Roof of the World indeed

The Pamir Mountains, aka Roof of the World, are little known in the United States outside of the climbing world, or those who study this part of the world. This is sad from what I hear, because they seem amazing.

The Pamir Mountains are located in much of Tajikistan, where the country has only 6% or so of its land available to farming, much of that going to cotton (another blog post will be done on that). 50% of the land of Tajikistan is above 9,800 feet. For those wondering how tall that is, Lake Tahoe’s altitude is 6225 and Denver is 5280 feet above sea level. 9,800 feet is slightly less than 2 miles above sea level. SAY WHAT????

The Pamir mountains do not have the highest peaks or the most peaks, those titles lie just south in the Himalayas (you know K2 and Ever…something) and the Karakoram (where CAI works), they instead are known for this, they are actually the highest and most DESOLATE plateau in the world. You can though see Peak Lenin *now called Ibn Sina Peak* (23,406 ft) on the border with Kyrgyz Republic and Peak Communism *now calle d Ismoil Somoni Peak* (got to love those Soviets) at 7, 495 meters aka 24,590 feet. To again put this all in perspective Mount Denali (aka Mount McKinley the highest mountain in NORTH AMERICA is only 20,320 feet. And the highest mountain outside of Asia is  Aconcagua which only reaches 22,841 ft.

Yet the Pamirs for all their desolate height have been for the last 2000 + years the place to be. They are the buffer that has kept China and Europe apart, the Silk road took two different routes through it, it made the Khanites and Emerites in the area extremely rich, and now is home to minerals that make some who love the lonesomeness of the hills uneasy.

The name itself is kind of masked in mystery as no one is sure where the name comes from. Chinese explorers to the region looong time ago called  the are they went to “a valley Po-mi-lo”, this was confirmed as a designation by the West’s own Marco Polo who said it was called “Pamier”. Some suggest Sanskrit, some suggest Old persian, and some suggest Turkic.

My favorites are as follows


“upa-mery”- the country behind the bank of the river (two famous rivers are on the north and south of modern Tajikistan)

Older Persian:

Pa-i-mikhr- Pedestal of Mitra (sun god from Zoroastrianism)

and my favorite Pa-i-mehr- the land at the foot of the sun.

I hope to get to go to the land at the foot of the sun while I am in Tajikistan, I do know that I will have to drive over two “passes” that are 3,000 m+  (about 9842 feet) in the mountains to get to the northern flat area in the Ferghana Valley.  9-12 hours.

Did I mention cold lakes?

If this doesnt spark adventure, I dont know what will.

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1 Response to Roof of the World indeed

  1. Austin Charron says:

    Great post, Sam! But FYI, that drive across the mountains from Dushanbe to Khojand in the Fergana Valley took me a solid 24 hours because of road construction and a traffic jam on top of one of the highest passes! It’s also one of the worst roads I’ve ever seen, but it definitely is an awesome adventure, as I’m sure your entire Tajik experience will be! Good luck!


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