Untamed Borders Autumn 2023 Newsletter

In this issue:

  • A note from James 
  • Upcoming trips
  • Support Afghan skiers, Christmas gift idea, meet the Untamed Borders team
  • Untamed Borders in the media

A note from James Willcox, Founder

In 2009, in the very early days of Untamed Borders, the next town along from where I grew up had a really impressive art installation on its pier, called Streetlight Storm – a project which saw lights flicker on the pier as lightning struck in different locations around the world. Initially a few of the locals thought that the flashing lights were an issue with the 1950s wiring, but it certainly caught my attention.

It was a pleasant surprise when, in 2021, the work of Untamed Borders caught the attention of Katie Paterson, the artist who had created the installation on the pier in Kent. Katie had been commissioned, along with architectural studio Zeller & Moye, to create an incredible new piece called Mirage, at the Apple Park in California. The artwork is a cast glass sculpture made of sand, collected from every desert on earth, and Untamed Borders were tasked with collecting sand from some of the nations which we operate in, across Asia and Africa – including Pakistan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Somaliland.

As you can imagine, this was quite an undertaking – we worked with our teams around the world to mindfully collect the sand, which is now part of the finished artwork in the United States. It comprises of more than 400 glass columns, made using sand from 70 locations in total, accompanied by stories about the deserts and its people. The site is set among a grid of olive trees and designed to create a moment of peace and pause, while also giving people the opportunity to tune into the immensity and preciousness of our planet.
At the time of collecting the sand, tourist travel was still very much restricted due to COVID and so the work was much appreciated by our teams in the nations, which took part in the project. The act of collecting the sand also created new experiences for them and it allowed them to use their guiding skills and knowledge of their countries in a new way.
Batsuren in Mongolia was able utilise his experience of the wild Gobi desert to help find the best quality sand for the installation, “We travelled all the way south to the Gobi, which is 800km each way from Ulaanbaatar city, where we live. We reached massive dunes called Khongor sand dunes, which is where we collected the finest sand and completed our mission.”
In Somaliland, Osman and the team used their understanding of the Somali clan systems to obtain the sand, “It was a challenging task, as it involved obtaining permits for both the collection and shipping of the sand, as well as gaining approval from local elders who own the land, which belongs to different clans.”
Marat from Uzbekistan simply got to know his country better, “The desert has a peaceful atmosphere and natural silence, which makes you feel primitive, finding yourself in your habitat. The sun shines brighter and the only need in such an environment is thirst and hunger. It’s very hot in the afternoon and cold at night, and the diverse fauna is mesmeriszing. We saw large monitor lizards, foxes and huge scorpions, such animals are difficult to find in other places.”
One of Untamed Borders’ core aims is to ensure all our trips are not only enriching for the people joining us as tourists, but also for the communities they visit. In this project I really felt this was the case and it gave me great happiness that we were able to live up to one our key ambitions.
Amor who collected sand from 5 deserts in Pakistan – from the frozen Katpana desert, close to K2, to the Kharan desert, in Balochistan, close to Iran – explained what the project meant to him, “I travelled across the plains, via small villages. The sunset and seeing the simple flat desert were just perfect, the journey became part of my life experience.”
I hope you add something special to your life experience in the coming months.


Upcoming Trips

Most of our remaining 2023 trips are now completely full, however, we’ve recently released lots of new dates for 2024, which are bookable now on our website. We’ve picked out a couple of highlights and new adventures for 2024, which include an adventure into the Horn of Africa, a road-trip through Pakistan’s stunning Hindu Kush and an exploration into tribal life in South Sudan. You can find a full list of our upcoming group itineraries below or online.

Horn of Africa 

On our 9-day Horn of Africa adventure you will experience life in both Somaliland and Djibouti, along with seeing some truly extraordinary desert scenery. You begin in Djibouti City, the capital of the nation, before venturing into the harsh environment of the Danakil Depression, one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with its immense salt lakes and otherworldly crystal formations. You then cross over into Somaliland, meeting semi-nomadic communities and visiting the region’s ancient rock art sites. You also explore the city of Hargeisa and coastal life in Berbera.

Hindu Kush & Karakorum 

A 14-day road trip through the awe-inspiring Hindu Kush and Karakorum mountain ranges of Northern Pakistan. These mountains contain a kaleidoscope of people as well as some of the earth’s most incredible scenery. We begin in the Chitral region and experience life in the pagan Kalasha valleys. We then head deep into the Hindu Kush range and onward up into the Karakorum, with it’s jaw-dropping peaks. We drop down into the lush Hunza Valley, with its icy blue river waters, and explore famous rope bridges of Husseini, along with the Passu glacier. Finally, we’ll take one of life’s great road trips, the Karakorum Highway, back to Islamabad.

South Sudan

On the 7-day adventure you’ll immerse yourself into the rarely visited tribal communities who call this area home and be treated to many local customs and celebrations, in the world’s youngest nation. We begin in the capital Juba and head to the nearby Toposa tribe villages, a community who are famous for their piercings and bodily scarification rituals. We’ll meet the Larim tribe at the foot of the stunning Boya Mountains, who are magnificent architects & visit the Mundari tribal region, famed for their relationship with their cattle. We also aim to take in the local sport of Boruboru, a version of dodge ball. This is a unique opportunity to meet rarely visited tribal communities and be fully immersed in their fascinating cultures.

Future Departures

Below is a full list of our upcoming and future group departures for  2023/2024. We can also organise private trips to any of these destinations.

In addition to the above, you can also get in touch for more information and suggested itineraries in:   

  • Azerbaijan
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad 
  • China
  • DRC
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • India
  • Iran
  • Kazakhstan 
  • Kyrgyzstan 
  • Lebanon
  • Puntland
  • Sudan
  • Tajikistan 
  • Turkmenistan 
  • Uzbekistan

We can also facilitate trips to other destinations on request.


Support Bamyan Alpine Ski Club

Untamed Borders has been bringing skiers to Afghanistan since 2011. During that time we have tried to ensure our guests understand the difficulties faced by local skiers and the benefits there are for its mountain communities, by there being a well organised sporting club in the region. Until 2021 the main club was known as the Bamyan Ski Club and it had support from a number of sources. However, with the new government in Afghanistan this club ceased to operate, but rising from the ashes a new club has been founded – called the Bamyan Alpine Ski Club – their aims are to arrange competitions, train children in sports and manage the equipment that has been donated over the years. If you have followed the Afghan Ski story and want to support them, then please go to the Afghan Peaks website for information about becoming an international member. Or better still, join us on our Afghan Ski Trip in February/March 2024.

Christmas Gift Idea – A Virtual Tour of Afghanistan

What says Christmas more than a virtual tour of Afghanistan? Why not buy a unique gift for a loved one this year, which is not only a fascinating experience, but one which will also support women in Afghanistan. We recently launched a new virtual tour route, with Afghanistan’s first female tour guide, Fatima Haidari. The route covers the centre of the country, taking in Kabul, Bamian Province, Ghor Province and Herat. The tour includes a Q&A session with Fatima and some of the proceeds go towards supporting secret education classes for women in Afghanistan – women living under Taliban rule are unable to go to conventional school and university. Fatima is also continuing her Herat Virtual Tours, with more sessions upcoming. We’ve just released 2024 dates for both routes and there is one more session this year. You can book both routes here. 

Meet Us At The Destinations Travel Show

From 1st-4th February Untamed Borders will appear at the Destinations 2024: Holidays & Travel Show, at London’s Olympia. The event brings together some of the leading travel companies and tour providers in the industry, and showcases the most exciting destinations and travel developments for the year ahead. There will be an opportunity to meet our team in person, alongside many other stalls. There will also be Meet The Expert guest speakers, cooking displays, tasty food and bars. We hope you can join us there at the show, where we’ll have a number of exclusive deals available. You can get tickets for the event here.

Untamed Borders In The Media

Recently our Founder, James Willcox, was invited to be a panelist on a discussion at the National Snow Week, at Birmingham’s NEC. It’s one of the largest meet-ups of the ski and snowboard industry/community in the UK. He took part in a discussion about off the beaten track ski destinations, with James talking about Untamed Borders’ long history of organising skiing adventures to places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and other unlikely destinations. The podcast is due to be released soon and we’ll make sure to share it on our social media pages. 

Meanwhile, in August, the BBC World Service’s Outlook Podcast recorded a piece with Fatima Haidari (who leads our Afghanistan Virtual Tours), which you can listen back to here. And in print, New Zealand’s Adventure Magazine recently published a piece about Untamed Borders’ skiing projects in Afghanistan, Iraq & other nations.


If you would like to talk about anything mentioned in this newsletter then please get in touch.

We hope to see you all on an adventure with Untamed Borders very soon.

The Untamed Borders Team

November 2023