Pamir stage of the Silk Road

With views of the very highest peaks, the Pamir Highway passes through an area that has served as a trade route between East and West for many centuries. There are few places in the world where a landscape embodies its history as much as the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, which is many hundreds of kilometers long here.

Der Pansch-River bildet die Grenze zwischen Tadschikistan und Afghanistan. An beiden Ufern des reißenden Flusses verlaufen die uralten Handelsrouten. Links auf tadschikischer Seite verkehren chinesische Laster auf der „New Silk Road“. Rechts, auf afghanischer Seite sind nur kleinere Lasttiere und Fahrzeuge zu beobachten / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Pansch River forms the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Ancient trade routes run along both banks of the raging river. On the left, on the Tajik side, Chinese trucks ply the “New Silk Road”. On the right, on the Afghan side, only smaller pack animals and vehicles can be observed / © Photo: Georg Berg

The metropolis of Osh, located in the south of Kyrgyzstan, is the starting point and destination for a round trip of more than 2,000 kilometers that will take us through the southern part of the former Soviet republic in ten breathtaking days. Cyrillic letters, with which both Kyrgyz and Tajik are written, and knowledge of the Russian language would definitely be better for communication here than the English spoken in many parts of the world. On the other hand, when Alexander the Great was the first European to make his way to the Central Asian trade routes, people somehow managed to communicate with each other.

Junger kirgisischer Geschäftsmann unterwegs mit Kalpak, dem traditionell kirgisischen Hut aus weißem Wollfilz / © Foto: Georg Berg
Young Kyrgyz businessman on the road with Kalpak, the traditional Kyrgyz hat made of white wool felt / © Photo: Georg Berg

On Alexander’s tracks at the Iskanderkul Lake

Der durch einen Erdrutsch entstandene Iskanderkul See liegt nicht weit von der tadschikischen Hauptstadt Duschanbe entfernt / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Iskanderkul Lake, which was formed by a landslide, is not far from the Tajik capital Dushanbe / © Photo: Georg Berg

Alexander the Great’s horse is said to have drowned in this lake, which was formed by the Iskanderdarya River dammed by a landslide not long before his Asian campaign. Iskanderkul is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Central Asia. We spend the night in a small village, to which a dusty road leads. In addition to classically flat adobe buildings, some houses have been built as homestays for vacationers.

Jede Menge Staub wirbeln Autos auf, die durch den kleinen Ort Sarytag in der Nähe des Iskanderkul Sees fahren / © Foto: Georg Berg
Lots of dust is stirred up by cars driving through the small village of Sarytag near Lake Iskanderkul / © Photo: Georg Berg
Den fremden Besuchern im Dorf gilt die Aufmerksamkeit auch schon der Kleinsten / © Foto: Georg Berg
The strange visitors in the village attract the attention of even the smallest ones / © Photo: Georg Berg
Touristen sind selten hier und die Neugier der Beiden überwindet ihre scheue Zurückhaltung / © Foto: Georg Berg
Tourists are rarely here and their curiosity overcomes their shy reserve / © Photo: Georg Berg

In Soviet times, the rare element cesium was extracted in the area. The well-preserved mosaic on a disused factory wall is a Soviet-style reminder of the mining era. Today, goods such as cooking oil or flour are occasionally traded on the factory premises.

Hinter dem Fabriktor zieht ein Laster mit Grundnahrungsmitteln zahlreiche Interessenten an. Das Mosaik im Sowjetstil an der Fabrikmauer erinnert an den Bergbau in dieser Gegend / © Foto: Georg Berg
Behind the factory gate, a truck with basic foodstuffs attracts numerous interested parties. The Soviet-style mosaic on the factory wall is a reminder of mining in the area / © Photo: Georg Berg

Why actually Silk Road?

It was indeed silk that gave the Silk Road its name. But many things were traded. First, the Chinese offered silk to the Kyrgyz in exchange for their good horses, which they needed for their campaigns. Inventions such as Chinese paper or gunpowder and Arab glass were also passed from continent to continent along the Silk Road. Especially light goods like saffron and other spices unknown in Europe were worth the arduous transport along raging rivers and over high, in winter impassable, passes.

Kunstvoll in der Markthalle von Duschanbe aufgehäuft: Gewürze wie Pfeffer, Senfkörner, Paprika, Kurkuma oder - eher in kleinen Mengen versteckt – afghanischer Safran / © Foto: Georg Berg
Artfully piled up in the market hall of Dushanbe: Spices such as bell pepper, mustard seeds, paprika, turmeric or – rather hidden in small quantities – Afghan saffron / © Photo: Georg Berg.

The ancestors of the people we meet made it possible for caravans to pass through. They kept roads passable and provided people as well as their pack animals with food.

Auf dem Markt in Osch wird eine große Vielfalt von Kurut angeboten. Eine haltbare Verpflegung für den Pamir-Highway. Die harten salzigen Kugeln basieren auf getrockneten Joghurt- oder Sauermilch-Mischungen / © Foto: Georg Berg
A wide variety of kurut is offered at the market in Osh. A durable ration for the Pamir Highway. The hard salty balls are based on dried yogurt or sour milk mixtures / © Photo: Georg Berg

Changing power relations and also nature have meant that there are several routes, all of which can claim to be the Silk Road. Along the Pansh River, the road on the Tajik side is currently being paved by a Chinese consortium to make the belt between China and Uzbekistan through Tajikistan more passable for heavy traffic.

Im Grenzgebiet zu Afghanistan verbergen sich neben dem Pamir-Highway in Tadschikistan immer noch gefährliche Landminen / © Foto: Georg Berg
In the border area with Afghanistan, dangerous landmines are still hidden next to the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan / © Photo: Georg Berg

2018 Tajikistan proclaims the “Year of Tourism”.

On our journey, we also pass the place where in 2018 a group of foreign bicycle tourists became victims of a deadly terrorist attack. That same year, President Emomali Rakhmon, in whose native district of Danghara the crime occurred, proclaimed the Year of Tourism.

In Kaleikhum erinnert ein Denkmal an vier europäische und amerikanische Radfahrer, die 2018 auf dem Pamir-Highway Opfer eines terroristischen Anschlags geworden sind. Im Hintergrund ein allgegenwärtiges Photo des tadschikischen Präsidenten Emomali Rakhmon / © Foto: Georg Berg
In Kaleikhum, a memorial commemorates four European and American cyclists who were victims of a terrorist attack on the Pamir Highway in 2018. In the background, a ubiquitous photo of Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon / © Photo: Georg Berg.

Through its tourism offensive, Tajikistan hopes to multiply the number of foreign tourists and thus support its economy. Besides the Pamir Highway, the capital Dushanbe and the Pamir Mountains-Alpinism with its 7-thousand-meter peaks-are attractive destinations. Visa requirements have been somewhat simplified in the last year and we have found the formerly dreaded border and in-country checkpoints friendly and correct.

Dushanbe, capital with a long history of trade

Already 500 years before our era two historical trade routes crossed where Dushanbe is located today. A market was always held here on Mondays. That is why the name of the place literally means Monday [The second day after Saturday = “Du” (two) + “Schambe” (Saturday)]. Today, the market hall away from the city center is a very lively attraction. The huge construction was completed in 2015 and put into operation in 2017 under French management. At the same time, other marketplaces in the city were dissolved.

Kaum ein Parkplatz ist vor der neuen Markthalle in Duschanbe mehr frei / © Foto: Georg Berg
There is hardly a parking space left in front of the new market hall in Dushanbe / © Photo: Georg Berg

It is rare to see so many pyramids of spices, dried fruits, vegetables and nuts. It is not the customers themselves who push their shopping carts between them. The transporters have a profession of their own. They collect all the heavy vegetables, melons and other goods and take them outside into the throng of cabs and private vehicles in which the customers take their purchases away.

Für die Dauer des Einkaufs werden Assistenten beschäftigt, die Waren einsammeln und nach draußen zum Auto transportieren / © Foto: Georg Berg
For the duration of the shopping trip, assistants are employed to collect goods and transport them outside to the car / © Photo: Georg Berg

Payment in both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is predominantly in cash. Kyrgyz som and Tajik somoni can be exchanged for US dollar or euro notes. ATMs are scarce even in large cities. If a credit card is accepted anywhere at all, it is most likely Visa.

In Osch tauschen zahlreiche Wechselstuben US-Dollar und Euro-Bargeld in die Landeswährung / © Foto: Georg Berg
In Osh, numerous exchange offices exchange US dollars and euro cash into the local currency / © Photo: Georg Berg

Kyrgyzstan, the land of horses

A quarter of all Kyrgyz live from cattle breeding. For every 6 million inhabitants there are 20 million grazing animals in Kyrgyzstan, of which about 10 million are horses. The nomadic way of life in yurts makes it possible to offer the animals nutritious pastures at any time of the year.

Die Jurten der kirgisischen Nomaden bestehen aus Filztextilien, die über ein Holzgerüst gelegt sind. Sie sind gut transportabel und schnell auf und abzubauen / © Foto: Georg Berg
The yurts of the Kyrgyz nomads are made of felt textiles laid over a wooden framework. They are easily transportable and quick to erect and dismantle / © Photo: Georg Berg
Auf der Hochebene zwischen denen beiden Gebirgen Pamir und Tian Shan grasen kirgisische Pferde vor einer verlassenen sowjetischen Radarstation / © Foto: Georg Berg
On the plateau between the Pamir and Tian Shan mountains, Kyrgyz horses graze in front of an abandoned Soviet radar station / © Photo: Georg Berg

Reportage: Unforgettable at Peak Lenin
Reportage: Tajikistan’s Capital Dushanbe
Background Reportage: Special Adventures on the Silk Road


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On the way on the traces of Marco Polo

The Silk Road leads to the most promising places in the world. On the so-called Pamir Highway, the old trade route in High Asia leads through the Pamir Mountains, where, along with the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush, the highest mountains on earth can be found. Even Marco Polo used some of the routes on his journey to China, which still lead across the roof of the world today.


The city of Dushanbe is located on the Silk Road and, as in the Middle Ages, is still an important trading center today. This is evidenced by the many representative buildings and the lively life in the modern market hall. The amount of fresh products and especially the variety of oriental spices are overwhelming. With this calendar you can enjoy the Orient in abundance for a whole year.

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Our mode of operation is characterized by self-experienced, well-researched text work and professional, vivid photography. For all stories, travel impressions and photos are created in the same place. Thus, the photos complement and support what is read and carry it further.

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