Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor is a historically and geographically rich region - but China is about to build a road right through it.
Considered as one of the most geographically stunning regions in the world, the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan remains one of the last destinations still completely untouched by mainstream tourism and modern ways of life. This is due to both its solitude and Afghanistan's complex recent history which has put much travel to the country on hold.
But this is all about to change, with the building of a major new Chinese trade route directly through the valley.
What is the Wakhan Corridor?
The Wakhan Corridor lies in Afghanistan’s distant north-eastern corner. The narrow strip of land once formed the buffer zone between the British and Russian Empires and was of immense strategic importance during the 19th century 'Great Game'.
To put its remoteness into perspective, currently the Kyrgyz nomadic people - who live at the far Eastern end of the Wakhan Corridor - are four days’ walk away from the nearest town. It’s then another three days by car to the provincial capital.
Set between the Pamir mountains to the north and Karakoram range to the south, the strip is about 350 kilometres long and ranges from 13 to 65 kilometres wide.
Why is China building a road through it?
As part of China’s belt and road Central Asian infrastructure project - which has been designed to move Chinese goods to Europe in greater numbers - a connecting road will be built directly through the Wakhan Valley into Afghanistan.
China and Afghanistan share a 46 kilometre wide border at the very tip of the Wakhan Corridor where the road will enter, creating a major new trade route into this long-forgotten region and - with it - change.
How can tourists visit the Wakhan Corridor before it’s too late?
A handful of adventure tour operators offer expedition trips to the Wakhan region. One of these is Untamed Borders, who take up to 200 intrepid explorers into this territory every year. Adventurers are rewarded with world class trekking, some of the finest mountain scenery in the world, and generous hospitality from the Kyrgyz nomadic people.
"This summer will be one of the last chances to visit the true Kyrgyz nomadic people,” explains James Willcox, founder of Untamed Borders.
“Almost all Kyrgyz were traditionally nomadic people, but … [now] the only true Kyrgyz nomads left live in this remote wilderness, at 4000 metres altitude. Their way of life has barely changed in centuries but with this new road linking China and Afghanistan that will all change, which is why we believe the best time to go is now."