November 12, 2013

“AFTER the many years of awaiting this trip to Afghanistan, I was determined to complete the task I had come here to do: which was to finally walk in the steps of the ancient pilgrims and silk road traders, to stare at landscapes that only few human beings have had the chance to see, and to meet and live among people whose lifestyle had changed very little over the centuries. I felt the nostalgia of a past and long gone era and the relief to see, in today’s world, pristine and natural beauty, intact still. I had heard on many accounts of the incredible Shangri-La-like beauty of this part of the Hindu Kush. I could see this beauty and feel it in my heart today. The ideas and clichés that had been fueled by the media for the last 10 years were wrong, at least for this part of Afghanistan. Even though inhabiting some of the toughest environments on Earth, the Wakhi people turned out to be some of the most hospitable hosts and skilled guides I have ever met. Their hard – but simple – way of life gave me a lasting lesson about appreciation”.



AQSAI, LITTLE PAMIR. Yaks covered with snow early in the morning after a cold night.



BORAK. the expedition negotiating a narrow path. I’ve always been drawn to the rug landscape of Central Asia and its incredible rough beauty. Throughout the entire expedition, I constantly had to keep an eye on interesting vantage points, walking ahead of the group or staying behind. This image is a very good representation of the terrain and conditions through which we trekked for two weeks.



BORAK. Wakhi herder.



LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. Yaks around Lake Chaqmaqtin.



DALIZ PASS. The porters taking a few minutes rest after ascending a particularly steep climb. Even though these mountains are the surrounding for their everyday life, Wakhi and Kyrgyz are still very sensitive to their beauty and talk about them with awe and passion.



KANDUD. Wakhi herder riding his donkey in what could be a moon-like landscape.



LITTLE PAMIR. Three men were needed to push and help donkeys each time we crossed water streams and rivers.



LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. The porters were always very kind toward their donkeys, careful not to load them with more than 30 kgs. Many times throughout the day, as we were walking, loads had to be secured and tightened.



LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. Burch Mirzo, the leader of our expedition. A farmer with a deep knowledge of the area. He was soft spoken and a kind man with an incredible resistance to cold and pain.



TSHEHEL-KAND. Wakhi woman with traditional clothes and pageantry.



KASIDEH. Man sitting at home. Wakhi are incredibly hospitable people, offering meals and a warm place to stay to the travelers.



CHALAB, LAKE CHAQMAQTIN. Kyrgyz women in the winter settlement.



LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. Each time we stopped for rest, porters would unload the donkeys. They remained unleashed, free to wander for the duration of our break. It always took the porters half an hour to find them, in that immense space, and bring them back to be loaded again.



DALIZ PASS. We had just ascended the Pass. At an altitude of 14,400ft, the view of the rest of the Hindu Kush was mesmerizing.



TSHEHEL-KAND. One of the porter, Amir Muhamad with his mother in front of their home.



TSHEHEL-KAND. Wakhi man at home.



LAKE CHAQMAQTIN. The winter of 2012 was one of the coldest in recent history. The cold was so severe that animals, usually accustomed to the climate, did not survive the extreme temperatures. We encountered the remains of many animals as we were walking through the Corridor and the Pamir area.



CHALAB, LAKE CHAQMAQTIN. Kyrgyz are, overall, wealthier than Wakhi people, owing hundreds of heads of cattle. Some Wakhi men work for the Kyrgyz for a few months. At the end of the season, they are paid in cattle, going back home down the valley with 10 to 15 sheep.



KHANDUD. There is so much resignation to live in this harsh environment. Life has little changed over the last centuries in this part of the world.



SARAD-E WAKHAN, WAKHAN. Soldier in his post. This is the last military check point in that part of Afghanistan. No Taliban has crossed that far, the area has lived in relative peace so far.



TSHEHEL KAND, WAKHAN. Wakhi woman in front of her home.



AQSAI, LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. Young Kyrgyz woman. The red head scarf will be replaced by a white one once she gets married.



CHALAB, LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. Kyrgyz women tending a sheep. Living at an average altitude of 14,000ft, the land is uncultivable and the only way for Kyrgyz to survive in that environment is through their cattle.



BORAK, WAKHAN. The expedition crossing a makeshift bridge, on our way to lake Chaqmaqtin. Each donkey had to be lead by two men to cross the bridge.



LANGAR, WAKHAN. Central Asia and Afghanistan have been at the cross roads of different  waves of invasions throughout the centuries, dated back to Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Each wave of invaders have left behind traces of their passage. Today, it is not uncommon to see blond, blue or green eyes or other incredibly diverse physical features in that part of Asia.



DALIZ PASS. That morning we had started to walk at 5:30 am and were just about to cross the Daliz Pass at an altitude of more than 14,000 ft. Burch Mirzo, our expedition leader, walking ahead, was scrutinizing the Pass to see where it was safest for the rest of the expedition to go through.



TSHEHEL KAND, WAKHAN. Wakhi woman at home with her youngest son.



WAKHAN CORRIDOR. As we were getting deeper and deeper in the Corridor, the Wakhan river stream became thinner and the mountains grew steeper an higher.



LANGAR AREA. Our expedition walking through the valley.



BORAK. Amir Muhammad, a local Wakhi, was one of the porter and cook. Tall and strong, he was extremely kind and would attend to everyone’s well being. In the harsh environment we were in, he was the most precious person we had with us. He is seen here making sure the rest of the expedition was following closely behind.



AQSAI, LAKE CHAQMAQTIN, LITTLE PAMIR. The day we started to walk back down toward the valley after we had reached our final destination past lake Chaqmaqtin, the mood and hearts were lighter. Everyone knew that, in just six days walk, all would be reunited with their families and resume their life as farmers. Wakhi down the valley randomly come to that part of the Pamir. But they come enough to know it very well.