The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

Getting There From Here

John Mock & Kimberley O’Neil planned to traverse the length of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the source of the Oxus River (Amu Darya) in the Little Pamir near the western base of the Wakhjir Pass, then cross the Dilisang Pass to the Misgar village in the upper Hunza Valley of Pakistan’s Northern Areas. They had only three months to ready for this complex expedition planned for July and August 2004, which required special permission from both governments.  


We had decided to travel with an old friend, Alam, a Wakhi mountaineer and poet from Pakistan’s Chapursan Valley. We had trekked with him across several mountain passes and glaciers in Pakistan. Our plan was for the three of us to fly from Islamabad to Kabul. From there, we planned to drive to Badakhshan, a journey of several days over rough roads, passing through areas not yet cleared of land mines, and through multiple warlords’ domains. We soon realized that exposing ourselves to such indeterminable risk seemed pointless — our goal was to traverse Wakhan, not central Afghanistan. We decided we would have to make a second flight. The Wakhan Corridor is in the far Northeastern part of the country, and Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan, is the nearest town with an airstrip. We would try to get a flight there.

The 75 to 100 miles of the upper Wakhan, which comprises all of the Little Pamir, lie above the highest year-round settlements. The Little Pamir has two distinct branches: To the northeast is Chaqmaqtin Lake, the source of the Murghab River, and to the east is the Wakhjir Valley. The route to Dilisang Pass branches south off of the Wakhjir Valley, where the eastern edge of the Hindukush Range meets the northern tip of the Karakoram Range and the southeastern extent of the Pamir Range. The region is sometimes referred to as the Pamir Knot.

Dilisang Pass is essentially unknown, and not marked on maps. Satellite images on two U.S. Geological Survey maps of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor and Little Pamir, including the Wakhjir Valley and the adjacent areas of Pakistan, provided a graphic overview of the mountain range we would cross. We also had a photocopy of a sketch map from Die Kirghisen Des Afghanischen Pamir, a book by Austrians Remy Dor and Klaus Naumen published in 1978. The sketch map includes many local place names and all the side valleys.

The maps we coveted were the 1,100:000 topographic maps with 40-meter contour intervals made by the Russian military and labelled in Russian. But we would need several map sheets to cover our route, and at $75 each, they were way beyond our budget. Fortunately, the University of California at Berkeley map library had all the sheets we needed and we made copies. Although the maps didn’t show the Dilisang nor any other pass leading from the Wakhjir into Pakistan, having them was key to our finding Dilisang Pass.

We are also fortunate that we could speak to people in their own language. John speaks fluent Urdu, the lingua franca of Pakistan, is competent in Afghan Dari Persian, the lingua franca of northern Afghanistan, and knows Wakhi, the language spoken in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.