Wakhan Adventure

As a result of its tumultuous history, Afghanistan has until now been considered off-limits to travellers. This tour takes us on a challenging expedition through the desolate Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan’s North-East, a peaceful part of the country isolated from the rest. Populated by nomads and isolated communities, this is about as remote as Central Asia gets.

Our entry point is Tajikistan, where we begin by exploring the capital, Dushanbe, and its long-abandoned Silk Road fortress. From here we set out on a thrilling drive through the colossal Pamir Mountain range, with its dramatic peaks, stopping to visit hot springs and secluded hillside villages on our way.

After a few days driving along the Pamir Highway, we cross the border into Afghanistan where you’ll immediately notice a change in the way of life. Here cars are replaced by donkeys and electricity exchanged for candlelight. We spend the next ten days discovering the jagged mountains and sweeping valleys of the Wakhan Corridor by 4WD and on foot.

Along the mighty river Panj you will meet the Wakhi and semi-nomadic Kyrgyz people – two of the most remote communities on Earth. With virtually no influence from the modern world, age-old customs remain intact, as much of daily life revolves around the family hearth and the sound of traditional folksong can be heard on the pasture.

Driving slowly up the valley from village to village, we are welcomed as guests and stay in traditional mud-brick homes, experiencing the generous hospitality for which the Wakhi are known, which usually involves a cup or two of salty yak butter tea – an acquired taste!

On our return we take you to crumbling hillside forts, colourful bazaars, and, if you’re lucky, you may be able to witness a game of the bizarre Buzkashi – Afghanistan’s national sport. Arriving back in Dushanbe, where our tour ends, we have an opportunity to catch our breath and reflect upon our incredible journey.

Journeying through one of the world’s most inaccessible places is by no means easy, but the rewards are immense. This is a trip for those that like their travel raw, remote and authentic.

Wakhan tour - Afghansistan

Highlights

  • Explore the remote Wakhan corridor
  • Meet the traditional Wakhi and Kyrgyz people
  • Incredible mountain scenery
  • Travel along the Pamir Highway

Day 1 - Dushanbe

Arrive in Dushanbe and transfer to the hotel. After breakfast we head out to explore the city including visits to the market, museum and Hissar Fortress among other sights. Overnight Taj Palace Hotel or similar.

Dushanbe
The relatively modern town of Dushanbe only became important during the Soviet era, when it was made the capital of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and given the unfortunate name of Stalinabad – something that was quickly changed after Stalin’s death. Its name means ‘Monday’ in the Tajik language, arising from the fact that this was the day that the market was held when Dushanbe was still a small village. The ousted Emir of Bukhara, fleeing from the Bolsheviks, stayed in Dushanbe and cooperated with Enver Pasha’s Basmachis in resistance against the Russians; from Dushanbe, he fled to Afghanistan in 1921, the year the town was freed from the Basmachis as well. Dushanbe is characterised by wide boulevards and Soviet style architecture, although in recent years much construction has taken place and the city is starting to modernise. Not to be missed is the excellent Museum of National Antiquities which holds a wide array of archaeological finds from the region, the most impressive of which is the 13 metre long sleeping Buddha which was excavated in 1966.

Day 2 - Kalaikhumb

Today we head east, out of Dushanbe and into the Pamir Mountains. We drive over the Sagirdasht Pass and through a stunning landscape of snowcapped peaks and remote valleys. We stop en route to visit local villages – the people here do not class themselves as Tajik but are a collection of different tribal groups, each with their own language, and rather than Sunni Muslims are Ismailis, followers of the Aga Khan. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

The Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Mountains connect the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Tien Shan ranges, and spread between Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. A vast wilderness of glaciers and peaks, it is home to both fascinating wildlife and intriguing ethnic groups, living in isolated valleys and with distinct cultures and customs that have developed separately from anywhere else. The majority of the people who live here are Ismaili but over the years the region has been home to Buddhist civilisations, Russians and others. The region formed rather a blank gap during the ‘Great Game’ with Russian and British explorers sent to secretly probe the area with a view to claiming it for their respective empires. Wildlife here includes the enigmatic snow leopard, the Marco Polo sheep with its enormous horns, wolves and bear. The three highest peaks are over 7000 metres but there are another forty over 6000 metres, giving this a good claim to being the roof of the world.

Day 3 - Khorog

Continue to Khorog, capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. From Kalaikhumb the road follows the river Panj, which forms Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. On the Tajik side of the river, the road is sealed and buildings have electricity and are modern. On the Afghan side – only about 100 m distant – the road is a donkey track and buildings are mud and wood. Overnight Zafar Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Khorog
Khorog is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) and by far the largest town in the region, although not huge by other standards. During the time of the ‘Great Game’, the 19th century contest of imperial rivalries between Russia and Britain, the town was claimed by both powers as well as the emirate of Bukhara, although eventually fell under Russian control when the extent of their empire was agreed as the Panj River, which forms part of the current border with Afghanistan. It is home to the second highest botanical garden in the world (after another in Yunnan, China) as well as the first car to cross the Pamirs, and a meeting place for the many different groups that live in this part of the region.

Day 4 - Khorog

Spend the day exploring the town, including visits to Khorog bazaar, the museum and the beautiful botanical garden. Overnight Zafar Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 5 - Ishkashim - Sultan Ishkashim

Continue our journey along the Pamir Highway. We stop first at the hot springs of Garm Chashma, popular among local people, and then cross the border into Afghanistan. Continue to Sultan Ishkashim where we will stay tonight. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

The Pamir Highway
The Pamir Highway is undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular roads, carving a route through some of the highest peaks on our planet and linking Dushanbe to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Don’t be fooled by the name – it usually consists of just one lane and the terrain that it passes through means that travel is often slow, especially if you’re behind a truck, but this gives you all the more opportunity to savour the breathtaking scenery. It has been used for centuries, forming one of the routes of the Silk Road, and today brings goods from Kyrgyzstan and China to remote outposts, and onwards to Dushanbe and Afghanistan.

Day 6 - Kazideh

Today we head into the Wakhan valley and visit the village of Kazideh. Here we enjoy spectacular views of the snowcapped Hindu Kush Range and spend time with the locals, getting to know their way of life. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Wakhan Corridor
With Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, the deep valley of the Wakhan Corridor was a result of the ‘Great Game’ of the 19th century, when the British and Russian Empires fought for influence in Central Asia and formed the area as a buffer zone. This narrow but vast strip of land is around 200 miles long and one of the most remote places on Earth. With its snowcapped peaks, pristine blue lakes and sweeping valleys, the Afghan Pamir boasts some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and an interesting history due to its significant role in the Silk Road trade.

Around 12,000 Wakhi people live here in remote villages along the Panj River, cultivating wheat, barley, peas and potatoes. The Wakhi are recognised for their sophisticated farming techniques and most locals own a few sheep and a cow. Herders spend winters in their geshlaq (village), while summers are spent in aylaqs (summer camps) with their flocks. The Wakhi have an unusual custom of building houses over the graves of the dead, and they themselves live in houses made from mudbrick. Although visitors are rare here, each village has a shah or ‘king’ responsible for accommodating travellers, and Wakhi people are known for their generous hospitality.

Day 7 - Khandud

After breakfast we travel deeper into the valley, arriving at the village of Khandud where we stay in the home of a local family and experience some traditional Wakhi hospitality. (BLD)


Day 8 - Sarguz

Continue exploring the Wakhan Corridor with a visit to one of its biggest markets, before moving on to Qalai-Panja where we visit the ruins of its two forts. Overnight homestay. (BLD)


Day 9 - Sarhad e Broghil

Today we travel to Sarhad e Broghil, enjoying views of the impressive Mount Kohe-Safed and visiting several villages along the way as we continue to explore the lives of the people in this area. Overnight homestay. (BLD)


Day 10 - Sarhad e Broghil

Taking a rest from driving, we spend today hiking in the surrounding mountains or mingling with the locals in Brogil. Overnight homestay. (BLD)


Days 11-12 - Goz Khan

Today we start our return journey, stopping at the village of Goz Khan on the knuckle of the Pamir and Wakhan rivers. We spend our time here exploring the area and experience a traditional Buzkashi game and festival. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Days 13-14 - Pghist - Sultan Ishkashim

We continue our journey through the Wakhan Corridor and back to Sultan Ishkashim, stopping at the village of Pghist on the way. Overnight local guesthouses (day 13 in Pghisht, day 14 in Sultan Ishkashim). (BLD)


Day 15 - Ishkashim

Spend the day exploring some of the remnants of the Silk Road trade routes, including the ruins of the Yamchun fortress and the nearby Bibi Fatima Hot Springs. We will also have an opportunity to see the Wakhi people of Tajikistan. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 16 - Bulunkul Lake

Drive to the tiny village of Bulunkul with its freshwater lake, known as one of the coldest inhabited places in Central Asia and home to Kyrgyz people. Overnight homestay. (BLD)


Day 17 - Bulunkul - Khorog

After breakfast we head out to explore Bulunkul and the surrounding area, with its glorious mountain scenery. After lunch in the village we make our way to Khorog where we will stay tonight. Overnight Zafar Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 18 - Kalaikhumb

Leaving Khorog behind we continue our journey back to Dushanbe, staying in Kalaikhumb overnight. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 19 - Dushanbe

A long day on the road before reaching Dushanbe for our final night. We enjoy a farewell dinner and reflect upon the incredible journey that we’ve just experienced. Overnight Taj Palace Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 20 - Dushanbe

Transfer to the airport for departure (B)


Please note: This is a pioneering itinerary through a challenging part of Central Asia. You can expect bad roads in places, and difficult and obstructive bureaucracy. This is all part of the experience and an understanding of this is essential before joining this tour. The rewards however are great – you will travel through regions that rarely see tourists and spend time with some of the most interesting ethnic groups in Asia. This trip is nothing if not authentic – but you must understand that local conditions mean that this is unlikely to be a ‘polished’ experience.

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere. This is particularly evident in areas where there are few accommodation options available – this relates to much of this trip. Guesthouses will often be very simple, with multi-share accommodation, and mattresses on the ground.

    Please note that while we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

  • Guides

    In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

All travellers will require a visa to enter both Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The Tajik visa must be obtained before travel, but you will be able to obtain the Afghan visa at the consulate in Khorog – our guide will assist you with this, and the current cost is $150, which you must pay when there. For Tajikistan, some travellers will also need an invitation letter, which we will provide if requested. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Tajikistan is the somoni, and in Afghanistan it is the afghani. It is best to bring US dollars for exchange purposes.

It’s not difficult to change money here, either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. Both countries are very much a cash society – credit cards are not widely accepted, and ATM machines are not especially reliable.

When to go

Tajikistan and Afghanistan experience an extreme continental climate, with bitter cold in the winter and much snow. The region that this trip travels through is mountainous and realistically the only feasible time to travel here is from June to September. Even then, it can get very cold at night.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of Afghanistan, but no areas of Tajikistan.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in this particular region of Afghanistan. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
02 August 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,599
Single Supplement -
£160
Trip Status -
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