Of all the travel destinations I’ve fallen in love with, the Pamir Highway caught me the most off guard.

In the highlands of eastern Tajikistan, only one shabby road — the M41 — surges through a huge, bizarre-looking mountain range. A couple of times per day, lonely truck drivers use this road to transport coal or other goods.

A Jeep drives down the Pamir Highway.
A blue lake and distant mountains along the Pamir Highway.

With its dry air and rough, cold winds, the region is infused with a feeling of isolation and vastness. I felt so small and insignificant compared to the big, empty world around me, and I couldn’t help thinking that if I got lost, nobody would ever find me. Honestly, that’s part of what makes this area so beautiful — it forces you to be more grounded, more grateful for what you usually take for granted.

A white-and-blue home in a village on the Pamir Highway.Within this region, the small village of Murghab is the only significant town for hundreds of miles. It’s situated at 11,869 feet (3,618 meters) above sea level, its population mostly made up of Kyrgyz with red weather-beaten cheeks and broad, sincere smiles.

A man walks near the Pamir Highway.
A small child from Murghab, a village on the Pamir Highway.

During my visit, the local children were incredibly happy to see strangers from the outside world, occasionally showcasing their English skills by asking for “one dollar” (which we didn’t give to them) or “candy” (which we doled out with pleasure). The older people, however, were more interested in listening to our stories. They were so hospitable that we spent almost half the day in their homes, drinking traditional tea prepared with salt and yak butter and talking about the differences and similarities between our respective countries. They even invited us to stay for Kurban Bayram, a festival that celebrates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

The Pamir Highway leads to a mountain range.

But the Pamir Highway was calling, and we couldn’t ignore it any longer. So we got back on the road feeling grateful for the warmth that met us on our pit stop.