The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

Faizabad to Sarhad and the End of the Road in the Wakhan

There were no jeeps or other rugged vehicles for hire in Faizabad. All the best vehicles and drivers were working for aid organizations, so we settled for a little 4WD van and a young driver who assured us he knew the way to Wakhan.

The next morning, we set out on the rough dirt road for Baharak, the only major town and bazaar between Faizabad and Wakhan. The rough track wound upward through granite gorges where waterfalls tumbled down cliff faces. Low clouds blocked our view of the 7,000-meter Hindukush peaks of Noshaq and Tirich Mir on the Pakistani border. We reached a grassy, well-watered plain at about 8,000 feet. The village of Zebak was near, and a road headed over the Dorah Pass to Chitral in Pakistan. This was a major mujahideen route during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. We reached the top of our climb, near 9,000 feet, and began descending toward the Amu Darya and Ishkashim, the district headquarters of Wakhan.

It was nearing 5:00 pm when we entered Ishkashim’s small bazaar and went down to the AKDN compound, where we arranged to stay the night. Over dinner, we talked with the staff about Wakhan. Beyond Ishkashim, the road through Wakhan was decidedly rougher. There were no bridges spanning the rivers that pour down the northern flanks of the Hindukush from glaciers high above. Four particularly large streams lie ahead, and the staff was skeptical about our van getting through.

Following the southern bank of the Amu Darya the next day, our road was just a track over the stony river bed. By noon we reached Khandud; just beyond we came to the first difficult river. Our driver took one look at it and said his vehicle could not cross the stream. We returned to Khandud and pitched our tent on a grassy terrace. The next day, having found a driver with a Toyota Hi-Ace, we crossed the river easily. The water level was much lower than the previous afternoon, and we continued to Qila Panja.

Qila Panja sits at the confluence of the Wakhan and Pamir rivers. The Pamir descends from the Big Pamir and Lake Sarikol. We followed the larger and wider Wakhan River upstream toward the Little Pamir. By evening, we were nearing Sarhad. Here, the river braided across an enormous silty plain, remnants of a former lake bed. Verdant grass rimmed the borders of the plain, with occasional Wakhi households perched on the hillside. Cows, sheep, goats, occasional yaks, and two-humped Bactrian camels grazed the grassy verge. Near Chilkand, the villagers had blocked the road because beyond, they told us, the road was washed out and we could not proceed. Only 3 kilometers from Sarhad, we had to spend the night at Chilkand. The elevation was now higher than 3,000 meters, and we relished the thought of sleeping in our tent. It had taken us 8 hours to drive 100 kilometers, about 12 kph!

We camped at Chilkand, where a huge rock rose above the river bed. As usual in a Wakhi settlement, a large bowl of yogurt arrived for us, and the local people told us there was another vehicle track to Sarhad running between the massive rock and the river.

In the morning, our vehicle got stuck several times in the soft turf near the river bed and finally, halfway between Chilkand and Sarhad, became irrevocably mired in the boggy ground. It was the end of the road for us. We happily unloaded our bags and carried them 30 minutes to Sarhad and pitched our tent on a grassy knoll next to the village. On the other side of the settlement we found a mildly sulphurous hot spring, enclosed in a bath house. It would be our last hot bath for weeks, and for just 10 afghanis, we were clean. Our friends from Chilkand organized a yak for our onward journey, and we enjoyed a rest day in Sarhad