Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

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ventureforthphoto
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Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby ventureforthphoto » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:26 pm

Just spent a fantastic month in the Afghan Wakhan, and wanted to report back a few things.

Guides:
My primary piece of advice, if you’re planning on using a guide, is to do everything in your power to get a Wakhi guide. It will give you a far more authentic local connection as you travel through the Wakhi areas (and the Kyrgyz areas for that matter).

All of the guides in Ishkashem are not Wakhi, and they will tell you it isn’t possible to find a guide after you head up into the Wakhan, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you can’t connect with a Wakhi guide before you arrive, then just engage one of the Ishkashem guides for a day to get your paperwork in order (a Byzantine process) and help buying food supplies, then hire a vehicle to Khandood or Qala-e-panja, and spend a night at one of the comfortable guest houses in those places. Let it be known that you are looking for a guide, and you will be quickly connected to one. The price should be $25 a day maximum, with cheaper rates negotiable for longer trips.

I hired Ibrahim Amdard from Khandood, and he was wonderful. We had to work sometimes at communicating, but he’s quite bright, and his English got dramatically better in the weeks we were together. His Tajik number is: ‭+992 502165904‬. If you call him ahead of time he can meet you in Ishkashem and take you through the permit and provisioning process. He’s a trained pharmacist, and has a small pharmacy in Khandood (the Wakhi all call him doctor) so you can look for him there if you can’t get ahold of him prior.

Transport:
The price from Ishkashem to Sarhad has been fixed at $300, in either direction. If somebody tries to charge you more, demand to see the official price list, which does exist, and is commonly available.
The main transport folks are based in Khandood, where you will have to stop for police formalities. They will be insistent on finding out exactly how much you’re paying for transport. If you’ve somehow negotiated a better deal, good luck navigating past them.

To Khandood it should be about $120, and another $30 to Qala-e-panja.

I went as far as Qala, and then hired a donkey and walked to Sarhad over the course of 4.5 days. It was immensely satisfying, and also a good way to get gradually used to the elevation. There are good guest houses at regular intervals ( i stayed at Wuzed, Sargez, Wardi, and Prukh). The longest gap is the last day into Sarhad, so for that day I hired an extra donkey and rode (bit of advice: unless you’re an experienced donkey rider, hand your camera bag off to somebody else before you attempt a river crossing, thankfully I had the foresight to do so).

Misc:
I had read that the river route up to Chaqmaqtin could be impassable in the summer if the water level was too high on a couple of the side streams. There are two new bridges though, so that is no longer an issue. I recommend the river route, again because it’s a good way to gain your elevation gradually, and it’s beautiful. Take the high route on your way back.

I ended up doing the whole loop on horseback (I’m old and fat) and really enjoyed it (other than the steep downhill sections which were massively vertigo-inducing on horseback). I had a fantastic horseman who I hired out of Ptukh, his name was Mirzo, and he is incredibly capable, dependable,and kind, as well as extremely familiar with the entire Pamir area and every settlement. People greeted him with genuine fondness wherever we went. He is worth seeking out, although he doesn’t have a phone, so there is no way to plan ahead with him. He has an older brother whose name I don’t get, but I’m guessing he would give you a similar experience.

Kashch Goz, the first Kyrgyz camp as you emerge onto the Pamir, richly deserves its BAD reputation. The Kyrgyz there are rude and aggressively indifferent. I had a 11 year old kid look me right in the eye as he rode his horse into my tent. I was livid and probably would have gotten myself in trouble if he had done any real damage. (The Wakhi workers there were wonderfully gracious and friendly, as always).

This was is stark contrast to my experience with the Kyrgyz every where else in the little pamir, so if you do have a negative experience in Kashch Goz, don’t let it color your opinion of the Kyrgyz generally.

The Kyrgyz were generally extremely gracious and hospitable, except in those camps that obviously had heavy opium use, in which case they were just kind of incoherent. I was carrying a small printer with me, and gave out over two hundred portrait prints over the course of my trip, which probably explains the number of animals that were slaughtered on my behalf. I don’t think you can count on having as much meat in your diet as I did.

That’s all that is coming to mind right now, I’ll add more if something occurs to me. If you have any questions, Instagram is probably a more reliable way to get ahold of me than messages here (link in signature below).

(Oh yeah, a couple bags of hard candies purchased in Ishkashem will make you very popular with your guide/horseman/donkey drover. I recommend the “milky nutty version)
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ventureforthphoto
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby ventureforthphoto » Wed Aug 22, 2018 4:17 am

Here’s a note I just posted to the LP Tt in response to a question.

Do you have a rough idea of your total on the ground costs for the month?
——————————-
I didn’t do a very good job of tracking, and I went pretty deluxe (guide, horse), here’s a bit of a breakdown.

Guide: $25 a day x 23 days
Donkey and Donkey driver: $10 x 21 days (normally $7 a day, but I liked him and strictly speaking I should have had two donkeys for my load)
Horseman and Horse: $14 a day x 17 days (if you can find my guy, Mirzo, you could probably do without a guide, he’s very bright and capable. Get an offline Farsi translator in your phone, it will mostly work for Dari).

Room and board: $14 a night beyond Sarhad, including food for me and my crew. Sometimes/rarely more was asked, but Ibrahim always talked them back down to $14. From Ishkashem to Sarhad it was again usually $14, but $20 in Qala-e-panja and Sarhad, and $25 in Khandood. You can expect to pay an extra $5 for lunch if you take a day off at a guest house.

I spent about $75 for food and supplies in Ishkashem, which was enough to feed four of us for the Five night we camped and various lunches while on the trail, augmented by bread purchased along the way, and dish that Mirzo netted.
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jacoblab1
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby jacoblab1 » Wed Aug 22, 2018 4:12 pm

Thanks for the report!

Do you think it's reasonable to do without a guide, and just travel with a donkey to hold food supplies? I'm decently experienced with trekking and am able to carry my own bag, so I would likely just need something to carry a decent amount of food. I've read that some of the donkey owners speak a bit of English, and know the route well.

Would you recommend the walk from Qala to Sarhad versus a vehicle the whole way? Sounds like it could be a nice option, for one way at least.

I'm also thinking of doing the low route towards the little pamir, and then taking the high route back. How many days of food did you need to bring? I'm hoping to camp a decent amount, but I guess if camping near a village, I could just pay for meals rather than a bed?

Thanks!
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ventureforthphoto
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby ventureforthphoto » Sat Aug 25, 2018 4:36 pm

You’re very unlikely to find a donkey man who speaks any English. You also might have trouble choosing your own donkeyman. There’s a system, and whoever’s turn it is, that’s generally who you’ll get.

That said, if you got an older (35-40) donkeyman who was from Sarhad, he would likely be pretty familiar with the mountains and the Pamirs.

Not sure how camping near the settlements would work for Your donkeyman, generally whatever local crew you bring with you is fed and housed by the guesthouse where you stay. It would be throwing a wrench in that system if you strictly camped. You’d have to make that intention very clear to your donkey man prior to departure from Sarhad.
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby steven » Fri Sep 07, 2018 1:56 pm

Thanks so much for the great report!
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girlgonetolive
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby girlgonetolive » Wed Sep 26, 2018 6:21 pm

I just got back 2 days ago. There are donkey guides in Sharhad who speak English (at least 2). Their rate is 800-1000A per day and I don't really recommend traveling with them because they are so experienced in ripping tourists off (forcing you to stay in guesthouses and not allowing u to stay with locals if they invite you in for free etc.). I spoke with them and did not like them at all. But of couse try to ask around u might find an honest Eng speaking donkey guide.

I wanted to do mostly camping so I asked for a donley guide who is experienced in that. My guide has his own tent, sleeping bag and mattress. He brought his own food, pot, tea,tea pot, rice, oil, spices etc. He always made a fire every night, cooked and knew all the good camping spots. He's experienced and wonderful. He even knows how to hunt so one night we had wild chicken for dinner.

you can totally do without a proper guide (just an animal guide who knows the trek). if it's not a problem for u to have no one to translate and talk with the locals.

The quality of your guide will make or break your trip. So perhaps spend at least a day with him in Sarhad before u leave for your trip. Communicate well enough of your expectations.

You can totally do the trek on your own without any animals if you are confident. i met a Belgium guy who hiked alone along the Zurkul high route (he brought 6 days worth of food and he said he didnt need most of it), and a Danish guy who did low route to and high route back from Chaqmaqtin. Also, a polish couple who did the Chaqmaqtin trek (same as the Danish guy).

on the high route there are a lot of Wakhi summer settlements so i guess just 2 days worth of food is enough. (but rmb the locals diet consist mostly nothing much more than butter, milk, yogurt, bread, rice and shir chai.)

Just to add: I really wanted to have a good time so i taught myself Farsi, some Wahki and Kyrgyz before i went. i also carried a Farsi phrasebook+dictionary on my phone.

transport wise, I walked from Sargaz to sharhad. It was nice to visit the Wakhi villages, but the way was quite bad because of all the river crossings. I took local shared taxis from Ishkashem to Sargaz and it costed me 2100A ( 28usd) in total (1000A to khandood. 500A to Qala Panja. 600A to Sargaz). its really easy to find the taxis by asking the locals (i speak some broken Farsi) or just wait on the side of the road. on the way back i took 2 cars to go from Sharhad to Ishkashem in 2 days. both rides refused to take any money. I never had any "transport police" giving me or the locals any trouble.
The Belgium guy i met also hitchhiked/local share taxied both ways with no problem. There are probably at least 40 cars living between Ishkashem and sharhad. However that doesnt mean u dont need to budget in the 300usd one way tourist car ride. anything could happen or u might not find any rides if you are that unlucky.
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby bwv812 » Wed Sep 26, 2018 7:41 pm

girlgonetolive wrote: Their rate is 800-1000A per day and I don't really recommend traveling with them because they are so experienced in ripping tourists off (forcing you to stay in guesthouses and not allowing u to stay with locals if they invite you in for free etc.).


Thanks for your informative report.

I'm not sure that guides discouraging you from staying with people for free is ripping you off, though. These are extremely poor people with a culture of hospitality, and while they may feel it's inappropriate to ask for money, in my opinion it's also inappropriate for tourists to economically harm the locals. So even if you are invited to stay somewhere, I always think it's a good idea to try and leave money (or to leave some with the eldest daughter if they absolutely refuse).
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girlgonetolive
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby girlgonetolive » Sat Sep 29, 2018 1:02 pm

bwv812 wrote:
girlgonetolive wrote: Their rate is 800-1000A per day and I don't really recommend traveling with them because they are so experienced in ripping tourists off (forcing you to stay in guesthouses and not allowing u to stay with locals if they invite you in for free etc.).


Thanks for your informative report.

I'm not sure that guides discouraging you from staying with people for free is ripping you off, though. These are extremely poor people with a culture of hospitality, and while they may feel it's inappropriate to ask for money, in my opinion it's also inappropriate for tourists to economically harm the locals. So even if you are invited to stay somewhere, I always think it's a good idea to try and leave money (or to leave some with the eldest daughter if they absolutely refuse).


You are totally right about being a responsible tourist and have common sense to leave families money for hosting you (which I always do). I should have been more clear, What I meant was they only allow you to stay in certain guesthouses. The one's they are friends with and take commission from. So it becomes sort of a monopoly. I think it isn't fair and the money doesn't spread around. Plus the experience isn't authentic anymore.
But on the other hand, the guesthouses ask for usually 15-30USD a night. and if you stay with a local family you might feel giving 10-15USD is enough. So I guess this means you spend more money in the country by staying with guesthouses.
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ventureforthphoto
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby ventureforthphoto » Tue Jun 04, 2019 10:12 pm

I've been in touch with my Wakhi guide Ibrahim recently, and just wanted to make sure folks had the current contact info for him.

On Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/ibrahim.hamdard.100

Phone: +93 74 922 9030

He lives in Khandood, and has a small pharmacy there.
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Re: Just back from a month in the Wakhan/Little Pamir

Postby PassionOlm » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:02 am

Thank you for the very informative report (as well as the replies that came after). I'm sorry if I missed it anywhere on the writeup, but did you stay connected throughout the trip? Were SIMS easy to acquire?
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