Experiencing Afghanistan—the Nation, Not the War

In Afghanistan’s ruggedly beautiful Wakhan corridor, villagers are far removed from their nation’s capital—and the bloodshed there.

Afghanistan is a place, not a war.

Taliban suicide bombings may dominate the news, but the sprawling Central Asian country—bigger than France—embraces a cosmos. One of its least visited corners, the rugged Wakhan corridor, is an Afghanistan as few outsiders imagine it: shielded from violence by the Hindu Kush mountain range, locked in a more idyllic time, and shining with alpine light.

Last summer I hiked through this utterly remote wilderness hemmed by the mountain walls of Tajikistan, Pakistan, and western China. For weeks photographer Matthieu Paley joined me, and we trekked up valleys where peaceful Ismaili farmers threshed wheat in the biblical way, under the hooves of oxen. Waterwheels spun in icy creeks, grinding out flour. Villagers tending apricot orchards at the foot of glaciers were barely aware of the bloodshed in the distant capital, Kabul.

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