In September 2017 I had the pleasure of going on one of the most scenic road trips on this planet. The Pamir Highway.
Together with my partner Freya and our driver Amid we spent 11 days exploring this part of the world. A 100 year old highway, lots of potholes and the most dramatic backdrop. The Pamir Highway crosses Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan.
No assignment, no client, no pressure. Only the pleasure of exploring, discovering and capturing our adventure. This is my visual journey of the Pamir Highway.
Beware: There are over 100 images in this post. It might cripple your internet connection and/or browser. Best viewed on a big screen of course.
In EP24 of APOL I drink some seriously disgusting coffee and set out on what is considered to be one of the best road trips on the planet. The Pamir Highway.
In EP25 of APOL we continue our journey on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. While it might be a seemingly remote & emptiest of places… it is filled with more beauty than any other landscape I have ever had the pleasure of photographing. All I hope, is that this episode does it justice.
In EP26 of APOL we start off with some night sky photography tips, before leaving the higher altitudes and coming down to the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Probably my favourite part of the whole road trip…
Our first stop was actually not on the Pamir Highway at all. A little village nearby called Sary-Mogul. It’s the closest place with power and a solid roof before you reach Lenin Peak Base camp… which was our actually destination for day 1 of our journey.
On a side note, the little old lady walking up the driveway was the mother of our driver Amid. We stopped by to drop off some water melons.
For this trip I had both my E-M1 Mark II’s with me. One was equipped for filming and the other for photography. But I actually often ended up shooting photos on the filming camera too as I was sharing my lenses with Freya, who was shooting on the PEN-F btw.
So my default configuration was:
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II + M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO with the Rode VideoMicro
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II + M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO or the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO
Most of the street / lifestyle shots I shot with the M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8. It’s much smaller and less intrusive lens & camera combo and sooo much fun to shoot with. Honestly, I think primes are becoming my favourite lenses overall and I can’t wait to put the newer 17mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 to the extreme test!
The morning near Lenin Peak base camp we spent exploring the nearby lakes and perfect reflections of the snow capped peaks. It was one of those 360º views all around. I shot more photos on that morning than on any other day of the trip. Golden light, reflecting lakes, rolling hills, deep yellow grass and the roof of the world as a backdrop… not much more a photographer could ask for.
The village of Rangkul. I tried something new and ventured out with just one E-M1 Mark II + the 17mm f/1.8. It’s an incredibly small and subtle combo and allowed for me to capture village life ‘as is’ without feeling like I was intruding with a large camera. Incredible to think that this place even exists… nothing grows up here and the nearby lake is salty and doesn’t have fish. They are totally reliant on what the trucks and drivers bring into the area.
I really enjoyed my little ‘street’ photography session. The white houses of the village really contrast well with the surrounding dark landscape. A perfect place to get lost in the side streets and alleyways. And don’t be fooled, the wires are old soviet era telephone lines. No such thing as power or traffic up here.
Interesting fact: They do hold the world’s highest regatta once every year in this village… maybe that’s the reason for its existence?
Probably the most scenic of roads.
The Pamir Highway runs in long straight stretches seemingly right up to the most impressive of mountain tops. It’s almost too scenic to take in. The colours are different around every corner and the textures never stop… never boring!
The base for almost all of my photo edits was my Mountain Preset Pack.
I edited all the photos in Adobe Lightroom Classic and actually found great use in the new Range Mask the gradient tool offers.
See the screenshot below where I’ve masked out the sky by using the colour range to not effect the mountain line with the gradient tool.
Shortly after passing an old Soviet Border post (the white building in the empty landscape) we’ve left the highway yet again. I couldn’t decide, avoiding potholes or getting dusty on the gravel roads… luckily my gear cares less than me.
The cute old lady on the bottom right served me the biggest portion of rice of my life. Not like I’ve had rice for the past 2 months… for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But how can you say no to a lady like that?
The full screen shot below: the whole village must have been out for the game of volley ball.
If we’re not follow the fence that keeps us from crossing over to chinese territory it’s the broken, soviet telephone lines that mark the landscapes.
An epic day hike I wouldn’t forget too soon. Our driver dropped us off about 40km away from the nearest village and said: I’ll meet you on the other side of the mountain in 6-8 hours. And gone he was.
Without a map or itinerary we set out and basically made our own path through the snow on the pass. Turned out it wasn’t overly complicated to find the way… but the unexpected altitude of over 4600m quickly turned it into an epic journey!
The seemingly abandoned huts were from the sheep herders who had retreated into the villages for winter.
Nothing quite beats the morning light in the mountains at high altitude. There’s a crispness to the air that gives the light a quality unmatched. Or maybe it’s just the lack of oxygen at over 4000m… but I felt truly connected to this place.
That surprise day when our driver Amid pulled over in the middle of nowhere, said something about lunch and whipped up the most amazing meal. A can of tuna, corn and 4 day old stale bread. Nothing like a meal on the side of the road! I couldn’t have cared less… the surprise of a picnic alone made turned this into one delicious feast!
Bumpy tracks, more stars than grains of sand, scenic yurts in the landscape, a mysterious chinese border fence, stale breakfast bread and the wide open road… pretty much sums up this journey.
Most of the people are shy, don’t want their photo taken (and I respect that of course) or just don’t care about us being here. But this kid walked right up to me and wanted his photo, then just ran off. Probably my favourite portrait ever.
Life is simple out here.
Yet again we left the Pamir Highway and crossed a pass to reach the lower parts of this area. The Wakhan Corridor, where Tajikistan and Afghanistan are separated by a river. It was nice to finally see trees again. Life seems to have more purpose here, farming vegetables, nuts, corn and potatoes make up the daily routine.
The wind seemed to constantly blow up this valley, taking the dust with it and making for some seriously beautiful golden light in the afternoon. I couldn’t put my camera down.
The dirtiest kid I’ve ever photographed. Best thing about this shot: his mum was encouraging him to get his photo taken.
He has this white spot of dirt on his forehead that has bugged me from the moment I saw it on my screen… but I just can’t justify ‘cleaning’ this up. It would be wrong… am I right?
You made it! Thanks for watching, reading and scrolling all the way here. I hope I managed to take you on a little journey to this remote part of the world and maybe spike your wanderlust.
If I’ve totally convinced you to go on a road trip like this one you should definitely head over to The Sandy Feet, our travel blog, to check out the itinerary. All the details and infos you need to plan your own trip to this part of the world.
These visual blog posts and episodes are put together with a lot of love (and time). If you like what you see I always appreciate a comment, it honestly means a lot to me to hear your feedback!