Afghan Wakhan to Sarhad - Trip Report (2017)

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hikingcanadian
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Afghan Wakhan to Sarhad - Trip Report (2017)

Postby hikingcanadian » Tue Jun 12, 2018 3:10 pm

Hi everyone,

I visited the Afghan Wakhan in July 2017 and have been meaning to write this trip report for a while, but have been short on time.

First and foremost, I recommend getting vaccinated for tick-borne diseases. Lyme disease symptoms kicked in a week after I was in Afghanistan (fortunately back in Europe). There is no consensus on where I got the tick-borne disease, but Afghanistan is one of the suspects. I noticed fleas hopping around the carpet in some of the homes I stayed in, so it’s very possible you will get bit by a flea or tick.

Logistics and Cost

I did my Pamir Highway trip from Osh to Khorog through the Safar Driver Association and had a really good experience, so I reached out to the main organizer about logistics for a trip to the Afghan Wakhan. I did my research and decided I wanted to travel to Sarhad and spend two days hiking the area, so I made a tentative itinerary and provided it to them for a quote.

I was given two quotes: The first quote involved being picked up at the Afghan border and then an Afghan driver would take me on the itinerary. The second quote was interesting: a Tajik driver would take me but I would have to pay for his Afghan visa and car import taxes. I chose the latter option and negotiated a price of about $1000 USD for 7 days since I had already used them for the Pamir highway. I highly doubt they would offer this same price again as I was their first traveler doing this and we ran into several unexpected bribes/costs. The Afghan driver quote was about $100 USD cheaper than the original quote.

I am glad I chose to go with the Tajik driver as I later learnt that Afghan drivers make a habit of increasing the price last minute up to three times the original agreed amount. Even if the Tajik driver tried to do the same, I felt much better negotiating in Tajikistan than Afghanistan.

Trip Report

We arrived at the border at opening time, but the guards did not arrive until 2 hours later, so we had to wait. Leaving the Tajik side was pretty standard. On the Afghan side, the main Afghan guard looked through my bag for something he may be interested in and ultimately settled for half my supply of Paracetamol. I recommend maybe taking a pack or two of cigarettes to offer instead, as medicine may become more valuable to you should you get injured. Some bribes were paid, but they were handled by my driver—I saw one $5 USD payment to the Tajik guard.

I’m latino, but look ethnically ambiguous, so I have blended in and frequently been mistaken for a local in neighbouring Tajikistan and Iran, but I was immediately noticed upon arriving in Ishkashim. If you’re hoping to pass by low key, it’s not going to happen.

Upon exiting my vehicle at the market, our car was surrounded by a bunch of locals staring at me. Soon, an English-speaking guy approached me, introduced himself as a guide, and offered to help with the registration process. I immediately recognized him as one of the guides I had read about online. He was being recommended on Caravanistan, so I asked Steven to remove him from the page as this guy ripped me off pretty bad. I have also heard about other people being ripped off by this same guy.

First, I had to exchange money so this guy took me over to one shop where his buddy was hanging out and exchanged my USD to Afghanis at a very terrible rate. Instead, I recommend walking down the market and looking for a currency exchange shop (they will have a big sign) and they offer a very fair rate. They exchange Afghanis to USD too, so don't worry about having left over Afghanis as you can exchange them back before leaving.

The guide was very hostile about letting me shop freely in the market and kept directing me to his buddy’s shop, where prices were obviously being inflated. Next, we needed photocopies and photographs for the Afghan registration and he insisted my photocopies/photographs were not appropriate and charged me over $15 USD for photographs and photocopies. He charged me $50 for the registration help. It took all day because the offices close for 1-2 hours mid-day for lunch and you have to wait for them to open again to continue your process.

I recommend stocking up on supplies in Ishkashim as the markets outside of Ishkashim don’t sell food (not even bread), though sodas seem to be widely available. Toilet paper is a must-buy and bottled water will not be available outside of Ishkashim. Even better, try to bring canned food from Tajikistan.

The guide in Ishkashim kept insisting I should hire him as my guide for the trip, but I was not interested since he had been pretty sketchy. He then asked if he could get a ride to some point on my way, to which I agreed.

I met a German nurse who worked with an NGO and told me that you can actually fly into Ishkashim, but tickets are only available to NGOs. I ended up giving her a ride to Khandud as her driver tried doubling and then tripling the price for her ride right before departure.

The German nurse made me aware that it is not an uncommon scam for these guides to hitch a ride with you and then never really get off, and then insist you pay them for their time with you. She advised me that the place the guide had asked to be dropped off at was a barren point and there was nothing there. When we got there (an hour out of Ishkashim), I forced him to leave.

We left Ishkashim in the evening before sunset and arrived at Khandud in the late evening. We stayed with some of the German nurse’s local friends.

The next day, we had to register in Khandud, but both the governor and vice-governor were out of town on some Afghan holiday, so the secretary signed our documents. Experience may be different if you work with one of the other two folks. Afterwards, we were surprised to discover there was no food for sale at the bazaar. Fortunately, we met some local students who needed a ride to Sarhad, so we struck a deal where we would give them a ride if we could stay and dine with their families along the way. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of bread and tea, occasionally an egg.

The road is really rough and my driver’s Toyota Land Cruiser broke down a few times (he claims it had never broken down before). The German nurse also told me that a biker had tried doing the Wakhan with a motorcycle a few months ago, but decided to turn back because it was too difficult. Keep this in mind if you are planning on biking as you may end up stuck and forced to call it a night in the middle of nowhere as the towns are very spread apart.

As you get close to Sarhad, the scenery becomes green and very beautiful. Entering the town, there are a few different homestays. However, there are no guides or English-speakers so planning hiking/logistics can be difficult. I rented a horse for $15/USD for the day and went up to the Dalriz pass, which I highly recommend doing. The trek takes 2-4 hours and is exhausting because of the altitude. I left at 7am and returned to Sarhad in the afternoon. Locals had advised me to visit Dalriz and “Pakistan” (I imagine they meant the border area), but I was so exhausted from the morning hike that I slept until the next day. I’m curious what “Pakistan” entailed.

No toilets in Sarhad, not even Eastern toilets. Going to the toilet consists of finding a nice patch of grass somewhere and trying keep the wind from blowing your toilet paper away. Try to bring your own toilet paper as they use the pink rubbery type of toilet paper which isn't the best--if you can even find it.

On the way back to Ishkashim, a car sped up and cut us off. A local man stepped out and argued with my driver, he seemed to be saying something about permits and asking for a bribe. We didn’t end up paying him, but be prepared to have to pay occasional bribes.

We got back to Ishkashim in the evening and found the Marco Polo guesthouse. Comfortable, nice, clean guesthouse with an amazing dinner.

On the way out, the guards wanted some bribes again.

Security

The security situation in Afghanistan can change very quickly and though I could not understand the local language, “Taliban” was a common topic of discussion among the locals. At one military checkpoint, there were some gunshots fired very close to our vehicle and then followed by more gunfire down the road. I was very surprised by this and when I turned to the locals who were seated in the back of our car, they noticed I was surprised and simply shrugged and explained “Afghanistan”. This was about 2 months after the Taliban had made a move on Ishkashim, so the situation might have just been a little tense for that period.

I hope this information is helpful, I may add information as I remember it, but otherwise feel free to ask any questions.
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ventureforthphoto
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Re: Afghan Wakhan to Sarhad - Trip Report

Postby ventureforthphoto » Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:17 pm

great information, thanks!

you definitely paint a pretty predatory picture of any sort of exchange though, I'll have to have my spidey sense up!
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hikingcanadian
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Re: Afghan Wakhan to Sarhad - Trip Report

Postby hikingcanadian » Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:07 am

To clarify, the shop where I exchanged money was not an exchange shop, it was just a regular shop selling scarves, etc. where his buddy was hanging out (I don't even know if his buddy was associated with the shop) and I exchanged directly with his buddy. On the way back, I exchanged at an official exchange shop and got a very fair rate, so as long as you stick to exchange shops instead of shady individuals, you should be fine.
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steven
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Re: Afghan Wakhan to Sarhad - Trip Report

Postby steven » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:42 am

Thank you again for all the useful tips. Yar Mohammed got a big warning on the Wakhan page.
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satika
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Re: Afghan Wakhan to Sarhad - Trip Report

Postby satika » Wed Sep 26, 2018 3:39 am

Dear all,

I absolutely don't recognise everything that was written above. Yes I met Yard and since I decided I don't want a guide I didn't used his offer. The border police was extremely friendly to me: we had a warm welcome and for the normal rate they drove me to Eshkashim. There Safi Usmani helped me with the permit, car (on Friday!) And all other paperwork. It cost me around 1,5 hours. You definitely need 4 pictures and 6 copies of your passport and visum but I paid only 60afghan for that.
In sarhad are definitely toilets, squat and western as well. There is even a hot spring. Just pay 10 afgh to help the village and you have a great shower. Every day I was in a homestay I had a good meal consisted of chili con carne, rice, soup, fresh bread and choice. At breakfast it was yoghurt, fresh bread, honey, butter and jam.

Only the fares of a taxi are high in the Wakhan. Furthermore there is a young man in Khandood who is very aggressive. He followed me and attacked the driver and a guy who needed help because I took another ride to Eshkashim as I first planned. This boy is around 24 years old and says he is a guide and some government officer. He talks very smooth but get him out of the car when possible.

Even on the way back to the border everything turned out fine. I have never had the feeling of being ripped off. Just ask for Safi on the bazaar and he will help you for a normal price. He is reliable and has very much contacts in the whole Wakhan
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