Living on the roof of the world
The Afghanistan’s wakhan corridor, also called “Bam e dunya” – “roof of theworld”, is the narrow strip of territory in the northeast of Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. Also the place where the mighty ranges of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Pamir converge at the eastern end of the corridor, known as the Pamir Knot. This 350 km long Corridor, is considered as one of the most remote and difficult to access regions in this part of the world, but also one of the most stable. In the Afghan Pamir, steep valleys open up to form wide, high-altitude valleys, the Big and Little Pamirs, where Wakhi and Kyrgyz nomads take advantage of lush grazing for their herds. Living in peaceful coexistence both tribes try to survive in a great expanse where the altitude and lack of resources render it practically uninhabitable. The first are farmers and Ismaili Muslims and people whom, according to certain anthropological theories, descended from Alexander the Great. The second, a nomadic herding tribe of Sunni Muslims whose Asian features suggest Mongolian lineage.
There are roughly 1200 Kyrgyz nomads left in Afghanistan. They live in yurts, and can move up to four times each year, depending on the pastures, and the weather. Their camps are set up between 4000 and 4500 meters, at the very end of the corridor. They don’t cultivate the land, and survive entirely on their livestock. They resort to barter with travelling merchants, and their neighbours, the Wakhis, as the most basic staples have to be brought in from the outside world: sugar, salt, wheat, medication… and opium.
Exposed to an extreme climate, imprisoned between three impassable borders, ravaged by opium addiction, and having one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, living for the Kyrgyz of the Afghan Pamir is surviving. One out of two babies die at birth, and life expectancy doesn’t reach 40 years.