A Walk in the Park: Hiking the Afghan Pamirs

by Freya Watkinson

A solo female traveler hiking through Afghanistan finds more than her fair share of adventure.

“Well, fuck,” I muttered to myself as I adjusted my weight on the rock I was perched on in a valley in a remote corner of North-Eastern Afghanistan. The corner of the rock was starting to poke into my right butt-cheek a bit. “How did I end up here?”

I was definitely a long way from home, 6000 km or so from my sofa in South West England.

The sound of someone yelling drifted its way towards me, and I turned my gaze just in time to see Mirwez, the cocky young translator I had met in the bazaar in Ishkashim, unsuccessfully dodge a swing from Jamah, the ex-army shepherd who had returned home from fighting the Taliban to his small village in the Wakhan.

The two were unfairly matched. Mirwez was an excellent social diplomat who could talk his was out of (or into) any situation. Unfortunately for him, his way with words wasn’t helping him now. I still wasn’t sure what all the commotion was about, so I thought it better to finish my cigarette and wait for them to sort it out between themselves.

I didn’t really fancy getting caught up in a fist fight after the long descent down the highest pass (5000 m) of the trek. I had come to Afghanistan on my own. It started off as a bit of a joke; the original plan was just to explore a little around Central Asia, but after a bit of research on the area and the discovery that trekking through the Wakhan and up into the Afghan Pamirs was a possibility, I couldn’t resist the challenge.

I tapped the ash off the end of my cigarette. Jamah was yelling something in Wakhi and Mirwez retorted with a stream of Farsi. The two had been able to communicate more or less with each other over the last weeks, but it wasn’t clear whether they could understand each other now anymore then I could understand them. I hadn’t seen Jamah upset in the last two weeks we had been trekking together. He was probably the toughest man I’d ever met, so it must have been something important. I took another drag and wondered if I should start to worry about it.

A man approached me and introduced himself as Nur-Ali, the boss of the camp, and asked for a cigarette, which I obliged. We started to talk, and I asked him where he learnt his English. He told me that he learnt it while he was walking across Europe on his way to Germany to look for a better life. He was stopped somewhere in the Balkans and sent back home. He was one of the refugees plastered over the Brexit bus adverts, except that he was here, sitting in front of me. “That’s a long way to walk just to be sent home,” I said. “Yes,” He replied, looking off somewhere into the distance. “But that is life.”

“Do you know the Taliban?” he asked me with his lips curled in a mischievous grin. “Yes, I do. Why?” I answered, unsure where this conversation was going now.

“I love the Taliban. The Taliban are great!” I paused for a second, unsure as how best react to the unusual situation unfolding in front of me. He burst into laughter, bent over at the look of shock and utter confusion on my face. I asked if he was joking, and he just kept on laughing. I guessed I would never know (maybe better not to), but he seemed friendly enough. He wiped the tears from his eyes and dug into his pockets. “Do you like to smoke Freeya? I have some great hashish.” And so we sat down, the blond girl and the Afghan shepherd, and smoked a joint together on a rock in the middle of the Afghan Pamirs.

After a while, Mirwez slumped over to us without a word, tears in the corner of his eyes. He avoided making eye contact with me, so I guessed that something was quite wrong. “It’s very bad, Mrs. Freya. The donkey is very bad.” I went over to have a look, and the donkey was, indeed, very bad. It was cut all up its hind legs and was bleeding, possibly with a broken bone. “Fuck,” I said. “Yes, Mrs. Freya. Fuck.”

So there we were, stranded indefinitely in the middle of nowhere, off -trail, running low on food and with no way of contacting the outside world. If I had come to Afghanistan looking for adventure, I had definitely found it now. 

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