the highest botanical backyard in the world, and a memorial to the first car to cross the Pamirs.
I arrived in Khorog in July in time for the annual Roof of the World Festival, which this yr celebrated its twelfth anniversary. The pageant began off small however has now change into a platform on which to specific not solely the totally different cultural customs of the Pamir area but in addition from neighbouring areas. Dancers, singers, and musicians take to the stage from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, exhibiting off their abilities, while most of Khorog’s residents sit in the viewers and luxuriate in the spectacle.
TIP: The greatest curry home in Central Asia is in Khorog! Delhi Darbar. Owned and run by a Tajik-Indian couple, the enterprise has a justified cult following. The pakoras are crunchy, the parathas fluffy, and the dishes satisfyingly spicy.
Garm-Chashma means “hot springs”, and the geology of the Pamirs is such that they’re comparatively commonplace. The most spectacular of those springs are in a aspect valley a brief drive south of Khorog: search for the Garm Chashma signal.
The scorching spring is pure, and the arduous white mineral deposits have created a construction that appears like a big, stable cloud. There’s a secluded bathing pool, and as everybody bathed bare, there are alternating periods for women and men.
TIP: Make positive to place the white clay deposits in your pores and skin because it makes it clean and leaves you trying radiant.
The mountains of Garm-Chashma are rugged, and the river provides off a recent, cool breeze and gives a simple climbing expertise. Though you come throughout some small and precarious-looking bridges they’re the truth is fully protected. You may even cross a number of pleasant donkeys on the path.
The village of Langar in the Wakhan Corridor is known for the mountainside petroglyphs. The entry path is windy and steep, and on account of the altitude, you tire extra rapidly than regular. Tlisted below are round 5,800 drawings right here, however extra are being recognized all the time.
The rock artwork begins from 2,700m, and the highest petroglyphs are at 3,500m. The earliest works are from the seventh century, and although there may be some fashionable graffiti subsequent to the historical petroglyphs, it may be simply ignored and doesn’t break the great thing about the authentic drawings.
My favorite photos had been of the mountain goats, however there’s additionally a curious one product of three handprints. In my thoughts, these are the artists’ signature, or maybe an try by a bunch of household or pals to depart their mark.
The Wakhan Corridor divides Afghanistan from Tajikistan, and it was alongside this valley that Silk Road travellers (together with Marco Polo) went east to China and south to the Indian Subcontinent. Keeping the buying and selling route open was of strategic and financial significance, so quite a few fortresses had been erected alongside the manner.
The ruins of the third century Yamchun Fortress are nicely preserved with elements of its towers and wall in good condition. It stands on a lone hill, and provided that the space is susceptible to earthquakes and landslides, it’s in remarkably good situation. To get there you could descend into the gorge earlier than you can begin to climb however you will notice panoramic views.
You can look each methods alongside the Wakhan Corridor, and likewise south to Afghanistan and the snowy mountains of the Hindu Kush.
Zorkul Nature Reserve
Very few vacationers ever go to the Zorkul Nature Reserve because it requires an additional allow and is past the Pamir Highway, however you probably have the time and may organize the paperwork, it makes for an unbelievable detour.
Zorkul has been a nature reserve since the Seventies and it spans an space of 1,610km2 in the jap Pamirs. The mountain lake which provides the reserve its identify is on the migration route for quite a few fowl species, together with bar-headed geese and red-fronted rose finches, and for that motive, it has been recognised as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. It’s house to mammals like marmots, the well-known Marco Polo sheep, ibex, and even snow leopards, too.
Karakul is a crater lake at the northern finish of the Pamir Highway, excessive on the Murghab Plateau. In truth, its elevation of three,960m implies that it’s one in every of the highest lakes in the world. The water, as you may think, is reasonably chilly.
One of the quirky issues to find out about Karakul is that it was the location for the Roof of the World crusing regatta, the highest yacht race on Earth.
You don’t want a ship to get pleasure from Karakul, although. The surroundings makes it value the journey. You can keep a number of days in a homestay on the lakeshore, hike, paddle (if you happen to’re courageous), and at evening stare upon the most extraordinary array of stars.