The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

Little Pamir: Kashch Goz Up the Wakhjir Valley

We woke to a cloudy sky over Kashch Goz, with even more clouds looming over the Wakhjir Valley. Adaham Boi, an old Kyrgyz man whose son, Hidayat, would travel with us, said we must have made some sort of tawiz (a numerological chart made to produce some desired result) to get clouds and make less water in the side streams that we would have to cross. Hidayat loaded his belongings onto his horse, and we loaded ours onto a yak. A young Wakhi lad, also named Nek Bakht Shah, came along to pull the yak via a rope threaded through its nose.

We left the Kyrgyz camp, busy with morning milking, and headed down to cross Bozai Darya, the small, clear stream descending from Chaqmaqtin ("flint") Lake. We crossed the stream above its confluence with the much larger, glacial Wakhjir River. Above the stream’s bank sat domed tombs called Bozai Gumbaz ("domes of the elders"). Made of sun-dried brick plastered with mud, the tombs are quite old. There was no sign of who built them or when, no writing to mark who lies buried in them — just the tan domes, rising unexpectedly above the grass-lined stream. Long strands of barbed wire, left by Russian troops who occupied the site, flanked the tombs. Across the stream, we found a vast garbage dump — rusted cans, wheel rims, wire and bits of plastic for hundreds of yards.

We headed east across the expansive, sandy floodplain and into the Wakhjir Valley, ascending from the plain to broad terraces above the river’s true right (north) bank. Kyrgyz nomads spend winter in this valley, which, although higher in elevation than Kashch Goz, is less exposed to the frigid winds that sweep the broad pamir. We passed several of their winter sites, each with a small house. Here, too, numerous clay brick tombs indicated heavy winter mortality in this high valley. Wakhjir is a typical pamir valley — the mountains are ragged, crumbly snow-topped peaks, not at all sharp-edged like their Karakoram neighbors. Snow sits easily on them year round, as their slopes are not steep enough for avalanches. The valley floor is broad and u-shaped, scoured by glaciation, and well-watered by the continual melt of the snow above. The valley was once a main branch of the Silk Route. Marco Polo himself may have traversed the Wakhjir Valley traveling to China. The grass was abundant, and side streams offered plenty of water. At Guretuk ("walk past the grave"), we did just that to reach a small Kyrgyz winter hut. We pitched our tent on a grassy swale next to a clear stream with sweeping views back down the Wakhjir.

The next day we passed more winter camps, each with tombs — Duldul, Karatash, and Aqtash ("white rock"), the highest Kyrgyz winter site in the Wakhjir. The cloudy weather held, and although it kept the water level in the side streams low, it also kept the air cool, especially with the near-constant down valley wind in our faces. We looked south across the Wakhjir River toward the mouth of the Kamansu Valley, wondering which of the several side valleys we saw might lead to Dilisang Pass. A lammergeier, obvious with its U-shaped tail, soared overhead, probably looking for marmots. Lammergeiers are a sign of Mongol royalty and we took it as a good omen.