"When the traveler leaves this place [the Wakhan], he goes three day’s journey towards the north-east, through mountains all the time, climbing so high that is said to be the highest place in the world. And when he is in this high place, he finds a plain between the mountains, with a lake from which flows a very fine river. Here is the best pasturage in the world."
On August 13th 2018, after five difficult days and about seventy kilometers of walk behind the shoulders, we finally set foot in the Little Pamir; seven days later we were guests in the last village of Afghanistan, on the far side of this secret corner of the world. Reaching the end of this valley was more of a journey through time rather than one through space.
This ancestral place called “little Pamir”, bounded by the Pamirs and the Karakorum mountains, is home to semi-nomadic Kyrgyz tribes, whose medieval lifestyle has remained the same since Marco Polo passed through this high altitude region on his way to China. Their economy is solely based on transumance of yaks and goats and the bartering of livestock with the Wakhi neighbours; Kyrgyz do not know cultivation as the harsh climate and the altitude do not allow it.
We bid farewell to our donkey-man, who travelled with us for five days and was now on his way back to Sarhad. From our arrival in the Little Pamir we struggled to find an animal to carry our supplies every day we planned to move. Not a single person in the area speaks english and our basic knowledge of Persian became essential to continue. After all, travelling overland to Afghanistan through the middle east proved very useful.
The valley is about 80 km long and 10 km wide and lies above 4000 meters for most of its lenght. It borders Pakistan to the south, China to the East and Tajikistan to the north. Despite the undeniable beauty, the Kyrgyz tribes are paying the price of living in such a remote place. The harsh climate and isolation are associated with the lack of education,the total absence of medicine and one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rate in the world (it is said that the children that are born in winter do not survive); they also live on a very poor diet and have a long history of opium addiction, that is brought here from the Wakhan by the Afghan traders in exchange for livestock.
After the death of their "king" Abdul Rashid Khan about ten years ago, Kyrgyz do not have a "Khan" anymore but rather have a leader of each village (surprisingly, in the furthest and last village of the Little Pamir - few kilometers away from China - we were hosted by a man that was described by many people as the leader of the Kyrgyz - despite he strongly refused to be called a "Khan"). Those settlements - usually a few yurts inhabited by no more than two or three families - were not even where they used to be in the past and our soviet maps from the '70s (the very best we could find) and old reports of explorations were in fact totally useless.
All of us had been sick many times during the trip, suffering from countless stomach problems, vomit, dehidration, acute mountain sickness and a general weakness due to a poor diet mostly based on local food - bread and rice. We finally reached the settlement of Qoqtruq, at the very end of the Afghan Pamir, on August 20th, after having walked more than 150 km and crossed countless rivers. From there, we still had to walk hundred fifty kilometers more to go back to the Wakhan.