5th February 2020
In 1996, as a young adventurer/travel writer, I found myself walking though Afghanistan’s remote Hindu Kush.
Following in the footsteps of my two heroes from English literature, Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravot, from Rudyard Kipling’s short story The Man Who Would Be King, I had travelled from Marwar Junction in Rajasthan, over the infamous the Khyber Pass and into the little-known province of Nuristan. Isolated as it was, with no roads and no electricity, and run by a nefarious band of warlords, it was a dangerous journey, that saw me both shot at and briefly held captive. But it was also a deeply moving experience, through a stunning and pristine wilderness, particularly when I emerged from Afghanistan over a fourteen-thousand-foot pass and entered Pakistan and the valleys of the Kalash.
As the last of the pagan tribes to inhabit the Hindu Kush, the Kalash live in three narrow valleys that buttress up against the Afghan frontier. I had been told that here I would find a man named Saifullah Jan, who, as the chief spokesperson for this remarkable tribe that claim ancestry to the armies of Alexander the Great, would explain to me about the culture of the Kalash and find me somewhere to stay. Dressed in local garb, bearded and bedraggled as I was, when I entered his house, he thought I was a Taliban, and looked ready to throw me out. But after I hastily explained the truth, he took me in, gave me a bed and I stayed for three months.
Not only would this encounter give rise to a lifelong friendship with Saifullah, his family and the Kalash community in general, it also gave rise to Wild Frontiers; indeed, it was Saifullah’s idea to set up a travel company. He felt bringing interested travellers from my world to visit and interact with people from his world would be a win/win situation. So with Saifullah’s help I worked out our first itinerary and in 1998 – after the release of my second book, For A Pagan Song, about my original journey through this region – I ran our first tour and Wild Frontiers was born.
Since then we have grown into one of the leading adventure travel brands, and now run both small group tours and tailor-made private vacations to 80 destinations. But while we have grown, and with that growth has come change, I have always tried to remember what it was that made – and continues to make – that first trip a success and emulate that around the world.
For me a successful travel experience is not just one that satisfies our clients. It’s one that also delivers a positive experience for the people whose lands we are privileged to visit.