Tourism, the post-war hope for the Wakhan

For many young Afghans, their country has but one face : war. But in the distant memories of older western travellers, Afghanistan possesses  much more. The country has been loved for its uniquely breathtaking scenery, and rich cultural heritage. It is populated by a mosaic of ethnic groups, and their legendary sense of hospitality. The Himalayas end, on its western extremity, in Afghanistan. This is worth reminding. And a glance at a topographic map of Asia is enough to realise that the Hindu Kush is more Afghan than Pakistani. Dozens of valleys, perched at over 3 000 meters, countless caps that reach 6 000 meters, and a few 7 000 meter peaks. Afghanistan can safely admit to being part of the himalayan family of countries.

In the 60s and 70s, thousand of western, and eastern Europeans left for a mythical voyage towards Kabul. Often in clunky Volkswagen minivans or in the tiny French 4Ls. Often they made it to the Wakhan corridor. The Soviet invasion, in December 1979 brutally ended the stream of eager travellers.
The «Afghans to the top» expedition would like to send out a message of peace, and remind the world that it is, once again, safe to travel to the north part of the country.

Jump-starting the Afghan economy through tourism is vital to these people who have suffered 30 years of war. The reconstruction and development of the country must also follow, as more and more Afghan peasants are turning towards opium production to survive.
«The Afghans need a clear sign of interest in their country by the international community. And not only in military power, and humanitarian aid» explained Domenico Giorgi in 2003, ambassador of Italy in Kabul, and one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Oxus expedition. «This might be a premature expedition, he admitted, but if we wait for perfect security conditions, we may wait forever. Mountain tourism was a local specialty, and can become a real hope for such a poorly developed region such as the Hindu Kush.» His words remain just as relevant, 6 years later.

The timid return of trekkers and himalayists has begun. «Afghans to the top» wants to be part of this enterprise. A mountain club will be created in the Wakhan valley, that will receive, as a donation, all of the equipment left over from the expedition. The four young Afghans having participated in the expedition, will be able to use their newly found careers on upcoming treks and ascents.

More information on the potential of tourism in Noshaq:

- Mountain Unity, a website that promotes mountain tourism in the Hindu Kush:
mountainunity.org
- The story of the first Festival of the Pamirs, organised in 2007:
http://pamirtimes.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/pamir-festival-mehboob-aziz/
- Julien Dufour’s trekking website, with considerable information on the Wakhan corridor:
www.juldu.com

Recent stories of trekking in the Wakhan:

- A Journey to the Wakhan Pamir, the story of a trek done in 2004 by journalists John Mock, and Kimberley O’Neil, Lonely Planet writers:
http://outside.away.com/outside/destinations/200511/afghanistan-1.html


The story of the first post-war commercial trekking organised, in 2007, by Louis Meunier, for Mountain Wilderness:
www.mountainwilderness.fr/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=396&Itemid=123
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