Q. Having travelled to the High Pamirs of Tajikistan, what were the major challenges that you confronted?
A. One of my major challenges was that Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Ancient Buddhist monastery in Vrang Village, Tajikistan
Plus, a good deal of opium and heroin (according to official reports, up to 100 tonnes moves up from Afghanistan every year) goes through to Western countries, which creates certain conditions where one has to be careful of and plan for. Local officials also pose problems and have to be handled carefully. Therefore, one has to have a driver who can handle this and is 100% reliable. So, I joined an American group handled by an agency that has 25 years of experience taking groups to the area. Also, the terrain is high-altitude.
The Wakhan Corridor, Tajikistan
Q. Considering that the Wakhan Corridor and the Pamirs were once a part of the Silk Route, tell us about the historical importance of the place.
A. The British and Russian empires created the Wakhan Corridor separating Afghanistan and Tajikistan in 1893 — the closing years of The Great Game (when both countries were fighting for supremacy in Tajikistan). However, the byway dates back centuries because it was the best route to move up from Afghanistan to China. Hiuen Tsang used it to return to China in the 7th century, as did Marco Polo later.
So did Father Bento de Goes following Polo’s footsteps to China in the 17th century. Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great reached it centuries earlier. Since Nasir Khusrau took Ismailism (branch of Shi’ism in Islam) there in the 11th century — the only place in the world where they are a majority of the population — Pamiri Ismailism filtered through ancient Zoroastrianism has put a unique cultural stamp on the region. The Aga Khan Trust does extraordinary social and public work in the region.
Q. What can we look forward to in your talk?
A. I will speak about ancient geography and history of Central Asia and show how it has impacted the route I took from Kyrghyztan to Kashgar in Xinjiang, China, backed up by through Kyrghyztan and onto the Pamir Highway through Tajikistan.
On April 2, 6.30 pm
At Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Fort.