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170 BADAKHSHAN •• Wakhan & The Afghan Pamir

the last place to buy food and basic supplies. The semi-ruined, domed tomb of Fateh Ali Shah is an evocative village landmark called Ras Malack. Khandood Campsite, a three- minute walk from the road, is a grassy com- pound in the village.


Qila-e Panja, 28km from Khandud, is a large village and home to Pir Shah Ismail, the spiritual leader of Ismailis in Wakhan.

Nearby the border police checkpost is the former hunting lodge of Afghanistan’s last king Zahir Shah. Qila-e Panja (Fort of Panja) was the capital of the former kingdom of Wakhan, and ruins of two forts are near the river. Qila-e Panja, as an historically signifi- cant site, also has the sacred shrine of Panja Shah, which is maintained by descendants of the last Mir of Wakhan. Qila-e-Panjah Camp Site is really a plan-

tation with room to pitch tents between rows of trees. The fenced compound pro- vides a much needed wind break, although water is several minutes’ walk away.

Upper Wakhan

The Wakhi villages in Upper Wakhan be- tween Qila-e Panja and Sarhad-e Broghil lie along the narrow Wakhan River, which opens to a dramatic 3km-wide river basin at Sarhad-e Broghil. Wetlands along the river are nesting grounds for geese, ducks and ibises, as well as stopovers for migratory waterfowl and raptors, and marshy flats pro- vide year-round habitat for wading birds. Wakhi, who depend on livestock to sup- plement their agriculture, take their herds to seasonal pastures as high as 4500m, where they greet guests with a warm smile, cup of tea and bowl of yogurt.


The easy walk 90km along the road from Qila-e Panja to Sarhad-e Broghil offers an opportunity to visit friendly villages while acclimatising for longer treks. The main road stays on the Wakhan River’s north- side east of Sast, but you can vary the route by crossing the bridge to the river’s south bank between Sargez and Baba Tungi, and recrossing to the main road on the bridge between Kret and Rorung. Less expensive than driving, walking is the only way to go when the road is flooded

or blocked by landslides. It takes four days, camping overnight in Shelk or Sargez, Kret and Neshtkhawar or other nearby villages, with good views of snowcapped Baba Tungi (6513m) along the way. You don’t have to always walk on the road itself as some very pleasant trails connect vil- lages in a straighter line. You may consider buying a donkey.


The broad, grassy Broghil Pass (3882m), on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is the lowest pass across the Hindu Kush range. It is an easy day trip from Nirs on foot or horseback. A half-day side trip on foot to an ancient Tibetan fort high above Korkut reveals breathtaking valley views. (Warning: crossing the Broghil Pass into Pakistan is not permitted.)


Sarhad-e Broghil (3290m), 90km from Qila-e Panja, marks the road’s end and the trailhead for treks to the Little Pamir. Qach Beg Guest House has an expansive, grassy area for camping in front of the building. Arbob Toshi Boy’s Guesthouse is in a tiny, walled compound at the village’s eastern end. Cold springs throughout the village provide drinking water.

Big Pamir

The 60km long Big Pamir nestles between the Southern Alichur Range to the north and the Wakhan Range to the south. The Big Pamir or Great Pamir is called Past Pamir in Wakhi, and Pamir-e Kalan or Pamir-e Buzurg in Persian.


Goz Khun (2900m), 11km west of Sast bridge, is the primary trailhead for treks to the Big Pamir. Two guesthouses with the same name, Goz Khan Guesthouse, also have areas for tents.


Zorkol, the Persian name for the lake that 19th-century British explorers called Lake Victoria, is the Afghan Pamir’s largest lake at 20km by 5km. Two routes via the Big Pamir lead to the lake, which lies on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, each taking eight days.

BADAKHSHAN •• Wakhan & The Afghan Pamir 171

KYRGYZ OF THE AFGHAN PAMIR John Mock & Kimberley O’Neil

Central Asia’s Altai mountains along Mongolia’s western border are the traditional home of the Kyrgyz, a Turkic pastoral nomadic group. Each summer, small bands of Kyrgyz would migrate from lower valleys in Central Asia to the Afghan Pamir, but following the 1917 Soviet revolution, several thousand Kyrgyz settled permanently in the Afghan Pamir. Their once wide-ranging migration became a series of short, seasonal movements between 4000m and 4500m within the Afghan Pamir’s closed frontiers. Kyrgyz nomads live in felt yurts, which they move seasonally according to available grasslands, sunlight and shelter from wind. Kyrgyz tend herds of sheep, goats, yaks and camels, and trade with Wakhi neighbours or travelling merchants for all their needs not supplied by livestock. Following the Soviet-backed 1978 coup in Afghanistan, some 1300 Kyrgyz, led by Haji Rahman Qul, left the Afghan Pamir for Pakistan and in 1982 resettled in eastern Turkey. Today, only about 1500 remaining Kyrgyz preserve this vanishing lifestyle.

The demanding 150km-long high route,

which starts from Sargez, crosses three challenging passes between 4400m and 4800m, goes through the Wakhi summer settlements of Istimoch, Shikargah, Alisu, and Jermasirt, and offers wildlife watching in the Big Pamir Wildlife Reserve. A more moderate route along the Pamir

River, which starts from Goz Khun, has pleasant scenery, more gradual acclima- tisation, and avoids crossing high passes. Several side valleys link this river route to the high route offering many variations.


This 65km-long route between Upper Wa- khan and Zorkol is a demanding five-day trek, but offers some of the most impres- sive high mountain scenery anywhere in Wakhan. It crosses two passes and visits Wakhi summer settlements before reaching Kyrgyz territory near Zorkol. The flower- carpeted Spreg Shir Uween (4723m) just north of Sarhad-e Broghil has outstanding views south to the Hindu Raj Range and leads north to an alpine basin dotted with turquoise lakes. Crossing Kotal-e Shaur (4890m) involves a short, nontechnical walk on snow and glacier after spending a night in a glacial cirque. This route links up with other routes to and from the Little Pamir and Big Pamir. A yak is helpful for two of the river cross- ings. Prior acclimatisation is essential.

Little Pamir

The Little Pamir, at 100km long and 10km wide, is actually larger in area than the Big Pamir, yet the more rugged Big Pamir has a higher elevation and so earns its

name. The Little Pamir or Small Pamir is called Wuch Pamir in Wakhi, and Pamir- e Khurd or Pamir-e Kochak in Persian. Its most remote valleys, no longer used for grazing, are pristine alpine grasslands. Tombs called gumbaz with distinctive conical mud cupolas mark Kyrgyz graves. Wildlife watchers will find the area home to Marco Polo sheep, snow leopards and brown bears.


Two routes to the Little Pamir and the near- est Kyrgyz camp of Kashch Goz start from Sarhad-e Broghil, the high route and the river route. The high route is longer and harder, crossing two passes, but is far more scenic. Both routes first cross grassy Daliz Pass (4267m) and descend east to Borak. Kashch Goz is a colourful cluster of yurts whose fami- lies welcome visitors. From Borak, the high route ascends the

Shpodkis Valley to the north going through Wakhi summer settlements, including Sang Nevishta with its numerous petroglyphs, to cross snow-covered Uween-e-Sar (4887m). It then turns south and east to cross the flower-carpeted Aqbelis Pass (4595m) with its large lake, and offers views of Chaqmaq- tin Lake as you descend to Kashch Goz. The demanding 90km-long route takes five days.

The moderate 65km-long trek along the

Wakhan River route takes four days, fol- lowing the river’s north side east from Borak to Kashch Goz. The route goes past several Wakhi winter settlements near the vast plain of Langar, but is typically not used by local people in summer when it can be blocked by high water.


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