26th September 2015
In Qala e Panj we stayed in the guesthouse owned by the Shah, one of the two or three influential people holding that title in the valley. Tucked away within his private garden we were told that apricots and apples are grown. There is very little fruit in the Afghan Wakhan even in summer and so we were happy when he produced a large bowl of apples for us (even if they were a bit young to be picked). Close by is the old fort, once the centre of the largest settlement in the Wakhan, now not much more than a large mound of rubble but still rewarding to clamber over for views, especially at sunrise or sunset.
After lunch went to meet Ashley, a Britshman working for the World Conservation Society in the area. He told us about their work in preserving the local snow leopard population as well as with more general conservation efforts, education and help for the local population. He was enlightening and engaging and showed us some of the photos from the fixed cameras they have up in the mountains to record images of the passing snow leopards. He was pretty optimistic as no animals had been killed since 2010, suggesting a population of maybe 40 to 80 cats (they are currently engaged in further identification work to give a more accurate estimate).
In the late afternoon we walked up the side valley south of Qala e Panj, following the Sarkand river and passing by another flour mill. We could enjoy the views towards the Hindu Kush and Pakistan (though still relatively far away) and back over the Panj river to the Pamirs when we returned. Some of the group enjoyed the solitude while others looked for unlikely traces of snow leopards in the area.
The next morning it felt like we were returning to a rather different world as we headed once again to Ishkashim and then over the border to Tajikistan.
Tour leader Max Wood has recently returned from leading our Wakhan Pamir Adventure group tour.