The Wakhan corridor is one of the remotest places in Asia, inhabited by Kyrgyz and Wakhi’s. Getting there is expensive and time-consuming. The Wakhan Kyrgyz are a rough bunch, often not reliable (opium-smokers), and even frequent visitors to the Wakhan will pull their hair out in dealing with them. It’s often all about the money, a concept new to them. Due to recent contact with foreigners, they are more demanding and less content with their own harsh lifestyle.
On the upside, it is an incredibly special place, peaceful, where you are completely on your own. Also, Wakhi’s, the other inhabitants of the Wakhan, are a totally different people from the Kyrgyz.
It needs to be noted that if you want to meet the Kyrgyz, and really want to experience the loneliness of the Wakhan, you need to go past Sarhad-e Brogil, where the road ends, to find their first camp. It’s recommended to go beyond that one, since they are a particularly nasty bunch according to those in the know. This will require serious expeditioning.
All pictures courtesy of Muteki
Traveling the Wakhan Corridor is traveling to the outer reaches of the planet, or the inner core, as you wish. In any case, it’s very remote, which really places you in another world from the one you know. Its remoteness and ruggedness also makes it very expensive to get to, so even though the people of Wakhan are very poor, you are hopefully not.
First thing you should be reading is this excellent brochure (yes, it has a map) by the Aga Khan foundation. It will really make you want to go. It also offers a lot of practical information like itineraries, weather, culture and history. I have copied some of the most important info below.
Drive to Sarhad-e Broghil enjoying beautiful scenery, village walks, diverse cultural exchanges, and visits to intriguing roadside tombs, shrines and petroglyphs. A shorter road trip as far as Qila-e Panja allows for a side trip to the confluence of the Pamir and Wakhan Rivers and a visit to Avgarch village. The spectacular route to Noshaq Base Camp offers world-class trekking just an hour’s drive from Ishkashim.
Try one longer route to picturesque Zorkol in the Big Pamir, or to the nearest Kyrgyz camps in the Little Pamir. Combine two routes by traversing the Big Pamir starting from Goz Khun to Zorkol, and then to Sarhad-e Broghil in Upper Wakhan. Attempt a cross-border route from Sarhad-e Broghil in Upper Wakhan to Pakistan’s Northern Areas.
Visit Chaqmaqtin Lake in the Little Pamir and outlying Kyrgyz settlements. Enjoy wildlife viewing in the Little Pamir’s Wakhjir Valley. Combine routes by visiting the Big Pamir and more remote areas of the Little Pamir.
The duration of these itineraries is optimistic. Organisation is time-consuming and things tend to go awry. For instance, photographer and frequent visitor Matthieu Paley budgets 5 weeks to have 11 days of actual time with the Kyrgyz.
When to go
The tourist season in Wakhan is relatively short, starting in May or June and lasting until September or early October. From April to early June, melting snow swells rivers and high water blocks road access to many areas, making some rivers crossings impassable by foot, animal or vehicle. Many areas only become accessible as of early July. The later in summer you travel, the easier it is to cross streams and rivers, and the greater the likelihood of being able to drive as far as Sarhad-e Broghil. August to mid-September is the optimal travel time. By early September, however, snow can close trails and roads for the season.
We have a forum topic running for all questions and comments regarding when to go and what to expect at different times.
Trekking and climbing
There is a lot to say about the topic, and others have done it before us. Check out the excellent Juldu site first. After, look at the following trek reports here, here, and here for a lot more practical information that isn’t discussed here and a view of life in the Wakhan.
If you have been, please report back here, we are starved for reliable information.
Guides, tours, donkeys and horses
Mountain Unity was the expert on travel in Wakhan, and was well-respected. It is no more, and is now recommending Wakhan Adventure. Some had a great experience with them, while others mention that they are not well-liked by locals and are even under suspicion of fraud, or simply disorganised and pretty clueless. Chime in on our Wakhan tour operator topic if you know more or have further questions.
You can also try to find a guide in town, prices are around 15 – 30$ per day. It will be difficult to find one who speaks English by yourself. Wafiola runs a tourist agency in Eshkashim, he can set you up with an English-speaking guide for 20-25$ per day (haggle!). Another young man who is recommended is Farhad Badakhsh – farhad.badakhsh(at)yahoodotcom, phone 93 797622978.
Animals come with their owner, so a guide might not be necessary, if you’re willing to struggle a bit without a common language. Donkeys cost 400 afghanis per day, horses 800 afghanis per day. Sayeed Faqir from Sargaz is a good, honest, cheerful donkey owner who knows a few words of English.
Although the Wakhan corridor is safe and has not seen war in recent history, you need to travel through Ishkashim and beyond to get there. Ishkashim has historically been seen as a safe place, but this has changed since 2015. Inform yourself thoroughly with local sources. Nearby areas are known to harbour separatist forces.
Updates are welcomed in our Wakhan corridor security topic.
In Sultan Ishkashim, the Pamir Marco Polo Guest House comes recommended. Owner is Abdul Samad. A little past the main village, it is set in a peaceful, quiet garden with fantastic mountain views, great food and a very clean bathroom. The owner is very kind, and can help with getting things done for you. Cost is $25 per person per night, which including a lavish dinner and very good breakfast.
An American lady writes us in June 2013: We stayed in guesthouses each night. Even the smallest villages seem to have one. Costs ranged from $15 to $25 per person per night, including dinner and breakfast. We didn’t have camping equipment with us, but I saw signs in several villages for camp sites that appeared to have been developed by a Swedish NGO.
The food will consist of rice, flat bread, wonderful middle-east-meets-central asia chicken and mutton dishes, dhal, yogurt, butter, cucumber and tomato salads, and gallons and gallons of “sheer choy” or butter tea. Food at meals will be plentiful and delicious. Every village where you stop, even if only for a short time, will want to offer some sheer choy and bread–and often more, like bowls of yogurt.
A car + driver will cost 100$ per day. A 4WD is necessary, Afghanistan has some of the worst roads in the world. There is no public transport in the Wakhan Corridor. If you want to cycle, take plenty of spare parts.
A car from Eshkashim to Sarhad costs 450$, 400$ for hagglers. It’s 200 km distance, but it takes a whole day to get there due to the very bad road. Sargas is 300$. Best to team up with other travelers, or to hitchhike! It’s easy, says one traveler. If you have the time to wait for a day or 2, you can get a cheaper ride back from Sarhad to Eshkashim with a car that was going empty already. Although hitch-hiking is apparently an option for the time-rich, please note there are only 4-5 cars in the Wakhan corridor.
Dollars are king here. You can pay the driver and guest houses in dollars–they prefer it. Big suggestion is that you bring lots of small bills, $5’s and 10’s. If your guesthouse costs $15, you will cause a panic in the village if you try to pay with a $100 bill. You can also change dollars to Afghani’s in Sultan Ishkashim. There is just one money changer, north of the market’s junction. In June 2013, the rate was about 54 Afghanis to 1 USD.
Border crossings, permit and visa
All info regarding the Afghanistan visa can be found on that page, as well as how to get the Wakhan Corridor permit. For border crossings, check Afghanistan border crossings. Note that you might be able to meet Kyrgyz people in the town of Babagundi in Pakistan, where there is no border crossing. They are allowed to come down there to barter.
A traveler reports, June 2013: You must register with three different government agencies in Sultan Ishkashim (Tourist police, Ishkashim province police and military.) You will need four passport sized photos for these registrations (women should have headscarf photo). You can get photos taken in Sultan Ishkashim.
You must also register with Wakhan province police in each village where you stay. We had Farhad help us in Sultan Iskashim with the three registrations and it still took three hours. You could certainly do this on your own, but I am sure it would take a lot longer. Registration for the Wakhan and villages takes varying amounts of time. For helping us with registration, getting the driver and translator, plus arranging some things for us when we returned to Sultan Ishkashim from the villages, we paid our guide a total of $50. We considered it money well spent.
Note that in each registration office, people often know more English than they pretend to know. If you are speaking English, don’t say anything too interesting, you will be processed faster.
Food is plentiful, coffee and sweets are not. You will also need to bring a couple liters of drinking water. This or water purification is good to have.
At many of the small villages people will ask for medical advice and medication. Depending on how you feel about dispensing this kind of thing, you might consider stocking up on basic medicines to distribute. People have very little access to medical care or medication, and what they can access is horribly expensive for them.
Photos and videos
Lots of people with expensive camera equipment have gone to the Wakhan. They have come back with some of the best photojournalism around. See the works of Theodore Kaye, Matthieu Paley, Fabrice Nadjari and Cedric Houin, or see Youtube and Vimeo for commendable videos.