A photo essay featuring the Pamir Highway, which traverses through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.
Tajikistan had long been a country that I had near pathological obsession with visiting. In 2007, my then partner and I had made a previous attempt to cross Central Asia with minimal success. The crush of a bad relationship combined with the crush of post Soviet-republic visa hassles meant we left Tajikistan off of our list.
It was a decision I always regretted. I am literally a travel nerd. I like to categorize my trips into thematic overtures wherein romantic roads and highways play a significant part. In my head I can rattle off the names of roads that I am proud to have walked, driven, and hitched down:
The Manali-Leh Highway
The Karakoram Highway
The I-5 in California
I had desperately wanted the Pamir Highway (M 41) to be on that list.
A pang of regret always hit me when I talked to anyone about Central Asia, a feeling of leaving a bit of adventure on the table. Tajikistan, the famed Pamir Highway, became the forbidden fruit of my traveling resume. The place that always ‘might have been.’
Six years later, the travel god of randomness presented me with the perfect storm of opportunity. A good job (that I hated) had allowed me to amass a small fortune by the traveling world standards — enough to quit my job and set sail for Central Asia.
Four weeks later and after a brutal trip of getting there which involved all sorts of mayhem, days on end in a bus and even getting arrested in Xinjiang I finally crossed the frontier during a massive rainstorm that seemed to stretch into eternity.
Tajikistan was everything I hoped it would be, like the other Central Asian republics its boundaries looked like some missing pieces from a strange Turkish chess set. Which meant you could literally be standing in Tajikistan, on your left would be China and on your right would be Afghanistan. If your a travel nerd or a box ticker then the country was a living breathing museum of curiosities.
Every ‘tourist’ sight along the Pamir Highway seemed to be tailor made for maximum value in oddity, especially for a Great Game enthusiast such as myself. Whether it was driving along the high desert road literally following the barbed wire fence that demarcated the Chinese border or stretching your legs walking around old forts while watching Afghan farmers graze their sheep on the on the other side, literally a stone’s throw away.
Perhaps the most interesting (at least for me) was being awoken at six in the morning and asked if I would like to attend a high school graduation. The operative word for anyone traveling is always ‘yes’, so along with the few other travelers in our home stay we shuffled off to watch a sunrise high school graduation at six in the morning at nearly 4000 meters. Watching this procession in the high fields of the Karakoram, it struck me that I had only been in Tajikistan and on the Pamir Highway for a few days.
Below are a few photos, mainly from the graduation and some other images from my several days on the M41.