The Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan
News update: The border with Tajikistan and Afghanistan at Ishkashim is currently closed. Due to the problems currently in Khorog there is no access to or from the Wakhan from Tajikistan. Please keep an eye on the news.
How to get there without too much stress…or paying pots of money
Firstly, What is the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan?
The Wakhan Corridor is the pan handle of Afghanistan that runs alongside Tajikistan and Pakistan and stops when it meets China. Unlike the rest of Afghanistan the Wakhan Corridor has traditionally been safe. As of April 2012 the advisory rating by the FCO has been changed and travelers are now not recommended to Visit the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan, see FCO website here. However travel is feasible and tourism is just starting to find its feet in this remote and beautiful area. To get to the corridor there is only one advisable way there that involves crossing from Tajikistan at the Ishkashim crossing. It is confusing but there are two villages with the same name on both sides of the border – they are not the same place!
The Wakhan Corridor has generally remained safe due to its remoteness. The Corridor does not have any open borders with Tajikistan, China or Pakistan and the communities that live in the corridor are very isolated.
The main reason for visiting the Wakhan Corridor is tourism – the area is becoming increasingly popular with mountaineers, trekkers and wildlife spotters. About half way along the corridor it splits into what is called the Big and Little Pamir. The Little Pamir reaches to China and is inhabited by Kyrgyz herders. The rest of the Corridor is the home of the Wakhi people who are generally herders and farmers. To find out more please visit the website links at the bottom of the page.
How to get to the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan from Tajikistan?
The safest way to get to the Afghan Wakhan Corridor is to go via Tajikistan and the crossing at Ishkashim. You will need a GBAO permit as well as your Tajik visa. There is no need to pay thousands of £s/$s to (probably a Western based) agency to do a Wakhan of Afghanistan tour when you can do the entire thing easily yourself through using contacts in Afghanistan.
1) First of all you need to pick up an Afghanistan visa. This is easy enough to do in Dushanbe and usually takes about 3 days. For a UK national it cost myself $60 for the visa and other than which type I wanted there were no questions asked. Be aware that the embassy has moved – it is not where The (old) Central Asia LP guide says it is (it might be correct in the new guide). You need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) for Afghanistan but we found that the Afghan embassy in Dushanbe already had a set letter that they provided and that required a short trip to a local shop to photocopy and submit with the form. This avoided the hassle/cost of obtaining an LOI. I also saw them filling out vehicle permits at the Embassy so if you have your own vehicle it might be worth a try.
In addition it is also possible to pick up the Afghan visa in Khorog although officially this isn’t supposed to be possible. At least one bunch of people who tried in summer of 2011 succeeded.
Update: Mountain Unity is shutting down and have recommended Adab Shah, a chap who has recently set up a tourist business (Aug 2011) for the Wakhan. His email is email@example.com. Adab is setting up a website – it’s still under development but can be found here: www.adventurewakhan.com. It is worth checking on the Lonely Planet Thorntree Forum as it appears that travellers have already been finding him very helpful in arranging their visits. Due to the shutting down of Mountain Unity the following information is going to be rapidly going out of date. We will aim to provide updated advice for visitors to the Wakhan ASAP.
To visit the Wakhan Corridor requires a permit, which is not easy to obtain. That that reason, day trips to the corridor aren’t really advisable. the current prices for obtaining a permit can be viewed on Adventure Wakhan website above.
Mountain Unity, whom many people will have used or been involved with on their travels to the Wakhan created the rather excellent video below. They started to help lay the groundwork for ecotourism in the corridor and helped create the more recent buzz around it as a destination.
Sustainable / Eco Tourism – The Wakhan is a remote and impoverished area with few opportunities for local people to gather access to alternative forms of income, such as tourism. On your visit please try to pick accommodation and tours that are locally owned or strongly supporting local people to keep tourism money within the local economy. There is a network of basic guesthouses around Iskhashim that are reasonably priced and comfortable.
The Tajik border opens at 0800-12.00 and then opens again at 14.00.
The Afghan border is closed on Sunday.
Opening times 09:00 – 11:30, 14:00 – 16:00.
It would be wise to get a taxi/cycle from Ishkashim (Tajikistan) although it isn’t far – about 3km out of town, simply because the border point is situated in desert – it is excruciatingly hot if waiting there for the border to open, and will not be a pleasant walk from Ishkashim!
There is the open border market on every other Saturday where the two sides mix at an island in the river.
To get to Iskhashim just follow the advice on the Taxi page on this website.
The best two websites to reference for sorting yourself out for the Wakhan and probably all you need (other than this one of course):
How to get to the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan from Afghanistan?
Unfortunately, I can’t give much info on getting there that way and with the complexities of Afghanistan I wouldn’t want to! But there is an Afghanistan based agency running tours there independently The Great Game Travel Agency based in Kabul. They are staffed with drivers, translators, guides, cooks, etc and have all the needed gear for multi-week treks. Great Game procure their own permits for entry into the Wakhan and for other tours and they also have contacts with the local community for lodging when not using tents.
Random: If you like reading and you are interested in the Wakhan Corridor, I recommend buying the 3 Cups of Tea book. If you go to the Wakhan you can easily see some of Greg Mortenson’s schools and it is nice knowing the background. (link below)