The Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan is one of Afghanistan‘s remotest regions, but also the only one safe for travel. The jaw-dropping mountainous scenery and the traditional culture of the locals make this a very rewarding place to travel. For mountaineers there are also lots of unclimbed peaks.

Wakhi women and children in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

The area is a long, thin peninsula jutting out of North-Eastern Afghanistan, sandwiched between Pakistan and Tajikistan, which Britain and Russia added to Afghanistan in the 19th Century to create a buffer zone between the Russian and British empires. Its tiny border with the rest of Afghanistan is partly what stopped the Taliban being able to take it.

The people of of the Wakhan are Ismaili Muslims, and therefore much less strict than elsewhere in Afghanistan. Many shave their beards and do not fully observe Ramaddan. Women are also not required to cover their faces, dressing instead in beautiful red and purple dresses, headresses and jewelry. They are mostly pastoralists who speak Wakhi but many know Dari too (Afghan Farsi). Knowing a bit of Farsi will make travel in this region much easier, but is not essential.

The access point to the Wakhan is the Afghan town of Ishkashim. You can get here by crossing the border from Tajikistan (see main Afghanistan page for details on getting to the border and arranging Afghan visas hassle-free in Tajikistan) or from Faizabad, a town deeper in Afghanistan. Tajikistan and its border with Afghanistan are completely safe. Although Faizabad was considered more or less safe at the time of writing, there were rumoured to be a small number of Taliban in the area. Situations change very fast in Afghanistan so make sure you know the very latest security information before going to Faizabad, or indeed anywhere further into Afghanistan than Ishkashim, the Wakhan or the Pamir. Getting to Faizabad would require either a flight from Kabul or a long bus ride through Taliban territory. I have met one traveler who did the Kabul – Faizabad bus ride with no problems. I have met others who did it in a hired jeep and only just survived having a hand grenade thrown under their vehicle by Taliban.

For all these reasons, it is highly recommended that if visiting the Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir, you enter and exit Afghanistan only from Tajikistan, thereby never having to enter unstable parts of Afghanistan.

Before heading out of Afghan Ishkashim you will need to obtain several permits by visiting four different sets of officials. There are two ways to do this: 1) spend an entire day trying to work it out, find the places, explain yourself to people who don’t speak English and be asked to pay a “fee” anyway; 2) pay someone else to do it for you. The guy you can pay is called Wafiola. Just ask around the centre – everyone knows him and can quickly find him. He can get the permits for you within about an hour. He asks US$50 for this service, but can be haggled down, depending on your persistence. I’ve heard of a group of 3 mountaineers paying him US$60 for their 3 permits.

Once you have the permits you can leave Ishkashim. A terrible road leads 200km east through the Wakhan, terminating at the village of Sarhad-e-Broghil. Sometimes the end part is washed out by floods though, meaning you can only go as far as Sargaz then trek for two days to Sarhad-e-Broghil.

There is no public transport along this road, but it is easy to hitch hike (contrary to what Wafiola will tell you) or you can hire a car and driver from Wafiola. He asks the extortionate price of US$450 one way but can be haggled down to US$400, still a complete rip off.

As for guides – Wafiola can arrange an English speaking one from Ishkashim. He asks US$25 a day but can be haggled down to US$20. If you are going on a trek you will then have to hire a donkey in Sargaz or Sarhad-e-Broghil to carry your bags for another US$10 a day. The thing is, the donkey’s owner will come with you on your trek. Therefore if you don’t mind doing your trek with someone who speaks no English and have the perseverance to arrange the donkey owner’s fee through hand gestures and so on, you can go without an Ishkashim guide and save US$20 a day. Sayeed Faqir from Sargaz is a good, honest, cheerful donkey owner who knows a few words of English.

A “road” runs 200km east out of the Afghan town of Ishkashim and through the Wakhan, terminating in the village of Sarhad-e-Broghil, the scenery on the drive becoming interesting after the village of Sargaz. The quality of this track is so low that it takes a full day to get from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e-Broghil. After this road ends one can trek for up to seven full days to the remotest villages and yurt encampments of the Afghan Pamir.

Along the road from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e-Broghil there are numerous villages, most just tiny huddles of five or six mud huts. A charity called the Aga Khan Foundation has set up simple guest houses in a few of them. The owners ask US$25 for accommodation and meals but can be haggled down to US$10. If you have your own tent, pitch it in their garden and eat your own food you can stay for even cheaper.

Click here for my blog about the Wakhan with 2405 words and 32 photos.

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