The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

Stalled By Snow

We continued up the Wakhjir Valley to Diwanasu ("crazy water" or "mad river"), the side stream we were told would be difficult to cross. But the clouds had done their part, and the ford was easy. To the Kyrgyz in the Little Pamir, 'difficult' means a place where animals cannot go. This is different than 'difficult' in the Karakoram, which means a place that may be impassable to a person on foot. Ahead, we found a lush grassy area along the river that would be great for camp. Entranced by thick grass, Hidayat announced that we must stop so his yak and pony could graze. By the river was a big set of Marco Polo sheep horns, hunted by Kyrgyz. We settled in, and with clouds lowering, tightened our tent fly and anchored the lines with big rocks.

Rain soon changed to snow. By dawn, our tent was weighed down under the heavy snow load. Half a foot covered the ground outside. Our worries about our companions in their tent were relieved by the smell of burning yak dung; they had a fire going. Realizing it was impossible to move today, we stayed put. Our food and fuel were low, and tomorrow we would have to go, come what may.

More snow fell overnight, but by morning it had stopped. We passed more clay brick domes up valley, which seemed to be shelters, with vents for smoke high up the dome and a tiny, arched ground-level entrance. These were rabot, travelers' shelters found in the Pamir. Despite the snow and storms, caravans passed through the pamir in winter, the only time the Kyrgyz were not in the pamir. Historically, Kyrgyz were infamous as horse-riding raiders, descendants of Genghiz Khan, who plundered and looted those who crossed their territory on the roof of the world. Only in winter could the slow caravans be assured of their safety from raids, and preferring the cold and storms of nature to the cruelty of men, they chose the arduous winter crossing of the Pamir. These shelters were for travelers unlucky enough to get caught in a sudden blizzard.

At the base of the Wakhjir Pass, which leads into China, was another rabot. Inside, a fire scar on the floor and smoke stains on the roof testified to recent use. We decided to camp at the base of the pass, an ideal spot from which to reach the glacial source of the Wakhjir and Oxus rivers, and to explore the upper area below the Afghan-Chinese border.