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Wakhan or "the Wakhan" (also spelt Vakhan; Persian and , ) is a very mountainous and rugged part of the Pamirmarker and Karakorammarker regions of Afghanistanmarker.

Parts of it are located in Wakhan District in Badakshan Province of Afghanistan.


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

Historically the Wakhan included the whole valley of the Pamir Rivermarker and the upper flow of the Panj River known as the Wakhan Rivermarker. In 1895 the rivers became the border between Russiamarker and Afghanistan, and the name is now generally used to refer to the Afghan district.

The only road into the Wakhan is a rough track from Ishkashimmarker past Qila-e Panja to Sarhad-e Broghil. Paths lead from the end of the road to the Wakhjir Passmarker.

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan is connected to Tashkurgan Tajik Countymarker, Chinamarker by a long, narrow strip called the Wakhan Corridor, which separates the Gorno-Badakhshanmarker region of Tajikistanmarker from the North-West Frontier Provincemarker and Gilgit-Baltistanmarker of Pakistan.
Wakhan between Pakistan and Tajikistan

The Pamir River rises in Zorkulmarker lake and forms the northern border of the corridor. 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 Kushmarker, crossed by the Brogholmarker pass, the Irshad Passmarker and the disused Dilisang Pass to Pakistanmarker.


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. Before the advent of Islam the region was disputed between Tibet and China.

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.

The present borders of the Wakhan were set in an 1895 treaty between Russia and Britain, who had been wrestling over the control of Central Asia for nearly a century. In what was dubbed the Great Game (a term coined by British Army spy Arthur Conolly of the 6th Bengal Native Light Cavalry), both countries had sent intrepid spies into the region, not a few of whom had been caught and beheaded. (Conolly was killed in Bokhara in 1842.) 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, although there were 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 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 has been for much of its history: a primitive pastoral hinterland, home to about 7,000 Wakhi and Tajik people, scattered throughout some 40 small villages and camps. Opium smugglers sometimes use the Wakhan, traveling at night.


Wakhan is sparsely populated. Most of its inhabitants speak the Vakhi or Wakhi language (x̌ik zik), and belong to an ethnic group known as Vakhi or Wakhi. Nomadic Kirghiz herders live at the higher altitudes. The Wakhi people also inhabit several areas adjacent to the Wakhan in Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.


  1. The pass was crossed by a couple in 1950 and by a couple in 2004. See J.Mock and K. O'Neil: Expedition Report
  2. Hill, John E. 2004. The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu. Draft annotated English translation.[1]
  3. Shahrani, M. Nazif. (1979)


  • Gordon, T. E. 1876. The Roof of the World: Being the Narrative of a Journey over the high plateau of Tibet to the Russian Frontier and the Oxus sources on Pamir. Edinburgh. Edmonston and Douglas. Reprint: Ch’eng Wen Publishing Company. Taipei. 1971.
  • Shahrani, M. Nazif. (1979) The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War. University of Washington Press. 1st paperback edition with new preface and epilogue (2002). ISBN 0-295-98262-4.
  • Stein, Aurel M. 1921a. Serindia: Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost China, 5 vols. London & Oxford. Clarendon Press. Reprint: Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass. 1980. [79089]
  • Stein Aurel M. 1921. “A Chinese expedition across the Pamirs and Hindukush, A.D. 747.” Indian Antiquary 1923. From: FULLTEXT/TR-ENG/aurel.htm. Last modified 24 June, 1997. Accessed 13 January, 1999.
  • Stein Aurel M. 1928. Innermost Asia: Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su and Eastern Iran, 5 vols. Clarendon Press. Reprint: New Delhi. Cosmo Publications. 1981.
  • Stein Aurel M. 1929. On Alexander's Track to the Indus: Personal Narrative of Explorations on the North-west Frontier of India. London. Reprint, New York, Benjamin Blom, 1972.

External links

  • Photos and Online guide to trekking in the Wakhan and Afghan Pamir
  • Wakhan Development Partnership A project working to improve the lives of the people of Wakhan since 2003
  • Wakhan Corridor Photos from Afghan Wakhan Corridor
  • Little Pamir Photos of Life of Kirghiz in Afghanistan's Little Pamir
  • [79090]Ride Report of two Polish motorcyclists who rode to Wakhan from Poland in 2009

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