John Mock & Kimberley O'Neil
Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor & the Afghan Pamir
John Mock and Kimberley O'Neil traveled to Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor and the Afghan Pamir six times between 2004 and 2008, and John returned again to Wakhan in 2016. In Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir, they have trekked more than 1,000 kilometers and crossed eleven high mountain passes.
Their successful 2004 expedition to the source of the Oxus River in the Wakhjir Valley and across the Dilisang Pass to Misgar in Pakistan was supported by the 2004 GORE-TEX Brand ® Shipton/Tilman Grant awarded by W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. Read the expedition report, or read it on W.L. Gore's / WINDSTOPPER ® Adventure Diaries. Play the expedition slide show.
In 2005, they were consultants for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and Aga Khan Foundation-Afghanistan on Tourism Promotion in Wakhan District, Badakhshan, Afghanistan.
In 2006 and 2007, they worked in Wakhan District for the Community Conservation project of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Afghanistan Biodiversity Project. In 2014, Wakhan National Park was established as Afghanistan's second national park.
"The Wildlife Conservation Society applauds the Afghanistan Government's recent declaration establishing the entire Wakhan District, one of the most remote areas of Afghanistan, as the nation's second national park. The Wakhan National Park, with its beautiful alpine grasslands and craggy mountains, will provide protection for Afghanistan's rare and vulnerable wildlife such as the snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, lynx, Himalayan ibex and urial. This new protected area will be co-managed by the Afghanistan Government and local communities, providing livelihoods related to the park and improved services to one of the poorest and most isolated regions on earth. The new park, just over 1 million hectares or 4,200 square miles, is in Afghanistan's far northeast, and borders Tajikistan, Pakistan and China; its narrow valley landscape is sandwiched between the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains. This huge new protected area is about 25 percent bigger than Yellowstone National Park. Network members John Mock and Kim O'Neil, and George Schaller have been working toward this end. This is indeed good news!"
Read a 2011 update on protected areas in Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor in the IUCN-WCPA Mountain Protected Areas UPDATE (No. 72, December 2011).
Read about the outcome of the Return to Noshaq campaign to raise funds to clear landmines from the trekking route to Noshaq (7492m), Afghanistan's highest peak.
Their writings on Wakhan include history, culture, language, rock art, Old Tibetan inscriptions, shrine traditions and tourism.
They wrote and coordinated Wakhan & the Afghan Pamir, a 16-page tourism brochure with descriptive text, route information and detailed two-page route map, which will be published by the Aga Khan Foundation-Afghanistan in June 2006 for their Wakhan tourism development program. To download the latest version of the brochure (3.9MB), you can also visit the AKDN Publication page of the Aga Khan Development Network's website.
They contributed an essay "The Roof of the World" on Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir to a travel literature anthology entitled The Lonely Planet Guide to the Middle of Nowhere, published in October 2006 by Lonely Planet Publications. Publishers Weekly writes in Spring 2006 that this book "pictorially encourages an all-out search for adventure."
Readers' CommentsYour works on Shimshal oral expressive forms and interpretative categories as well the articles you publish on the Wakhi area and Wakhan more broadly are brilliant and very inspirational for a young research like me. Thibault, Belgium, March 2019.
I was here reading [your] Wakhan adventures, which are very inspiring to say the least. I thank you for this great resource. Umut, Turkey, April 2018
I want to make the trip to the Wakhan and I have found your website to be very helpful - not to mention the beautiful brochure! - thanks! Aimee, Kabul, June 2014
I am writing to share a recent article I wrote about my travels through the Wakhan Corridor, which also includes some of my photographs. I also wished to thank you for the detailed information provided on your website, as it was exceptionally helpful during my pre-trip planning. As a scholar myself, I've found your articles on the cultural history of the Wakhan exceptionally engaging and informative much of my own knowledge of the region has come from your own work. James, Canada, June 2014
Your travels and publications are very inspiring: Your careers are exactly the path that I hope to pursue. Paul, UK, October 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed your inspiring expedition notes and photographs, and indeed, as a newspaper correspondent until recently based in Pakistan, I enjoyed your excellent guide book. Ismabard, February 2012
[We]'d like to thank you for putting all these informations together! It is one of the few links on the Wakhan Corridor on the Web, and the mix of personal stories, extremely useful datas and breathtaking pictures is clearly a must-see for anyone willing to travel in this part of the world. Fabrice (Paris) and Cedric (Montreal), May 2011
Thank you so much for the wonderful account of your expedition to the source of the Oxus. It is a truly inspirational read! Alessandra, October 2010
[I] am fascinated by Wakhan corridor [and would like to] walk in your footsteps to the Oxus source and over the Dilisang Pass Piotr, Poland, January 2009
Forgive this message from a stranger, but I've been a fan of your website for more than a year now. I found it when I started planning my own trip to Afghanistan and the Wakhan. It's a real inspiration, as some of your admirers have already said. John, UK, January 2009
Your travel report have been a great source of inspiration. Frederic, France, July 2008
I received your email and website address from a friend of mine and you really give me inspiration You are doing great work! but I am sure you are aware of this! Britt, Netherlands, May 2008
Thanks for the inspirational website. I hoped to travel into Wakhan in 1973 but the King was deposed and that was that; we were repeatedly turned back. Thirty-five years later and retired, I am inspired by your website to thinking about it again
Mark, UK, October 2007
I have read your informative and very interesting report from August 2004. Congratulations on a fine achievement and in particular on having the confidence to proceed beyond the ice cave area to the Dilisang Pass, when you remained uncertain exactly where it was.
Bill, Surrey, UK, March 2007
Your website is great - you have led amazing lives!
Kristin, Ohio, March 2007
I visited your web site and I found it very interesting, my best compliments for your trips and for the pictures. Reading your report about the traverse from Wakhan to [Pakistan] made me want to visit Wakhan and cross Irshad Uween.
Pietro, Italy, June 2006
What a nice web site you have! And what an example you can be for a young 20-year-old traveller like me! There is nothing more important in life than having the courage to live our dream Wow!
Olivier, Montréal, April 2006
Today's traveler to Afghanistan has the unique opportunity for their travel experience to have a positive impact by contributing financially to urgent humanitarian needs and reconstruction efforts. In return, Afghanistan will offer its rich culture, history and natural beauty, and the Afghans will share their strong tradition of hospitality. So, rather than waiting, go to Afghanistan now.
Wakhan Permission (Updated January 2007)
In addition to obtaining a visa for travel to Afghanistan, you need to request special permission to travel anywhere in Wakhan District of Badakhshan Province (essentially anywhere east of Ishkashim), which includes all of the Wakhan Corridor and Afghan Pamir. A trekking permit is not required.
The process for getting permission changes regularly, so cover all your bases. In 2006, the steps were:
You may be asked to show your letters at several places, but definitely in Qila-e Panja and Sarhad-e Broghil. If you don't have permission, you will be sent back to Ishkashim.
Enticing possibilities for cross-border treks are already luring hardy trekkers to Wakhan. Keep in mind that obtaining a visa for a country does not mean you have "permission" to cross an international border where there is no legal border crossing or immigration checkpost. In order to attempt a cross-border route, you must request special permission from the governments of both countries that allows you to exit one country at a given location, and enter another country at a given location with notation of where you will handle immigration formalities.
In Afghanistan, start with ATO. In Pakistan, contact the Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Tourism (email email@example.com, telephone 92-51-9213642, fax 92-51-9215912), Green Tower Trust, 11th floor, Blue Area, Islamabad, Pakistan. The only legal border crossing between Afghanistan and Tajikistan is at the town of Ishkashim.
Warning: If you attempt a cross-border route without explicit permission for that route, you are subject to being shot at, taken into custody, and accused of crimes. In 2005, 2006 and 2007 everyone who attempted an international border crossing without permission was detained by authorities. Foolhardy decisions are likely to create an international incident, and risk authorities restricting access to these border areas for everyone.
Maps of Wakhan are not available for sale within Afghanistan, so visit an online map seller.
The topographic 1:500,000 The Pamirs (ISBN 3-906593-35-5, Gecko Maps 2004) map features the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) region of Tajikistan. It depicts Afghanistan's Wakhan District, yet lacks place names, prominent peaks, and routes. It does, however, give the best readily available depiction of the topography.
The Russian military published four series of highly detailed topographic maps, labelled in Russian, that best depict Wakhan for trekking and mountaineering.
View an index of the Wakhan sheets in the 1:50,000 series.
Download the Russian maps.
View an index of the sheets in the 1:100,000 series.
U.S. Military Maps
The U.S. military published two series depicting Wakhan.
View an index of the 63 sheets in the Afghanistan series.
[This page is under construction.]
Hiring Local People
Download the 2013 list of prices for transport, local hires (guide, cook, porter, pack animals), and guest houses issued by the Tourism Incharge, Ministry of Culture & Information.
Most trekkers will want to hire a least one person with local trail knowledge who can bring a pack animal (donkey, horse or yak) to carry gear and assist with river crossings. Every village has a rotational system that equitably gives work to men who want to work with trekkers. When you arrive in a village near a trailhead, the villagers can easily find someone to accompany you.
Anyone interested in hiring a trek guide or trek cook can contact the following individuals who received basic training as either a guide or cook, and with spoken English. Of the 25 names below, there is one from each village in Upper Wakhan. Everyone is eager to work and build upon their basic trek skills - put the word out in any village.
In 2006, the following men have also received training in basic mountaineering, camp chores and cooking, and spoken English.
Copyright Text & Photographs © John Mock & Kimberley O'Neil 1997-2022
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