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Traveling in Afghanistan 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. The Hindu Kush Mountains 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. 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. Ruined Stone Shelter on a Vast Landscape 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 Muslim Shopkeepers in Afghanistan 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 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 Enjoying the Wild Landscape 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. Snow Covered Yurts 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 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. 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. Central Asia Institute School 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. 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 From the Heart 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. Afghan Woman Wearing Blue Burka 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. Kyrgyz Tombs at Bozai Gumbaz 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 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. Cooking Lunch in a Stone Shelter 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… Young Afghan Girl in Sarhad 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. 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. 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 Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos! (Click to watch Backpacking Afghanistan – Wakhan Corridor on YouTube) READ MORE TRAVEL TIPS 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: How To Visit The Wakhan Corridor Top Travel Quotes For Wanderlust Great Compact Cameras For Traveling 40 Travel Jobs For Digital Nomads Enjoy This Post? Pin It! Have any questions about Afghanistan? What do you think about traveling there? Drop me a message in the comments below! SHARE TWEET PIN More
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Kackar Mountains Turkey
Join me for an epic trekking adventure into the beautiful Kackar Mountains in Eastern Turkey where raw wilderness and ancient lifestyles leave lasting memories.
The Kaçkar Mountains are located in northeastern Turkey, not far from the Black Sea. The highest peaks reach an altitude of 3,937 meters (12,917 feet).Hiking in these mountains is quite a treat, as they aren’t quite as popular as other mountain destinations like the Italian Alps, so there are far fewer tourists.
However they aren’t completely “wild” either, meaning there is some infrastructure in place for day hikers and overnight trekking.
The Kackar Mountains are interspersed with yaylas, or rural mountain villages inhabited by nomadic herders who bring livestock to graze in the high pastures during summer months.
Table Of Contents
Kackar Mountains Hiking GuideGetting To The Kackar MountainsEncountering Dangerous WeatherAlpine Lakes & Backcountry CampingLush Green ValleysKackar Mountain WildernessExtreme Sledding AdventureWhere To Stay In Rize
Kackar Mountains Hiking Guide
Yukari Kavrun Village
Getting To The Kackar Mountains
To reach the Kackar Mountains, I flew into the Turkish city of Trabzon. After stocking up on some basic hiking supplies in Trabzon — like cooking gas and backpacking food — I hired a minibus taxi (called a dolmuş) to take me to the pretty mountain resort village of Ayder.There is a mountain road that continues past Ayder to another village called Yakari Kavrun. You can walk this road, or hitchhike, like I did. The road mostly follows the swollen Kavron River rushing with fresh snow melt.
There were some other yaylas along the way, however many were abandoned, and a few showed signs of life as locals began returning with their animals.
While Ayder was bustling in June, Yukari Kavrun was still mostly closed. It was too early in the season. The actual mountain trail into the Kackars started above the village in Yukari Kavrun.
The people living in the Kackar Mountains come from all over. Their ancestors were originally from Armenia, Greece, Georgia, Russia, even Uzbekistan. They make a living herding cows and sheep; producing delicious cheese, yogurt, and some of the best honey in the world!
Kackar Mountains Turkey
My Emergency Storm Shelter
Encountering Dangerous Weather
Not long after I started my hike, I stopped briefly for lunch on a hill surrounded by colorful orange, yellow, and purple wildflowers. A jagged wall of snow-capped peaks loomed ahead as I hiked on.
Weather can change quickly in the Kackar Mountains, and it happened to me. The blue-bird day was soon consumed by a blanket of dark clouds rumbling with lightning and thunder. Then came the hail!
I was forced to retreat into a valley and find cover as lightning repeatedly struck the exposed ridge in front of me. Hastily constructing an emergency shelter using a rain tarp and crawling under just as the worst weather hit.
CRACK! BOOOOOM! It was the loudest thunder I’ve ever experienced, practically shaking the mountain beneath me. Soon followed by blinding flashes of lightning.
I love crazy weather, but this was pretty scary. Hail hammered down from the heavens — closer than usual here at 8,000 feet.
Camping in the Backcountry
Deep Blue Alpine Lake
Hiking Through Fields of Snow & Scree
Alpine Lakes & Backcountry Camping
The bad weather passed almost as quickly as it arrived though. I emerged from my shelter to begin hiking again, searching for a decent camping spot.
Stopping to set up camp and prepare hot tea beside a deep blue alpine pond as the sun dropped below the horizon.
What kind of shelter was I packing? A hammock of course! But at these altitudes there are no trees… only rocks. However you’d be surprised at just how versatile a camping hammock can be. A set of rock climbing nuts, a large trash bag, and a foam pad turns a hammock into a traditional bivy sack for sleeping on the ground.
The temperature dropped and I gazed at the stars in total silence for a while, drinking some olive oil and doing pushups to build up some body heat before climbing into my sleeping bag for the night.
The next morning was cold and sunny. I scarfed down some bread, honey, and trail mix for breakfast before heading back out on the trail.
Walking down into a valley through snow towards another mountain lake. The sunlight didn’t last long though, and dark clouds soon moved in for a 2nd day, threatening to delay me again.
Best Camping Spot Ever?
Abandoned Mountain Village
Local Women Having a Picnic
Lush Green Valleys
I managed to hike up and over the pass after taking shelter under a rock for an hour as another hail & lightning storm floated by.
The trail here is almost completely hidden from view under a layer of snow, which usually sticks around until mid July in the Kackar Mountains.
There were a few tricky sections where the snow was deep, but I made it down into the next valley after about 6 hours of hiking — and what a beautiful place it was!
The area is called Dupeduzu, a popular camping spot in these mountains. Fields of blinding white snow morphed into lush green grass covered with vibrant wildflowers.
The soundtrack to this paradise? Gushing rivers winding down from the steep mountains above.
After camping out for a 3rd day in the mountains, I hiked down to lower altitudes in order to stock up on food. Luckily there are many yaylas not far away where it’s possible to buy basic supplies like bread, cheese, trail mix, canned tuna, olives, and beans.
Because it was still early in the season, some villages are sparsely populated or completely abandoned. It took me a few hours to reach one of the larger villages called Olgunlar.
They have a few small guesthouses here, and an early morning dolmusch (public taxi) that will take you out of the mountains on a dirt road.
Spring Snow Melt Feeds Wildflowers
Man vs. Mountain
Kackar Mountain Wilderness
Once stocked up for another 2 days of trekking, I left Olgunlar on foot to begin climbing towards my ultimate goal, a stunning high mountain lake called Deniz Golu, and maybe a summit attempt on Mount Kackar itself, depending on hiking conditions.
On the way I encountered more streams to cross, local Muslim shepherds leading their sheep and cattle out to the freshest grazing pastures, and plenty of butterflies. The same reason this area produces the best honey is also why there are so many species of butterfly around…
The Kackar Mountains have an incredible amount of diversity when it comes to wildflowers!
I pitched my hammock/bivy beside a large boulder at the Dilberduzu camping area, where there’s actually an outhouse due to the large number of local hikers who pass through for summer mountaineering adventures. I finally ran into a few other hikers here too.
On the morning of my 4th day I rose with the sun to climb as high as I could into the Kackar Mountains. It didn’t take long to reach snow, and a majority of my hike was spent on it. Not fully equipped to trek in these conditions, I was using small garbage bags to line the inside of my shoes — a type of poor-man’s GoreTex.
While your footwear gets soaked on the outside, your feet themselves stay pretty dry. Most of the snow was well compacted by this point anyway, so I only sank down to my ankles.
Kackar Mountains Landscape
Trekking to 11,000 Feet
Let’s Go Sledding!
Extreme Sledding Adventure
The effects of altitude hiking at 10,000 feet was taking its toll — catching my breath was a bit more difficult and slowing me down. But after about 2-3 hours of scrambling up over rocks, I made it to lake Deniz Golu, which unfortunately was still frozen over!
Too bad, as I’d previously seen photos of the lake, and it’s a spectacular shade of blue.
I hiked further up to 11,000 feet searching for a high vantage point for capturing photos of the amazing landscape around me. Mount Kackar itself was covered in a thick layer of clouds & fog, and with no discernible trail in the snow, it wasn’t safe for me to continue on my own. Especially without proper gear.
So what is the quickest way to descend a snow-covered mountain? Extreme sledding of course!
I used my sleeping-mat as a makeshift sled, and it was super fun.
While walking out of the Kackar Mountins I discovered a group of local women preparing a picnic in the grass next to an abandoned yayla. They waved me over and insisted I join them. Tasty homemade food and boiling hot tea was just what I needed after 4 days in the wilderness…
Our language barrier was high, only knowing about 5 words in each other’s native tongue. But with lots of smiles and hand gestures, we had some awkward yet amusing conversation.
I thanked them and walked on to Olgunlar, checking into a guesthouse and catching an early morning taxi out. ★
Where To Stay In Rize
So, the area I was hiking is located in the Rize District of Turkey. I stayed in two different guest houses before and after my hike.
Gokkusagi Apart in the village of Ayder and Kackar Pansiyon in the village of Olgunlar. They are very basic mountain resorts, that feel a lot like hostels. They offer private rooms, or shared bunk rooms.
Kackar Hiking GuidebookLooking to plan your own hike? Check out “The Kackar: Trekking in Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains” by Kate Clow.Buy The Book Here
Travel Video: Kackar Mountains Trekking
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!(Click to watch Kackar Mountains – Trekking in Turkey on YouTube)
Travel Planning Resources For TurkeyPacking GuideCheck out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.Book Your FlightReady to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.Rent A CarDiscover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.Cheap AccommodationLearn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.Protect Your TripDon’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.
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READ MORE TRAVEL TIPS & STORIES
I hope you enjoyed my guide to hiking Turkey’s majestic Kackar Mountains! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
Tear Gassed By Police In IstanbulImportant Beginner Travel Safety AdviceMy 50 Best Expert Travel Tips17 Travel Scams You Need To AvoidGreat Traveling Jobs For Working Abroad
Do you have a favorite trekking experience somewhere? Any questions about Turkey? Drop me a message in the comments below!
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