A Journey Beyond II: Bikepacking the Pamir Highway

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Marc Maurer takes on another huge solo bike trip in the sequel to A Journey Beyond. This time, he cycles over 3,500 kilometers through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Watch the film, find a nice collection of photos, and read a Q&A with Marc about his experience bikepacking the Pamir Highway…

Photography by Timo Seidel

The first Journey Beyond film followed German cyclist Marc Maurer from Istanbul, Turkey, to Tehran, Iran. Marc’s original plan was to begin each trip where the last left off, eventually crossing the entire globe. However, in A Journey Beyond II, instead of picking up up in Tehran, we find Marc in a more dramatic locale, traveling through the high Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan before joining the Pamir Highway in Osh and continuing on to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Watch the film below, find a collection of photos from the trip, and read on to see a map of the Pamir Highway with a little bit of background on the route…

The Pamir Highway is a well known destination for cycle travelers. After riding it, why do you think that is?

The Pamir Highway is known for being the second highest highway in the world. At one point, it climbs up to Ak-Baital Pass, a crazy 4655m above sea level. Traveling along it is like a trip to a parallel world. The landscape is just breathtaking. The valleys, the high mountain ranges, the vastness, the camp spots. It’s all extraordinary. It’s also like the eye of a needle for all the overland travelers going from Asia to Europe or Europe to Asia. You can do really adventurous trips on your own or you can pay money for a guided tour. I think all of these things make the region tempting for all kinds of cycle travelers.

The Pamir Highway is made up of a mix of gravel, dirt road, and tarmac. Can you give us a lay of the land and tell us a little more about the terrain?

The Pamir Highway was built during Soviet times and hasn’t received any significant maintenance since then, except for in selected spots. The road is heavily damaged in places by erosion, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches. And it’s totally varied: there are long stretches of tarmac, gravel, sand, rocks, and sometimes worse. .The area is dry and rugged, and you have to face quite challenging gravel climbs, often for days on end. Even the downhills can be quite challenging because you have to be focused all the time, looking out for crazy, huge sudden potholes that come out of nowhere. I’ve met people who referred to it as “the road from hell.”

Although you were there before it happened, there was a terrible tragedy recently in Tajikistan where four cyclists were killed. Did you ever feel a sense of danger while you traveled there?

I think this was the first ever attack on tourists in Tajikistan. Obviously, it’s horribly tragic for four cyclist to be killed, and heartbreaking for their families. That said, I personally never felt a sense of danger during my travels in the region. Of course there are those times when you come to a dodgy place and think, okay, there’s not really a positive vibe here, maybe it’s best to pedal on, but that’s the same all over the world. To be honest, I feel safer in more rural, poorer regions than I do in big cities in Europe or the US. The people in more remote places are generally more kind, interested, welcoming, and helpful. I only wish that people here in Europe or in the US would be that open to foreigners as the people in Central Asia are.

Original interview with Marc on BIKEPACKING.com

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