The Wakhan Corridor is a narrow panhandle of alpine valleys and high mountains that stretches eastward from the province of Badakhshan following the head waters of the Amu Daria from Eshkashem to Qala-e-Panj and then the Wakhan river to Sarhad-e-Borghil. Both rivers take there sources in the Pamir Mountains. The Wakhan borders Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and the Pamir to the east.
The corridor was established as an imperial buffer zone between the Russian and British empires in the late 19th century. Wakhan is inhabited by people speaking the local Wakhi language. They adhere to the Ismaili branch of the Muslim faith and are followers of the Aga Khan. Qala Panja is the traditional seat of the family of influential hereditary Sayeds, whose head is the local Ismaili religious and social leader or 'Shah' of the Wakhan.
The Wakhis are transhumance herders and farmers, owning cattle, sheep, and goats and (particularly toward the Pamir) also yaks and Bactrian camels. They cultivate crops of wheat, barley, and millet, which is cultivated in rotation with pulses such as broad beans baghala, field peas myshyng, grass pea patak and small garden plots of potatoes. All crops are spring sown. A few apricot and apple trees are found in some villages but the area is generally too high for fruit production.
The area is characterized by chronic poverty and food deficit as well as having a history of opium addiction and other multiple problems associated with poverty, poor diet, harsh climate, and isolation. At the eastern end of the valley, many Wakhi herding families use the Big Pamir as seasonal grazing for their livestock in the summer months, and some even use parts of the Big Pamir during the winter as well. Agriculture and settlements lie along the line of the Amu Daria and Wakhan rivers at altitudes between 2 600 and 3 000 m. The winters are characterized by intense cold and icy winds drawn down the funnel of the Panj Valley. On occasion there are heavy snowfalls that block roads for weeks.