- While much of Afghanistan has been roiled by near constant war since the American invasion in 2001, there are parts of the country that are still untouched by war.
- The Wakhan Corridor is a narrow strip of land in the far northeast of Afghanistan, bordering China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.
- New York photographer Frédéric Lagrange fufilled a lifelong dream in 2012 by visiting the remote region. He found that it was even more beautiful than he imagined.
In the late 1990s, New York-based photographer Frédéric Lagrange became obsessed with travelling to Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor after reading “A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush,” English writer Eric Newby’s travelogue of his adventures in the area.
He made plans to visit, but then 9/11 happened, and the American invasion quashed any plans. The trip was too dangerous.
In 2012, with the war cooling down, Lagrange finally made the trip he had been dreaming about.
The Wakhan Corridor is a narrow strip of land in the far northeast of Afghanistan, bordering Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Western China. The harsh, beautiful landscape, bounded by the Hindu Kush mountains on the south, was once used as a major trading route for those travelling the Silk Road to China.
For three weeks, Lagrange and a team of locals made their way up the Hindu Kush mountains to the shores of Lake Chaqmaqtin. Along the way, Lagrange photographed the local peoples, who survive on the edge of civilisation by raising and herding cattle.
He shared some photos from his journey with us, but you can check out the rest at his website.
Lagrange began by flying into Dushanbe, Tajikistan, crossing into the Wakhan Corridor by Afghanistan’s northeast border. If he travelled from Kabul, he would have had to pass through numerous Taliban-controlled areas.
After three days of driving with a guide, Lagrange reached the border. The army officer at the border told him that he was the first foreigner to cross that year.
He was greeted by his guide Adab (left, with Lagrange), a 23-year-old Afghani boy. Adab warned him of the dangerous reality of his life, saying that “If the Taliban ever comes to power [in Wakhan], I will probably be one of the first to be executed, having been around Westerners.”
They spent the first days in the Eastern Afghanistan city of Ishkashim to ensure they had the necessary paperwork to travel. In the city, Sunni women wear burqas to cover themselves.
They drove until they reached the village of Sarhad-e-Wakhan, at the end of the road built by the Soviets 30 years prior.
This man is a soldier at Sarhad-e-Wakhan. It is the last military checkpoint in Afghanistan.
At the village, they met Burch Mirzo, a farmer who led Lagrange’s expedition. Lagrange described him as “soft-spoken and kind, with an incredible resistance to cold and pain.”
Once you reach the Wakhan Corridor, the tense atmosphere of Afghanistan relaxes. “Children play, people are more light-hearted, and women unveil,” said Lagrange.
There are two persecuted groups living in the Wakhan corridor, the Wakhi and the Kyrgyz.
Wakhi are gracious and welcoming hosts. Despite having little, they offer as much as they can to make guests feel comfortable.
Kyrgyz (pictured) tend to be much wealthier than Wakhi people. They usually have hundreds of cattle and pay Wakhi men in cattle to work for them.
At so high an altitude, cultivating crops is nearly impossible.
Both survive by herding cattle, primarily sheep and yaks.
This man is a Wakhi herder.
The winter is incredibly harsh in the Wakhan Corridor. These yaks did not move over the course of the night to preserve heat and energy.
Every day, animals are brought to the butcher to be slaughtered.
Lagrange, Adab, and Mirzo embarked on a five-day trek to Lake Chaqmaqtin in Little Pamir, a valley bordered by the Pamir Mountains.
Lagrange hired four porters and four donkeys to carry the team’s provisions, camping gear, and photography equipment.
Amir Muhammad was one of the expedition’s porters. He stands with his mother in front of their home.
This was in the Langar Valley, at the trip’s halfway point. The danger of the trip, says Lagrange, was not from the Taliban, but from the natural environment.
One of the most strenuous parts of the journey was the climb up the Daliz Pass. At the top, they were at an altitude of 14,000 feet.
After scaling the pass, the team took a much-deserved rest. Behind them are the Hindu Kush mountains, which Lagrange called “mesmerising.”
After an arduous journey, they reached Lake Chaqmaqtin. The Wakhi and Kyrgyz settle here because the grasslands can sustain herds of goat, yak, and sheep.
Kyrgyz live in yurts — portable houses. Made of felt and wood, they are ideal because they can be easily broken down, moved, and rebuilt.
There are no doctors in Wakhan, and school teachers only come for a few months of the year.
Here, a Kyrgyz girl milks a yak.
Abdullah is a Wakhi herder who lives around Lake Chaqmaqtin during the winter. He could not remember his age, but thought he was around 40. He has struggled with an opium addiction for most of his life.
Lagrange tried photographing this Kyrgyz girl many times one day, but each time, she would run away. Finally, at the end of the day, she let him take a picture, before running away again.
Kyrgyz and Wakhi move settlements from winter to summer. As Lagrange visited in March, these women were preparing to move to the Kyrgyz summer settlement on the other side of the lake.
Many of the clan leaders who Lagrange spoke to told him they wished to leave the Wakhan Corridor and thought of it as a “beautiful prison.” Because both groups have been subject to persecution, they have nowhere to go.
The war has not reached the Wakhan Corridor since the Soviets left 30 years ago. The Wakhi and Kyrgyz fear that when NATO leaves in 2014, the Taliban may try to move in.
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