Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Friday, November 04, 2011

What IS the Wakhan Corridor?

If you look at a map of Afghanistan you will see a 'finger' sticking out of the northeast part of the country.  Odd?  I think so.  From my knowledge of maps, I know that when you see a strange border shape there is normally a long story attached to it.  That is true in the history of the Wakhan.

I could summarize the history of the Wakhan, but I prefer to use a synopsis written by Greg Mortenson, as well as some quotes from Wikipedia:

"...The Corridor was historically used as a trading route between Badakhshan and Yarkand.[7] It appears that Marco Polo came this way.[8] The Portuguese Jesuit priest Bento de Goes crossed from the Wakhan to China between 1602 and 1606. In May 1906 Sir Aurel Stein explored the Wakhan, and reported that at that time 100 pony loads of goods crossed annually to China.[9(wikipedia)

"For centuries it [had] been a natural conduit between Central Asia and China, and one of the most forbidding sections of the Silk Road, the 4,000-mile trade route linking Europe to the Far East.
The borders of the Wakhan were set in an 1895 treaty between Russia and Britain, which had been wrestling over the control of Central Asia for nearly a century....Eventually Britain and Russia agreed to use the entire country as a buffer zone, with the Wakhan extension ensuring that the borders of the Russian empire would never touch the borders of the British Raj.
Only a handful of Westerners are known to have traveled through the Wakhan Corridor since Marco Polo did it, in 1271. There had been sporadic European expeditions throughout the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. In 1949, when Mao Zedong completed the Communist takeover of China, the [eastern] borders were permanently closed, sealing off the 2,000-year-old caravan route and turning the corridor into a cul-de-sac. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, they occupied the Wakhan and plowed a tank track halfway into the corridor. Today, the Wakhan has reverted to what it’s been for much of its history: a primitive pastoral hinterland, home to about 7,000 Wakhi and Kirghiz people, scattered throughout some 40 small villages and camps." (Greg Mortenson)

"There is no modern road through the Corridor. There is a rough road from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil[11] built in the 1960s,[12] but only paths beyond. It is some 100 km from the road end to the Chinese border at Wakhjir Pass, and further to the far end of the Little Pamir." (wikipedia)

WHO LIVES THERE?The Wakhi people live in the wide valley of the Wakhan Corridor itself, in Afghanistan and across the borders in Tajikistan and Pakistan. The Wakhis are Shia Ismaili Muslims, whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan.
In the Pamir mountain valleys at the far east and northeast of the panhandle live the Kyrgyz, who are among the last of the Central Asian peoples who still follow a nomadic lifestyle. The Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims. They once roamed more widely but the arrival of Communist governments in the Soviet Union and China confined them to an increasingly restricted area as border controls were tightened. Those who remain in the Afghan Pamir still follow their traditional pastoral lifestyle, especially in the two main valleys -- the Great Pamir and the Little Pamir. (A 'pamir' is a wide green valley, good for grazing animals.)  (

Wakhi People

A Kyrgyz Nomad

My next post will go into more detail about the Wakhi & Kyrgyz people in the Wakhan corridor today. 


Stephen Lioy said...

Lovely photos here, and I'm curious to see more. I'm also sort of curious as to your connection to the region? I live in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and enjoy reading perspectives around here from a variety of sources, but I can't find much on here to see what angle you're coming from!

Ruth Riv said...

Hello Stephen, The angle that I am coming from is that of a Westerner who has an interest in Afghanistan and the surrounding regions. I have many Afghan friends and have developed an appreciation for aspects of the culture, geography, history, etc... I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Mohd Ferozi said...

Hi there,

it was interesting and loved it.
so informative for me. I hope you make a report like this on Hazara people as well. looking forward to it. Thanks.

Unknown said...

You have been remiss in your research , The In the Footsteps of Marco Polo Expedition traversed the entire Wakhan Corridor during the Warlord period , in 1993 ... or google 'Marco Polo's Guide to Afghanistan' in Smithsonian Magazine

Ruth Riv said...

Hello "Unknown", can you be more specific? How have I been remiss? I can fix an error if you tell me what the error is. Thank you.