30 Photos From Afghanistan That You Won’t See In The News

Photos from Afghanistan Trip
Traveling in Afghanistan

Last summer I traveled into the mountains of Afghanistan for a two-week backpacking adventure. Not your typical summer vacation destination. Here’s what I witnessed.

What comes to mind when you think about Afghanistan? War? Terrorism? Osama Bin Laden? The Mother Of All Bombs?

Much of Afghanistan is still dangerous — but there’s also incredible beauty, hospitality and kindness that doesn’t get reported on.

It’s far too easy to vilify or write-off an entire nation when you don’t have to look those people in the eyes. People with the same hopes and dreams as you — to survive, find happiness and provide for their families.

I was able to experience the positive side of Afghanistan and its wonderful people, up close and personal, during my trip there last summer. It’s since become my most memorable travel adventure to date.

Here are some of my favorite photos of people & landscapes from my 100-mile backpacking trip into Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Wakhan Corridor.

This is the “other” side of Afghanistan that you don’t see in the news.

Afghanistan Hindu Kush
The Hindu Kush Mountains
Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor
Traveling in the Wakhan

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan is a rugged and wild region of Northeast Afghanistan, part of Badakhshan Province. It’s a narrow piece of land, about 400 km long, surrounded on three sides by Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.

Two large mountain ranges dominate the area, the Pamir in the North, and the Hindu Kush in the South. The Wakhan Corridor was created by politicians in the 1800’s during the “Great Game” in an attempt to leave a buffer zone between British India and the Russian empire.

Traveling by yak in Afghanistan
Riding Yaks in the Wakhan

Hitchhiking By Yak

Traveling by foot with my backpack, I managed to take a break hitching a ride on a yak for a portion of the route. We ran into a group of Wakhi men leading their yaks through the mountains. While they stopped for tea, they let us borrow their yaks, which we led further into the valley until their owners caught up with us later.

Yaks are the ultimate eco-friendly 4×4 in Afghanistan, able to climb steep rocky terrain and power through icy cold rivers. There are no trees above 10,000 feet, so locals are forced to trek for 3 days to lower elevations with their animals in order to gather firewood for cooking and warmth.

Wakhan Silk Road
Ruined Stone Shelter on a Vast Landscape
Photos from Afghanistan
Trekking in the Wakhan

Ancient Silk Road

The Wakhan was once part of the ancient silk road, an important trading route connecting China to Europe. Along with silk, horses, and other goods, it was a highway for armies and explorers too. Explorers like Marco Polo who is believed to have passed through here during the 13th century.

Crossing steep mountain passes and high desolate plateaus, passing caravans of yaks and donkeys loaded with goods, spending the night in stone shelters with traveling merchants — I felt like I was getting a glimpse of what the silk road must have been like all those years ago.

READ MORE: 17 Useful Travel Photography Tips

Local Muslim men
Muslim Shopkeepers in Afghanistan
Wakhan Corridor Guides
My Compatriots in the Wakhan

The Many Faces Of Islam

Just like the many different branches of Christianity, there are many different branches of Islam, all with their own beliefs and values. Many people living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. They number 25 million worldwide, and despise the Taliban.

Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan, a successful British businessman and Imam who runs the Aga Khan Development Network, a super important charity organization that improves living conditions and opportunities for the poor in Africa and Central Asia.

Footbridge in Wakhan Corridor
Footbridge Over the Wakhan River

Untamed Blue Rivers

The Wakhan River runs through the Wakhan Corridor, fed by the high altitude mountains of the Hindu Kush on the border with Pakistan. It snakes its way through the mountains and is a major lifeline for the people living in this harsh and unforgiving landscape.

The bright blue color of this water is due to reddish hues of the rock formations around it, as well as the crystal clear source (a glacier). Water molecules absorb other colors, like red, more efficiently than blue.

READ MORE: How To Pick A Travel Backpack

Afghanistan Mountain Pass
Enjoying the Wild Landscape
Yaks in the Snow
Snowy Mountains in August

Epic Mountain Views

When the weather was clear, I was rewarded with incredible views of the mountains like this! The trail was well worn, as it’s used daily by small groups of locals who travel in caravans of yaks or donkeys from settlement to settlement.

The 10 day trek ranged in altitude from 10,000 to 16,000 feet, and we averaged about 10 miles per day of hiking. I began to feel the effects of altitude on my body around 12,000 feet with shortness of breath. At 16,000 feet hiking became even more tiring and difficult.

Khash Goz Wakhan Afghanistan
Snow Covered Yurts
Kyrgyz Homes Afghanistan
Kyrgyz Settlement in the Wakhan

Portable Yurts

The Kyrgyz people of Afghanistan are semi-nomadic, moving from valley to valley herding their animals to different grazing pastures depending on the season. They live in cozy yurts made of sheep felt, which can be broken down and transported long distances.

Each settlement consists of 2-3 families living and working together. Originally from the area around Kyrgyzstan, their ancestors were kind of trapped in the Wakhan after the Soviets took over Central Asia, forcibly settled nomadic tribes, and sealed off the silk road route.

READ MORE: How To Visit The Afghan Wakhan

Afghan Milk Tea
Sheer Chai Milk Tea

Salty Milk Tea

Both the Wakhi and Kyrgyz people drink large amounts of salty milk tea, called Sheer Chai. It’s served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Basically, it’s a mix of yak and goat milk, boiled down for hours and dried into a portable block. It’s prepared by adding boiling water, loose-leaf tea, and rock salt.

The salt is great for rehydration at high & dry altitudes — I called it my Afghan Gatorade. It took a while to get used to (salty hot milk anyone?), but by the end of the adventure my body was craving sheer chai for every meal. You can also dissolve raw butter into the tea at breakfast for extra calories.

Wakhan Corridor Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs in Afghanistan

Afghan Petroglyphs

Near the end of my 2nd day on the trail, we hiked past a set of ancient petroglyphs scrawled into a dark colored boulder overlooking the valley. My local guide, Yar, couldn’t tell me much about them, other than they think these markings are a few thousand years old.

They depict hunting scenes, men armed with what appear to be bows, as well as large game like ibex and the rare Marco Polo sheep. This was just one of many petroglyphs that dot the landscape in these mountains. They are thought to mark ancient hunting grounds claimed by different tribes.

Bozai Gumbaz CAI School
Central Asia Institute School
Kyrgyz School in Wakhan
Kyrgyz Boys Ready for Class

CAI Schools

This simple 3 room school in the remote Afghan village of Bozai Gumbaz was built by Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute. You may have heard of Greg before, he’s the author of the best selling novel Three Cups Of Tea, about building schools for girls in Pakistan.

The school at Bozai Gumbaz, where I spent the night playing cards with Afghan army soldiers, was prominent in his 2nd book, Stones To Schools. The next morning a group of boys showed up on donkeys for class. I saw many CAI schools along the road from Eshkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil.

Afghanistan Camping Adventure
Camping in Afghanistan

Camping In Afghanistan

As a big fan of the outdoors, one of the highlights on this trip was the opportunity to wild camp in the mountains of Afghanistan. Most nights we were able to stay at small Wakhi or Kyrgyz settlements in basic guest huts, but we also camped out in tents a few nights too.

Normally I’m a camping hammock kind of guy, but because I knew there weren’t going to be any trees for most of this trek, I packed my super lightweight Nemo Hornet 2P Tent. It snowed a few times during the journey — in August!

READ MORE: My Complete Travel Gear Guide

Greetings in Afghanistan
Greetings From the Heart
Local Kid in Afghanistan
Friendly Shopkeeper in Eshkashim

As-Salāmu ʿAlaykum

I was constantly greeted with As-salāmu ʿalaykum which means “peace be upon you”. A shorter version of this is just salām. Shaking hands is common, and so is placing your hand on your heart, which simply means your greeting comes from the heart.

Another important term I used during my journey is taschakor, meaning thank you. I always recommend trying to learn 10 of the most used words in a local language before traveling there. In the Afghan Wakhan, most people speak some Dari (Farsi) along with local dialects.

Burqa in Afghanistan
Afghan Woman Wearing Blue Burka
Wakhan Afghan Girl
Wakhi Girl in Sarhad-e Broghil

Women In Afghanistan

Many people were asking if I saw women in Afghanistan. Yes I saw women during my trip, but most were extremely shy, especially if I had my camera out. Plus in their culture, talking with strange men is taboo. But shooting portraits of men or kids was not a problem.

Near the border town of Sultan Eshkashim, with a large Sunni population, many women wear a full-length blue burqa that covers their face. In more rural areas of the Wakhan, it’s less strict. Women wear long colorful dresses with a simple headscarf. I was able to say hello and see their faces.

Beehive Tombs Wakhan
Kyrgyz Tombs at Bozai Gumbaz
Afghanistan Burial Shrine
Khajahbigali Family Tomb

Shrines & Tombs

I encountered a few ancient burial tombs during my time exploring the Wakhan Corridor. Near the Afghan military outpost of Bozai Gumbaz, there’s a collection of strangely shaped Kyrgyz beehive tombs, along with evidence of Soviet bombing (craters, bomb fragments) from the 1980’s occupation.

At the settlement of Langar, we found a pile of ibex horns marking the burial place of a powerful big man. In Afghanistan, wealthy & powerful men are often called “big men”. It’s a bit like calling someone “boss.” The more animals, land, and wives you have, the “bigger” & more influential you are.

Driving in Afghanistan
Driving in Afghanistan

Rough Roads

Before I began the 10 day, 100 mile trek through the mountains, I had to hire a 4×4 van to drive me to the last village at the end of the road. We passed a few military checkpoints along the way, stopping for tea & candy with officials before continuing on.

The drive took 2 days, and the roads were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Dust seeped into the vehicle, covering us in dirt. We forded rivers, drove along the edge of sheer cliffs, and were frequently stopped by huge herds of goats blocking the road. The van suffered 6 flat tires during the journey.

Afghanistan Mountain Shelter
Cooking Lunch in a Stone Shelter
Afghanistan Stone Hut
Wakhi Settlement

Wakhi Settlements

While I entered Afghanistan alone, I decided to hire a local translator/guide and horseman to accompany me on the trek into the mountains. It would have been extremely difficult to communicate with others without their help. We spent a few nights at Wakhi settlements during the hike.

Wakhi homes are basically stone huts with dirt floors, constructed using manure for cement. The roof is made of logs, grass, and more manure to keep it waterproof. Some shelters had stoves inside, others just had a fire pit. Either way it was pretty smokey inside with a fire…

Afghanistan Girl
Young Afghan Girl in Sarhad
Afghan Family in Wakhan
Wakhi Family Living in the Mountains

Children Of The Wakhan

Life in the Wakhan is rough, especially for kids. About 60% of children here die before the age of five, the highest infant mortality rate in the world. If they do survive, they are put to work helping out with the family business — animal herding.

There are a few schools out here, thanks to the Central Asia Institute, but it’s up to the parents if they go. In some communities, only the boys are sent to school. The morning commute can take a few hours by donkey due to the lack of roads and distance between settlements.

Camels in Afghanistan
Central Asian Bactrian Camel

Wildlife In Afghanistan

I was really hoping to see a snow leopard or Marco Polo sheep while I was traveling through the mountains of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. You know, Walter Mitty style! Unfortunately both of these endangered animals are extremely difficult to spot — but I did find camels!

Luckily the Wildlife Conservation Society has staff in the area, often spending weeks in the field gathering data to protect wildlife in the Wakhan. They estimate there are about 100-200 snow leopards living in these mountains. Wolves and bears also call this wilderness home.

Afghanistan Photography
The Country You Thought You Knew…

The Other Afghanistan

So there you go. A peek at the other side of Afghanistan that we never see on the nightly news. After traveling the world extensively for the past 6 years, I’ve noticed this is a common theme.

Don’t let our media, which is primarily focused on negative & sensational topics, be your only window into the dynamics of a foreign country you’ve never been to.

I’m not going to tell you that Afghanistan is safe. It’s not. Our troops who’ve served there can tell you. Afghans themselves are well aware of the dangers that plague their country too.

But I think there’s another side to Afghanistan that deserves some attention. The rugged, scenic mountain landscapes. The friendly, hospitable local people.

I’m hopeful for the day when Afghanistan’s problems fade away, and more travelers can safely enjoy the beauty this incredible country has to offer. ★

Travel Video! Backpacking Afghanistan

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(Click to watch Backpacking Afghanistan – Wakhan Corridor on YouTube)


I hope you enjoyed my Afghanistan photos! Hopefully you also found this post useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

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Last summer I traveled into the mountains of Afghanistan for a two week backpacking adventure. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Last summer I traveled into the mountains of Afghanistan for a two week backpacking adventure. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about Afghanistan? What do you think about traveling there? Drop me a message in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (142)

  1. Acabo de leer un libro de Ken Follet,donde se describen todos esos paisajes, rios,valles, y me pareció una necesidad verlos.Las personas,los lugares ,y te encontré a ti,y tu recorrido. Que lugar tan bello. Lamentablemente no se enfoca lo positivo de estos lugares marcados por guerras y sufrimiento, uno piensa que todo es feo,rígido, carente de color. Muy bonito recorrido.

  2. What a beautiful article! It’s really nice to be able to learn about Afghanistan without talking about the political and social problems that the country has. As you said, sometimes you tend to see this place as only a synonym of war and tensions.
    I’m so happy that I found your blog and most particularly this article. It was so nice to travel for a few minutes to a place that we don’t talk about this way enough.

    Thank you!

  3. This was such an eye opener. I have recently read a few books about the silk road and parts of Central Asia, showing the other side. I hope to one day visit these places and see the other side as well. There are always at least two sides to a story or place. Thank You for some beautiful photos and information.

  4. A Russian, a North Korean, the Chinese, an Iranian .. growing up as an American I always heard they were my enemy .. from whom ? The sold-out American media and Politicians and my command as a National Guardsman .. you and I both know the truth is that the PEOPLE of these places are, in every fundamental way .. EXACTLY as we are. Desiring GOD given inalienable rights, the freedom to earn an honest living, feed and roof our family and prepare our children for adulthood as best as we know how. It is the governments who wage war but the common man and his son who fights them .. and doesn’t come home because his body was blown into pieces too small to collect and bring home. Thank you for this !!

  5. Matthew, I am a student doing a research on Afghanistan, and I was wandering if I could have your permission to use these astonishing photos for my research.

    Thank you so much,

  6. Hi Matthew,

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. My grandfather is from Afghanistan but I’ve never visited the country due to its political climate.

    I’m so happy to see the country where I have roots from so amazing in its natural state.

  7. Matthewt Karsten,I sow some of the wonderful pictures of Afghanistan,never sow before. I have to thank you very much you made my night.
    Mohammed, w Omar. If ever come to Clarksburg WV you have a friend.
    ” Khoda-Hafez” God save you.

  8. Hi dear Matthew, really appreciate your bravery and courage to visit my lovely county and really appreciate from your article you wrote about beauty hospitality and kindness i am also from Hindukush mountain we never saw the war and Taliban because in our region we do not cultivate narcotics and there is not also more natural resources.
    we have our normal life there but unfortunately we struggle with poverty and public reconstructions

  9. Absolutely incredible. Excellent photos of the people who live in the Wakhan and their daily lives. I also like that you’re encouraging people to expand their worldview! I’ll definitely try and get out that way once my own blog takes off.

  10. Looking at your photos from the The Wakhan Corridor make me want to go even more. The landscape is incredible and my friends that have visited say they have never experienced such wonderful local hospitality!

  11. Am from West Africa and am so much interested in all the trip you have made congrats please how can I join you I really love to Travel and see other places like you do Thanks hear from you soon……. From Ghana.. will like too see Afghanistan

  12. Hi Matthew, since long i wanted to visit Afghanistan. But because of media and other source information i could never set my mind to visit. I heard about it’s beauty. Being a girl, is it safe foe me to go there?

  13. I love watching your videos but Afghanistan I have always wanted to take a lot of photos and travel and you have really started making me think more about doing it I am 51 years old and I would love to start doing what I wanted to do I love taking photos like I said you have really inspired me a following my dream

  14. Hi Matthew, how are you? I spent almost a year traveling through the countries of Central Asia and made the Pamir route. For several days I crossed Tajikistan knowing that the river on my left was the border and that what I saw on the other side was Afghanistan. Whenever I saw a town I stopped and I photographed it and I’m dying of curiosity! I really wanted to cross, but I did not. Maybe one day … I’d like to ask you where you came from and how you got the visa. Also how you met the guides who accompanied you.
    Thank you and congratulations for the experience!

  15. What is it with people and their infatuation of something they can not have, in this case, the veiled afghan woman. Seriously, get it together men and stop worrying about how a women looks in a far away land.

    • It’s just human nature. The men in Afghanistan kept scrolling back to photos on my phone of my wife in a swimsuit. Our cultural norms are just so different in that regard. It’s fascinating to both sides — and it’s not just women. Anything that’s vastly different between cultures.

      It would be like asking someone not to gawk at a dude from Papua New Guinea walking around wearing a thong in rural Montana. It seems strange if that’s not your day-to-day reality.

      • Hi,,,I’m from Lahore Pakistan,how are you Matthew,,,,It’s your very good profession to visit the world ,,,,i also want to visit Badakshan Afghanistan

  16. Wow – amazing resource and some stunning pics. Great material to convince my girlfriend we should go in the next two years :) (I’d like to go to Iran, but because of my family history there’s a small chance I’ll go to jail so… maybe not.)

  17. unbelievable ! so spectacular pictures of my beautiful land Afghanistan.
    i always wish to visit Paamir and Wakhan.

  18. Thank you for sharing pictures of my beautiful and heartbreaking homeland. I am happy you took the time to explore the land and see the people. I go back every two years and often have to remind people that Afghanistan is not what you see on CNN.

  19. Such a beautiful scenery, love you photo’s and great adventures.. hope got chance to visit this side of Afghanistan.. any advice for woman travel there ?

  20. Hi Matthew, absolutely terrific read! Your the only reliable source of information I’ve found about this area. Even though it’s two years off, I’m saving to travel to Tajikistan and then do the Wakhan after I graduate from university here in Australia. Soo glad I came across you Youtube channel to find this!
    I am seeing on maps that there is a “road” that leads out of the eastern Wakhan back into Tajikistan from the other end that you enter the gap. Did you perhaps know of any route to exit the gap through that “road”?

  21. Oh wow! This post opens my heart…..the world needs more people like you who can bring to light the blazing beauty of the land overshadowed by hatred,islamophobia and devious political strategy…May the land and its beautiful people be lifted out of the shrouds of darkness they are caught in!

  22. Great pictures, very beautiful

    – however I want to share some words of caution, people need to know that they definitely need to take care if they visit this country and many others and know WHO they are around, and where / when to make yourself scarce. Almost every country on earth has beauty, and good people – but what is important is, who are the major groups vying for power, and WHAT is their ideology? That can mean the difference between you being welcome at any given time, among any group, or not. And in some of these countries, like Afghanistan, not being welcome means that you get shot, hacked to pieces, beheaded, or possibly even worse. I just would hate for someone to have a false confidence and think “oh, it’s not like that at all!” … and to go as a tourist and end up dead due to carelessness and flawed judgment. Don’t kid yourselves, it happens.

    As much as I DESPISE the media and their lies, it is not always a bad thing for them to showcase how dangerous a country is, or an ideology is, especially when that country is locked in civil war and has centuries old conflicts still waging well into the 21st century.

    It’s unfortunate that they don’t showcase the happy villages, and beautiful landscapes, but that’s in part because they don’t want haphazard tourists walking right into the arms of ISIS or an extremist Muslim sect, to be ransomed or killed in the name of “Allah”. Or worse. Women can face a worse fate than death, often followed by death, for a single misstep in the wrong place, at the wrong time. When things like kidnapping and rape are allowed or even prescribed in some instances, one has to expect that some people WILL, and make their living doing so. A lot in fact – human trafficking is a serious problem in these countries, and it doesn’t end well for the one being trafficked.

    No amount of good people existing isn’t going to help you if you aren’t among them – and they aren’t the majority, able to protect you… people would do wise to remember that much at least. Life is not easy in Afghanistan, and when that reality rears it’s head you don’t want to be the disposable one – the scapegoat – the one “they’re” looking for, because those people who live those hard lives are not going to risk what they have for you, if they don’t have a legitimate and reliable means of fighting back.

    Always ask yourself – in their shoes, would you? Most people cannot answer yes to that, because in many situations it amounts to sacrificing their lives, with certainty, for a stranger or acquaintance.

    Sources: good friends who have been to a lot of the middle east – and military friends.

    • Have been few times there. There much more dangerous counties in Central , South America right now compare go Afghanistan. Considering this country experienced long civil war as a result of Communist cope in 80th and Russian invasion, still people mind their business and just in the last week over 5 million people voted for electing the local representatives. I live in Detroit and I can guarantee that it is more dangerous compare to all big Cities in Afghanistan. Where you get these information you posted here, I think you don’t know much about Afgh.

  23. Thank you! Your pictures truly tell a thousand words. They show a beautiful people. I found your article by chance while doing a search on Afghanistan for information to use on a small scene in one of my upcoming books. I was shocked to learn how limited my view of the country is. I clearly need to do much research.

  24. This is amazing.. thank you for sharing this! The media can be so dangerous. No one would have ever of thought these beautiful photos were taken in Afghanistan. I hope more and more people see this, open their mind about countries like these and look beyond the media.

  25. Highest mortality rate… and to what? Herd animals… My heart breaks for them but I don’t know what to do. Really appreciate knowing about the other side of Afghanistan. I hope things get better for them and that they all grow up to have better lives

  26. Wow your pictures took me there right with you!! You shared your journey with me and I loved your honesty! Did I mention your pictures were absolutely amazing!! I would love to do this one day. Thank you

  27. Very interesting and inspiring. So happy to see there are still people in the world that understand our Fake News, here at home. Keep on exploring this beautiful world of ours. God Bless! Stay safe.

  28. Incredible photos Matt, the more I looked these photos and read your post, the more I was able to visualize myself in each of the environment relevant to the photo.

    I particularly liked the image of the Wakhan River, Pakistan and I think the closest of the color of the water I’ve seen is only at the lagoons and shore of my country. Thank you for the amazing post.

  29. Hi Matthew!

    Lovely pictures and nice title, I really like it. Sometimes we forget that people who live in other countries have feeling like us.

    TV have made us to have a bad image about people from countries like this. We always feel scared to meet people who are from there or to travel to Afganistan.

    Thanks to share with us and thanks for open the mind of people. Travelling is a magic experience where you create your own picture of world!!

  30. How comfortable is riding a yak 😀 Your photos are amazing and I bet it truly was adventure you will never forget.

    A highlight for us when travelling is meeting the locals. To make you feel so welcoming with their wonderful smiles is telling.

  31. The Wakhan makes a good side trip coming from the east, did you also venture in further towards Kabul or return back via the same border?

  32. Wow! Such a fantastic post! I am always interested in getting to know about these deemed “dangerous” destinations. Thank you for opening the door to Afghanistan.

  33. Wow- it is great to see a side of Afghanistan that is completely different from how it is portrayed within the media! The countryside and people are beautiful and your photos, as always, mesmerizing! I have to ask though, would you have gone there as a solo female?

    • There are many solo females who have traveled to Afghanistan and its surrounding area of Pakistan. The safer way I find is to travel with a local friend. That’s what I’d do when I don’t feel safe about a place. And the best thing is to wear a form of attire that doesn’t attract attention.

  34. Speechless… I mean, what an absolutely wonderful post. You have shown the complete opposite side of what the news shows people and this is something that everyone needs to see these days. The news is more corrupt than it ever has been and makes out that any country beside your own is a death trap and you shouldn’t visit it but some people don’t realise that. Thank you for an amazing post, it made my day reading this.

  35. What an inspiration man! I am in the transition to become a travel blogger and I am definitely your bigger fan right now (-;

    Keep up the unique adventures.

  36. Hi Matthew, when where you there ? Seems we were there at the same moment (I went to the little Pamir via the river road then back via the various passes)! Great report. I can only confirm all what you said (except that I overpaid 450 dollars for the car and was lucky enough to fly to Khorog)

    • Hey Jocelyn! Very cool. I was traveling through the Wakhan the last week of August & first week of September 2016. From what I heard, the $350 I paid for the 4X4 was a new attempt by the local government to make the trip more affordable for travelers.

    • I was a bit worried too. The Taliban was not too far away. You really need to stay up-to-date on the local news for a trip like this.

  37. I can’t tell you how much I loved your photo essay! So awesome to see the beautiful photos of the real people behind the news stories and to get a tiny glimpse into their life.

  38. I LOVE that you did this project. Though it is still dangerous out there, your article proves something many US troops I’ve met during my career have witnessed on their deployments… there are normal BEAUTIFUL people on that side of the world too! While the media focuses on the evil, because it is still prevalent (but mostly because it sells), they have wrongfully taught Many Ignorant People to believe that the Middle East has nothing of value, nothing to offer, and no one of value. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

    • Exactly. I’m not saying Afghanistan doesn’t have it’s problems, but there is so much more to the country that doesn’t get enough attention in our media. There is plenty of beauty & hospitality too.

  39. Don’t you know about G. Mortenson lies? I’m shocked. Please read, urgently, “3 cups of deceit” of Jan Krakauer, and stop making publicity for Mortenson. My last trip up to L. Pamir was in september 2010. I am in contact with these Kyrgyz since 1979 and I know how incredibly difficult is their life, these people are completely forgotten by the world…just imagine their life between October and March… this is survival every day, every night.

    • Sure I’ve read the book. But his organization still built these schools that I passed, it’s not like he’s done nothing for these communities. His books also inspired me to visit this region, even if they turned out to be part “fiction”. Did he line his pockets telling tall-tales? Probably. But Afghanistan needs all the help it can get — and these schools have helped.

  40. Hi Matt. I already saw this question in a previous comment, but I’d also like what kind of camera and attachments you carry on a journey like this. I’ve seen on my travels “serious” photographers carrying giant zoom lenses, tripods and large DSLR cameras. Some even lug around laptops so they can edit their photos on the spot. I love photography, but I refuse to weigh myself down with so much stuff. Not only would it be a nuisance on a trip involving a lot of walking over rough terrain, I’d always be worried about it getting stolen. Is there a point and shoot camera that can take good pictures but is easily tucked into a shoulder bag or backpack?

    • Great question! I change my gear up based on the adventure, but for this trip I used my Sony A7Rii with a 16-35mm lens, and a lightweight carbon-fiber tripod. You can see all my stuff on my Travel Gear Packing List.

      Sometimes I’ll just bring a Sony RX100 V (professional point-and-shoot) instead of my big camera to save weight. It depends on the activity.

  41. I have been reading about this section of Afghanistan on a couple of other blogs and I am dying to visit. I know that the area would be a tough go for me at 66 but I am really road hard and ready to give it a try. Any info you can post about how you found/located your guides as well as your entry point would be a great help.

  42. Absolutely fantastic! Thanks for sharing the pics. For those interested in something similar, but perhaps not so difficult, you should try the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. Another epic adventure for sure! I did it last year. Wonderful.

    • Traveled a portion of the Pamir Highway on my way to the Wakhan. Another rugged & beautiful place! I’d love to journey the whole length of it on a motorcycle one day…

  43. Thanks for sharing. It brings back great memories of Afghanistan’s wonderful people and beautiful, desolate landscape. The lush green valleys are rarely seen in the media. I was probably one of the last “free travelers” in Afghanistan in April, 1978 when a Marxist coup occurred. Travel has been very difficult ever since. Never have I entered a country and experienced such a time warp, still one of my favorite places. By the way, that Afghan girl image is beautiful. My Kodak Instamatic photos didn’t seem to cut it.

  44. Greetings from Mt. Agung, Bali, Matthew. I will probably never visit Afghanistan in this life (my loss), so I particularly love your photos! They are as good as anything I read in National Geographic growing up many decades ago. The narrative gives great insight into the region’s lifestyle, beauty, and people. One of your best posts ever.

  45. Wow the photos are wonderful. Nice to see something positive about Afghanistan for a change. It gives me hope for humanity. You are so lucky to be able to travel the way you have! Thank you for sharing.

  46. Hi, I have seen other photos (and videos) of Afghanistan but yours are wonderful! Thanks so much. Just finished the short story book “The Honey Thief”, you might enjoy.

  47. Fantastic post and welcome to Colorado. I used your counsel recently for a trip to Cuba. Thank you.
    I live in Denver, moved here from London, and I travel widely. Would love to connect and find out where you’re off to next.
    I’m flying back from Iceland now and off to Peru tomorrow to run the inca trail marathon.

    • Hi Paul! Happy you used my advice for traveling to Cuba. Sure, maybe we can meet up for a drink in Denver one day.

  48. Hi Matthew,
    A great story and video! I will be doing similar trips in the near future..which is why I subscribed. I have helped Greg Mortenson in the past, so its good to see his schools still there. A question..what kind of camera/video do you use? Would an Ipnone be good enough?
    Thanks, happy travels,Bill

  49. Six flat tires – enough to try anyone’s bonhomie. :-)
    Excellent to hear all this and I especially like the ‘Cooking Lunch in a Stone Shelter’ photo.

  50. I totally agree with this.
    “Don’t let our media, which is primarily focused on negative & sensational topics, be your only window into the dynamics of a foreign country you’ve never been to.”

    I am honoured to read this article. Thank you.

  51. Thanks for showing us the other Afghanistan that we do not get to see these days! Back in the day, while growing up in India we used to have stories on beautiful Kabul and Afghanistan in our school text books. Too bad it has become a dangerous country to travel now. Hope to make it there one day.

  52. Matt, I love this post. It really encapsulates the driving reason why I love travel so much. The world is so much more than what we see in the news or hear about from other people. The only way to learn is to go, and see for yourself. Thank you for these amazing pictures and for sharing your experience.

  53. It’s like a thorough information on Afghanistan.Nice read mate and I really wanna taste a salt milk tea…hahaha

  54. Nice read very informative post. Saddened to hear about the mortality rate of the kids. This pictures are really amazing.

  55. Hi Matthew,


    Imagine if your story led off the news versus the garbage they spread on this beautiful country and the other negative stories that dominate headlines? I know more folks would travel to this land. Which makes it less scary. Which means more travel. More fun there. Less fear. More fear. Eventually the place would disappear from world headlines largely. Because it would go from really dangerous place to wonderful place with a few isolated incidents.

    Love those 4WD yaks :)

    Thanks for sharing :)


  56. Wow! You travelled Afghanistan and the pictures you captured are really admirable and so beautiful. It shows the real beauty of Afghanistan and off course another side of this incredible place. The way u enhanced the beautiful of some places in your pictures it’s really breathtaking. Thanks so much for telling and showing us these kind of captivating pictures

  57. What absolutely stunning photos. You’ve really captured a different side of a place that is widely unexplored and unseen by the rest of the world. Thank you for sharing.

  58. Your article and video were great at helping me see a completely different side of Afghanistan that I had no idea about! Thanks Matt!

  59. Wow! These photos are absolutely awesome. I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) visit Afghanistan due to being prior military, these photos are AMAZING! Thanks for sharing.

  60. Great story. It’s so true that we get a distorted view of places from the news. Could a woman travel in the way that you did? Thanks

  61. Fascinating description of your trip and beautiful photos. You have captured the essence for me of a wild country.
    My traveling days are over – I am 81 – but I have travelled all my life while living in 8 different countries from England to Africa. My memories are wonderful. Keep travelling!

  62. That’s a truly outstanding post. Great pictures. Thanks for that! I’m always on the hunt for off the beaten path destinations and this is definitely one! :-)


  63. Wow ! When I first glanced through the headline of your post, I may have just whipped through. But then I saw the name AFGHANISTAN and thought here is one post which no travel blogger has captured. And captured you have, very beautifully. I am still in doubts if we can really do this kind of a trip, without any safety measures in place. But kudos to you for this adventure.

    • It’s not an easy place to travel, and the safety situation changes often. The Taliban has been trying to move towards the Wakhan, so things could change in the future. I hope it remains conflict-free.

  64. You have captured this area so beautifully! The scenery looks really spectacular. So great to see someone delving a little deeper than just the negativity portrayed in the media.

    • This is a problem with many countries and our media. We’re bombarded by the bad stuff, never witnessing the good stuff. If it bleeds, it leads.

  65. Wow – what a beautiful country. Thank you for sharing the ‘other side’ through photos and knowledge you gained in Afghanistan.

  66. WOAH! I love the Stans and LOVE how you captured it here! Inspired me to up my photography for the next trip! Love your heart in this blog too! Just Awesome! #nailedit ;-)

    • Thanks Emma! I only got to see a bit of Tajikistan on this trip, but I’d love to return to the area and spend a few weeks in that country too. An awesome place for hiking and adventure travel!

  67. My first visit to Afghanistan was in 1975 after spending a year in India and Crossing Pakistan heading for Kabul through the Khyber Pass. Where’s the la Quilla now to see her stand Buddhas of Bamiyan before they were destroyed by the Taliban. My friends on this trip were all Pashtuns, the ethnic tribe who composed the majority of the Taliban. After that visit I considered Afghanistan my favorite country in the world. I also had the pleasure I’m running into the Agha Khan’s pilot and his English-speaking secretary at a diplomatic function in Islamabad. Love the Afghani people and their beautiful country.

  68. I visited Afghanistan in the mid 1970s twice. It was myou Mum’s country of birth…She later became a US citizen. She was from a noble family connected to the royal family. As an American child of 12 I was treated so well and even climbed the giant Buddha at Bamyaan. I loved my time there…even the roads☺ Thank you for bringing back many fond memories

    • I’ve heard the Buddha’s at Bamiyan are incredible to see that’s another place in Afghanistan I’d love to visit one day. Thanks for sharing Donna.

      • Please feel free contacting me for info on visiting Bamyan. That is really beautiful for tourism, historical Buddha, Band-e Amir and …

  69. Matt, I met you in Aguascalientes, at Alexia’s house. Your work were awesome back then…. but with this work of Afghanistán you reached a level beyond the stars… beautiful pictures and great description. You rule my friend.

    • Hey Mario! Sure I remember. Glad you enjoyed this article so much. It was a wonderful & challenging trip, one that I’d been dreaming about for years.

  70. Thank for showing another face of Afghanistan in Your good enough article. Your pictures are out standing !! to be honest there are some security challenges in the country, I was born in Afghanistan but I have never been in a such place like Wakhan because of security situation but you did it :-) wish you all the best in your further trips.

    • Sadly it’s not safe to travel everywhere in Afghanistan. The reason I had to travel from Tajikistan is because the road from Kabul wasn’t considered a safe route to reach the Wakhan.

      • Hi Matthew
        I can’t believe that u traveled to Afghanistan and did not visit kabul !
        As I’m an Afghan and what I got from u is just that u described the northen Afghanistan very well but there are people might think whole Afghanistan is like that.
        It was better if u had a visit to kabul and capture afghanistan from another prespective, anyway your pictures are beautiful and amazing thanks for visting my country ✌🏻🇦🇫❤

  71. Great write up. Some aspects actually remind me of Mongolia. The lack of trees, extreme cold,nomadic lifestyle and even the salty tea! Would love to travel here.

  72. Thank you so much. I read a book about a voyage in Afghanistan, some time ago, and I imagined something like what you show here. But at the time I could not find the views that the author described so evocatively. So happy to see those places now!

  73. Just goes to show that what you hear about a place isn’t exactly how it is. Also there are extremely interesting and kind people all over the world regardless of the conditions that they live.

  74. Thank you for showing the beauty of the people and land of Afghanistan. I think we need it now more than ever. Your photos are breathtaking and I hope they are shared worldwide!

  75. Wow, your photos are incredible! I would absolutely love to do this trip.

    It’s great that you showed the ‘other’ side of Afghanistan. Love what you said here: “It’s far too easy to vilify or write-off an entire nation when you don’t have to look those people in the eyes. People with the same hopes and dreams as you — to survive, find happiness, and provide for their families.”

    Great post!

  76. These photos are so good and I agree that it’s important to show more sides of a country than just what the Western media tells us. And man, the blue eyes on the kid in one of those photos are so piercing. Reminds me a bit of Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” photo.

    • I saw quite a few people there with brightly colored eyes and dark features like this, it really stands out.

  77. Hi I am a solo female traveller, 55 yrs old. I LOVE this trip, it must have been so incredible! I would love to hear how you were able to do? Did you have guides and someone with you always? It’s somewhere that I would really like to experience. I too believe the media scares everyone, when the reality is, the world is an incredibly beautiful and friendly place. I would look forward to hearing from you
    Thanks so much

    • I hired a local guide once I crossed into Afghanistan. Here are some more details. There are a couple companies that run adventure tours in the Wakhan too, like Untamed Borders and Secret Compass.

      While the region as a whole is pretty safe, the border town Ishkashim was just taken over by the Taliban the other week. They’ve been kicked out again, but it’s important to realize that the situation changes constantly.

      • HI Mattew thank you for traveled to our country and i hop that you will come back again to visit more fantastic places like paktia province which is located southern part of afghanistan its has a natural and heart taking beauty but no tension about the security you will be safe there is a big difference between current media and reality believe me .
        thank you

  78. Mathew it’s really good! There are the things that new reporters don’t want to show anyone. As you explained, Afghanistan is a great place and as more people will visit there may be the situation will get better.

    Thanks! You did a great job.

  79. Extraordinary and necessary article. I completely agree about meeting people to get to know a place and getting behind inaccurate prejudice and stereotypes. Gorgeous pictures of a beautiful country. How sad that it’s been through so much.

  80. Hi, thanks for those pictures, especially that red bridge. I worked in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007 and yes, I have seen the bridge too :-)

  81. This is such an incredible post! It’s so lovely to see people challenging the media and redefining our negative views on certain destinations. Afghanistan looks so beautiful, and I love that you’re showing a side of this Middle Eastern country that is otherwise portrayed as entirely destructive. Thank you X

  82. Good Morning, nice article.
    How did you obtain a visa, as no visas are being issued?
    Oh, and Ishkashim is Ismaili, therefore Shia, not Sunni.
    Nice pictures

  83. This was such a good read. I’d be curious to hear what the process was like for you getting a visa if you don’t mind. I’ve always been drawn to the less traveled parts of the world. Mongolia is my next #1 destination. If you’re ever in Wellington, New Zealand and need a place to crash, let me know. I just emigrated here last year and we got a spare room. Cheers brotha! Happy travels to ya!

  84. Amazing post Matthew, it’s such a breath of fresh air to learn about the different side of Afghanistan.

    I couldn’t agree more with the negative and regressive role major media plays most of the time. Hopefully the situation improves so that more people can go there and learn more about the country.

  85. Humbly jealous! I’ve been wanting to experience this side of Asia since I started traveling. How much more different would it be to backpack Afghanistan as a woman?

  86. Hi Matthew thanks for being showing the other side of not just Afghanistan but the most of the world which are made no go areas by world carporate medias. Hope you enjoyed in Afghanistan, well I am Pashton from north west of Pakistan. We claim our province was forcefuly seperated by British empire of the time for strategic reasons. Okay now my question, are you planning to come back on travel to this region plz? Coz I wanna see you again in Afghanistan and also to pakistan. The reason I wish you come back is your documentry and writings are so real and it touches peoples heart which might help us in world to see the other side of our region. Thank you so much for visiting and see you again