From the web: Lifestyles & Travel — 04 January 2019

Stretching more than 1,200 km between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, it is one of the world’s wildest roads – and for the intrepid traveller, one of the most epic road trips, writes Dave Stamboulis. Published on BBC on January 3, 2019.

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A wild ride

A wild ride across Central Asia

The road travels through savage wilderness, ranging from high desert to snowy mountains and crossing passes of more than 4,000 m, and is likely inhabited by more snow leopards and spiral-horned Marco Polo sheep than humans. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Roof of the world

Crossing the roof of the world

With peaks of more than 7,000 m, the Pamir Mountains, better known as Bam-i-Dunya (Roof of the World), are surpassed in height only by the Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. The unstable terrain crosses over high passes and through earthquake, landslide and rockfall zones, which makes the Pamir Highway one of the most challenging drives out there – and these extreme conditions attract motorcyclists, bicyclists and thrill-seekers who love big, wild and remote landscapes. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Battle for the region

A battle for the region

This road through the mountains was originally built by the Russians during the fabled ‘Great Game’ that was started in the mid-1800s by the British and Russian Empires who competed for control over Central Asia. One of the main arteries of the original Silk Road also followed this path, and you can still see remnants of the ancient medieval mountaintop fortresses that were built to protect trade through the region. In the 1900s, the Soviets further improved the route, but it still mostly remains a rough rock, sand and dirt track, and attempts to completely pave it have met with erosion, potholes and a state of continual disrepair. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Looking into Afghanistan

Looking into Afghanistan

Much of the route travels through the Wakhan Corridor, following the raging Panj River that separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan, with small Ismaili Muslim settlements dotting both sides of the surging Panj. Drivers and riders are often faced with navigating hairpin turns and precipitous cliffs far above the whitewater, or else driving alongside narrow flood plains, usually with just inches to spare between tyre and river. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Lakes and camels

Lakes and camels

Travellers are well rewarded for their efforts, though, with a diverse array of stunning scenery unfolding daily on the week-long drive between the Central Asian cities, with surreal scenes like turquoise lakes and sandy beaches inhabited by Bactrian camels such as those found at Lake Yashikul, a vast freshwater lake halfway across the route. The lakes are a source of fish and bird life, and offer ample opportunities to hike and camp in one of the world’s least touristed spots. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Peaks

Peaks as far as the eye can see

Here, the mountains seem to go on forever, with not only the Pamirs, but also the Hindu Kush rising from Afghanistan in view. There are peaks with evocative monikers, such as the Academy of Sciences Range, as well as hundreds of unnamed and unclimbed summits. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Nerves of steel

Nerves of steel

With no guardrails, and the narrow road hugging cliffs and rock faces above wild rivers, travel here isn’t for the faint-hearted. The extreme temperatures along with earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, floods and often abysmal road conditions combine to create plenty of daily challenges. Add to this the sparse number of settlements, long distances between services and navigating over adrenalin-boosting drops, and you’ve got all the makings of a real-life action thriller. Needless to say, any traveller brave enough to drive the route will need good mechanics skills and nerves of steel. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

Thrill-seekers dream

A thrill-seeker’s dream

Despite the obstacles, it’s worth all the dust, distance and rough travel to come here. The distances are huge, the terrain is wild, and it’s so remote that you’ll barely spot another vehicle. What you will see is some of the world’s most stunning scenery – and have the adventure of a lifetime. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)

 

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