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AFGHANISTAN

expedition handbook

DATES: 16 Jul06 Aug 2018 COST: £3,599.00

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass epic expedition to Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on the team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: by 0900 on 16 July into Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
  • Depart: leave Dushanbe any time on 6 August.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 16 April 2018.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.

Aim

The aim of this epic Afghanistan expedition is to trek between the Big Pamir and the Little Pamir mountain ranges in the country’s Wakhan Corridor, via the remote Showr Pass.

Summary

The Wakhan region is the narrow panhandle of land that stretches out from Afghanistan’s north-eastern corner. It’s bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, with China lying beyond the corridor’s mountainous easterly border. Although you will be trekking in Afghanistan’s newest protected area, the Wakhan National Park, this expedition is no walk in the park. Arduous days, steep and rocky passes and altitudes approaching 5000m all collide to create a challenging trek in one of the most isolated yet culturally rewarding places on earth.

Highlights

  • Explore Afghanistan’s vast Wakhan National Park.
  • Visit semi-nomadic Kyrgyz and Wakhi communities.
  • Forge a trekking route through the Little and Big Pamir.
  • Experience a side of Afghanistan untouched by war.
  • Trek across fertile plains and high-altitude passes (approaching 5000m).
  • Travel by road across Tajikistan to reach the Wakhan.
  • Relive the Great Game in the footsteps of Lord Curzon, John Wood and Francis Younghusband.
  • Look out for games of buzkashi, the Afghan national sport.

Flights

You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). Their dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24-hour assistance helpline. Fill in a free, no-obligation Flight Request Form or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You need to arrive in Dushanbe, ready for onwards travel by 0900 on 16 July 2018. Many flights arrive in the early hours of the morning or you can choose to extend your trip by a few days. The expedition officially ends after breakfast on 6 August 2018 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.

Insurance

Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy.

Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad: at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan aren’t).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Expedition Travel Insurance page.

Visas

Visas are your responsibility, please check the specific requirements for your Nationality and ensure you start the visa application process in good time. You can apply for visas directly with the relevant Embassy or you can use a courier service. Our recommended visa agency is TravCour, they can assist in obtaining both the visas you will need for this expedition.

Tajikistan visa

You will need to apply for a one month double entry tourist visa. In order to apply for a visa for Tajikistan you will need the following:

  • Two completed visa application forms
  • Two passport photographs
  • Flight itinerary
  • Passport
  • Payment

For Tajikistan you will also need a GBAO permit (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) to enter southern Tajikistan. You will need to apply for this in advance, through the Embassy in London (£60 in the UK). Ensure that the GBAO permit covers ‘all areas’. For Tajikistan, the hotel details will be: Taj Palace, Mirzo Tursunzade Street, 21b, 734025 Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Your entry and exit dates are: 16 July to 16 August unless you choose to arrive in Tajikistan ahead of the expedition.

CHECK DATES AND THAT IT’S A DOUBLE-ENTRY VISA: EMBASSIES CAN GET THIS WRONG.

Afghanistan visa

You will need to apply for a one month single entry tourist visa. In order to apply for a visa for Afghanistan you will need the following:

  • One completed visa application form
  • Two passport photographs
  • Invitation letter from your tour operator (see below)
  • Utility bill/ ID to confirm UK address
  • Passport
  • Payment

Secret Compass will obtain a letter of invitation from the Wakhan tourist board using the details you provided on your Secret Compass Booking Form and will send that to you in due course which you may then use to obtain your Afghan visa.

In Afghanistan you will stay at Juma Guls Guesthouse, Ishkhashim. You will be conducting tourist trekking in the Wakhan Valley. Your entry date should be 16 July 2018 and exit date 16 August 2018.

CHECK YOUR VISA’S DATES: EMBASSIES CAN GET THIS WRONG.

Passports

You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and for six months beyond your travel dates. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.

Day 1: Jul 16 – Dushanbe

Many flights arrive in the early hours of the morning so Secret Compass will arrange a briefing at a hotel in Dushanbe. Team members should arrive in Dushanbe by 0900. The expedition then starts with a drive along the beautiful Pamir Highway to Kalaikhum where there is a comfortable guesthouse.

Day 2: Jul 17 – Ishkashim

From Kalaikhum, you’ll drive along the banks of the Panj river, a tributary of the famous river Oxus, before crossing the river into Afghanistan at Ishkashim.

Day 3: Jul 18 – Khunded

After a morning to arrange permits and supplies, you’ll meet your local guide and then travel to Khunded, a village which acts as the Wakhi district centre in order to organize more permits. Your final destination depends on progress that day.

Day 4: Jul 19 – Wakhan Corridor

Continuing east along the valley, you’ll aim to arrive at the trailhead today. There may be delays on the drive, due to vehicle breakdown or the poor state of the road.

Day 5: Jul 20 – Wakhan Corridor

Today will be spent arranging yaks and horses for the trek ahead. You’ll have an opportunity to stretch your legs after all the travel with an acclimatisation walk.

Day 6 – 17 : Jul 21 to Aug 1 – Wakhan Corridor

Eleven days are earmarked for the trekking section of your expedition. Overnight stops will be dictated by team speed, local support and myriad other factors. This route description assumes a start point at Wurzed although this may be reversed at the expedition leader’s discretion.

From Wurzed, you’ll climb up a steep valley towards the first high pass, the 4460m Wurzed pass, the gateway to the high altitude valleys where the Wakhi have their summer grazing. As you approach 4000m there are stunning views of the Hindu Kush to the south and glaciated peaks dominating the horizon. Dropping down into the Shirkirga valley there is a small Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Ranger station and the high end of the valley is full of Marco Polo sheep and ibex. After a small but tough climb you’ll enter the windswept Big Pamir, being rewarding with sweeping views overlooking the Tajik Pamirs in the distance.

From the beautifully situated yurt settlement of Manjalaq, you’ll cross over into the classic Pamir U-shaped valley of Ali Su, a holy place for Ismaeli Muslims. A tricky river crossing and steep climb takes you back up the bone-dry plateau towards Jelsarmet. Leaving Wakhi territory and moving east towards Kyrgyz lands across the plain of the Big Pamir, the landscape opens up to a wide high altitude plateau (or Pamir). The trekking route takes you across several valleys intercutting the plateau through Kyrgyz territory. Their settlements move three or four times a year and so the exact location of their camps is uncertain.

Pushing eastbound, with the legendary lake Zorkul becoming visible in the distance, your route continues past river valleys fringed with unclimbed 5000m+ peaks. Mula will be the last Kyrgyz settlement before the 4895m Showr Pass which connects the dry high-altitude plains of the Big Pamir with the Little Pamir. It’s a long but rewarding day crossing rugged terrain and it is likely to be snow bound at the top. On the far side is Wakhi territory again with wide, glaciated valleys lush with pasture from snowmelt. Descending down the valley to the pickup point, don’t forget to look behind at the stunning views back down into the main Wakhan valley before driving out from Sarhad back towards Ishkashim.

Day 18: Aug 2 – Ishkashim

Returning to Ishkashim for one final night in Afghansistan, you’ll say goodbye to the local guides and spend the night in a comfortable guesthouse.

Day 19: Aug 3 – Kalaikhum

Returning to the Pamir Highway, you’ll re-enter Tajikistan and drive to Kalaikhum.

Day 20: Aug 4 – Dushanbe

After a final day of travel, return to Dushanbe and the team hotel.

Day 21: Aug 5 – Dushanbe

Today acts as a contingency day in case of delays on the expedition and provides the opportunity to explore Dushanbe, to do some sightseeing and to pick up souvenirs.

Day 22: Aug 6 – Dushanbe

Fly home or extend your stay in Dushanbe. Many flights depart in the early hours of the morning but the expedition officially ends after breakfast today.

Note on this expedition itinerary

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but will not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team may flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions encountered en route. An adaptable, team-centred approach is required.

Fitness

All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train accordingly and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Expedition Grade: 360° (our toughest).
  • Daily activity: up to 10 hours trekking per day.
  • Walk: up to 25km a day.
  • Carry: up to 12kg.
  • Terrain: over rough, mountainous, steep terrain up to 4850m.
  • Climate: temperate mountain climate with exposed conditions at times.

Special note on the Wakhan: the combination of being above 4000m for the majority of the trip, a change in diet and camping all combine to wear people down. Be prepared for this to be a tough trip!

Previous experience

The fitness requirements must be met. Beyond that, there are no specific requirements however team members would benefit from multi-day trekking or hill-walking and camping practice and being used to carrying 10-15kg for multiple days.

Medical

VACCINATIONS. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

DENTAL. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.

Money

TAJIKISTAN. Bring US dollars with you to change for local currency as Euro or other currency are hard to exchange. There will only be access to cash through bank machines in Dushanbe, in which case Visa is best.

AFGHANISTAN. Bring US dollars to change for Afghanis before leaving Ishkashim with local money changers. There will be no access to ATMs.

This expedition is all inclusive so you won’t need much money – only really if you want to buy a beer in Dushanbe and some souvenirs on the way.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2018 expedition to Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. You will be required to carry a daysack with everything you will need during the day whilst horses and yaks will carry your main pack. Secret Compass will supply tents and cooking equipment.

Discounts

Secret Compass has arranged team member discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and Sleeping

  • RUCKSACK OR DUFFLE BAG: 60-90 litre. All personal kit needs to fit in one bag which will be carried by the pack animals.
  • DAYSACK: 30-40 litre. Needs to fit in all your essentials for the day and be comfortable to carry.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb etc.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least -10°C comfort. Nights will drop below freezing. Down is a good option but protect it with a waterproof stuff sack.
  • SLEEPING BAG LINER: Optional. For lower altitudes, when it’s warm.
  • SLEEPING PAD: Thermarest or equivalent. Bring a repair kit.

Clothing

  • 2x WICKING LAYERS: Quick dry expedition shirt or T-Shirt, not cotton).
  • 1x THERMAL BASE LAYER: Long sleeved thermal top. Helly Hansen or equivalent.
  • 1x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Quick drying, not cotton.
  • 2x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
  • 1x DOWN JACKET: A warm down jacket is essential, store it in a waterproof stuff sack.
  • 1x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
  • 1x WALKING BOOTS: Must provide ankle support and be worn in before the expedition. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot.
  • 4x HIKING SOCKS: Make sure they fit well with your boots.
  • SANDALS: For around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
  • WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT.
  • WARM HAT FOR EVENINGS.
  • GLOVES.
  • HEAD SCARF: Compulsory for women whilst in settlements in Afghanistan.
  • 4x UNDERWEAR: Sport or cycling-styled shorts don’t chafe.

Eating

  • LARGE BOWL.
  • MUG.
  • KNIFE, FORK, SPOON: Or just a spork –titanium recommended for durability.
  • 2x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE OR BLADDER: Nalgene or Sigg are recommended. You need to be able to carry a minimum of three litres of water between bottles and/or a water bladder.

Health and hygiene

  • WASHBAG: Must pack down small – you don’t need a huge washbag. Small dry bags or re-sealable freezer bags are ideal.
  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial and biodegradable. Consider a concentrate eg. Lifeventure Allpurpose Wash.
  • TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG.
  • WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES.
  • HAND SANITISER: Bring enough for the whole trip.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS: Bring ziplock bags for used items.
  • LIP SALVE: With UV protection.
  • INSECT REPELLENT.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
  • AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER.
  • FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM.

Small first aid kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.

  • A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and Paracetamol.
  • ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
  • MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
  • 2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • DIARRHOEA TABLETS: Imodium.
  • DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
  • ANTISEPTIC WIPES.
  • ANTISEPTIC CREAM.
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • EURAX CREAM: For bites.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.

Other

  • TREKKING POLES: Optional. Many team members find trekking poles useful on slippery or uneven terrain or for steep descents.
  • HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
  • PENKNIFE: Don’t pack in your hand luggage.
  • GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
  • 1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
  • SPARE BOOT LACES.
  • SMALL SEWING KIT.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.

Food

In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include altitude sickness, RTA’s, pack animals and travellers gastroenteritis. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to four days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.

Testimonials

Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.

 

 Terrain

This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from deep U-shaped valleys to high mountain passes reaching 5000m. Much of the expedition will be above 4000m which adds to the challenge of the uneven, steep terrain and numerous river crossings.

Weather

The climate in the Wakhan is relatively stable, it receives very little precipitation each year, however you can experience multiple days of snow and rain. It does have a reputation for having strong winds – even Marco Polo commented on them! These blow in the afternoon and are very dry. Above 4000m it is chilly as soon as the wind picks up or the sun goes away. Remember this is a mountainous area and you will be travelling at altitude. The weather can be unpredictable and can change rapidly so you should be prepared accordingly.

Transport

Dushanbe airport is located on the outskirts of the city with easy access via hotel shuttles and taxis. The team will use 4WD vehicles to reach the trailhead. Whilst driving in Tajikistan, the roads are relatively good although they are often unsurfaced which can lead to delays following landslides or heavy rain. In contrast, the roads in Afghanistan are very bad so you should expect progress to be slow and to involve river crossings or vehicle breakdowns.

The majority of the expedition will be on foot. You will carry your day sack with personal effects required during the daytime; your main rucksack will be stowed on the pack animals. If anyone is feeling unwell or suffering with the altitude or if we need to catch up on time on the route, the animals will assist us with this as well as providing support for river crossings. We don’t ask that you are an experienced rider, just that you are comfortable around animals and are willing to try if required.

Accommodation

While driving, the team will stay in a selection of guesthouses. These vary in the amenities they offer but you should expect to sleep on the floor of group rooms in your sleeping bag. Once the trek starts, the team will be camping in tents provided by Secret Compass. On occasions, if the opportunity arises, you will stay in small shelters or yurts provided by locals. Be aware toilet facilities are non-existent and require a long walk and washing facilities will be the local stream.

Food

In towns, the team will eat well in local restaurants, in Tajikistan it is often kebab or rice-based and vegetarians struggle for variety. Once on the trek, all our food will be sourced in country. In Afghanistan most food is rice based with nan and vegetables, often beans, with little meat.

On the trek we will have a cook attached who will make up meals from ingredients sourced in Ishkashim. The food on the trek is based on rice, potatoes or pasta and the cook usually manages to produce tasty options from limited resources.

In the Wakhan we will also source food from the locals, which are mainly dairy based products such as yogurt. The local staple is the following: breakfast is milky tea and unleven bread, lunch is milky tea and bread and dinner is milky tea, bread, rice and often one of: double cream, creamy rice or cheese and stew for special occasions. It is advised that you bring your own favourite trail snacks for a morale boost on the trekking portion.

If you have any dietary requirements, please disclose these to Secret Compass on your Application and Booking Forms.

Cultural: ethnic groups

  • Tajikistan. In and around Dushanbe the people are of Tajik ethnicity. They are Muslim. However, it is relaxed, people wear western clothes and drink alcohol. The main languages are Tajik (a variety of Persian) and Russian. English is spoken but not widely.
  • Tajikistan. GBAO area: the GBAO area is inhabited by the Pamiri people, a distinct ethnic group. They are Ismaili Muslims and follow the Aga Khan, who is their spiritual leader. He is a billionaire based in Paris and runs the Aga Khan Foundation and development organisations that are very active in the region and in Afghanistan. Ismailis are liberal Muslims who don’t pray five times a day nor do they fast for Ramadam. Ismaili women also enjoy a more equal relationship.
  • Afghanistan. Ishkashim is made up of an eclectic mix of people. The majority are Tajik Afghans. They are much more conservative than their cousins over the border. Many women will be veiled in a burkha and all will have headscarves. They will pray five times a day and wear traditional Afghan dress. In Ishkashim do not try and converse with a women if you are a man. Dari is spoken, again a form of Persian. English is not widely spoken.
  • Afghanistan’s Wakhi community: the Wakhi are related to the Pamiri people of Tajikistan. They are also Ismaili Muslims, friendly and relaxed. Wakhi women wear colourful clothes and are allowed to speak to other men. They speak Wakhi and Dari and are semi-nomadic.
  • Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz community: the Kyrgyz are descended from Mongolian nomads and so look very different to the other people you will meet. They are Sunni Muslims and speak Kyrgyz but can also speak Dari. They speak no English. They are nomadic, moving between summer and winter pastures. As they are so isolated and hemmed in by international borders their range is limited. A proud people, they are completely isolated form modern life.

Dress

Men should wear long trousers and long sleeves in Ishkashim whilst women should cover legs and arms and wear a headscarf. In Tajikistan women will get away with a T-shirt and no headscarf. When trekking in the mountains it will be possible to remove the headscarf, but when in villages or meeting new people on the way it will be necessary.

Local dynamics

We are only going to be able to achieve what we want with the help of people in the communities we travel through. The people will be very hospitable and friendly to us, strangers in their land. Please remember that they are from a completely different culture to us and look at life from a very different perspective. Do not apply western logic to their thoughts, which are affected by factors we don’t understand. They will not have the same concept of time, environmental responsibility or ‘customer service’. They will be late, may be unreliable (in our eyes) and will do things completely differently to us. The concept of a business transaction is not the same as ours and they will not apply our logic. Again, all part of the fun. Never express anger at an Afghan, it can destroy the relationship; patience and understanding are our tools.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Alcohol is forbidden in Afghanistan (it’s fine in Tajikistan).
  • Never express anger at an Afghan, see above.
  • Do not point the soles of your feet or shoes directly at another person.
  • Take shoes off when going inside (and on rugs outside) place sole down.
  • Only use your right hand to eat and offer food.
  • Dress appropriately.

Communications

Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Dushanbe and perhaps in some parts of Ishkashim, but you are unlikely to get signal whilst in the Wakhan Corridor. There will be no opportunity to charge electronics during the trek so please come prepared with spare batteries, power packs or solar chargers.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our General FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying, sometimes vegetarians find they have limited options at meal times. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I’ve never been trekking before. Can I come?

Yes. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements and have an adventurous spirit and willing to work as a team, then you are welcome to apply. Team members on this expedition will benefit from previous multi-day trekking/walking experience and camping.

Can I arrive a day late?

There is a chain of transport to get teammates to the trailhead in Afghanistan from Dushanbe so start and end dates are not flexible.

Can I charge electricals?

Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.

Do you provide further advice?

Our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. Someone will get back to you promptly.

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See you on a team soon…