2021-09-22 06:50:00 GMT2021-09-22 14:50:00(Beijing Time) Sina English


A new road to an inaccessible land

On the cusp of six borders

Bordered by China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan lies at the very heart of Asia. Home to more than 32 million people, a quarter of its population lives in large urban centres such as Mazar-e Sharif, located 320km north-west of the capital Kabul. The fourth-largest city in the country, its centrepiece is the Shrine of Hazrit Ali – a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, which, according to local legend, is the burial place of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The shrine is also renowned for its flocks of white doves. Locals believe that a small speck of another colour on a bird's feathers will instantly turn pure white when in the sacred building's vicinity.


阿富汗与中国、伊朗、巴基斯坦、塔吉克斯坦、土库曼斯坦和乌兹别克斯坦接壤,位于亚洲的中心。该国人口超过3200万,其中四分之一生活在大城市中心,如马扎里沙里夫(Mazar-e Sharif),位于首都喀布尔西北320公里处。这里是阿富汗第四大城市,其中心建筑哈兹拉特·阿里陵墓(Shrine of Hazrit Ali)是伊斯兰建筑的杰作。根据当地传说,这里是先知穆罕默德的堂弟及女婿阿里的墓地。这个清真寺还因其成群的白鸽而闻名。当地人认为,一旦来到这座建筑附近,鸟羽毛上的小斑点就会立即变成纯白色。

A remote corridor

Some 600km to the east of Mazar-e Sharif, the Wakhan Corridor is a world apart from the rest of the country, both culturally and geographically. This 350km-long panhandle, in the region of Badakhshan, sits at the convergence of three of the world's major mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and the Pamirs – known as the Pamir Knot. "This is about as far away from the noise, the traffic and the muezzin's call to prayer of urban Afghanistan as you can get," said James Willcox of untamedborders.com, one of just a few adventure travel companies in the world that arranges trips to the region. "It is barely habited and hard to get to; few people even know of its existence. It's undoubtedly one of the remotest, and most beautiful places in the whole of Asia."


瓦罕走廊在马扎里沙里夫以东约600公里处,在文化和地理上都是一个与该国其他地区截然不同的世界。这个350公里长的狭长地带在巴达赫尚(Badakhshan)地区,位于世界三大山脉的交汇处:兴都库什山脉(Hindu Kush)、喀喇昆仑山脉(Karakoram)和帕米尔山脉(Pamirs)——也被称为帕米尔结(Pamir Knot)。untamedborders.com网站的詹姆斯·威尔科克斯(James Willcox)说:“在这里,你能远离噪音、交通和宣礼员对阿富汗城市祈祷的召唤,远到至极。”该网站是世界上为数不多的几家安排到该地区旅行的探险旅游公司之一。“这里人迹罕至,而且很难到达;几乎没有人知道它的存在。无疑是整个亚洲最遥远、最美丽的地方之一。”

A rural life

Scattered along the Wakhan Corridor are small rural settlements like Khandud, their simple houses made of stone, mud and timber. Some of the larger villages are connected by a single dirt track, often made impassible by the waters of the River Panj. "Very few people have their own car in the Wakhan, but we have community transport – as well as donkeys, and our feet, of course," said Azim Ziahee, a resident of the market town of Ishkashim, located 80km away at the Corridor's western end. "The Wakhan still remains very cut-off though. Some villages are more than four days' walk to Ishkashim. The nearest big town from here – Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan – is a three-day drive. The isolation keeps the corridor like a time capsule. We look over to the border towards Tajikistan, with its electricity, paved roads and mobile phone signal, and say that it's like looking 100 years into the future."


瓦罕走廊上散布着像Khandud这样的小型农村居民点,他们的简易房屋由石头、泥土和木材建造而成。一些较大的村庄由土路连接起来,而潘吉河(River Panj)的河水往往使这些土路无法通行。“在瓦罕很少有人有自己的汽车,但我们有社区交通工具——当然还有驴和自己的脚,”阿齐姆·齐亚希(Azim Ziahee)说。他是伊什卡什姆(Ishkashim)市集镇的居民,该镇位于走廊西端80公里处。“尽管如此,瓦罕仍然非常封闭。有些村庄到伊什卡什姆要走超过四天的路。离这里最近的大城市是塔吉克斯坦的首都杜尚别(Dushanbe),都需要三天的车程。与世隔绝的日子使走廊像一个时间胶囊。我们看着与塔吉克斯坦接壤的边境,那里有电力、铺设的道路和手机信号,这些就像在展望100年后的未来。”

Home of the Wakhi

For more than 2,500 years, the Wakhan Corridor has been the homeland of the Wakhi people and is now home to a population of around 12,000. While the majority of Afghans are conservative Sunni Muslims, the Wakhi are Ismailis, who belong to the Shia branch of Islam. Here, women do not wear the burqa, and there are no mosques; instead, the Wakhi visit jamatkhanas (houses of prayer that also serve as community halls for conducting village business). "Ismailis are considered less strict than Sunnis," said Willcox. "For example, in the Wakhan, a Western male visitor can ask permission to take a woman's photograph without causing offence. Elsewhere in Afghanistan that would be unthinkable.



The rhythm of life

The Wakhi are farmers, cultivating wheat, barley, peas, potatoes, and apple and apricot trees in the semi-arid conditions of the corridor; their fields fed by melt water from mountain glaciers. Wealthier families have sheep and goats along with a few camels, yaks, horses and donkeys. "Every June, the Wakhi take their livestock to summer pastures, up as high as 4,500m, where the animals grow fat on the rich grass," said Ziahee. "The migration is called the 'kuch'. We also have the 'Chinir', which is our festival in early August to celebrate the start of the barley harvest. In the towns of Afghanistan, the five daily prayers form the structure of the day, but here, we feel a great connection to the land, and whilst we pray daily, the rhythm of life revolves more around the fields, the seasons and nature."


瓦基人主要务农,在走廊的半干旱条件下种植小麦、大麦、豌豆、土豆、苹果和杏树;他们的田地由山上冰川的融水灌溉。较富裕的家庭有绵羊和山羊,还有一些骆驼、牦牛、马和驴。“每年6月,瓦基人都会把他们的牲畜带到海拔4500米的夏季牧场,在那里,动物们在肥沃的草地上长得膘肥体壮,” 齐亚希说。“这种迁移被称为‘kuch’。我们还有‘Chinir’,这是我们在8月初庆祝大麦收获开始的节日。在阿富汗的城镇,每天由五次祈祷构成,但在这里,我们感觉与土地密切联系在一起,我们每天祈祷时,生活更多围绕着田野、季节和自然。”

A centuries-old tradition

One of the most distinctive traditions of the Wakhan is the centuries-old game of buzkhasi, sometimes described as rugby on horseback with the body of a goat as a ball. Thought to be an early pre-cursor to polo, buzkashi has no rules and no sides. There is certainly no sense of "fair play", as competitors will punch and whip each other in an effort to steal the goat, and broken bones are not uncommon. "The Wakhi villages love to play each other, especially at Nawruz, which is the Afghan New Year," Ziahee explained. "But here it's different to other parts of Afghanistan. Elsewhere, buzkashi is more political – put on to show the power of the elite, or by a politician as a way to win votes. Here, it is all about the competition and the community. It is one of many things that makes the Wakhan so unique."



Untouched by tourism

While Afghanistan's security situation dictates that much of the country is off-limits to foreigners, the corridor's relative safety, alongside its pristine mountain scenery and well-preserved Wakhi culture, has seen its appeal with off-the-beaten-trackers grow markedly in recent years. "At first there were only a handful of visitors," said Ade Summers, an adventure guide who has led nine expeditions to the Wakhan. "Over a decade, that's slowly grown to up to 600 people a year. It's a privilege to visit somewhere so untouched by mainstream tourism, where you can engage with people who still relish their traditional way of life. As you journey along the Wakhan, not only is it very beautiful, every step you take is like turning the pages of a fascinating history book."


虽然阿富汗的安全形势决定了该国大部分地区禁止外国人进入,但这条走廊相对安全,加上其原始的山景和保存完好的瓦基文化,近年来吸引了越来越多不走寻常路的游客。“一开始只有少数游客,”探险导游艾德·萨默斯(Ade Summers)说。他曾带领九支探险队前往瓦罕。“十多年里,这个数字慢慢增长到每年600人。能去一个没有被主流旅游所触及的地方是一种特殊待遇,在那里,你可以接触到仍然享受着传统生活方式的人们。当你沿着瓦罕旅行时,不仅能看到那里非常美丽,你走的每一步都像是在翻开一本迷人的历史书。”

Part of the Silk Road

For hundreds of years, the Wakhan Corridor was an important route for merchants travelling along the Silk Road, the trade route that emerged in the 1st and 2nd Centuries BCE linking China with the Mediterranean. "Those merchants carried Chinese silk, Persian silver, Roman gold and Afghan lapis lazuli, mined here in the Badakhshan region," said Summers. "We find rock art detailing the road's history, such as petroglyphs of camels walking in single file as a trade caravan." Travellers and pilgrims followed in the merchants' footsteps. "Marco Polo is said to have passed through here on his way to China in the 13th Century, also Alexander the Great. We can still see the remains of historic travellers' shelters known as rabats, as well as ancient Buddhist stupas."


数百年来,瓦罕走廊一直是丝绸之路商人的重要通道。丝绸之路是公元前一世纪到二世纪出现的一条连接中国和地中海的贸易路线。萨默斯说:“那些商人携带着中国丝绸、波斯白银、罗马黄金和巴达赫尚地区开采的阿富汗天青石。我们发现了详述这条丝绸之路历史的岩艺壁画,画着骆驼排成一行行的贸易商队。”旅行者和朝圣者追随商人的脚步。据说马可·波罗(Marco Polo)在13世纪去中国时途经这里,亚历山大大帝(Alexander the Great)也是。我们仍然可以看到被称为拉巴特(rabats)的历史旅行者庇护所的遗迹,以及古老的佛塔。"

A strategic place

In the late 19th Century, the Wakhan Corridor played a key role in the so-called "Great Game" between Great Britain and Russia. "When the Russians and the British were fighting for control of Central Asia, Afghanistan was hugely strategic,", said Willcox. "The Wakhan's current boundaries were formed in 1893 to create a buffer zone to prevent both parties' territories from touching each other – in this case, the British Raj and the Tsarist Russian empire. It eventually turned an old trade route into a cul-de-sac. More recent, history has seen the Wakhan caught up in the Cold War; and now the latest changes in geopolitics will have perhaps an unexpected consequence, with China's Belt and Road Initiative turning it into an important trade route once again."


19世纪末,瓦罕走廊在英俄之间所谓的“大博弈”(Great Game)中起着举足轻重的作用。“当俄罗斯和英国争夺中亚控制权时,阿富汗具有巨大的战略意义,”威尔科克斯说。“瓦罕目前的边界是在1893年形成的,当时是为了创建一个缓冲区,防止英属印度和沙俄帝国双方的领土相互接触。它最终把一条古老的贸易路线变成了死胡同。最近,瓦罕人卷入了冷战;现在,地缘政治的最新变化可能会带来意想不到的后果,中国的一带一路倡议将其再次变成一条重要的贸易路线。”

New construction

Until recently, the dirt track from Ishkashim reached only as far as Sarhad-e Broghil in the centre of the Corridor. Onward travel east was only possible by foot or with pack animals. Now though, with Belt and Road construction, the track has been extended by some 75km, as far as the village of Bozai Gumbaz, around three quarters of the way along the Wakhan. "It follows an old trading route that the Kyrgyz nomads take to get to Sarhad from where they live around Chaqmaqtin Lake," said Summers. "The bulldozers have come in, and while they've only constructed something the size of a farmer's track, the potential consequences are much bigger. "


直到最近,从伊什卡西姆的土路只延伸到走廊中心的萨哈德-布罗吉尔(Sarhad-e Broghil)。往东旅行只能步行或带着驮畜。现在,随着一带一路的建设,铁路已经延长了75公里,一直延伸到瓦罕河四分之三的博扎甘巴兹(Bozai Gumbaz)村。萨默斯说:“这是一条古老的贸易路线,吉尔吉斯游牧民从他们居住的查克马金湖(Chaqmaqtin Lake)附近到达萨哈德。然后推土机来了,虽然他们只建造了一个农家小径大小的路,但潜在的后果要大得多。”

Mixed emotions

Ziahee says that the people of the Wakhan have mixed feelings about the road's potential impact. "Some things will be good for us," he said. "We will be able to buy goats from China which will be much cheaper than from the market in Ishkashim. We hope to have access to better healthcare, too. At the moment, many of our facilities are very limited. But we worry that the unique Wakhi culture and slow way of life will be changed forever. We love the silence and beautiful nature, but fear that it will be destroyed by traffic pollution. Only time will tell what the future holds for us as a result."



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