Last updated

Coordinates: 37°07′45″N73°37′07″E / 37.129240°N 73.618680°E / 37.129240; 73.618680


The Wakhan Corridor Wakhan, Badakhshan.jpg
The Wakhan Corridor

Wakhan or "the Wakhan" (also spelt Vakhan; Persian and Pashto : واخان, Vâxân and Wāxān respectively; Tajik : Вахон, Vaxon) is a rugged, mountainous part of the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram regions of Afghanistan. Wakhan District is a district in Badakshan Province.


The Wakhan and surrounding areas along the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan Vakhan (Wakhan) Corridor.jpg
The Wakhan and surrounding areas along the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan

The Wakhan is located in the extreme north-east of Afghanistan. It contains the headwaters of the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, and was an ancient corridor for travellers from the Tarim Basin to Badakshan.

Until 1883, the Wakhan included the whole valley of the Panj River and the Pamir River, as well as the upper flow of the Panj River known as the Wakhan River. [1] An 1873 agreement between UK and Russia split the Wakhan by delimiting spheres of influence for the two countries at the Panj and Pamir rivers. [2] Since then, the name Wakhan is now generally used to refer to the Afghan area south of the two rivers. The northern part of the historic Wakhan is now part of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in Tajikistan.

The only road into the Wakhan is a rough track from Ishkashim past Qila-e Panja to Sarhad-e Broghil. Paths lead from the end of the road to the Wakhjir Pass, a mountain pass leading to China which is closed to travellers.

The western part of the Wakhan, between Ishkashim and Qila-e Panja, is known as Lower Wakhan, which includes the valley of the Panj River. The valleys of the Wakhan River, the Pamir River and their tributaries, and the terrain between, are known as Upper Wakhan.

The eastern extremity of Upper Wakhan is known as the Pamir Knot, the area where the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush ranges meet. West of the Pamir Knot is the Little Pamir, a broad U-shaped grassy valley 100 km long and 10 km wide, [3] which contains Chaqmaqtin Lake, the headwaters of the Aksu or Murghab River. At the eastern end of the Little Pamir is the Tegermansu Valley, from where the closed Tegermansu Pass (4,827 m) leads to China. The Great Pamir or Big Pamir, a 60 km long valley south of Zorkol lake, drained by the Pamir River, lies to the northwest of the Little Pamir.

The mountain range that divides the two Pamirs is known as the Nicholas Range. [4] West of the Nicholas Range, between the Great Pamir and the lower valley of the Wakhan River, is the Wakhan Range, which culminates in the Koh-e Pamir (6,320 m).

The roads in the region have small shrines to Ismaili Muslim pirs and are adorned with "special stones and curled ibex and sheep horns", which are symbols of purity in the Zoroastrian faiths, once present in the region before the arrival of Islam. [5]

Wakhan Corridor

Wakhan between Afghanistan and Tajikistan Wakhan Corridor.jpg
Wakhan between Afghanistan and Tajikistan

The Wakhan is connected to Tashkurgan Tajik County, China, by a long, narrow strip called the Wakhan Corridor, which separates the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan.

The Wakhan River flows through the corridor from the east to Qila-e Panja where it joins the Pamir River to become the Panj River which then forms the border.

In the south the corridor is bordered by the high mountains of the Hindu Kush, crossed by the Broghol pass, the Irshad Pass and the disused Dilisang Pass [6] to Pakistan.


Historically the Wakhan has been an important region for thousands of years as it is where the western and eastern portions of Central Asia meet.

Western Wakhan (休密 Xiumi) was conquered in the early part of the 1st century CE by Kujula Kadphises, the first "Great Kushan," and was one of the five xihou or principalities that formed the nucleus of the original Kushan kingdom. [7]

Until 1883 Wakhan was a principality on both sides of the Panj and Pamir Rivers, ruled by a hereditary ruler (mir) with his capital at Qila-e Panja. [8] In the 1880s (1880-1895 [9] ), under pressure from Britain, Abdur Rahman Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan, imposed Afghan rule on the Wakhan. [10]

Agreements between Britain and Russia in 1873 and between Britain and Afghanistan in 1893 effectively split the historic area of Wakhan by making the Panj and Pamir Rivers the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire. [2] On its south side, the Durand Line agreement of 1893 marked the boundary between British India and Afghanistan. This left a narrow strip of land as a buffer between the two empires.

In 1949, when Mao Zedong completed the Communist takeover of China, the 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 built strong military posts at Sarhad-e Broghil and elsewhere. To facilitate access they built a bridge across the Pamir River at Prip, near Gaz Khan. However, the area did not see fighting. [11]

In 2010 the Wakhan was reported to be peaceful and unaffected by the war in the rest of Afghanistan. [12]


Wakhan is sparsely populated. The total population is estimated at about 10,600. [11] Wakhi and Kyrgyz are the major ethnic groups of Wakhan. Most of its inhabitants speak the Vakhi or Wakhi language (x̌ik zik), and belong to an ethnic group known as Vakhi or Wakhi. Nomadic Kyrgyz herders live at the higher altitudes. [13]

According to a 2003 report by the United Nations Environment Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization, the population of Wakhan suffers from lack of education, poverty, ill health, food insecurity and opium addiction. [11]


The Wakhi population of Wakhan was 9,444 in 2003. [11] Almost all of them adhere to the Shia Ismaili faith and some of them speak Ishkashimi language. [13] Wakhi people also inhabit several areas adjacent to the Wakhan in Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.

The Wakhi practice agriculture in the river valleys, and herd animals in the summer pastures at higher elevations.

The dominant sect of Islam in the region is Ismaili, much milder than the strict form of Islam generally practiced in the country. In Ishkashim, the city at the western mouth of the Wakhan, stricter observance is demanded. The area has been long neglected by the central government of Afghanistan. People are poor, many being traditional pastoralists living in yurts and lacking basic services. Non-governmental organizations such as the Aga Khan Development Network foundation have taken an interest in the area. The Central Asia Institute, founded by Greg Mortenson, has built 11 schools in the region. [12]

There is a trickle of tourists who engage in trekking and mountaineering. [12]

Alastair Leithead of BBC News 24 on 26 December 2007, presented a half-hour feature about Wakhan, focusing particularly on the work of the expatriate British doctor Alexander Duncan, which provided a significant piece of extended media reporting from this inaccessible area. [14] He has also covered the Pamir Festival in the area. [15]


The Kyrgyz population of Wakhan was 1,130 in 2003, all in the eastern part of Wakhan. [11] The Kyrgyz are Sunni Hanafi Muslims.

The suppression of the 1916 rebellion against Russian rule in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz to later migrate to China and Afghanistan. Most Kyrgyz refugees settled in Wakhan region of Afghanistan.

Until 1978, the northeastern portion of Wakhan (the Great Pamir and the Little Pamir) was home to about 3,000-5,000 ethnic Kyrgyz. [16] [17] In 1978 almost all the Kyrgyz inhabitants fled to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Saur Revolution. They requested 5,000 visas from the United States Consulate in Peshawar for resettlement in Alaska (a region that shares a similar climate and temperature with the Wakhan Corridor). Their request was denied. In the meantime, the heat and the unsanitary conditions of the refugee camp were killing the Kyrgyz refugees at an alarming rate. Turkey, which was then under the military coup rule of General Kenan Evren, stepped in, and resettled the entire group in the Lake Van region of Turkey in 1982. The village of Ulupamir (or "Great Pamir" in Kyrgyz) in Erciş on Lake Van was given to them, and more than 5,000 of them still reside today. The documentary film "37 Uses for a Dead Sheep – the story of the Pamir Kirghiz" was based on the life of these Kyrgyz/Kirgiz in their new home.

Kyrgyz from Wakhan region of Afghanistan moved to Pakistan in the 1970s. Nearly 1,100 of them were accepted by Turkey to settle in Ulupamir (or "Great Pamir" in Kyrgyz), their resettlement village in Van Province. [18]

Some Kyrgyz returned to the Wakhan in October 1979, following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. [8]


In recent years the Wakhan has become a destination for adventurous trekkers, and several tour companies offer trips to the area. [19] BBC correspondent John Simpson has recommended the area as a place to take a wonderful, and relatively safe, holiday. [20] Kate Humble, a BBC television presenter, reports that the area is beautiful and the people friendly. [21] The entire Wakhan was designated as the protected Wakhan National Park in 2014.

The Wakhan plays a large role in Greg Mortenson's book, Stones into Schools . This book tells the story of the building of a school in the Kyrgyz village of Bozai Gumbaz. The factual accuracy of this account is strongly disputed in Jon Krakauer's ebook Three Cups of Deceit.


  1. Hermann Kreutzmann (2005): The Significance of Geopolitical Issues for Development of Mountainous Areas of Central Asia Map at p.12
  2. 1 2 International Boundary Study of the Afghanistan-USSR Boundary (1983) by the US Bureau of Intelligence and Research
  3. Aga Khan Development Network (2010): Wakhan and the Afghan Pamir p.3
  4. "Pamir and Wakhan Geography". Juldu.com. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  5. Isaacson, Andy (17 December 2009). "Pamir Mountains, the Crossroads of History". The New York Times . Retrieved 5 January 2015.
  6. The pass was crossed by a couple in 1950 and by a couple in 2004. See J.Mock and K. O'Neil: Expedition Report
  7. Hill, John E. 2004. The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu. Draft annotated English translation. Chapter 13
  8. 1 2 "Hermann Kreutzmann (2003) Ethnic minorities and marginality in the Pamirian Knot" (PDF). Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  9. O. Mirzo, WAKHAN, Khuroson, Khujand, 2018, p.74
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 "Wak.p65" (PDF). Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  11. 1 2 3 Wong, Edward (27 October 2010). "In Icy Tip of Afghanistan, War Seems Remote". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
  12. 1 2 Shahrani, M. Nazif. (1979)
  13. Leithead, Alastair (11 September 2007). "Doctor on call in Afghanistan". BBC News. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  14. "Pamir Times". Pamirtimes.wordpress.com. 20 November 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  15. FACTBOX-Key facts about the Wakhan Corridor. Reuters. 12 June 2009
  16. "Mock and O'Neil, Expedition Report (2004)". Mockandoneil.com. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  17. EurasiaNet (20 May 2012). "Turkey: Kyrgyz Nomads Struggle To Make Peace With Settled Existence". Eurasiareview.com. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  18. Sleight, Christopher Tourism plan for Afghan mountains 25 February 2010
  19. Jamieson, Emma BBC's John Simpson recommends: Trek Afghanistan 7 February 2010
  20. Humble, Kate (6 February 2010), "War and peace: Kate Humble treks into Afghanistan", Independent on Sunday, retrieved 25 July 2010

Related Research Articles

Amu Darya River in Central Asia and Afghanistan

The Amu Darya is a major river in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Rising in the Pamir Mountains, north of the Hindu Kush, the Amu Darya is formed by the confluence of the Vakhsh and Panj rivers, in the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and flows from there north-westwards into the southern remnants of the Aral Sea. In its upper course, the river forms part of Afghanistan's northern border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In ancient history, the river was regarded as the boundary of Greater Iran with "Turan", which roughly corresponded to present-day Central Asia.

Wakhan Corridor Narrow strip of land in northeastern Afghanistan

The Wakhan Corridor is a narrow strip of territory in Afghanistan, extending to China and separating Tajikistan from Pakistan and Kashmir. The corridor, wedged between the Pamir Mountains to the north and the Karakoram range to the south, is about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13–65 kilometres (8–40 mi) wide. From this high mountain valley the Panj and Pamir Rivers emerge and form the Amu Darya. A trade route through the valley has been used by travellers going to and from East, South and Central Asia since antiquity.

Khorugh Place in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan

The town of Khorugh is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) in Tajikistan. It is also the capital of the Shughnon District of Gorno-Badakhshan. It has a population of 30,500. Khorugh is 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) above sea level in the Pamir Mountains at the confluence of the rivers Ghunt and Panj. The city is bounded to the south (Nivodak) and to the north (Tem) by the deltas of the Shakhdara and Ghunt, respectively. The two rivers merge in the eastern part of the city flow through the city, dividing it almost evenly until its delta in the Panj, on the border with Afghanistan. Khorugh is known for its poplar trees that dominate the flora of the city.

Pamir Mountains Mountain range in Central Asia

The Pamir Mountains are a mountain range between Central Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, at the junction of the Himalayas with the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush. They are among the world's highest mountains.

Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region Region of Tajikistan

The Kuhistani Badakhshan Autonomous Region is an autonomous region in eastern Tajikistan. Located in the Pamir Mountains, it makes up 45% of the land area of the country but only 3% of its population.

Gojal Valley in Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan

Gojal, also called Upper Hunza, is situated in the far north of Pakistan. It borders China at the Khunjerab Pass and Afghanistan at the Chipurson valley. In 2019, Gojal Valley became the second Sub-Division within the Hunza District. It is geographically the largest Sub-Division of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan.

Wakhi language Indo-European language spoken by the Wakhi people

Wakhi, IPA: [waχi], is an Indo-European language in the Eastern Iranian branch of the language family spoken today in Wakhan District, Northern Afghanistan and also in Tajikistan, Northern Pakistan and China.

Wakhi people Ethnolinguistic group native to Central and South Asia

The Wakhi people or the Khik (خیک), are an Iranian ethnic group living in adjacent, remote regions of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and China. They are predominantly centered in Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, the northernmost part of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan, the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan and the southwestern region of China's Xinjiang. They are native speakers of Wakhi, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch.

The Pamir languages are an areal group of the Eastern Iranian languages, spoken by numerous people in the Pamir Mountains, primarily along the Panj River and its tributaries.

Panj (river)

The Panj, also known as Pyandzh or Pyanj, is a tributary of the Amu Darya. The river is 921 kilometres (572 mi) long and has a basin area of 114,000 square kilometres (44,000 sq mi). It forms a considerable part of the Afghanistan–Tajikistan border.

Pamiris Ethnic group

The Pamiris are an Eastern Iranian ethnic group who are native to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Eastern Tajikistan, the Badakhshan Province of Northeastern Afghanistan, the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang, China and Hunza Valley in Pakistan.

Ishkashim, Afghanistan Place in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan

Ishkashim Persian: اشکاشم‎, also transliterated Ishkashem or Eshkashem, is a town in Badakhshan Province in north-eastern Afghanistan, the capital of Ishkashim District. It lies on the Panj River, at a point where its direction turns sharply north. Ishkashim lies opposite a town of the same name in Tajikistan, although the Tajik town is normally transliterated Ishkoshim following Tajik practice. A bridge linking the two towns was reconstructed in 2006.

Qalʽeh-ye Panjeh Place in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan

Qalʽeh-ye Panjeh, also written Qila-e Panjeh and Kala Panja, is a village in Wakhan, Badakhshan Province in north-eastern Afghanistan. It lies on the Panj River, near the confluence of the Wakhan River and the Pamir River.

Wakhan River

Wakhan River, Abe Vâxân Вахондарё, Vaxondaryo), also known in English as Ab-i-Wakhan, is the name of the Sarhadd branch of the Panj River along its upper length in Wakhan, Afghanistan.

Taghdumbash Pamir

Taghdumbash Pamir or Taxkorgan Valley is a pamir or high valley in the south west of Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, in Xinjiang, China. It lies to the west of the Karakoram Highway. It is inhabited by Wakhi, Kirghiz and Tajik animal herders, who graze yaks and other animals on the grasslands of the pamir.

Wakhjir Pass

The Wakhjir Pass, also spelled Vakhjir Pass, is a mountain pass in the Hindu Kush or Pamirs at the eastern end of the Wakhan Corridor, the only potentially navigable pass between Afghanistan and China in the modern era. It links Wakhan in Afghanistan with the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang, China, at an altitude of 4,923 metres (16,152 ft), but the pass is not an official border crossing point. With a difference of 3.5 hours, the border has the sharpest official change of clocks of any international frontier. China refers to the pass as South Wakhjir Pass, as there is a northern pass on the Chinese side.

Little Pamir

The Little Pamir is a broad U-shaped grassy valley or pamir in the eastern part of the Wakhan in north-eastern Afghanistan. The valley is 100 km long and 10 km wide, and is bounded to the north by the Nicholas Range, a subrange of the Pamir Mountains.

The Great Pamir or Big Pamir is a broad U-shaped grassy valley or pamir in the eastern part of the Wakhan in north-eastern Afghanistan and the adjacent part of Tajikistan, in the Pamir Mountains. Zorkol lake lies at the northern edge of the Great Pamir.

There are several hundred Kyrgyz in Pakistan, most of whom are immigrants based in the northern areas of the country. They have historically inhabited the Gojal valley of Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan's Broghil Pass, situated between Chitral and the Wakhan Corridor, also once had a large resident Kyrgyz community. Some hail from the town of Uzgen in the west of Kyrgyzstan; in addition, many were previously settled in the Little Pamir valley of the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan. They fled to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Afghan Saur Revolution, leaving much of their wealth and animal herds behind.

Afghanistan–Tajikistan border

The Afghanistan–Tajikistan border is 1,357 km (843 mi) in length and runs from the tripoint with Uzbekistan in the west to the tripoint with China in the east, almost entirely along the Amu Darya, Pyanj and Pamir rivers, except for the easternmost section along the Wakhan Corridor.