We were the first clients Kuba took to the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan in July 2018. We had a great time! After driving through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, we spent three nights in the Wakhan, visiting Sultan Ishkashim, Khandud and Kala-i-Panja. Kala-i-Panja has an interesting ruined fort, and Sultan Ishkashim’s bazaar is worth checking out. There is a very small bazaar in Khandud too. We stayed in the Marco Polo guesthouse in Sultan Ishkashim (good food) and Shah Ismail’s guesthouse in Kala-i-Panja (nice rooms).
While it is expensive, and there are security concerns, we enjoyed our time in the Wakhan. The views of the mountains are quite different on the other side of the valley. Sultan Ishkashim is strikingly different in culture from the Tajik side, with women wearing blue burqas in the streets and men wearing kurtas. A few kilometres up the valley, the culture changes again and Wakhi women wear colourful clothing and some do not wear headscarves.
Kuba is a careful and safe driver. He takes great care and pride in keeping his vehicle clean and tidy for guests. This is something of a miracle in the Wakhan, where the “road” is incredibly dusty! His Mitsubishi Montero was reliable and comfortable. There are not many cars in the Wakhan corridor, so we enjoyed being able to travel with a driver we trusted and in a car we were familiar with.
One of the advantages of using Kuba’s services is that he speaks a lot of languages. Obviously he speaks Russian and Kyrgyz, but he also speaks good Wakhi which is very useful since most of the people in the Wakhan outside of Sultan Ishkashim speak Wakhi, as do the Tajik border guards. He also speaks some Tajik, which is similar to the Dari language spoken in Sultan Ishkashim.
Kuba says that his English is not very good, but actually it is completely fine for 95% of situations you need to talk about! It is good enough for him to tell jokes and explain things about the sights you see on the road. For really complex matters, he has Google Translate on his phone. He can arrange English-speaking guides if you want, but we did not have one.
Kuba has a number of contacts in Afghanistan, including local guides and guesthouse operators. However, communications are unreliable on the Afghan side, and the limited number of hiking guides can be out of cellphone reception for weeks at a time, so be prepared to wait. Similarly, although Kuba is usually quite fast to respond on WhatsApp and email, he does not have a secretary. Parts of the Pamir Highway do not have cell phone reception, and during the tourist season he is driving most days, so you may need to be patient while he answers the many messages he receives.