Hello to all lovers of Afghanistan!
I prepared this UPDATE 2006 by talking to several of the very few travellers who travelled in the Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir in the summer of 2006, and by cross-checking available information from different sources.
I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who left positive and encouraging messages in my guest book. Despite of the worsening overall security situation in Afghanistan over the past year, I believe Badakhshan has by and large remained a safe-haven and more than ever can be considered as a destination worth discovering. I hope this web site will continue to inspire travellers to explore the high valleys of the Pamirs and to meet with the hospitable Wakhi and Kirghiz people.
Before going any further, I think it is important to mention the disappearance of 26-year old Russian traveller Sergei Bereznitsky in the Wakhan. His last text message to his familly was received by cell phone from Faizabad on August 27. Sergei was supposed to return to Moscow no later than early October 2006. You may find more details about Sergei by clicking here.
After weeks of investigation, it appears that Sergei was last seen in September walking alone from Sarhad-e-Boroghil back to Eshkashem, and later in a car seen passing the police control at Qala-e-Panj with an unknown driver. There has been no more news about Sergei since then. It is important to learn from this story and I would like to remind all would-be travellers in the Wakhan and Pamir that it is essential to follow some basic recommendations:
In case you
have some information about Sergei, please write to the
coordinator of the search.
By cross-checking information from several travellers and specialists of the area, it appears that more than two dozen foreigners travelled in the Wakhan and Pamir during the summer of 2006, double the 2005 figure.
Agustinus, a young Indonesian traveller spent a couple of weeks in the Wakhan Corridor between July and August. He spent a few days in the village of Krat on the South bank of the Wakhan river, sharing the life of local people. Agustinus kept a very interesting and well written blog about his trip to the Wakhan that can be found here (July blog), here (August blog) and here (pictures). In case the links are dead, you may download Agustinus' blog here.
Two French travellers made the trip up to Lake Chaqmartin in July 2006. They came back with some great pictures that you may find here. Most memorably, they had the surprise of being caught in a snow storm in the middle of the summer ; see their fantastic pictures of the Pamir under the snow. The temperature dropped down to -12 degrees, imagine how it can be in the winter...
Two Germans travelling by car managed to cross the Tajik-Afghan border with a Landcruiser! After driving 180 km through the Wakhan corridor, they continued with two donkeys for 8 days. Their objective was to deliver mail from the Kirghiz of Ulupamir in Turkey to their relatives in the Pamir. Their trip report and pictures can be found here (German only).
Other travellers include at least four Frenchmen who spent 2-4 weeks in the Wakhan and Pamir, a 32-year old trekker from Pakistan (see his pictures), a group of Japanese people who briefly crossed the Irshad Pass from the Chapurson Valley in Pakistan directly in the Pamirs and walked down to Sarhad and hiked back to Chitral via the Boroghil pass, as well as two young Americans from Tajikistan who spent a couple of days in the Wakhan.
The process to get a permit does not seem to have changed much since 2005, and it is still a hassle. John Mock and Kimberley O'Neil included a useful reminder of the procedure in their Wakhan web page.
However, one 2006 traveller had a slightly different experience to obtain the permit. First he wrote a letter to the Ministry of Tourism that was signed by the Deputy Minister of Tourism. The letter was then presented to the ATO that in turn prepared another letter to be signed by the Deputy Minister of Tourism. The letter, addressed to the Wali of Badakhshan in Faizabad, was then picked up a day later. The Wali then prepared another letter addressed to the waleswali (district) in Khandud. The last permit could finally be obtained from either Khandud or the military commander in Eshkshem (Mir Abdul Wahed Khan). See here for more details.
Another traveller was lucky enough to obtain the permit overnight directly from the ATO without having to go through the Ministry of Tourism. In Faizabad, he obtained a letter from local tourism authority directed to the head of the border police in Eshkashem who in turn issued the final permit.
Crossing the border with Pakistan
Illegal border crossing seems to be attracting a lot of people given the number of information requests I received in 2006! I think it is useful to remind adventurous travellers that crossing borders illegally is not recommended for three reasons:
However, with proper permits it may be possible. You will be need to obtain the authorization from both the Pakistani and the Afghan governments. In Afghanistan, try the ATO, the Ministry of Interior, or both. In Pakistan, you can try to contact the Ministry of Tourism (see here for more details) or the Ministry of Interior Affairs.
Crossing the border with Tajikistan
As noted above, it is possible to cross the border at Eshkashem by car. Apparently, the Afghan embassy in Dushambe can issue a road permit for 100 US$. The border crossing at Eshkashem was reported to be easy. However, opening times were very limited (very long lunchtime, Sunday closed, Saturday closed at noon). A special permit from the local district governor in Eshkashim is then required. The other piece of news is that because the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) recently opened a new bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan at Eshkashem, it is now possible to cross the bridge with 30 t trucks instead of 10 t !
There have been
reports that the border crossing between Ghaz Khan (near
Qala-e-Panj) and Llangar (on the other side of the Wakhan river
in Tajikistan), once made for easier access for Soviet troops
into Afghanistan, is now open to locals. Indonesian traveller Agustinus
was there for the opening of this "Bridge of Hope". You may find
seems that the bridge was actually opened only once. See
Agustinus' October blog
Agustinus write: "The optimistic dreams of the people in
Afghan and Tajik side ended up as dream. The border was only
opened for that day, the bazaar day. and not opened any more
until now. No border crossing was allowed, and even the planned
monthly bazaar had never had to its second time yet."
For any further information regarding Tajikistan and GBAO permit you may check Robert Middleton's site. In Khorog (Tajikistan), the Afghan consul is now able to issue Afghan visas.
Regarding road transport, a traveller has reported that public transportation is fairly easy between Faizabad and Eshkashem. From Eshkashem eastwards, you'll have to wait until there are enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile to the driver, and this can take a couple of days. Beyond Khandud, transport is rare, and even more so between Qala-e-Panj and Sarhad-e-Boroghil where you'll have to rely on luck to get a lift. Another traveller reported that he had to wait a day and a half in Qala-e-Panj to finally get a lift to Khandud, and even half a day in Eshkashem to travel to Faizabad.
In the summer of 2006, a donkey and his owner could be rented for 8 US$/day.
If you are looking for a guide, John and Kim published a short list of local English-speaking guides in their Wakhan web page. I would add to their list Alam Jan Dario, a Wakhi guide living in the Chapurson Valley of Pakistan. Alam Jan speaks English, has conducted several teams through the Wakhan and Pamir, and has been recommended by several travellers. You will find his contact details and web site address in the guest book.
For arranged expeditions, Great Game Travel may be able to organize trekking expeditions in the Wakhan. They also have an office in Faizabad run by Jason Kerr who has lived there more than five years.
Last minute info: Mountain Wilderness, Association La Boscaglia, and Tour Operator Nodo Infinito are organizing the first ever tour-group trekking expedition in the Wakhan and the two Pamirs in August 2007. See here for more details.
The AKDN, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway has been helping some families in the Wakhan to establish modest tourist guestshouses. People have also been trained in guesthouse management and work as tourist guides.
In Eshkashem, nobody stays at AKDN anymore, as there are now at least three guest houses there. Beyond Eshkashem, guesthouses include the village of Qala-e-Qazde, Qala-e-Panj, Ghaz-Khan, Sarhad-e-Borghil, as well as a camp side in Khundud.
In Sarhad-e-Boroghil, there are two guest houses: Toshi Boi manages a Tajik-style guesthouse, while Qach Beg's includes a nice camping area. Chaqon Boi is building one but it is not finished yet.
AKDN in Eshkashem is doing a lot to promote tourism in the Wakhan and Pamir. The person to contact for further details is Mr. Farman Ali.
Another NGO involved in the Wakhan is the Wildlife Conservation Society. Through the Afghanistan Biodiversity Project, a three-year project funded by USAID, the WCS is focusing on preserving the wildlife habitats and wildlife populations in the Wakhan Corridor.
Of course, ORA International is still present in the Wakhan and Alex Duncan still provides medical treatment to the Wakhi people from his new base in Kepkut.
Maps & Resources
The big piece of news for Afghanistan is the imminent release of the first ever Lonely Planet Guide dedicated to the country. Paul Clammer, the coordinating author, is currently researching this first edition, while John Mock and Kimberley O'Neil are preparing a general section on Wakhan and Pamir. It is due to be published in August 2007. See Amazon web site.
In 2006, John Mock, Kimberley O'Neil and Matthieu Paley prepared a 16-page tourism brochure called Wakhan & the Afghan Pamir with descriptive text, route information, and detailed two-page route map, published by the Aga Khan Development Foundation. To view a preview, visit photographer Matthieu Paley's website, click on "Books", then on "Wakhan & the Afghan Pamir" (best viewed with Flash). AKDN is responsible for distribution of the brochure. You may try to request one by writing to their office in Kabul (PO Box 5753, Kabul, Afghanistan). The brochure will soon be available here for download, so don't forget to come back!
John and Kim contributed the essay The Roof of the World on Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir to a travel literature anthology entitled The Lonely Planet Guide to the Middle of Nowhere, published in October 2006 by Lonely Planet Publications.
Another sign that Northwestern Afghanistan is developing is the recent opening of a brand new internet cafe in Faizabad!
Apart from the maps that are discussed in the Maps section of Juldu.com, there is some additional detailed information about maps of the Wakhan and Afghan Pamir in John and Kim's Wakhan web page.
For more pictures, you can check John and Kim's 2004 expedition slide show. You may also check Nikolay's web site. Nikolay is a Russian backpacker who hiked all the way to the Little Pamir in from August 27 to September 22 2005.
For information about the Charpursan Valley in Pakistan and the Irshad Uween Pass into Afghanistan, see this trip report.
All the best,