Almost Afghanistan

Wakhan Valley (Tajikistan), 08.06.2013

Back in Europe, when I prepared the trip, I read the small Afghanistan section in the LP guide and it intrigued me instantly. It is a fascinating, mystic country, and the danger of decades of conflict naturally draws attraction, both for the challenge and for curiosity. While this might sound silly, I’m sure every traveller to this region has thought about it. We did so too, and decided we wanted to try to see it. A friend of a classmate of mine works at an NGO in the Afghan part of the Wakhan Valley, we got in touch by email (thanks Aldo for getting us in touch!) and got an idea of what to expect. So yesterday in Khorog we got our visas and the permit for the car from the Afghan consulate there. But there was one problem: our Tajik visa is only valid for one entry. Once we leave the country, we can’t get back. At the Khorog police station a very helpful woman had told us to try to see at the border if they could do an exception and not mark the exit in the passports, since we would be back to Tajikistan only 2 days later.

And so we left Khorog in the morning. First stop was the Serena Inn, where Fabrizio and Rosanna had told us at dinner there was the only good WiFi spot in town. This place was a fantastic surprise, a well kept, beautiful hotel with just 6 rooms and a splendid garden just outside town. The veranda is a place of tranquility, looking over the river and chilling in the shade of the trees. And yes, they have WiFi, so we could read the most important mails and pay the Berlin agency, we need our passports.

Then we took the road to Ishkashim, back into Khorog, over the main bridge crossing the river, and to the right. The road is pretty bad, although after Turkmenistan all roads here are beautiful and comfortable… We drove for several hours through the valley where one side is Tajik and the other Afghan, the river separates the countries. There was a police checkpoint where we had to register. And soon after, on a flat plain divided by the river, we were stopped by soldiers that seemed a bit nervous. Just after we arrived a van with more soldiers arrived, and they checked our passports but more importantly they all looked to the Afghan side and then us drive on. Soon after we met our Italian biker friends on the road, that for them was much tougher on the bike then for us in the car.
At 13:30 we finally reached Ishkashim, where we got water, strolled through the bazaar to buy sweets and filled our tank with diesel, since we weren’t too optimistic to find diesel in Afghanistan. At 14:00 the border opened again, and we were the first to enter. We tried to explain the soldiers our situation as the Afghan consul to Tajikistan arrived from the other side of the border and helped translating. There was an argument among the soldiers, then two of them disappeared in a barrack and we heard them first shouting, then fighting. Apparently one of them wanted to let us go, making an exception, while the other wanted to respect the rules. We felt uncomfortable to have caused such an issue, and as there was nothing more to do and they wouldn’t let us pass, we left with the consul. While we were sad that we didn’t make it into Afghanistan, somehow I felt reassured that the soldiers didn’t break the rules, didn’t ask for money, and in all this were friendly to us. We hope the guys fighting didn’t get into any problems for our fault.

Back on the road, we drove silently into the Wakhan valley on the Tajik side. After Ishkashim there is no more tar road, just various forms of gravel, stone, sand or mud road. We drove for hours, and as the day came to an end looked for a place to camp. The road kept following the valley at 2600m altitude, and there was the mountain to our left and the river with occasional swamps to the right. We found some wood on the roadside and broke it to pieces we could store on our rooftop. At 18:30 finally the road left the valley at Langher and went up the mountain, through the village. At 3100m, a bit outside the village, we found a spot to stay, overlooking the valley. What a view! In the last light of the day we pitched our tent, cooked dinner and made fire with the wood from the roof. Here in the valley the only noise is the river far below us, there was little wind and it was quite warm. We looked at the stars in the deep blue sky as the fire died. Some falling stars were followed by wishes.

Trip data for the day

– Km driven: 280

– Hrs on the road: approx 8,5h

– Diesel l/100km: 10,1

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