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The Pamir Highway
Published on 23.04.2022, 11:22 in Karlsruhe, Germany
The Pamir Highway – probably the world’s most legendary road in the bicycle touring community: The route of virtually every cyclist who plans a transcontinental tour through Asia includes this road.
The Pamir Mountains fill out the eastern part of Tajikistan completely and also exceed its borders for a few dozen kilometers into the neighbouring countries Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Located immediately adjacent to the northest end of the Himalayas, they are part of the so-called ‘Top of the World’ and include six summits over 7000 meters.
The Pamir Highway is the main route and basically also the only noteworthy and (more or less) asphalted road in the Pamir Mountains. It connects the Tajik capital Dushanbe with the Kyrgyz city Osh over a distance of 1252 kilometers. A 482 kilometer long section of this route is continuously located above 3000 meters; the highest altitude is reached at the Ak-Baital Pass at 4655 meters above sea level. By this pass, the Pamir Highway is the second highest paved highway in the world (right after the Karakoram Highway). The term ‘paved’, however, is very flexible: The freezing temperatures in the winter, falling rocks and landslides as well as poor maintanance have ruined the road to such an extend that gravel roads right next to the aspalted track are sometimes easier to drive (or ride) on than the road itself. Furthermore, it is not unsual that the bridges for river crossings are missing, which will require us to get wet feet from time to time.
However, this road is legendary not only because of the statistical superlatives or the 236 kilometer long section running alongside the Afghan border. It is also the breathtaking landscapes that make the Pamir Highway so glorious: The road leads through an inhospitable high mountain desert; although it is located continuously above 3000 meters in the eastern part of the route, it often leads through wide valleys which – also due to lack of trees – allow for stunning views of the countless Six- and Seven-thousenders one is surrounded by. Human settlements are rare such that planning and rationing provisions surely will be an issue. And despite the road is so legendary among adventurers and particularly among cyclists, it is long, remote and inhospitable enough for touristic developement being pleasantly in its infancy.
When I first heard about this road a couple of years ago it was clear to me that I will cycle this road one day. Thus the Pamir Highway was the crystallization point of a plan which was growing ever more. Already shortly after my ‘discovery’ of the Pamir Highway I started being interested also into the sorrounding countries of Central Asia: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan. There were not a lot of countries – especially in Asia – that I knew less about. I neither knew the names of their capitals nor could I assign the country names correctly to a unlabeled map. I did not have an idea of the culture nor of the political conditions of these countries. That alone was enormously appealing, and even more so when I found out that their culture is an interesting blend of islamic, soviet and mongol-nomadic influences and cities like the Usbek Samarkand have been important stopovers along the silk road.
Several times during my studies I thought about travelling to Central Asia, but due to diverse reasons those plans had to be given up in early stages. After I got to know Belinda and our studies came to their ends the time for a Central Asia Tour seemed to have come. We wanted to use the time in between our studies and the working life to fly to Almaty, Kazakhstan, together with our bicycles and cycle across Central Asia and along the Pamir Highway to the Caspian Sea and maybe continue the tour until Istanbul.
Everything was planned, we had bought new bicycles and booked flight tickets, when the Covid-19 pandemics forced the airline to cancel the flight and confronted us with the fact that also all alternative plans will be impossible to carry out. Hence, we looked for jobs and found solace in saving every penny for, one day, not only catch up on the tour as planned but to start in our hometown Karlsruhe, Germany, and launch a tour that exceeds the old plan in scope and completness by far. Of course, the primary goal remained Central Asia and the Pamir Highway and the title ‘Central Asia Tour’ has been burned in too much for adapting it. Still it was soon clear that our savings will in all likelihood allow us to continue our tour beyond Central Asia. How far beyond, well, time will tell, but there is definitely no lack of dreams about fascinating destinations all over the world.
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Zweiradler Tours: Central Asia Tour 2022
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