At the knot of past empires: Zood Khun, a Wakhi village in the high northern mountains of Pakistan

Ligne de crêtes fermant l'ouest de la vallée de Chapursan
Zood Khun, the village at the end of Chapursan Valley

At the top of Upper Hunza in an area called Gojal, Zood Khun stretches in Chapursan Valley. Staying almost at the highest limit where vegetation of mountain oasis grows up, it is a village having numerous characteristics in common with other Wakhi settlements of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and, likely, China (though, not directly observed in this last country). However, its isolation at the very end of a narrow dirt road, coming from Sost, and its altitude of 3,300 m, make it, sometimes, different in term of tradition resilience, scenery, available resources and way of life. The following description will try to show this specificity as to project it into a more general background. May some readers decide to visit this interesting place, to discover its peaceful beauty, and to enjoy the cordial hospitality of its friendly inhabitants.

Table of content

Part 1 – Zood Khun preserves a scenic and authentic oasis landscape

A high mountain oasis cared thanks to a meticulous gardening

The image presented below is dated August 5, 2018. It is taken from the highest inhabited point of Zood Khun (Zuwud Khoon), the ultimate settlement of Chapursan (Chipurson, Chipursan) Valley between the giant Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges.

This is the middle part of the diyor (village, hamlet). It is 05:30, PM. Light comes from the west (left, here). It passes over the mountains materializing the western border with the end of the Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor (same Wakhi population, same Ismaili religion and same language of a Persian branch) accessible, after Baba Ghundi mazar (shrine), via the Irshad Pass (4,979 m) which terminates the valley.

At first glance, the external viewer has the confused impression something, he is used to, is missing. The problem for him is to find what. Eventually he realizes, there are absolutely no commercial posters, no advertisings, no signs. The eye can enjoy the scenery and have a walk without being hurt. Nothing breaks the pleasant contemplation..

Vue depuis le point le plus élevé du village, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: View from middle of the village to the West

This is the period of the year for harvesting and haying. From the top of a trail that winds down, dry-stone walls enclose plots while delimiting paths and a road. They provide relatively flat terraces, preventing erosion and protecting crops or grasslands from livestock (with the possible exception of agile yaks and goats). Conveniently, they also serve to dry laundry as indicated by white and colored patches (bottom right of first picture). Three women work in what may be a square of potatoes. Another one (bottom left) climbs the path carrying hay on her back. Behind her, a calf is tied to a stake and grazes grass on the path shoulder. Opposite, on a desiccated ground, stays a pile of sand for probable construction works, which would be performed by the man noticeable at a house corner.

Farther downhill, there is a mowed plot. Sheaves of wheat or barley are arranged on the small yard of a house. Some are also put, with hay, on the roof. Then, going behind this building, the itinerary heads towards the new government school which is being completed (with a wood frame for roof), where the valley road is reached. Before getting there, on the left, an uncultivated space surrounds the corner of a house under construction. It serves, in particular, as a playground for young people, mainly for cricket. Here, the farmable ground and the grass are too precious to be trampled. The polo field (also used for buzkashi) is not visible, being farther away. In the distance, behind the jangal (wooded wasteland growing on floodplain alluvium), before the river and perpendicular to it, stays an arid parcel surrounded by a low wall. It’s, may be, an enclosure intended to gather cattle and horses.

Champs en terrasses, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: view from West of the village to the middle of it – See the lines of poplar seedlings along the fields
and how traditional houses fit with the environment
Zood Khun: Niaz playing cricket © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: Niaz playing cricket
Zood Khun, Dilawar Abbas throwing the ball © Bernard Grua
Dilawar Abbas throwing the ball

A dispersed habitat like in the rest of Chapursan valley and in the Upper Hunza’s one

Petites meules en cours de séchage dans un champs, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: pens and stables next to the house of Abid Golden’s Grand Father

Houses are scattered throughout the oasis to be closer to the plots where, in addition to barley and wheat, potatoes, lentils and some vegetables are grown. Since each crop is irrigated by canals bringing water from the melting glaciers, it was not necessary to gather around a spring or a well. As a consequence agriculture and housing are closely intertwined. In Chapursan Valley, as in Upper Hunza Valley, there do not seem to be any cultures outside the hamlets.

Nazif Shahrani (The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan, p. 64) observed the same situation for Afghan Wakhi communities:

“Unlike settled agriculturalist communities in Badakhshan and other parts of Afghanistan, the Wakhi local communities are not larged nucleated or centralized villages. Instead, the Wakhi qarya (Nazif Shahrani does not use the word diyor) consists of a number of residential structures, khana, throughout the tiny plots of farmland dotting the narrow high valley oases.”

Wakhi fields are maintained like gardens, Afghanistan © Bernard Grua
Afghan Wakhan: a dispersed wakhi habitat among green patches

Back to table of content

Part 2 – Zood Khun ressources are limited but represent tangible assets

A village without fruit trees

The diyor is too high for apple and apricot trees like the ones growing in the first lower hamlets of Chapursan Valley, or in the villages bordering the Hunza River.

Abricotier dans le village de Passu, Hunza © Bernard Grua
Passu  has apricot trees like most of Wakhi villages – Zood Khun is too high for that
Pommiers dans le village de Passu, Hunza © Bernard Grua
Passu  has apple trees like most of Wakhi Villages – Zood Khun is too high for that
Note also the walls made of round peebles unlike in Zood Khun

The only fruit available locally is from wild sea buckthorn, a very thorny bush, common in Hunza Valley. Its small round berries, having an orange color, are considered rich in healing properties and contain more C vitamin than citrus fruits. Zood Khun children are fond of it. In addition, they find, there, a dietary supplement beneficial to their health. For these reasons wild sea buckthorn berries are sometimes harvested to be sold, in small bottles, as a local energizing juice.

Garçons Wakhi cueillant des baies d'argousier dans la vallée de la Chapursan 05/08/2018 © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: Niaz and Mumtaz picking and eating sea buckthorn berries on a slope over a torrent

An organic mountain local production

 Zood Khun: Afta, Dilawar Abbas wife harvesting barley. Flowers and thorny plants mixed with crop evidence a culture free of phytosanitary products © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: Afta, Dilawar Abbas wife
harvesting barley. Flowers and thorny
plants mixed with crop evidence
a culture free of phytosanitary products

It seems that no chemical fertilizers and no phytosanitary inputs are used in Zood Khun. Then, added to the harsh climate, yields might be below generally admitted figures. However, it results in high quality natural products that would normally be demanded in modern organic retail businesses. No doubts than seeds used, here, are also of great interest.
Adapted to the high altitude conditions and to the lack of industrial additives they might belong to an heritage of old species which disappeared from numerous other places including Tajik Wakhan. This could deserve a specific protection. Zood Khun seeds might even be looked for when agriculture specialists will search for species able to grow on a more natural way.

Chapursan Valley could find benefits in establishing its own label with products of certified origin and organic conditions of production. Doing so, Zood Khun will avoid the industrial step followed over the last 50 years by the agriculture of western countries and from which they try to go back. Their industrial way of production proved to be capital consuming, unhealthy for consumers, poisoning for farmers, destructing for the environment and devastating for biodiversity.

It could be a future opportunity for the diyor. Though, here, the main problem would be the relevant distribution of such goods, into urban centers, far outside the valley. At least, today, urban visitors can enjoy, locally, an original, healthy and mostly vegetarian food which differs from the lowlands one, more influenced by the Punjabi and Indian way of cooking. Nevertheless, Pakistani perfumed spices help in bringing a taste that can’t be found neither in Afghan nor in Tajik Wakhi cuisine.

Petite fille wakhie dans la campagne, Zoodkhun village de la vallée de Chapursan 07/08/2018 © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: Kum Kum, Alam Jan’s daughter walking on an irrigation canal bund between a poplar line and a potato field

Nowadays, the major cash crop is potato presenting a low number of issues for transportation and storage. The question can be: are these products priced at their real quality value? Has the customer the understanding he is buying an actual up scale potato? It should also be reminded that, in 2010 and following years, Attabad landslide and its resulting lake, which cut the Karakoram Highway (KKH) until the five tunnels completion, affected the fragile balance of home budgets while obstructing their normal flow of selling and, as a consequence, their possibility to pay for external needs.

A scarce wood resource

Jangal (wooded wasteland growing on floodplain alluvium) limits erosion. It is also an important component for the ecological balance, a place for raw materials and fuel, a source of nutrients and a housing for wildlife. This is the case for Chapursan Valley but also for other similar locations. For example, according to Odinamamadi Mirzo (Wakhan, p.46), Tajik Wakhan, launched successful large reforestation projects along the Panj River to restore its over-exploited jangal and forest. In Zood Khun, the ground is too dry to allow natural growth of trees. With the exception of the jangal shrubs, the almost only available wood largely comes from poplars and, in a smaller amount, from willows, planted and irrigated at the edge of plots.

 Zood Khun, irrigated "culture" of willows © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun, irrigated “culture” of willows
Afghan Wakhan, trees along an irrigation canal © Bernard Grua
Afghan Wakhan, trees along an irrigation canal

Poplars are in the oases of Central Asian mountains, what are palm trees in desert oases. They are, just like food crops, protected from cattle by a close attention. This is one of the reasons why, between planting and harvesting time, animals stay in remote pastures. In summer, just a small number of them graze, in the village, for domestic purposes. According to Alam Jan Dario an explanation for the Zood Khun development is its available space and its unusual proximity, in comparison with Passu (from where came his family), with the large pasture of Yishyok (also spelled Yeshkuk ) where the herds of the Mir (king) of Hunza were pasturing and providing dung for fertilizing new production plots on reclaimed land.

Yak au crépuscule dans le paturage d'Yishkok, vallée de Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khund: yaks and cattle kept in an enclosure at the entrance of Yishyok pasture separated
from the village and cultures
 Afghan Wakhan: poplar culture protected by an enclosure covered by thorny bush © Bernard Grua
Afghan Wakhan: poplar culture protected
by an enclosure covered by thorny bush
(here, they have also to be protected 
from camels)

As pointed out by Jansher Khan Tajik Wakhani, four years ago, in the north west of the diyor, the community created Trapur dasht (oasis next to the river) for wood production. Between 1,000 and 1,500 trees have been planted. Water is brought from a spring via a canal built thanks to a donation made by late Safaraz Khan. Then, the area is known under the name of his father, Hagi Abad. This wood is commonly used for fuel. The plantation is open just six times a month. A same man can take wood during the first three days of the month and then the three days at the middle of the month.

Sand locally delivered by the river

 The powerful and fast stream deeply trims an erratic bed through a mass of glacial alluvium and moraines. The river banks are steep but unstable. They can be quickly damaged and collapsed by floods. Fields and buildings stay at a safe distance. In that sense, Zood Khun people and properties might be less exposed to disasters than Passu’s ones could be. Though, Chapursan precarious rough road can be cut due to landslides or broken bridges leading to a complete isolation. Gray sand, washed down from scree slopes, is collected in the river. It deposits into coves built to preserve calm areas.

Le pont nécessite d'être consolidé avant le passage de la "cargo jeep" © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun to Sost: a bridge in dangerous conditions

A village connected with instable electricity but pure water networks

The diyor scattering causes, today, a skein of power lines serving each home. Jansher Khan Tajik Wakhani mentions the community hydro power plant built next to jangal. Its capacity is 400 GH and is intended to serve the last three villages of Chapursan Valley. It can only be used during normal weather. When it is too cold the water canal is frozen and no electricity production is possible. As of today, it does not work because Misgar recent regional (Gojal) power plant was supposed to be enough. However Misgar faces misconception and mis-realization issues. It also has a too small capacity to answer the demand. Then, power distribution is random while being subject to frequent load shedding when not longer blackouts for repairs.

Each house is now pipe-supplied with drinkable running water. This one comes from a deep drilling.

A sound of nature

Peaceful, Zood Khun is also amazingly quiet. Added to the fact that most of cattle is in remote pastures, there are almost no domestic animals in Zood Khun during summer time. Except for the noise of some un-frequent motorcycles and even the one of human steps on the “main road”, ending there, the sound is coming from virgin nature. In the background, there is the permanent smooth roar of the mighty river, sometimes with the accompaniment of bird songs, and of a gentle wind going through poplar branches. The extremely low level of Zood Khun anthropic noise deserves to be considered as a precious resource missing in most of the world inhabited areas.

Retour de l'école, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: a little girl and two older ones coming back from school on a very quiet “main street”

A brilliant summer weather

Zoodkhun, les rayons du soleil descende dans la vallée de Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: clear sky on early morning while sun is entering the valley

Also unspoiled is the dry healthy crystal clear air resulting in incredible summer skies at night and offering a respiratory welcomed break for those living in large polluted towns. During the middle of the day, for a couple of hours, sun can be too strong but it cools down quite fast. It is a far more enjoyable climate than the unbearable humid extreme heat of some Pakistan southern cities. This is a potential strong attraction factor for domestic tourists.

Voie lactée à Zoodkhun, Vallée de Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: outstanding sky during summer nights

Back to table of content

Part 3 – Zood Khun, past and present religions built a tradition palimpsest

Documented religions of Wakhi people

The Tajik Odinamamadi Mirzo (OM) gives a presentation of religions in the home land of Wakhi people, «Wakhan» (page 105 to 114). Though, there are obvious contradictions between dates or sources, OM offers an interesting historical overview. Although Hinduism, Manichaeism and Christian Nestorianism have certainly crossed the Wakhan Corridor, they are not documented by OM and will not be presented here.


The most ancient documented religion in Wakhan is Zoroastrianism whose followers were Atash-Paras (fire worshippers, though it is a restrictive summary of their spiritual and humanist religion). Also called seapoosh kafir (black-worn infidels), they had their temples. However, added to its domestic functions, the fire place of houses (dildung) was also a place of worshipping. Fire worshippers, in the 10th century AD, still constituted half of the Wakhan’s population.
[Dr. D.A. Scott, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1984, No. 2., pp. 217-228), asserted Zoroastrians survived until 1896 in Wakhan when they were crushed by the Kabul emir Abdur Rahman’s army which forced these Kafir(s) to embrace the true faith. Scott suggested, however, that some Zoroastrian elements might have been maintained, until today, in the region, especially in some remote but close parts of adjacing Pakistan.]


The spread of Buddhism in Wakhan started during the 4th century. Wakhan corridor, which some authors qualify the «Great Buddhist road», was a very active part of first Great Silk Road. The Chinese traveller Syan Tzan (639-645 AD) observed that Zoroastrianism and partly Buddhism were both practiced in Wakhan. He visited India and Bamiyan. When returning he had 22 horses with loads of Buddhism books thus marking (?) 10 Buddhist temples in Wakhan (other authors say Syan Tzan «converted» some Zoroastrian temples into Buddhist ones). Today, there are still large remains of a Buddhist temple in Vrang Village which could be from 4th or 7th century AD. Here too, some researchers suggest that before turning into a Buddhist place of worship it might have been a Zoroastrian building. The people of Wakhan practiced Buddhism until 11th-12th centuries.

Budhist stupa, Vrang, Wakhan Valley, Pamir, Tajikistan © Bernard Grua 2011
Vrang, Tajik Wakhan: Buddhist stupa


At this time, Animism staid present in the region. Although “idolatry” is a too global and contemptuous word to qualify the quest for God expressed by people of different religions or practices, this sentence of OM should be mentioned.

“This historical legacy testifies that idolatry was indeed practiced in Wakhan. Shrines were built in villages and pasturelands and horns of animals and stones were placed on them. In some places huge old trees are worshipped and such shrines are called as oston.”

As it is frequent in Asia, Shamanism could have been integrated in Buddhism. Then, it kept its place in the subsequent religion.


The army of the Caliph al-Ma?mun defeated Wakhan around 814-15. The opposition between Zoroastrians and Arabs was very tense. After having lost their castles (like Qahqaha and Yamchun), black worn fled to India (could be today Pakistan) but came back for raids against Arabs.

 Remains of Qahqaha (Kaahka), fortress with a view over Panj River on Afghan Wakhan Supposed to be built by Kushan empire BC © Bernard Grua
Remains of Qahqaha (Kaahka), fortress with a view over Panj River on Afghan Wakhan Supposed to be built by Kushan empire BC
Yamchun fortress - Afghan Hindukush in the background © Bernard Grua
Yamchun fortress – Afghan
Hindukush in the background

In the 10th-11th centuries, the Ismaili faith of the Shia branch spread over Central Asia. Around 1040-1050, one of its most famous and respected propagators in Wakhan was Nasir Kusrav (Nasir Khusrow, Naser Khosrow). Numerous traditions are attached to his name. In Afghan Wakhan, he probably went until Yimit (a few km from Khandut). It is also said he traveled to the Lot Kuh Valley of the Chitral District (Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan).

“The poet (Nasir Kusrav) lived his last 15 years in Badakhshan preaching people carefully to Islam, especially to Ismailism and accepted their ancient traditions and customs”.

Note the important mention: «accepted their ancient traditions and customs».

Marco Polo (1271) writes that Wakhan inhabitants practiced the Shia branch of Islam. He observed the neighboring districts had not converted to Islam yet.

Wakhi shrines evidence the permanence of spirituality and old tradition

Votive ribbons, shaman rocks, Baikal Siberia © Bernard Grua 2007
Shaman rock,Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal
having some common points with a Wakhi oston

Some monuments or constructions acquire a specific sense in the environment they are designed for and through the dialog these spiritual creations handle with their natural frame.
That is what expresses the Poseidon’s temple at the eastern limit of continental Greece, the Buddhist/Shamanist ovoos staying at the top of passes in the Siberian Eastern Sayan Mountains or on rocks and capes of Olkhon Island (Baikal Lake).

The Mont St Michel in its bay, the Abbey of St Mathieu facing the mighty Ocean at the western limit of the European continent, the chapel Ste Barbe in Le Faouët are other examples the author can find in Brittany, his homeland.

In their mountains and valleys, Wakhi people shared this common religious concern of humanity. Shrines are their local answer for the affirmation of the sacred in the landscape.

Over numerous years, John Mock conducted a survey about the shrines located in Afghan Wakhan. His amazing and serious work can be downloaded in PDF: “Shrine Traditions of Wakhan Afghanistan“. In his publication, are drawn comparisons between the adjacent Wakhan Tajikistan and the Hunza-Gojal of Pakistan, evidencing a same community of traditions within Pamir or even a broader area. Here below is a selection of some elements of particular interest in connection with Hunza/Gojal and Chapursan Valley. Unless otherwise stated, quotes are from John Mock.

A place affirming the sacred in the landscape:

“At each shrine, one notices a specific place where oil or clarified butter is applied. If there is a depression in the rock, a wick may be placed in the oil/butter and the shrine illuminated, or open oil lamps may be placed at the spot. As Iloliev notes, “shrines were constructed by believers in order to have a more direct contact with supernatural powers at the places where the saints were buried or were believed to have performed some kind of miracle. . . and to receive spiritual blessing (barakat) from them” (Iloliev 2008a, 46). Such places where the relationship with the sacred could be mediated were likely part of the indigenous belief system prior to the coming of Islam. Shrine sites are the locus for integration and assimilation of indigenous beliefs into Islamic discourse and for reaffirming and mobilizing a shared sense of the sacred in the landscape.”

There are three sort of Wakhi shrines: 

Oston (Astan, threshold), trees, often decorated with colored strips of cloth, or a collection of stones with unique shape, color, or markings.

Qadamgohs (qadamgah, stepping place) are places where saints reputedly visited. A rock with the mark of a footprint or the impression of a staff apparent on it may mark such sites, or a grove of trees or a spring may mark the site of a saint’s visitation.

Mazars (mazar, tomb) are typically burial places”

A shrine incorporating a Buddhist religious construction being part of the Jamat Khana compound in Khandut (Afghan Wakhan)

Today, Khandut (Khandud, Khandood) is the headquarters of the Afghan Wakhan. In the past, for long periods, it was already the main settlement of the Wakhan mirdom/kingdom. In its jamat khana (house where gather Ismaili communities for praying, meeting or studying), it is still possible to observe an historical structure evidencing the permanence of the same place for different religions.

Jama‘t khana (congregational place for prayers) in Khandud | Wakhan corridor | Afghanistan | © Bernard Grua
Jamat Khana in Khandut (Afghan Wakhan)
Khandud, dilapidated circular structure within Jamat Khana compound © Bernard Grua
Khandud, dilapidated circular structure
within Jamat Khana compound

“The oston receives oil or butter, as indicated by the oiled appearance of the small stones. In this respect, it is similar to other shrines.

However, an opening in the wall leads into a dilapidated circular structure made of sun-dried bricks, neatly arranged to form a larger base circle with an upper, smaller circle. The shape of this now-ruined structure is reminiscent of old Buddhist vihara found in India, and the sun dried bricks are seemingly identical with the bricks used in construction of the Kansir fort at Korkut, which dates to the eighth or ninth century CE.
Could it be that these are the remains of the famous vihara of Khandut? Without additional archaeological study and perhaps radiocarbon dating, it must remain as speculation. However, we might assume that the location has long been linked with the sacred and that the oston most likely predates the jamat khana, demonstrating a continuation of religious practice in this location.”

A parallel can be made with the transformation of a Buddhist shrine in Medium Hunza Valley.

“The establishment of an Islamic shrine at the place of a Buddhist shrine is attested from Thol in Nagar (Hunza Valley) in northern Pakistan, which is on the ancient route from Gilgit via Hunza to Wakhan (Frembgen, 75; Stein 1907, 20). »

In Altit Fort, the oldest castle of the mir of Hunza, the Hinduist/Buddhist swastika is carved on the mosque. Next to Altit, swastikas can be also observed on one of the old mosques of Ganish.

Hunza: Altit Fort mosque © Bernard Grua
Hunza: Altit Fort mosque
 Swastikas on Alti Fort mosque © Bernard Grua
Swastikas on
Alti Fort mosque
 Hunza: Swatiskas on a Ganish mosque © Bernard Grua
Hunza: Swatiskas on
a Ganish mosque

The two Panja Shah shrines in Qala e Panja (Afghan Wakhan) and at the entrance of the Wakhi Chapursan Valley (Pakistan) are very similar. They might pre-date introduction of Islam.

John Mock about Panja Shah in Qala e Panja:

“The oston (shrine and panja stone) of Panja Shah in Qila-e Panja (Afghan Wakhan)… is decorated with some strips of colored cloth on sticks and has a stone with a hole in it that serves as the spot where offerings are placed.

The panja stone…has five smooth and parallel finger-like grooves in it… In Shi?i Islam, the number five signifies the Five Pure Persons: the Prophet Mohammad, Fatima, Ali, Hasan and Hosayn. In the Pamir, the Shi?i traditions blended with Sufi and Ismaili thought to form a unique Pamir Ismaili belief and practice called Panj-tani, “five bodies” (Iloliev 2008a, 41), often symbolized by a handprint.

The stone carries the same significance for today’s community, but, as Zalmay (great grand son of last mir/king of Wakhan) stated to the author, may well pre-date the introduction of Islam in the Pamir. Its unique size and shape may have been significant for earlier beliefs.”

Pir Shah Ismaily (spiritual leader of Afghan Wakhan) about Panja Shah:

“On this stone, Hazrat ?Ali (Mohammad’s son in law), King of men, is said to have offered prayers. The signs of his five fingers, shin, and his staff, these signs still exist… The five fingers of Shoh-e muborak (Shah-e mobarak) are imprinted there on the stone.”

Old fortress and shrine, Qala e Panja, Afghanistan © Bernard Grua 2013
Afghan Wakhan: Old fortress (Qala) of Qala e Panja

The oston of Panja Shah at the entrance of the Wakhi Chapursan Valley (Pakistan), though it is not in open air, compares with the one of Qala e Panja (Afghan Wakhan).

Panja Shah Ziarat, sanctuaire d'un saint soufi © Bernard Grua
The oston of Panja Sha at the entrance of Chapursan Valley (Pakistan)

“The shrine Panja Shah in Chapursan Valley, a Wakhi population area in northern Pakistan that is linked to Wakhan via a pass, has a stone with five claw or finger marks, on which libations of clarified butter are offered. Similar rock marking shrines in Chapursan led Aurel Stein, who visited Chapursan in 1913, to remark on their resemblance to Buddhist rock shrines as “a case of continuity of local worship reaching back to pre-Muhammadan times” (Stein 1981, 52; Mock 1998, 308)”.

 The stone with five claw or finger marks inside Panja Shah oston, Chapursan Valley (Pakistan) © Bernard Grua
The stone with five claw or finger marks inside Panja Shah oston, Chapursan Valley (Pakistan)

The same story of flood, as a retribution of sins, in Wakhan and Chapursan Valley

Nasir Kusrav (Nasir Khusrow, Naser Khosrow) the main Ismaili missionary, facing a denial of hospitality, and the flood of Yimit (Afghan Wakhan)

“In the village of Yimit in Wakhan, there is today a shrine at the place where Nasir Kusrav (Nasir Khusrow, Naser Khosrow) demonstrated several miracles and brought his message to the people. Yimit is located approximately four kilometers downstream from Khandut. Naser arrives in Yimit dressed as a wandering mystic (malang, dervish) in old clothes and carrying a wooden staff. There in Yimit, a wedding feast is taking place, where he is rebuffed and abused, and the men in the wedding house throw stones and sand at him. One woman of the house, however, shows him respect and greets him kindly, and Naser speaks kindly to her. He then leaves, changes into regal clothes and mounts his white horse. He returns to the wedding house and is greeted with honor. The men offer him food but he refuses it. He then commands his sleeve and whip to eat the food. The food turns to stone on the spot. One “green stone” Naser touches with his whip and it splits into two. On one side are “five deep finger marks,” which represent “the qualities of panj-tani.” On the other side are seven holes that symbolize the haft hodud-e din (lit. “seven stages of religion,” the seven steps in Ismaili hierarchy). Naser then rebukes the people and, in some versions, he then brings down a flood on the people as punishment.

At the site today, the food that Naser turned into stone remains as a token of the miracle and is the focal point of veneration. The stone objects are displayed under a large willow tree inside a low-walled compound.”

An old saint, facing a denial of hospitality, and the flood of Kampir Diyor (Chapursan Valley)

“With this mention of a flood as retribution for the sins of the villagers, the Wakhan (Afghanistan) oral narrative moves beyond the outlines of the story from Naser’s Safarnama and begins to take on the structure of another famous regional narrative; the story of Kampir Diyor “the old woman’s village” in the Chapursan Valley (Pakistan). The general shape of this legend is that an old man appears and is refused hospitality by all but an old woman. The white-bearded saint blesses the old woman and instructs her to leave her home for high ground. She does so and looks back to see the saint upon his white horse, bringing a devastating flood down upon the village that scorned him.

Her winnowing basket is turned to stone and remains on the roof of her now-destroyed house as a token of the saint’s power. Stories following this pattern are known from the Raskam Valley east of the Shimshal Pamir, the Shigar Valley of Baltistan, and the Darel Valley of Indus Kohistan (Mock 1998, 306)… This story type exist, then, in non-Ismaili settlement areas. All the valleys are prone to catastrophic glacial outburst floods, which could suggest a correlation between geophysical context and interpretive constructs of landscape”.

There is a similar story to Kampir Diyor’s one about a flood on a former Yishkok Village, in Chapursan Valley, between Zood Khun Village and Baba Ghundi mazar. It involves the saint at the origins of the Panja Sha’s oston. More can be learned while downloading: Myths of Chapursan Valley.

Permanence of religious traditions as a key

Let’s make the wish, that someone will proceed, in a next future, to the same inventory work for Chapursan shrines than the one performed by John Mock for Wakhan shrines. The valley is rich of educated people, Wakhi and English speakers, talented photographers and video makers, who could share their findings and get international scholar supports or guidelines. Meanwhile, it is already possible to confirm that Chapursan Wakhi people share the same religious faith and very ancient traditions than the ones of Wakhan. Although they have been able to root them in their very local landscape. This contributes to a sacred and harmonious vision of nature in addition to the special attention devoted to the traditions of the ancestors. Such a permanence will help to explain, in a next chapter, the design of the Wakhi mountain houses which staid remarkably stable and common to other Pamiri people, since immemorial times.
Back to table of content

Part 4 – Zood Khun houses have a Pamiri layout for addressing mountain constraints

Even though it experiences a, sometimes temporary, exodus to the big cities of southern Pakistan (surprisingly a large part of Hunza Wakhi people can be found as south as Karachi), the village is still well alive. In 2018, numerous houses are being built or being enlarged. It is possible to observe a Pamiri layout dating back from Atash-Parast (Fire worshippers, Zoroastrians). This permanence could be due to religions (including old ones) but also due to a perfect adequation with environment constraints and ressources available.

From outside, a compact quadrilateral for facing harsh winters

Khana, (Khane, house), in Zood Khun, just has a ground floor. It is a single storey building, unlike, for example, the ones of the old walled city of Ganish, where horizontal expansion was not possible. Khana seems to be the general Wakhi word for house like in jamat khana (community religious house). However, Jansher Khan Tajik Wakhani says, in Chapursan, the word khun is used, like in Zood Khun, the name of the village.
The building cover consists of a terrace used for drying and storing straw or fodder, consequently providing more insulation. The future government school is one of the rare exceptions. It is wearing a roof frame. This school will partially double the Aga Khan Foundation one, located between the hamlets of Zoodkhun and Shitmerg (also spelled Shetmerg, Shetmarj or Shuthmarg). One may fear that its cover will be made of metal plates with a bright and brilliant color. This could trivialize the environment and break some of its visual consistency.

Gerbes d'orge et de foin, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: hay stored on a roof of a stabble

Around the khana core structure, extra buildings such as washroom, stable, sheds, verandah and summer rooms (with windows) can be added (see similar layout in Nazif Shahrani, “The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan”, page 66). As a result they make another layer for protecting the central part from direct external cold and wind.

Tusion, Tajik mountains: behind Muiz Sharopov, a traditional Pamiri house © Bernard Grua
Tusion, Tajik mountains: behind Muiz Sharopov,
a traditional Pamiri house

The khana traditional design is a classical Pamiri one, although it can also be found in Karakoram and Hindu Kush. Like in Tajik and Afghan Pamir it is a warm (in winter) or moderate temperature (in summer) shelter with no lateral windows. The external door doesn’t open directly into the main room. People have to go across a mazelike corridor, sometimes, closed by an additional door. On the roof is a skylight which can be shut thanks to glasses in framed panels. This is particularly energy efficient while the layer of the heat going to the top stops the cold air entrance in winter. In summer, when open, it is efficiently cooling the internal space.

Yamchun, Wakhan Valley, Pamir, Tajikistan © Bernard Grua 2011
Yamchun, Wakhan: a Tajik Wakhi house

Like a submarine inside its different protecting hulls and ballasts, the airtight core structure is ready to dive into the wild winter. This main part of the khana (khun)a reveals a complex organization.

Inside, a sophisticated puzzle resulting from an immemorial tradition

Moisson, pause de la mi-journée , Zoodkhun village de la vallée de Chapursan 07/08/2018 © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: in the house of Mrs Bibi Numa with some members of her family,
Dildung is covered by colored fabrics

Space is divided into different platforms. Each of them has a specific function. Their following description is largely inspired by the article written by Hannibal Taubes, on his blog. The layout of the main room, showed below, is a replica of his manual drawing based on his observations done in Shimshal. It could differ elsewhere. However, the articulation of the different platforms is relevant and brings more clarifications than it leads to confusion. This work was completed by information received from Jansher Khan Tajik Wakhani, Haider Badakhshoni and Dilawar Figar. While Wakhi language is not a written one, transliteration into Latin characters may be subject to interpretations. Pillars are showed in red. White numbers are platforms described below.

Pamiri house lay out © Bernard Grua
  1. Kunj: (Kungh) Anteroom to keep the wind from blowing directly into the house also, now, used for shoes. The house entrance is Sorye (Suriye).
  2. Yoch: (Yorc, Yorch). It is the space for wishing welcome or for dancing during marriages and festivals. In the past, it was also a place for work, for stocking fuel for immediate use and for taking off the shoes. Nazif Shahrani says in Afghan Wakhan it is used for new born or sick animals requiring cares at night, especially during winters. In Zood Khun, this last task was handled in Kalaraj (6) as explained below.
  3. Pastraj: (Past Raz) Sleeping. Duvets and blankets are kept rolled up here during the day, and spread out at night.
  4. Sinaraj: More sleeping space.
  5. Nikard: Stove and eating space. The sitting area is a square place around the fire place. Males sit on the right side. Sitting arrangement is in specific order. The guest, elderly or religious leaders people get the priority to sit, the closest to the stove (B). These most respected people sit first then the young ones sit. Females sit on the left. Similar hierarchy rule is also followed on the female side of the sitting area (A). The most important places for sitting are called dildungban.
In the house of Mrs Pari Jahan. She prepares chapati on a stove in front of dildung. Kitchen is separated from the main room. © Bernard Grua
In the house of Mrs Pari Jahan. She prepares
chapati on a stove in front of dildung.
Kitchen is separated from the main room.

6. Kalaraj: (Kla Raz) Sleeping. In the past, it could be used for animals in winter.
7. Dildung: (Dildong, Dong) Cooking and sitting place for children. It is the highest platform (until 1 m high). It is originaly a furnace (tandoor) made with clay and stones, able to accumulate warmth and to return it at night even if fire is finished. Odinmamadi Mirzo (Wakhan, 2010, p. 78) says its name in Tajik Wakhan is degdon (wrong transliteration?). He adds: “finally dedgon from the perspective of the Zoroastrian religion performs the place for fire worshipping”. He also presents some traditions of ancestors regarding fire and fireplaces which are considered as mandatory to follow (Wakhan, 2010, p. 109). Today Dildung is less used as a furnace while being suplemented by a metal stove placed in front of it.
8. Warasar: Storage. Two half height walls or wooden cabinets separate the two Warasar (8) from Dildung (7) and Sinaraj (4).
9. Jkeesh: (Cekish, Chukish) Cooking and storage.
10. Ganz: (Ghanz, Ghananz) Stockroom. In some houses, this room can be bigger, have a stove and a skylight. It is, then, the kitchen and the dining room.

The multiple senses and functions of the khana pillars

Here, the major source of information comes from Robert Middleton, 2002, “The Pamiri house”.

The Pamiri house design is said to be more than 2,500 years old and based on Atash-Parast (Fire worshippers, Zoroastrians) principles. However, today, the five pillars are considered representing the five holy personalities of Ismailism, being Mohammed, Fatima (Mohammed’s daughter and Ali’s wife), Ali (adopted by Mohammed and succeeded Othman as Caliph of Islam), Hassan, and Hussain (Ali’s two sons). It has been suggested that in Zoroastrian symbolism the pillars may have corresponded to the major gods/goddesses (‘Yazata’ or ‘Eyzads’): Surush, Mehr, Anahita, Zamyod and Ozar. The number five also reflects the five principles of Islam. In Hunza Valley, these pillars can be found in pre-Islamist constructions sometimes with Buddhist or Tibetan ornaments. The pillars and the beams are also said to be an anti-seismic structure which could survive cracking in walls or even the fall of some of them.

The skylight is echoing the pillars. It is built of overlapping wood beams. With four wooden squares and the fifth square of light, the same Ismaili symbolism applies. Moreover, these wooden squares were chorkhona (chor khana, four houses) representing, respectively, the four Zoroastrian: elements earth, water, air and fire, the latter being the highest, touched first by the sun’s rays. More about the permanence of Zoroastrianism symbols  on HeritageInstitute.

It would be probably a mistake to consider the five pillars as present only in Ismaili houses. Here is an example of pillars in a Shia house of old Ganish city. The pillars are of special interest due to their carved ornaments.

Ganish, Hunza, carved five pilars in an old Shia house © Bernard Grua
Ganish: carved five pilars in an old Shia house

No doubts that so many elements deeply rooted in religions helped to keep the layout of the structure for such an extremely long time. We have an incredible opportunity to see houses, where people still live, looking similar to the ones built millennia ago. However, this is also a testimony about the early achievement, in Central Asia mountains, of an optimum reached to address altitude and climate constraints with the limited available resources.
Back to table of content

Part 5 – Zood Khun constructors have been able to use very local materials in the most efficient way

Importance of material choice for a comfortable and healthy floor

The platform floor, where people sit and sleep, is usually made of wood or mud. It is covered with thick carpets. Note, it seems that the Tajik Wakhi way (probably influenced by Russian habits) of hanging heavy wool carpets on the walls is not a tradition from Gojal. The most which can be observed is a partial or complete wall cover with a thin fabric having colored patterns. Otherwise, walls are just painted.

Local mud and stones for walls, built without mortar, providing good insulation

In numerous villages of Gojal, the main materials for field and house walls are, more or less round large pebbles, extracted from sediments and removed from reclaimed land for fields. In Zood Khun, it is different. Stones used for masonry present sharp angles, like they would have been broken out of bigger ones. There are, actually, large areas of rocky chaos exploited as quarries.

Muret de pierre sèche, champs et chaos de rochers, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: a dry stone wall and another one in preparation – In the background is the rocky chaos used as a quarry. At its  beginning, it possible to see the long wall of the polo field.

Stone walls are dry mounted, without mortar. Except for enclosures and field terraces, the spaces between stones are filled in with mud which, when dried, provides the insulation required by the cold winters, at this altitude of 3,300 m. These local materials, perfectly in accordance with the land they come from, contribute to the authentic and charming vision offered by the diyor. The amazing consistency of dry stone walls for field terraces as for all around plots and paths is absolutely stunning and should be preserved in a time when so many gorgeous points of views, including in Hunza Valley, are spoiled while bearing the scars of ugly exotic enclosures.

Jeunes filles Wakhi de Zoodkun, village de la vallée de Chapursan 06/08/2018 © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: all paths are bordered with beautiful dry stone walls (the young girls are going to the village library)

Skill in building dry stone walls without mortar is a Wakhi expertise. In Afghan Pamir for example, Kirghiz herders, ignore this technology. In their high settlements, when they want constructions in addition to their yurts, they hire Wakhi people (Matthieu & Mareile Paley – Pamir, p. 132).

However, it should be mentioned that concrete blocks begin to appear for housing and for small shops closed with their inevitable iron curtains while topped with metal sheets. Then, these shops look like average suburban garages or “Naran-fashion” stalls (the social and visual damages spoiling Kaghan Valley will be addressed in Part 6). Fortunately, they are, at this time, still in a small quantity. Moreover, due to the limited number of external visitors, shop keepers don’t need to show any disrupting commercial signs, while every inhabitant knows their specialties. Thanks to this contained invasion, Zood Khun “main street” (being also the end of the valley road) stays, till today, incomparably more poetic than the one of Sost.

Camions en attente de chargement, à Sost, sur la Karakoram Highway © Bernard Grua
Sost: “main street” on Karakoram Highway (KKH), a  place with numerous junk concrete and metal plate « buildings »  with, however, nice and helpful people in the middle of a great landscapeost.

Wood for a more stable structure

The preferred wood for pillars, especially for the prophete Mohamed’s one, and for the roof-terrace beams is yarz (juniper) because it is strong. It has anti-insects and purifying properties. It is a sacred tree. Its scented smoke is supposed to facilitate access to the mystical world (Matthieu & Mareile Paley – Pamir, p. 41). It has the same shamanism level of recognition from Siberian native people. In Europe, juniper pebbles were supposed to repulse witches and bring luck. They were also put in wardrobes against moths. Modern cosmetics researches show that juniper essential oil has actual beneficial qualities. However, while this wild tree, which can be found until 3 800 m, is slow to grow and not abundant, weaker, less desirable and less lasting “cultivated” poplar can replace it. See Part 2, § A scarce wood resource.

Modern concrete is not a proper alternative to local materials

Houses with rigid concrete walls may lack the traditional anti-seismic property. They are also not so good for keeping heat in winter especially with limited fuel resources. Additionally, the cold concrete floor can cause joint pain when sitting or lying on platforms. These reasons might be the ones explaining why some families having modern houses in “new Ganish” go back to their former home during the coldest period. This is a useful information for Zood Khun which is located 1000 m higher in the mountains and facing a harder climate.

A cement veil on a timeless vision?

Even on traditional walls, it seems trendy, nowadays, to coat facades with a dark cover of cement. It is, somewhere, affecting the harmony of the landscape. It is, additionally, a trap preventing traditional walls of “breathing”, by blocking evaporation, facilitating condensation and leading to humidity accumulation. These monotonous gray walls are, sometimes, decorated with geometric patterns. It doesn’t appear this ornamentation has a particular meaning. According to Mumtaz, a village children, “this is for style”. In the same way, the angles of the coated walls and the framing of the openings are underlined by strips traced in white paint.
Back to table of content

Part 6 – What place for Zood Khun into the global world?

A village still staying out of the beaten tracks although being open to the world

Travelers can be accommodated at “Pamir Serai“, the Alam Jan Dario’s family guesthouse. According to him, a few decades ago, materials for building Zood Khun-Shitmerg high school were brought by yaks. Now, still remote but daily linked, by a “cargo-jeep”, to Sost on the Karakoram Highway, via a three-hours trip on a narrow and perilous road, Zood Khun is a peaceful and preserved place. The current Sost road is not accessible for trucks or urban vehicles, then goods or heavy materials traffic (mostly with tractors) is not that big. Numerous satellite antennas can be noted in the village. However, phone and internet connections are almost non-existent. Some parts of life remain based on a self-sufficiency basis. Practices are, nevertheless, slowly changing as presented above. Moreover, the vast majority of the population being perfectly fluent in English makes the diyor ready for international visitors.

Route en lacet sur versants instable au tiers de la vallée © Bernard Grua
On the dangerous dirt road of Chapursan Valley to Sost

A local production to label

In part 2, § An organic mountainous local production, it was presented how Chapursan Valley could find benefits in establishing its own label with products from certified origin and already existing organic conditions of production.

A heritage to preserve

Traditional tools and fixtures become obsolete. It is desirable to document this heritage for future generations. Otherwise, specific mountainous rural modes of operation and know-how will be lost. A collection and documentation work should be launched in line with what is already done for local music and for Wakhi language.

Tahir Hussain, from Chapursan, playing rubab © Bernard Grua
Tahir Hussain, from Chapursan,
playing rubab
Sidra, Haider Badakhshoni's daughter, a young talented Wakhi singer from Chapursan Valley © Bernard Grua
Sidra, Haider Badakhshoni’s daughter,
a young talented Wakhi singer from Chapursan Valley
L'ensemble du groupe des musiciens wakhi de la vallée de Chapursan - Passu Face Mela, 11/08/2018 © Bernard Grua
Fazal Ur Rahman, famous Wakhi singer from Chapursan on stage at Passu Face Mela

It would be advisable to provide support by creating an eco-museum in the Chapursan Valley. The best would be to display it inside a traditional building. Through individual or group projects, school pupils could be involved. These girls and boys are particularly enlightened thanks to a mixed, multilingual and good level of education.

In such a scenic territory, visits of painters, filmmakers and photographers from outside could be encouraged, subject to the fact the visual authenticity is maintained. These artists would give, in exchange to the hospitality received, a part of their works to the future museum. Doing so, they would contribute to the international notoriety of the valley. Who knows, Chapursan might become the Pont-Aven school of the XXI century?
Femmes travaillant dans les champs, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: ladies of the village harvesting

Les yaks avancent à un rythme soutenu, vallée de Chapursan, vers Sost puis Gilgit © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: after having crossed the border at Irshad Pass (4975 m) yaks walking through the village to Sost and, then, Gilgit. They have been grown by Afghan Kirghiz and  sold to a Wakhi trader. This is a regular commercial interaction between the two communities of two separated countries.

Anticipating a wished but inevitable tourism which has to be turned into favor of local communities

In any case, with the inevitable improvement of communications and with the growth of the Pakistani middle class, Zood Khun will, soon or later, face a much wider tourism than today. It is necessary to anticipate it so that it can come in an eco-sustainable and responsible way as well as in the interest of the native women and men of the valley.
Barrière de montagnes au sud, Zood Khun, Vallée Chapursan © Bernard Grua
Zood Khun: Hindu Kush range on the southern side of the village
There are places farther south than the bottom of the Hunza Valley, such as Naran, or even Saif-ul-Malook Lake and Babusar Pass which show where lack of anticipation and management lead to: flashy aggressive non-traditional or slum-type constructions, advertising explosion, glittering illuminated signs, waste invasion, land appropriation by companies or wealthier external people with a different culture, dissemination of firearms, penetration of fundamentalists, exodus and/or marginalization of local populations, women eviction from social life, begging, dereliction of local communities…
These examples are to be avoided. In contrary, the project set up in Altit village, medium Hunza Valley, though not completely duplicable, shows how it is possible to look for solutions taking into account a human dimension in connection with environmental and heritage concerns.

Part 7 – Portraits, Wakhi in relation with other people of their areas

The origin of the less than 100,000 Wakhi people is Wakhan corridor from where they emigrated but also where they, sometimes, partly came back. Their movements are explained by religion changes (Zoroastrian, Buddhism, Islam), trade, pastoralism, wars (Chinese, Tibetan, Arabs…), oppressions from local rulers (Wakhan Mirs), or more distant ones (Badakhshan Emirs, Bukhara Emirs, Yarkand Khan…), Afghanistan’s harsh annexion with the Pashtun Abdur Raman, Russian and Chinese communism, etc.Wakhi can, now, be found in the highest parts of the three largest watersheds of Central Asia (Amu Darya, Tarim, Indus). They live between 2,300 m and 4,000 m. They share some parts of their traditional areas, with small groups of other people, mostly Tajik Pamiri and Burushaski (with whom they belong to the same Ismaelian faith), Kirghiz and Uigurs (Sunni faith). Closing of the borders, starting end of XIX century fragmented Wakhi people into different isolates. The heaviest impacts on families were likely in Wakhan corridor were Panj River (Amu Darya) suddenly materialized two separate entities between Soviet Tajikistan and Afghanistan, building an actual and durable Berlin wall.

Except for similar geographical constrains, their major link between each other is the Aga Khan, their common spiritual leader, and the remarkable work performed by his foundation. It should also be mentioned the fact that Tajik cell phone network can transmit in Afghan Wakhan allowing relatives talking over the river. Since 1974 and the annexation of Hunza kingdom by Pakistan, Pakistani Wakhi are a very small minority in a country having more than 200 million of citizens. Moreover as other Shia groups, they are subject to a Sunni-based legal and judicial system and a Sunni-dominated admnistrative bureaucracy.
Here below will be showed some of other people from their different countries or with whom they live. Unfortunately no visits as of today, then no pictures, were done in China. Moreover the quasi-ethnocide handled by Beijing in historical Eastern Turkistan does not permit foreigners to stop between Kunjerab Pass (Pakistan/China border) and Tashkurgan city, an area of local Wakhi people.Although it may lead to too long developments, it can be observed, on the following pictures that Wakhi, as other Pamiri people, look very much like European people and differ from other Asian ones.

Wakhi of Gojal (Upper Hunza, Pakistan)


Wakhi: Passu, Sabeen, one of Mr. Berham Baig's daughter, with stunning green eyes. She was already a little actor for a Pakistani TV movie. © Bernard Grua
Wakhi: Passu, Sabeen, one of Mr. Berham Baig’s daughter, with stunning green eyes. She was already a little actor for a Pakistani TV movie.
Wakhi: Passu, a village teenager playing drum with Chapursan's musicians, in Hassan Sardar Tajik's cafe-restaurant © Bernard Grua
Wakhi: Passu, a village teenager playing drum with Chapursan’s musicians, in Hassan Sardar Tajik’s cafe-restaurant
Wakhi: Zood Khun,a local gentleman on a horse visiting Alam Jan © Bernard Grua
Wakhi: Zood Khun,a local gentleman on a horse visiting Alam Jan
Wakhi: Passu, young people at the music festival, Passu Face Mela. Some Pakistani people, from the South of the country, could not believe this picture represents local people. The cultural gap could be an issue in case of a growing domestic tourism.© Bernard Grua
Wakhi: Passu, young people at the music festival, Passu Face Mela.
Some Pakistani people, from the South of the country, could not believe this picture represents local people. The cultural gap could be an issue in case of a growing domestic tourism.
Wakhi of Tajik Wakhan corridor


Wahi farmer in Yamchun going to irrigation works in the morning. © Bernard Grua
Wahi farmer in Yamchun going to irrigation works in the morning.
Young Wakhi girls in Vrang (Tajikistan), in fashion pink color, and with nail varnish, altought the nicely fitted scarf on the left head looks more local and is particularly photogenic. © Bernard Grua
Young Wakhi girls in Vrang (Tajikistan), in fashion pink color, and with nail varnish, altought the nicely fitted scarf on the left head looks more local and is particularly photogenic.
Below, the pictures of other Wakhi children taken just on the opposite Afghan bank of the Panj show they are not only separated by a river but also they belong, now, to two different worlds.
Wakhi of Afghan Wakhan corridor


Young Wakhi boy on a roof in Khandut, Afghan Wakhan © Bernard Grua Young Wakhi girls on a roof in Khandut, Afghan Wakhan© Bernard Grua

Young Wahi boy and young Wakhi girls on a roof in Khandut, Afghan Wakhan

Kiamadin*, young Wakhi boy Qala e Panja © Bernard Grua
young Wakhi boy
Qala e Panja
A Wakhi man of Qala e Panja © Bernard Grua
A Wakhi man
Qala e Panja
Shikriya, young Wakhi girl Qala e Panja © Bernard Grua
young Wakhi girl
Qala e Panja
A Wakhi farmer, of Khandut © Bernard Grua
A Wakhi farmer,
*Kiamadin and Shikriya are two grand children of Pir Shah Ismaily, the religious leader of Afghan Wakhan.

Pamiri of Tajikistan


Tusion, Tajik Pamir, The wise Abdurahim with kids who adore their grand father, a retired « tractorist ». The baby has a Pamiri hat. © Bernard Grua
Tusion, Tajik Pamir, The wise Abdurahim with kids who adore their grand father, a retired « tractorist ». The baby has a Pamiri hat.
A lady in Khorog Tajik Pamir © Bernard Grua
A lady in Khorog
Tajik Pamir
Tusion, Tajik Pamir Farzona, a lovely daughter of Davlatmir, the English teacher. © Bernard Grua
Tusion, Tajik Pamir Farzona, a lovely daughter of Davlatmir, the English teacher.
Tusion, Tajik Pamir, Muiz (right) a very smart young boy with a cousin having eyes of an incredible blue colour which may be unusual even in Europe. Both are Abduraim's grand son. © Bernard Grua
Tusion, Tajik Pamir, Muiz (right) a very smart young boy with a cousin having eyes of an incredible blue colour which may be unusual even in Europe. Both are Abduraim’s grand son.

Unsurprisingly, five years after these pictures were taken, Muiz Sharopov joined the AGK Foundation summer class for future leaders held in Pakistan with other young Ismaili people from different countries. He had, then, the opportunity to visit Gojal and to understand that the Ismaili Pamiri community is an international one.

Kirghiz, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China


Kirghiz: Zarburuliuk jailoo ,near Rankul, Alt 4 150 m, Pamir, Tadjikistan young Kirghiz children. All young girls are dressed in red. © Bernard Grua
Kirghiz: Zarburuliuk jailoo ,near Rankul, Alt 4 150 m,  Pamir, Tadjikistan
young Kirghiz children. All young girls are dressed in red.
Kirghiz: Ak Balik, Alt. 3900 m, Alichur Valley, Tajikistan - Zhaikebek, an aksakal © Bernard Grua
Kirghiz: Ak Balik, Alt. 3900 m, Alichur Valley, Tajikistan – Zhaikebek, an aksakal
Kirghiz: Zarburuliuk, Tadjikistan, Guli prepares yoghurt in a yurt © Bernard Grua
Kirghiz: Zarburuliuk, Tadjikistan, Guli prepares yoghurt in a yurt
Baktugul with her children: Alibek, Hassan, Katisha & Kerim in the yurt © Bernard Grua
Baktugul with her children: Alibek, Hassan, Katisha & Kerim in the yurt
Kirghiz presented above were photographed in their summer jailoo(s) around Murghab, in Tajik Pamir.
Since the middle of XXth century, in the severe conditions of « closed frontiers » (Nazif Shahrani) The Kirghiz from Afghan Pamir, « forgotten on the roof of the world » (Matthieu Paley), developped an interdependant economy with Wakhi from Afghan Wakhan in place of China (Kashgar and Yarkand bazars) or Russian Turkistan. They nevertheless still organise regular caravans to Chapursan Valley at summer end. There, at Baba Ghundi, they barter their animals against other Pakistani and Chinese goods with people from Zood Khun as explained, in 2018, by Gohar Abbas (“Heaven and hell”) and as told, in 2003, by Mareil Paley’s humour (Pamir p.23) :

Our Pakistani friend Alam Jan invites us into the sheperd house (at Baba Ghundi) of his father. He prepares tea. He does not take care of us  as much as he does usually. The annual visit of the two crazy angrez (foreigners) does not have the same attraction power. « Your are my sister. You are my brother » – that’s what he always says. But today, Kirghiz people are here, there is animation… We can get fresh butter from Pamir!

Oustanding Matthieur Paley’s pictures can be watched here: Kirghiz and Wakhi, in Little Pamir (Afghanistan). At the end of summer 2016, Dinara Kanybek Kyzy, a young Kirghiz anthropologist (from Kirghizstan) joined a humanitarian expedition from her government. She made an interesting and informative paper about this experience. It is in Russian, on Open Asia, and also in French, on Novastan.

Gujars of Kaghan Valley, Pakistan


Gujars: a young girl and man from mountains at lake Saif ul Malook, Kaghan Valley (south of babusar Pass) © Bernard Grua
Gujars: a young girl and man from mountains at lake Saif ul Malook, Kaghan Valley (south of babusar Pass)

The community and the environment of these nice people are being spoiled by domestic tourism.

Punjabi (Lahore, Islamabad…) from Pakistan


Punjabi: tourists from the south at Hussaini bridge, Upper Hunza © Bernard Grua
Punjabi: tourists from the south at Hussaini bridge, Upper Hunza

For understandable reasons neither fully veiled women tourists have been photographed nor the permission has been asked to their husbands for making such a picture. Some are in a complete black color, including gloves, though they are in a limited number. In Hunza, they look like «out of context». They are Sunni fundamentalists from other regions of Pakistan. Regarding the attire, it is interesting to remember that seapoosh (black worn) is the local and historical definition of kafir (infidels)… See: “Part 3 – Zood Khun, past and present religions build a tradition palimpsest”.

Pathans (Pashtuns) from Pakistan


Pathan family of tourists from Peshawar staying at Naran and having an excursion to Lake Saif ul Malook, Kaghan Valley © Bernard Grua
Pathan family of tourists from Peshawar staying at Naran and having an excursion to Lake Saif ul Malook, Kaghan Valley

Though Pathans (Pashtuns in Afghanistan) are among the most fundamentalists in Pakistan (Taliban are from them), this friendly gentleman and his wife, both doctors, visiting Kaghan Valley, had three well raised and educated children. They were also very respectful of local mountainers and of the environment. In that sense they differ from many of their compatriot tourists.
While most of Pakistani Wakhi live in Gojal (Upper Hunza) from Gulmit to Chinese border, there are around 1,400 Wakhi living, more south, in Chitral district. They came from Afghanistan mostly via Broghil Pass at different periods of time. Next to Chitral district is the Swat region connecting with Peshawar. Swat, inhabited by Pathans, came under Taliban control, where they still present a serious threat. There, 120,000 young girls have been prohibited to attend schools. In the opposite, girls education is one of the top priorities of Wakhi, contributing to explain why Wakhi young people have one of the highest world literacy level.

None of the three religions (Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam), as they were applied by Wakhi people, prevented ladies to walk with open faces in front of men (Odinamamadi Mirzo).

Balochi from Pakistan


Balochi people: Balochistan is a poor, conservative and unstable region of South Pakistan with a dramatically low literacy level. Balochi people live also in Iran and Afghanistan. © Bernard Grua
Balochi people: Balochistan is a poor, conservative and unstable region of South Pakistan with a dramatically low literacy level. Balochi people live also in Iran and Afghanistan.  
Here, this group of Balochi men was travelling and making selfies at Attabad Lake, Hunza. In their region, too, thousands of young girls can’t attend schools. They have few  common features with Wakhi people.
Back to table of content

Part 8 – Wakhi people and Pamir life ex-libris

Nazif Shahrani: “The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan – Adaptation to closed frontiers and war”, 1979, 2002, University of Washington Press. The author, a naturalized US citizen, is an anthropologist born in Sharan, an Uzbek village of Afghan Badakhshan. He started his academic studies in Kabul and conducted numerous researches, census and treks in Wakhan and Pamirs over decades. Due to his mother tongue, he was able to rapidly acquire Kirghiz language. Thanks to his deep involvement, his close relations and the mutual esteem with late Haji Rahman Qul, the greatest known Kirghiz Khan, he could produce a unique humanist and scientific work. His testimony about the people of “Bam e Dunya” has, probably, no equivalent, as of today. Moreover, it is written with a beautiful style.



Matthieu and Mareile Paley, in French: “Pamir – Oubliés sur le toit du monde”, in English: “Pamir- Forgotten on the roof of the world” 2012, éditions de la Martinière (also in German). A must read and a world class photographic master piece by this French photographer about Afghan Kirghiz and Wakhi people, he visited over numerous years, including in winter. The warm spirit of this long quest will, for sure, touch all the readers sensible to authentic adventure and passion while the esthetic dimension of the images is nothing but stunning. It is probably true to assert that French Matthieu Paley and his German wife, Mareile, common homeland is Chapursan Valley where they are considered as being part of the famous Alam Jan Dario’s and his remarkable brother, the late Sarfraz Khan’s, large family. It is worth to mention both learned Wakhi language in Zood Khun with their relatives of adoption, who are proud of them.


“Sekr Yenj, the red canyon… Irshad Pass (4 979 m) is very close. We are still in Afghanistan, but I start feeling at home. Air has the smell of Pakistan, now so close” (Mareile Paley, 2005)
– Odinamamadi Mirzo: “Wakhan – A scientific, historic and ethnographic study”, “Irfon”,  Ministry of Culture of the Tajikistan, 2010 ( A quite complete book in a small format about Wakhan. Many numerous detailed explanations about this specific area and about the Tajik Wakhi. The author was born in 1936, in Namadgut (Tajik Wakhan). On the soviet way, he got numerous medals. His « academic »  writing is still dated from this period. The translation from Russian to English is poor. The low printing “quality” is not a help either. There is obviously a large number of contradictions and errors in term of history and religions in this compilation which is neither a scientific publication nor a tourist guide. Numerous locations of interest are presented, unfortunately with no maps. However, with enough determination the reader who wants to learn about Wakhan and Wakhani (as the author calls them) will take a great advantage in going until the last page.  This book might still be available for purchase in Namadgut museum.


– Gohar Abbas: “Heaven and hell”, Agence France Press (AFP), 2018. In French: “Le pays suspendu entre l’enfer et le paradis”. It is much more than what is called, today, “tourism.” However, in London, this article won, in the category “Travel and tourism story of the year” at the Foreign Press Association (FPA) Media Awards (considered as Oscars of Journalism). The nomination and, then, the award caused a strong enthusiasm and pride in Gojal (actually it was also the first nomination and the first award of this kind for the “Agence France Press”). Wakhi people in Pakistan, united by a strong community feeling, are always very prompt to celebrate the success of one them. It was again the case when some of their girls came back, recently, with gold medals from Dubai special olympic games. The author works for AFP in Islamabad. He is a Wakhi of Gulkhin village in Hunza Valley, Pakistan. He explains how he left from Baba Ghundi (shrine after Zood Khun) and crossed, by foot, Irshad Pass (4 979 m) before meeting with Wakhi people in Afghan Wakhan Corridor. His beautiful real story shows how many things they have in common, sharing the same origin and the same geographical environment. However, being in the territory of his ancestors Gohar Abbas saw how the life is different, there, from the one of Hunza. He observed this dreamed heaven has also its hell sides. It would be extremly interesting to read about Tajik and Chinese Wakhi from Gohar Abbas. Hopefully, he will visit them in the future.


Peter Hopkirk: “The Great Game – On Secret Service in High Asia”, published by John Murray, 1990. In French: “Le Grand Jeu – Officiers et espions en Asie Centrale”, published by Nevicata, 2011, 2013. This book is considered as one of the major tool for understanding the deep roots of Afghan crisis and wars since 1978. It was extensively exploited by those who had to write about the endless disaster faced by the unfortunate people of this country. However, its scope is larger, while embracing other territories of British and Russian competition in Asia: Turkey, Caucasus, Persia, Western Turkistan, Eastern Turkistan, Tibet and kingdoms in the northwest part of India. The period covered starts with Peter the Great to finish with the 1907 Anglo Russian convention.
At the end of the XIX century, in the middle of some of the highest mountains of the world, having reached their maximum expansion, the two large empires finally met at the borders of a third one, China. This is the area where live the small Wakhi nation. It explains why, since this time, Wakhi people are confined into four different countries within closed frontiers. Zood Kun, the last settlement of Chapursan Valley, is an evidence of such a situation. In its south and east stays the state it belongs to, Pakistan, the Muslim regional legatee of the British empire. In the north of the village, mountains border China. Across the western ridges is the Great Game buffer, Afghanistan. A few kilometers from there is Tajikistan, the most southern part of former Russian and Soviet empires.
In chapters # 33, 34 and 35, Hopkirk precisely presents the historical process which, within a very few years, determined and froze the present territorial and political organization of Wakhi people. He gives numerous interesting and, sometimes, picturesque details. For example, on August 13, 1891, Francis Younghusband (who, two years before, encountered the Russian agent, Bronislav Gromshevsky, near Shimshal Pass and the Wakhi Shimshal Valley) met with Colonel Yanov and his Cossacks, in Bozai Gumbaz (altitude: 3,800m), a remote place of Afghan little Pamir. They shared drinks. They had common toasts for their respective sovereigns and diner together. However Russia having unilaterally decided Wakhan and Pamirs were of its belonging, Yanov threatened Younghusband with making him prisoner if he wanted to go back directly to Gilgit on the most direct way (possibly via Irshad Pass and Zood Khun) to report this annexion. The British agent had to detour via China (nevertheless entering Hunza via Wakhi territory). British press, parliament and public opinion fury brought the anti-Russian feeling at its highest level. Shacked by British military arrangements and vigorous diplomatic protestations, the Tsar and his ministers had to step back.
Hopkirk also indirectly introduces us to the spoiling effect, on local populations, of the modern strict “natural borders” (mainly rivers and mountains) concept. However, it was not his intention. On the opposite, he praises Abdur Rahman, Afghanistan ruler between 1880 and 1901, for having created a stable centralized authoritarian state under the sole control of Pashtuns. As a consequence, for a more complete information, it is mandatory to read the brilliant “Preface to the 2002 Edition: Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Global Terror, Inc.” (The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan) where Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan Uzbek anthropologist, shows how the country, designed for British and Russian interests, had its foundations built on sand but also on tyranny and spoliations against other ethnicities including the smallest ones, like Wakhi. Odinamamadi Mirzo (Wakhan) develops the dark Abdur Rahman’s legacy focusing especially on Wakhi people. The soviet Tajik background of the last writer can’t explain, by itself, such a negative opinion, which is adequately supported by tangible facts. Eventually, if Peter Hopkirk’s work stays without any equivalent regarding history and actors of the Great Game it, nevertheless, shows that a geopolitical vision, even with a deep local approach, misses the human factor.
Today, in High Asia, the Great Game continues without United Kingdom while Russia is being pushed out of the stage by China strongly promoting its leadership through the Road and Belt Initiative (BRI). The Karakoram Highway (KHH), which crosses the Wakhi area from Gulmit (Pakistan) until Tashkurgan (Chinese Xinjiang), can be considered as a prototype of this new way of implementing protectorates. In other parts of the world, where not countered by such a determined skilled interlocutor as China, there is a complete consistency of Vladimir Putin’s international affairs approach with the “fait accompli” politics applied by Tsarist imperialism at the time of the first Great Game. There are recent facts, over the last ten years, remembering Bozai Gumbaz and numerous examples exposed in this book. Instead of keeping their “Cold War” analysis model, Western rulers and political commentators should read Hopkirk again, whose contribution cannot be limited into the Afghan sphere. They would better understand and anticipate the current Kremlin’s moves instead of complaining, a posteriori, about what they consider its irregular and unpredictable behavior.
– Karim Khan Saka : “Parlons wakhi” (Let’s talk Wakhi), 2010, L’Harmattan, in French. The author is from Shimshal. He presents some information and comprehension keys about Wakhi way of life and traditions. This part is more useful than its language one while Wakhi words are written in an original alphabet composed by Russian researchers mixing Latin, Cyrillic and Turkish (?) characters. Then, reading, pronunciation and memorization of these words are less than obvious.


Bernard Grua, Nantes, Bretagne, France April 2019All pictures are © Bernard Grua


Browse the photo album of Gojal, Upper Hunza Valley landscapes and villages


photo album of Gojal, Upper Hunza Valley landscapes and villages

Browse the photo album of Wakhi people from Gojal, Upper Hunza


photo album of Wakhi people from Gojal, Upper Hunza

Other articles about the same topics by Bernard Grua


Related Articles

Back to top button