Ethnic expedition to Wakhan and Pamir


August 4 to 17, 2024
Tour Afghanistan

tour to Afghanistan expedition to Wakhan corridor Wakhi Kirgiz Kyrgyz people travel Afganistan Tajikistan Ishkashim horseback trekking to the mountains Himalaya Karakorum tour to Tibet

Dassanech Karo tribe Bulls jumping ceremony Assale Afar
For those who prefer truly unbeaten paths, who want to feel like a traveler, explorer and welcome guest, who looks for deep dive into the lifestyle and culture of indigenous peoples preserved in the lost northeast appendix of Afghanistan, the place where the great ranges of the Himalayas, Karakorum and Tien Shan converge at one point, where the peoples of the Wakhi and Kyrgyz graze their sheep at the dizzying heights of Pamirs.

For those who prefer truly unbeaten paths, who want to feel like a traveler, explorer and welcome guest, who looks for deep dive into the lifestyle and culture of indigenous peoples preserved in the lost northeast appendix of Afghanistan, the place where the great ranges of the Himalayas, Karakorum and Tien Shan converge at one point, where the peoples of the Wakhi and Kyrgyz graze their sheep at the dizzying heights of Pamirs.

Dates: August 4 to 17, 2024.

Duration: 14 days / 13 nights

Number of participants: 6 – 12

Cost per person:
– USD 3 690 subject to 12 participants, or
– USD 3 890 subject to 10 – 11 participants, or
– USD 4 090 subject to 8 – 9 participants.
– USD 4 290 subject to 6 – 7 participants.

10% early booking discount (in case you book before March 4, 2024)

Everything is included except for:
- international flight to Kabul and back,
- international medical insurance,
- Afghanistan visa (80 – 150 USD, price can be changed, to be obtained in the embassy in advance).

Estimated cost of flights Moscow – Kabul – Moscow: USD 1000 – 1300 (Usually bought on your own, we consult you).

Single supplement for hotels: USD 300 (provided in Kabul and Fayzabad only. Is not provided in Ishkashim, QalaPanj and Sarhad)

Single supplement for tents: USD 140

Day 1. August 4, 2024 (Sunday). KABUL

Morning arrival by air in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. Short rest in the hotel.
Visit to culture ministry, tourism department section, for permission letter for Badakhshan province. Then we altogether proceed to Tourist office for registration and report (official mandatory procedure). If it is finished fast, after lunch, walk around Kabul city center. Overnight at Hotel Kabul Star.

Recommended flights:
— with FlyDubai from Dubai, departure from Dubai at 4:20 am, arrival in Kabul at 8:15 am,
— with KamAir from Dubai, arrival in Kabul at 7:00 am, flight RQ-902,
— with any other flight that arrives in Kabul no later than at 8:30 am on August 4.

Accommodation: Kabul Star hotel or similar
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 2. August 5, 2024 (Monday). KABUL — SALANG PASS — KHANABAD — FAYZABAD (540 km, 12-13 h driving)

Early morning by fast and comfortable bus start driving to Badakhshan province (long distance of 540 km, 12 - 13 hours driving).
Breakfast and lunch in local restaurants on the way (Afghani local food).
Drive through famous Salang Pass (3878 m) and long tunnels, passing by some very picturesque adobe villages and pastoral landscapes.
Continue up to Fayzabad, center of Badakhshan province. Dinner and overnight at the hotel Bamyi Dunya.

Accommodation: Bamyi Dunya hotel or similar
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3. August 6, 2024 (Tuesday). FAYZABAD — BAHARAK — ZEEBOK — ISHKASHIM (155 km, 4-5 h driving. Overnight elevation: 3040 m)

After early breakfast, visit to the old brick bridge that have long history.
Then we go to information culture office to present ourselves and to make official notification, as well as obtain permission letter for Ishkashim Wakhan.
In case we succeed to finish the formalities fast, we start driving towards Ishkashim before lunch. Lunch at the restaurant in Baharak district or with traditional Afghani dumplings called mintow. If official papers get more time, lunch in Fayzabad, then later by 4x4 Land Cruisers drive up to Ishkashim (155 km, 4-5 hours driving) via Baharak and Zeebok, where big mountains appear visible.
Arrival in Ishkashim. Walk around the town, visit market if available. Start preparing all provision for Wakhan&Pamir expedition.
Overnight at the Marco Polo guesthouse with good food.

Accommodation: Marco Polo guesthouse or similar
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4. August 7, 2024 (Wednesday). ISHKASHIM – KHANDUD – QALA-E PANJ (110 km, 4-5 h driving)

Early morning we have breakfast. Visit the market to arrange all for departure to Wakhan Corridor. Start driving before noon in order to reach Khandud (80 km) not late, to be on time for obtaining another permit.
We change the cars again and by simpler 4x4 Land Cruisers drive to Wakhan corridor, along Wakhandarya river, from village to village (110 km) and get into acquaintance with the local life and culture, taking photos en route.
The Wakhan Corridor is a narrow strip of territory, extending to China and separating Tajikistan from Pakistan. The corridor, wedged between the Pamir Mountains to the north and the Karakoram range to the south, is about 350 km long and 13 – 65 km wide. From this high mountain valley the Panj and Pamir rivers emerge and form the Amu Darya.
The corridor was formed in 1893 by an agreement between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, creating a buffer line between the Russian Empire (Russian Turkestan, present-day Tajikistan) and the British Empire (British India).
The Wakhan Corridor has been closed to regular traffic for over a century and there is no modern road. There is a rough road from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e Brogil built in the 1960s, but now also rough mountainous road beyond, as well as some breathtaking mountainous paths available for horses only. These paths run some 100 km from the road end to the Chinese border and further to the far end of the Little Pamir.
Arrive in Khandud, center of Wakhan district. Lunch and again passing registration procedure. Then, if we have time, visit women handcraft center and continue to Qala-e Panja.
Night at Shah Langer guesthouse.

Accommodation: Shah Langer guesthouse
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

(85 km, 4 h driving. Overnight elevation: 3300 m)

Early morning, after breakfast, drive from Qala-e Panja to Sarhad-e Broghil (85 km), passing by Wakhan villages one by one, seeing Wakhan local style and learning about the culture.
The Wakhi practice agriculture in the river valleys, and herd animals in the summer pastures at higher elevations. They often have two residences – one for winter and one for summer. Their houses are built of stone and sod. Wakhi people are known for their unique underground houses, where only a hole in the "ceiling" serves for lighting and air ventilation.
Ethnic Wakhi-speakers have a total population of about 50000 – 60000. The population is divided between four countries: Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and China. The Wakhi people have been settlers of their lands for hundreds if not thousands of years however, because of the politics of Russian and British Empires during the 18-19 centuries, boundaries were created which separated the large body of the Wakhis into living in four countries.
Arrive Sarhad-e Broghil, the last big village. Lunch.
Guided will discuss our plan with the head of the village and organizes horses for next day trekking, for riding horseback and carrying luggage.
We drive a bit back westwards to grab the chance and visit Wakhi traditional villages and their houses in Ptuh and Chihil Kand villages.
Evening back in Sarhad, visiting hot springs to have a bath.
Dinner and Overnight at Chaqanbay guesthouse.

Accommodation: Chaqanbay guesthouse
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 6. August 9, 2024 (Friday). SARHAD-E BROGHIL — DAHLEZ PASS — BORAK
(23 km, 5 hrs walk or horseback riding. Elevation gain: 600 m. Overnight elevation: 3400 m)

Early morning, after breakfast, we depart by horsebacks to Wakhi pasture plateau. On these high pastures groundwater and streams create seasonal meadows: the "pamir" from which the region gets its name.
Each traveler has 2 horses, one for riding and another one for the luggage. We will choose the lower way, along picturesque Shover valley with the rivers, pastures and breathtaking views. The parallel upper way goes through Dahlez pass at 4267 meters above sea level and it is in bad condition after building the road here in the valley. Local traders and Wakhi shepherds used to take Dahlez pass in order to reach the valley and get back.
Although the terrain is extremely rugged, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route and it appears that Marco Polo came this way.
We stay overnight in Borak area, camping in tents.

Accommodation: camping in tents
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

(23 km, 6,5 hrs walk or horseback riding. Elevation gain: 920 m. Overnight elevation: 4300 m)

After breakfast, we continue our horseback riding (sometimes switching for trekking) taking steep trail up and then along Wakhi pasture plateau, where Wakhi shepherds breed their sheep on the pure mountain hills at the high elevation.
We pass pristine rivers and cross beautiful wooden bridges which bring us to medieval times. Not many people live here. Wakhan is sparsely populated. The total population is estimated at about 10,600 people. Wakhi and Kyrgyz are the major ethnic groups of Wakhan. Nomadic Kyrgyz herders live at the higher altitudes. We are on the territory of Wakhan Corridor Nature Refuge, where some rare animals can be found, such as ibex and snow leopard (more than 100 cats).
Today we have adventurous trek. Crossing the bridge, we will take steeply up, to climb the Shupadkis Pass, gaining almost 1000 meters of elevation. We cover the distance until Sanghi Nowishta, where we have lunch and where during summer season 2 or 3 Wakhi shepherd families stay. Here some ancient stone inscription can be found.
We spend time in Sanghi Nowishta with Wakhi sheperds who are really hospitable and open minded in this nomadic camp. We will get into acquaintance with the curious Whaki nomadic culture and lifestyle of Wakhi people in this place.
Proceed to Nowhabad Wakhi shepherds summer camp. Late arrival and setting up our night camp. Dinner and overnight.

Accommodation: camping in tents
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

(26 km, 8 hrs walk or horseback riding. Elevation gain: 690 m. Overnight elevation: 4200 m)

Wakhi shepherds come to these mountainous pastures only in late summer, as the summer here in Little Pamir is truly short. We are on the serious elevation where even during summer days you feel cool.
While today trekking we overcome Uween Sar pass (4887 m above sea level), so that we are at the highest point of our expedition.
Trekking/horseback riding (by today you for sure decide what you'd prefer!) until Ghuramdhi Wakhi shepherds' camp. On the way we will pass by another summer camp of Wakhi people.
One more evening dedicated to local Wakhi traditions and photography.
While Kyrgyz people have always been relatively rich pastoralists and primarily used this land for their pastures, Afghan Wakhi were much poorer in late 20th century. Wakhi farmers utilizing the Pamirs for summer grazing tried to compete with the rich Kyrgyz nomads who controlled most of the Pamirs. Some impoverished Wakhi took up jobs as shepherds for Kyrgyz herd owners. Eventually they turned to nomadic strategies, one of the rare case when farmers became nomads. Camping nearby the nomads.

Accommodation: camping in tents
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

(16 km, 4 hrs walk or horseback riding. Elevation gain: 400 m. Overnight elevation: 4100 m)

After breakfast in our camping nearby Wakhi nomads camp, we continue trekking among the mountains, passing Aqbalis pass at the altitude of 4595 m. Today we end up at Qurchin nomadic camp, where we reach first Kyrgyz nomads camp. Getting into acquaintance with Kyrgyz nomadic life, photographing.
While on Earth live some 5 million Kyrgyz people, here in Wakhan Corridor they are considered minority and barely exceed 1000 inhabitants. Kyrgyz, along with Wakhi, occupy the same territory, but speak different languages: Wakhi belongs to the Eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian group, whereas Kyrzyr is Turkic language of the Altaic group. Kirgyz, as opposed to Wakhi, is written language.
While Kyrgyz are predominantly Sunni Muslims, any ancient indigenous beliefs and practices, including shamanism and totemism , coexisted syncretically with Islam. Shamans, most of whom are women, still play a prominent role at funerals, memorials, and other ceremonies and rituals.
Kyrgyz are nomadic and live year-round in yurts. As opposed to Wakhi, Kyrghyz people do not grow any crops and do not practice any form of settled agriculture. Kyrgyz use grazing grounds above 3500 m above sea level for breeding yaks, fat-tailed sheep and goats.
Set up our camping close to Kyrgyz people and their simple local guesthouse. We will buy sheep or goat for dinner.
Dinner and talk around the fire.

Accommodation: local guesthouse
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

(23 km, 5 hrs walk or horseback riding. Elevation gain: 240 m. Overnight elevation: 4170 m)

Today we start trekking along the plan plateau so resembling Bolivian Altiplano. We continue up to Lake Chaqmaqtin. Chaqmaqtin Lake lies at an elevation of 4024 m, extends for about 9 km and is about 2 km wide. The lake is a glacier basin lake formed when the ice was once very thick here before it melted away a few thousand years ago.
This place is known as the Pamir Knot, the area where the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakorum, Kunlun and Hindu Kush ranges meet.
We are now in Little Pamir area which is the home for Kyrgyz nomads scattered on this mountainous territory.
The Little Pamir is a broad grassy valley 100 km long and 10 km wide, and is bounded to the north by the Pamir Mountains. The Little Pamir is used by semi-nomadic Kyrgyz herders for summer pasture. Until 1978 the northeastern portion of Wakhan (the Great Pamir and the Little Pamir) was home to about 3000 – 5000 ethnic Kyrgyz. In 1978 almost all the inhabitants fled to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Saur Revolution. Many of the Kyrgyz subsequently migrated to Turkey, but in October 1979, following bringing the Soviet military forces to Afghanistan, a group of about 200 Kyrgyz returned to the Little Pamir. In 2003 there were 140 yurt households in the area (some 1000 Kyrgyz people).
You still can rely on your horses (no trust to your legs already) and take an advantage to spend this fool day with your new friend before we say them goodbye in the afternoon. The trekking/horse riding part is finished here.
Today we finish in Qurchin reaching Kyrgyz nomadic camp. There is simple home stay here, so no need in our tents. We can stay in the guesthouse. Keep discovering the Kyrgyz culture.
We can walk downhill to visit another Kyrgyz camp (some 3 km). And in the evening we will witness Buzkashi — traditional Afghani game, a kind of polo, where 2 teams on horseback's struggle for the goat skin.

Accommodation: local guesthouse
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 11. August 14, 2024 (Wednesday). UCHJILGHA KYRGYZ CAMP (CHAQMAQTIN LAKE) — BOZA'I GONBAD — SARHAD-E BROGHIL — QALA-E PANJA (165 km, 8-9 hrs driving)

After breakfast and mobbing observation of Kyrgyz lifestyle (yak milking), we start driving back by 4x4 Land Cruisers.
First stop in Baza'i Gonbad. Baza'i Gonbad is the site of a domed tomb and nearby settlement of Kyrgyz herders. The shrines and tombs scattered throughout the area are all of a comparatively recent character.
For 4-5 hours we will cover so called "lower way" — very picturesque road along the river valley, right on the edge of the mountain.
We are back to the river and to the relatively less altitude. The valley supports populations of Marco Polo sheep and ibex. The Marco Polo sheep's habitat is the mountainous regions of Central Asia. They are distinguishable mostly by their large size and spiraling horns. Their conservation status is "near threatened" and efforts have been made to protect their numbers and keep them from commercial hunting. It has also been suggested that crossing them with domestic sheep could have agricultural benefits.
Lunch in Sarhad-e Broghil. Continue driving up to Qala-e Panja.
Night at Shah Langer guesthouse. Shower.

Accommodation: Shah Langer guesthouse
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 12. August 15, 2024 (Thursday). QALA-E PANJA — ISHKASHIM — FAYZABAD (265 km, 8-9 hrs driving)

Breakfast and start driving to Fayzabad (265 km), first half by dirty road and then tar road.
Lunch in Ishkashim located right on the border with Tajikistan (traditional Afghani food).
We change the cars again and continue to Fayzabad.
Upon arrival in Fayzabad, we have dinner and check-in at the hotel. Then we can walk around the bazaar to see local life. Overnight in hotel Bamyi Dunya.

Accommodation: Bamyi Dunya hotel or similar
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 13. August 16, 2024 (Friday). FAYZABAD — KABUL (540 km, 12-13 h driving)

Early breakfast and long drive (540 km, 12-13 hours) to Kabul. Lunch en route. We drive via Kunduz and Polikhumri provinces, making short stops in interesting places en route. Upon arrival in Kabul, dinner and overnight in Kabul Star hotel.

Accommodation: Kabul Star hotel or similar
Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 14. August 17, 2024 (Saturday). KABUL — RETURN FLIGHT

Breakfast and city tour: National museum, Kartai Sakhi Shrine, Babur Shan Garden and Birds' bazaar, Chicken street, historical area of Kabul. Visit to the street with plenty of souvenir shops and authentic goods from Afghanistan.
Lunch and in the afternoon transfer to the airport of Kabul. Check-in and return flight home or another destination.

Recommended flight:
— with FlyDubai to Dubai, departure from Kabul at 16:20, arrival in Dubai at 19:20,
— with KamAir to Dubai, departure from Kabul at 17:20, flight RQ-901, arrival in Dubai at 19:50,
— with any other flight that departs from Kabul in the afternoon on August 17 or in the night from August 17 to 18.

Accommodation: no
Meals: breakfast, lunch

Cost includes:

· double/twin accommodation in hotels (Kabul and Fayzabad) and tents
· accommodation (not double) in guest houses and in homestay (Ishkashim, Qala-i-Panj, Sarhad-e-Brohil)
· transport along the route: big Mercedes bus from Kabul to Fayzabad, Land Cruiser 100/200 from Fayzabad to Ishkashim and back, Land Cruiser 70/80/100 or similar from Ishkashim to Sarhad and back, Land Cruiser 70/80/100 or similar from Lake Chaqmaqtyn to Sarhad (max 3 persons in 1 Land Cruiser, incl. 2 people in the back and 1 in front)
· airport transfers
· 2 horses per person for trekking route: one for riding horseback and another for carrying luggage
· full board meals (3 meals a day) along the whole route, cook services
· drinking water along the whole itinerary
· camping equipment (tents, cooking stuff, dishware, cutlery) and camping services
· permit for Wakhan, Afghanistan and all permits and paper work in Afghanistan
· Afghanistan visa facilitation
· all entrance tickets as per program for all sites and parks
· Buzkashi traditional game
· financial support of local communities, local guides
· experienced local English speaking guide along the route
· English and Russian speaking team leader with alpinist and horseback riding background

Cost excludes (additionally paid):

· international flight to Kabul roundtrip (about USD 1000 – 1300)
· international medical insurance,
· Afghanistan visa (80 – 150 USD in Afghanistan embassy in advance, price can be changed),
· personal items, souvenirs,
· alcohol, soft drinks,
· photo fees to the people you photograph
· single supplement
· tips

To take with:

· two wear sets (trousers, long sleeve shirt, T-shirt, underwear, socks, sun hat);
· light trekking jacket, proper warm jacket with wind stopper for highlands (can be cold, up to +5 / +10 C in the mountains and even less on the passes);
· light gloves and mountain hat;
· comfortable and hard wearing shoes: 1) light ones for the towns; 2) trekking waterproof boots for trekking; 3) slippers;
· long raincoat (is a must);
· swimsuit;
· sun and wind protection means (cream, sunglasses, sun hat)
· forehead torch;
· trekking poles;
· travel backpack or bag (waterproof), some 80 liters capacity;
· small waterproof backpack for personal stuff and photo-, video cameras;
· tourist sleeping mat;
· sleeping bag for 0/+5 degrees C (can be cool at night in the mountains),
· personal medical kit (analgesic, antiseptic, antibiotic, antiviral, intestinal, multivitamins, rehydration, court plaster, medicine from motion sickness, your personal medicine, pills from mountainous sickness);
· personal hygiene items (towel, soap, many wet tissues as no shower for number of days);
· anti mosquito repellents;
· photo-, video camera;
· additional batteries for cameras and power bank (or solar charger for charging phone batteries or camera battery)

Best season: June – September

Wakhan Corridor – the remote appendix of Afghanistan, a non-touristic mountainous region, most of which is passable only on foot or on horseback. Wakhan corridor once became a trade route traveled by Marco Polo.

Minor authentic tribes of Kyrgyz people nomading at an altitude of more than 4 thousand meters in the Little Pamir.

Wakhi people, known for their unique underground houses with a hole in the ceiling and the fact that some of them switched from a settled to a nomadic way of life.

The Pamir Knot – the place where 5 ranges meet at once: where the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakorum, Kunlun and Hindu Kush, with its mountain lakes, rapid rivers and meadows.

Authentic Kabul and picturesque Badakhshan province.

Deep dive into Afghan reality, Afghan cuisine and Afghan hospitality.

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    Photographs used on this page:
    ©️ Alessandro Bergamini

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