Great Escapes: The Pamir Highway

It’s three years since I bought my BMW R1150 GS Adventure: the machine made famous by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman in the original “Long Way Round” documentary. While this behemoth of a bike is too big for everyday riding and would probably not be my first choice as round-the-world transport, I love it. Long Way Round and the big GS added another dimension to a lifelong love affair with wheeled exploration: adventure motorcycling.

As you go about your daily routine, thousands of people are exploring the planet on two wheels and four. Leaving the rigid western structures behind, most are chasing answers to age-old questions that all of us ponder: why am I here, how much stuff do I actually need and can I conquer the worst that the world can throw at me? Answers may never arrive, but sensing some sort of progress along the path to enlightenment is usually enough to help us wake up and do it again the following day.

One man whose two-wheeled journeys continue to inspire the idea of what tomorrow may bring is Cristian Predoi of the Youtube channel, DriveMag Riders. His latest adventure took a new dual-clutch (PDK) Honda TransAlp across Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along one of the ancient Silk Roads and the legendary Pamir Highway. I watched the second episode of his trip last night and the whole thing just blew me away: such great stories and so much landspace to lose oneself in. I sent it to a few people with the note that “we must take rally cars here”. Scroll down to watch the video.

I was still dreaming about rally cars on the Pamir Highway this morning when I rocked up at Total Car Care in Daventry to MOT one of my other BMW bikes. Owner Julian (a.k.a. Burt) also looks after some rally cars, so it was not a huge surprise to see a 1954 Jaguar XK120 rally car on the lift. Chatting away while Burt did the checks, I suddenly realised that the rally stickers on the XK said “Pamir Highway 2019”. This car had been living my dream.

Former Safari Rally mechanic Burt helps to maintain several cars for the XK’s owners and Pamir was their latest event. Organised by ROARR in the UK, the rally ran from July 4th to 29th this year. The route took in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the photos are epic. ROARR Director, Adrian Epps, gave me the OK to share a few.

The Pamir Highway ticks a great many boxes from an adventure perspective. It is remote, unspoilt, steeped in history and literally at the top of the world: some sections rise to more than 4,000 metres. The route is extremely challenging and the terrain changes daily. Fuel is not easy to come by and, even in high summer, overnight temperatures can fall below freezing.

Starting in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, the Pamir Highway goes all the way to the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Running through soaring mountains, wide open desert and often following the Obikhingu River – the natural border separating Afghanistan and Tajikistan – the route includes the world’s second-highest border crossing.

Cristian’s Pamir Highway travelog also includes a visit to the market in Khorog. Afghan traders pour into the town every Saturday when the frontier is opened for a few hours. “The vibe is amazing,” says the Romanian adventurer, and it looks it. This region has had its fair share of troubles down through the ages, but blue skies, great views and zero mechanical failures on this adventure makes a road trip here pretty irresistible.

My ten days in East Africa following the 2015 Safari Classic Rally felt adventurous at the time, but the bar has since been raised. Pamir Highway is the new high water mark: one hopes that this does not ultimately become just another well-worn tourist route.

Photos ©ROARR and original contributors


For anyone interested in learning more about the origins of the Silk Road, I recommend Colin Thubron’s brilliant book, Shadow of the Silk Road.


Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To engage with the blog, or to support me in other ways, you can:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

11 + thirteen =