The Wakhan Corridor
The Wakhan Corridor is a finger of land pointing eastwards from Afghanistan towards China, sandwiched by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south. The mighty ranges of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Pamir converge at the eastern end of the corridor, known as the Pamir Knot. In the Afghan Pamir, steep valleys open up to form wide, high-altitude valleys, the Big and Little Pamirs, where Wakhi and Kyrgyz nomads take advantage of lush grazing for their herds. The region is believed to have changed little since Alexander the Great’s army came close in 326 BC.
Geology of the Pamir
The Pamirs are characterised by large U-shaped mountain valleys that provide abundant grazing grass during summer, but are covered by snow for six months of the year. In the Wakhan, two such large areas of grassland exist, the Big Pamir (Pamir Kalan or Pamir-e-Buzurg) and the Little Pamir (Pamir Khurd or Pamir-e-Kochak). These valleys are used by the semi-nomadic Wakhi for summer grazing, who return to the main valley in winter. The hardy Kyrgyz spend their time here all year round, suffering the cold and brutal winter. The Little Pamir is actually larger in area than the Big Pamir, but the higher altitude of the Big Pamir gives it its name.
Tajik, Kyrgyz and Wakhi groups
Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic society, and as part of this expedition you’ll meet people of many ethnicities. The Afghan national anthem mentions 14 of its cultural groups to give an idea of their importance. This expedition begins in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, whence the group sets off by road to reach its entry point into the Wakhan Corridor. The Tajiks are of Persian origin, and are found across the region. Wakhi people live around the Badakhshan region of north-eastern Afghanistan and are also found in Pakistan, Tajikistan and north-western China, where they, confusingly, are called Tajiks. In Afghanistan, the Wakhi folk themselves are known as the Pamiris. Kyrgyz folk are another prominent group in the region. A Turkic people mainly found in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, you’ll meet and camp near many who now call the Wakhan Corridor pastures their summer home.