Afghan Wakhan & Zorkul Trekking Expedition

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Afghan Wakhan & Zorkul Trekking Expedition

Join us on an epically amazing 24-day journey through northern Afghanistan’s remote Wakhan Corridor to explore the little-visited Little Pamir Mountains and the surreal Zorkul Lake.
Starting from the capital of Dushanbe in neighboring Tajikistan, we will first make our way eastward toward Ishkashim before crossing the border into Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. From Afghan Ishkashim, we’ll continue by jeep down the Wakhan Valley Road to Gaz Khan from which we’ll begin our expedition on foot.
The goals are to reach both the famed Zorkul Lake and the surreal Chaqmaqtin Lake located in the Little Pamir Mountains, inhabited by Kyrgyz and Wakhi semi-nomadic families.

Dates

Tentatively
August 15-September 7, 2023

Duration

24 days | 23 nights

Start

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Finish

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Maximum Group Size

14

Cost

$4,800 USD

Deposit

30% due at time of sign up

Included In The Costs

  • Accommodations in guesthouses and tents for camping on trek
  • Local guide and trip leader
  • Visa support documents (letter of invitation)
  • Pack animal support

Excluded Costs

  • International airfare to & from
  • Visas fees for Tajikistan (~$50 USD for multi-entry, visa-free for some nationalities) & Afghanistan ($90-200 USD on average)
  • GBAO permit for Tajikistan ($20 USD)
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal spending
  • PCR testing (if applicable)
  • Gear
  • Tips for local staff (discretionary)
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About Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

Squeezed between the Pamir and Karakoram Mountains, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor is a political creation, formed during the Great Game in 1893 by the Durand agreement between Afghanistan and the United Kingdom to serve as a buffer between Russian Turkestan (present-day Tajikistan) and British India (present-day Northern Pakistan).
Historically, the Afghan Wakhan Corridor was a trade route along the Silk Road, used by merchants and travelers traversing between the Badakhshan region and Yarkand in what is now Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. Over the years the Wakhan became quite diverse with many people of varying cultures crossing and settling in the area as they traveled through this remote land.

The Wakhan Corridor has remained largely cut off from the remainder of Afghanistan due to its rugged, arduous terrain, making it the only reasonably safe destination within Afghanistan’s borders, dodging the wars that have wracked the country since the 1970s.

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Afghan Wakhan & Zorkul Trekking Expedition Itinerary

Day 1: Hit the Pamir Highway | Dushanbe to Qala i Khumb

We hit the ground running on day 1, having an early breakfast before hitting the road and making way for the famed Pamir Highway. 

Today begins early with a long drive along Tajikistan’s famed Pamir Highway. The route will first take us eastward from the city toward Nurek Reservoir before heading toward the south into the arid Khatlon Province, passing through the cities of Danghara and Kulob where we will make a quick visit to Hulbuk Fortress before heading back east again en route to Shurubod Pass.

On the descent from Shurubod, you’ll get your first glimpses into the wild Badakhshan Province just across the narrow Panj River that forms the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. From here the highway follows the course of the Panj River to our destination for the night, Qala i Khumb.

After reaching Qala i Khumb in the later afternoon we’ll grab dinner at a nice restaurant that overhangs a small river.

Driving: 8-9 hours
Altitude: 2,200m
Overnight: Guesthouse in Qala i Khumb

Day 2: Continue along the Pamir Highway into the Tajik Wakhan | Qala i Khumb to Ishkashim

Getting yet another early start, we will continue our journey along the Pamir Highway en route to the Tajik Wakhan. Continuing along the Panj River we will eventually arrive to Khorog, the largest city in the Pamir where we’ll take a quick break for lunch and stretch our legs before carrying on to the south to enter the Tajik Wakhan at the city of Ishkashim. 

Driving: 10-12 hours
Altitude: 2,600m
Overnight: Guesthouse in Ishkashim

Day 3: Cross into Afghanistan | Tajik Ishkashim to Afghan Eshkashim

In the morning we will make the short drive to the Ishkashim Border Crossing. Once we arrive at the bridge we will begin the process of exiting Tajikistan and then will walk across with our luggage to enter Afghanistan.

Once we’ve cleared border formalities we will jump into our new vehicles and continue the short 20-minute ride into Afghan Eshkashim.

Once we arrive in Eshkashim, we will have time to explore the small bazaar area and wander around the village while our organizers collect our permits for our journey into the Wakhan National Park.

Driving: 1 hour
Altitude: 2,600 meters
Overnight: Guesthouse in Eshkashim

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Day 4: Journey to the Great Pamir | Eshkashim to Gaz Khan

After breakfast in Eshkashim, we will begin our drive along the Afghan Wakhan Corridor toward the village of Gaz Khan in the Great Pamir near where the Pamir and Wakhan Rivers meet to form the Panj. This route sits along one of the major thoroughfares of the ancient Silk Road with the likes of Marco Polo and Hsuan Tsang passing through this area in the past.

We will eventually break in the village of Khandood to process more paperwork. We plan to arrive in Gaz Khan in the late afternoon or early evening and spend our last night indoors here before beginning the trek.

Driving time: 8-9 hrs
Altitude: 2,900 meters
Overnight: Guesthouse in Gaz Khan

Day 5: The Afghan Wakhan Trek Begins: Gaz Khan to Jangle

After a big breakfast, we’ll load up supplies onto yaks and donkeys and begin our Wakhan Corridor trek toward Zorkul Lake and the Little Pamir. The journey today will take us from the village of Gaz Khan to the shepherd settlement of Jangle.

Trekking: 8-9 hrs
Altitude: 3,250 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Jangle

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Day 6: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Jangle to Shukarga

On the second day of our Wakhan Corridor trek, we will continue further into the Great Pamir, gaining nearly 700 meters in elevation by the time we arrive at the summer pasture in the Valley of Shukarga where we will camp for the night. 

Trekking: 8-9 hours
Altitude: 3,900 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Shukarga Valley

Day 7: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Shukarga to Munjlaq

Today is our first of many strenuous days along this Wakhan Corridor Trek. Continuing along the Shukarga Valley we will make our way to 4400 meter Shukarga Pass. If the wind allows we will have lunch at the top of the pass before descending to Munjlaq where we will set up camp for the night. 

Trekking: 8-10 hours
Altitude: 4,400 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Munjlaq

Day 8: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Munjlaq to Julmasert

On the 4th day of the Wakhan Corridor Trek, we will have a gradual uphill walk to the summer pasture of Julmasert.

Trekking: 8-9 hours
Altitude: 4,450 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Julmasert

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Day 9: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Julmasert to Erghnaq

The trek today in the Great Pamir inches us closer to Zorkul Lake, bringing us from Julmasert to Erghnaq. The hike is fairly straightforward with a few rolling hills to cross on the way.

Trekking: 5-7 hours
Altitude: 4,300 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Erghnaq

Day 10: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Erghnaq to Moolah

Today’s goal is to arrive at the settlement of Moolah from Erghnaq, located not too far from Lake Zorkul.

Trekking: 7-8 hours
Altitude: 4,500 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Moolah

Day 11: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Moolah to Zorkul

After an early start, we will plan to arrive at the shores of Zorkul in the early afternoon to give us ample time to explore around the lake. Zorkul straddles the Tajik and Afghan border so we’ll have impressive views back into Tajikistan. 

After a sunset dinner on Zorkul’s shores, enjoy epic stargazing before calling it a night.

Trekking: 5-6 hours
Altitude: 4,300m
Overnight: Tent camping at Zorkul

Day 12: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Zorkul to the foot of Showr Pass

After a sunrise breakfast at Zorkul, we’ll pack up camp and make our way toward Showr Pass that we will be crossing the next day. The trek gains gradual elevation today before we reach our camp between the 4,400 and 4,500 meter mark.

Trekking: 7-8 hours
Altitude: 4,500 meters
Overnight: Tent camping at the foot of Showr Pass

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Day 13: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Crossing Showr Pass

With an early start, we’ll make our final push to the top of 4,890 meter Showr Pass, gaining approximately 400 meters in elevation on the way up. After lunch at the top, we will make our descent to camp just on the other side of Showr Pass for the night. 

Trekking: 8-10 hours
Altitude: 4,890 meters
Overnight: Tent camping on the other side of Showr Pass

Day 14: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Showr Pass to the Foot of Qarabel Pass

Today is a short day bringing us first down and then back up again to camp at the foot of 4,800 meter Qarabel Pass. 

Trekking: 4-5 hours
Altitude: 4,200 meters
Overnight: Tent camping at the foot of Qarabel Pass

Day 15: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Qarabel Pass to Nauabad

On this 11th day of the Wakhan Corridor Trek, we’ll make our way up to cross Qarabel Pass, gaining nearly 600 meters in elevation on the way to the top. After taking in the panorama from the top, we’ll continue down to the shepherd camp of Nauabad for the night.

Trekking: 8-9 hours
Altitude: 4,800 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Nauabad

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Day 16: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Nauabad to the Foot of Aqbilis Pass, Crossing Ghurumdee Pass

Today we cross our highest pass of the trek at 4,895 meters. After an early breakfast, we’ll depart Nauabad bound for Ghurumdee Pass to arrive at the top by the early afternoon. 

We’ll descend into a valley from here and continue toward our camp at the foot of Aqbilis Pass.

Trekking: 9-11 hours
Altitude: 4,895 meters
Overnight: Tent camping at the foot of Aqbilis Pass

Day 17: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Aqbilis Pass to Kurchin

Today we cross our final pass of the trek, taking us up and over 4,600 meter Aqbilis Pass. We’ll plan to have lunch at the shores of a beautiful alpine lake up in the pass before descending to the Kyrgyz settlement of Kurchin for the night.

Trekking: 9-10 hours
Altitude: 4,600 meters
Overnight: Tent camping in Kurchin

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Day 18: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Kurchin to Chaqmaqtin

From Kurchin we will continue to the gem of the Little Pamir of Chaqmaqtin Lake. The trek will take us past the village of Bozai Gumbez and onto the shores of Chaqmaqtin.

Driving: 8-9 hours
Altitude: 4,100 meters
Overnight: Tent camping at Chaqmaqtin

Day 19: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Chaqmaqtin (Rest Day)

Today we will have the chance to explore the Chaqmaqtin area, meet local Kyrgyz families, and learn about their culture in what feels like one of the most secluded places in the world.

Trekking: Rest day
Altitude: 4,050m
Overnight: Tent camping at Chaqmaqtin

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Day 20: Wakhan Corridor Trek | Drive Chaqmaqtin to Qala e Panja

After breakfast, we’ll say goodbye to the Little Pamir and depart Chaqmaqtin Lake where our vehicles will be waiting for us. From Chaqmaqtin we’ll make our way to Qala e Panja, the once capital of the Mirdom of Wakhan, which dates back to the Sassanid era. 

Driving: 7-8 hours
Altitude: 2,800 meters
Overnight: Guesthouse in Qala e Panja

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Day 21: Back on the Wakhan Corridor Road | Qala e Panja to Eshkashim

We will take today to make the road journey along the Afghan Wakhan back to Eshkashim from Qala e Panja, making scenic stops in villages along the way.

Driving time: 6 hrs
Altitude: 2,800 meters
Overnight: Guesthouse in Eshkashim

Day 22: Rest Day | Explore Eshkashim

Take today to rest and explore the bustling bazaar town of Eshkashim. Today may be used as an extra day in the event of delays on the trek. 

Altitude: 2,600 meters
Overnight: Guesthouse in Eshkashim

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Day 23: Back to the Tajik Wakhan | Ishkashim to Khorog

In the morning we’ll say goodbye to our local guide in Afghanistan and make the short drive to the border, crossing back to Tajik Ishkashim before continuing to Khorog.

We will have the afternoon to explore Khorog’s Bazaar, Central Park, and maybe the Botanical Gardens that overlook the Tajik Pamir’s largest city. 

Driving: 4 hours
Altitude: 2,600 meters
Overnight: Guesthouse in Khorog

Day 24: The Final Day | Khorog to Dushanbe

Today begins early with a long drive from Khorog to Dushanbe along the Pamir Highway. 

Driving: 12-14 hours
Altitude: 2,200m
Overnight: Hotel or guesthouse in Dushanbe

| Noshaq Basecamp Add-On |

For those wanting to extend a little further, I will be offering an add-on for a trek to Noshaq Basecamp. This would add 5 additional days onto this itinerary, making for a grand total of 29 days. 

If this add-on is something of interest, get in touch and I will provide pricing and further details.

| Possible Amendments to the Above Itinerary |

The Ishkashim Border Crossing has been intermittently closed since 2021. If this is the case, we will plan to utilize the border crossing south of Dushanbe at Shir Khan Bandar and then continue to the city of Kunduz and then eastward to Fayzabad (the provincial capital of Badakhshan) and then on to Eshkashim. The same route would be done in reverse on the way back to Tajikistan.

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Other Important Information

Traveling in the Wakhan Corridor comes with a few unique hurdles.

Sleeping Arrangements & Showering

We will plan to sleep two to a tent while camping on the Wakhan trek. In guesthouses, you can expect the group to be put into large rooms with several beds, some of which may be on the floor. We will have the chance to shower on all nights in Tajikistan, and in Afghan Eshkashim. Otherwise, we will be wild camping (plan to get dirty- it’s quite dusty in these parts).

Meals

3 meals per day are included on the trip (except on arrival and departure days). Meals are very simple in the Wakhan. You can expect a typical meal to consist of chai, non (bread), and either rice or noodles with meat. If you have any allergies or special dietary requirements please let us know in advance so we can try our best to accommodate you.

Electricity, Internet & Communications

Once we begin the trek we will not have access to regular electricity. I highly recommend purchasing a solar charger and external batteries to bring with you to keep your electronics charged out here.

Given the remote nature of this trip, don’t expect to be online much at all. Mobile phone coverage is extremely limited and not the most reliable in the Afghan Wakhan. If you want to keep in contact with those back home, I highly recommend bringing an Inreach Explorer+ with you.

Dress Code

While the Wakhan Corridor is not as conservative as the remainder of Afghanistan it is still a pretty conservative society. Being fully covered for both men and women is important (long sleeves, full-length trousers/trekking pants). While not 100% required at all times it is best for women to wear a head covering in areas where we will encounter people (think villages and settlements). Much of this trip takes place at high altitudes and given the time of year (August) temperatures can be quite cool, so covering and layering will be more comfortable anyway.

In Tajikistan, there are no special dressing requirements.

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Medications & First Aid

Bring any medication you need or may possibly need from home. I also highly recommend carrying a simple first aid kit with you for any minor injuries.

Altitude

This trip will largely take place at high altitudes. The elevations on the trek between Gaz Khan up to Zorkul, over to Chaqmaqtin and back will range from 3,300 meters | 10,825 feet at the lowerest and 4,900 meters | 16, 080 feet at the highest. We will take precautions to prevent altitude sickness, but it can and will happen. Read up more on altitude sickness here.

Weather

Given the high altitude nature of this trip, you can expect temperatures to be quite cold year-round, and especially in October when this Wakhan trek will take place. I’ve personally seen it snow in the Wakhan in September on my visit in the past, but even in July, this is not unheard of. Temperatures down to -15°C can be possible at night and as high as 25°C at lower altitudes in the daytime.

Physical Level

Trekking in the Wakhan is challenging. You can expect long days of trekking, up to 25 kilometers | 15 miles (8-10 hours) at the longest and as mentioned previously, we will trek over a number of mountain passes, the highest being at nearly 4,900 meters. We will cross rivers and creeks numerous times. We will have pack animal support for the trek to carry food and tents, but you should still expect to carry a pack with roughly 10-15 kg of weight each day.

Extra Days

Wanting to add additional days in Tajikistan? No problem! We can arrange tours in Dushanbe and beyond, so get in touch and we can help set things up.

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Sign Up

This trip is limited to a maximum of 14 travelers so spots may fill quickly. Fill out the form below if you’re considering joining the expedition.

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