Untamed Borders Spring 2023 Newsletter
In this issue:
- A note from James
- Upcoming trips
- Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea & Libya visa updates
- Untamed Borders on Afghanistan in the media
A note from James Wilcox, Founder
The day of travel that most excited me the most, so far this year, was a journey by land in March from Peshawar to Kabul, through the Khyber Pass.
It was a journey I had last made in 2008, when Untamed Borders first started running trips to the region and in many ways this crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan WAS the Untamed Border.
In the years since, we have often been asked whether we could guide people there and the answer had always been no – due to a combination of security and permission reasons.
The pass is not grand, nor is it beautiful, nor particularly photogenic – it would fare poorly in today’s world of Instagram and Tik Tok. The reason the name still resonates is that 100 years ago the Khyber was as exotic and beguiling a name as anywhere in the world.
Much of the reason for the Khyber Passes’ infamy is Britain’s long and complex relationship with Afghanistan. Two wars, in 1842 and 1878, had resulted in some of the greatest military defeats the British suffered in that era and by the end of the 19th century it was forbidden for British people to enter Afghanistan – it’s a region that still carries a lot of mystique even to this day.
My recent reason for travel through the pass was more prosaic and practical – we had re-started our Afghan ski trips. The only airlines flying into Afghanistan currently don’t have sports equipment allowances, so I took a car load of kit, while the guests took the one hour flight overhead.
On the outskirts of Peshawar you leave Pakistan proper and enter the Tribal Areas – a region where Pakistani law does not apply, only Pashtun tribal law.
This results in a huge bazaar on the border selling everything from duty free fridges to hashish, fake money and guns. After passing through the Khyber gate, the serpentine road begins, winding its way up from the plains of the subcontinent into Central Asia.
Imposing forts of the Khyber Rifles and the Chitral Scouts line the route, as does a 5th century Buddhist stupa and Asia’s largest House – a vast compound owned by Ayub Afridi, a renowned hashish salesman.
For a foot passenger, like myself, the border was chaos, but with a couple of porters for my gear, I managed to navigate it – despite a power cut affecting the digital immigration system and the Taliban insisting on a compulsory polio vaccination on entry.
The journey to Kabul was broken by Chapli kebabs in Jalalabad and a stop off in the village of Gandamak, famed in the annals of British military history as the final stand of the 1842 retreat from Kabul – 16,000 Brits left Kabul that winter, a week later only one completed the journey back to Jalalabad. The rest were killed or captured.
The first time I crossed through the Khyber Pass 15 years ago I felt relief to get to Kabul, this time I was sad the journey was over.
Journeys, like history, sometimes repeat themselves, but they are never the same.
Hoping you all have some memorable trips coming up, whether repeated or new.
Our 2023 trips are filling up fast! We’ve picked a couple of our favourites for the year ahead here – including our trio of trekking trips, along with our 13-day Pakistan road-trip & an adventure in the Horn of Africa. You can find a full list of our upcoming group itineraries below or online.
This year we’re running 3 trekking trips in 3 breathtaking regions – our largest is a 22-day adventure in the Wakhan Corridor, starting in Tajikistan, before crossing into Afghanistan. We also have a 16-day trek through the stunning Pamir Mountain Lakes region of Tajikistan and a 13-day Unseen Kyrgyzstan adventure.
A 13-day road trip along almost the entire length of Pakistan from Karachi in the Arabian Sea to the city of Peshawar. Stopping at Sufi shrines, Buddhist remains, Mughal mosques and energetic bazaars along the way.
Horn of Africa
An overland journey from Djibouti into Somaliland, to get a taste of traditional Somali life, and visit some extraordinary desert scenery, in a region where the Arab world and African world collide. There’s also an added option to visit the Somali capital, Mogadishu, before the trip.
Below is a full list of our upcoming and future group departures for 2023. We can also organise private departures to any of these destinations.
- Afghanistan (9 day group trips in September and November) (15 day group trips in May and September) (Trek the Wakhan group trip in August)
- Djibouti & Somaliland (group trip in October)
- Iraq (group trip October)
- Kyrgyzstan (group trip in July)
- Libya (group trip in October)
- Pakistan: (Hindu Kush & Karakorum group trip in May) (Karachi to Peshawar group trips in November and December)
- Socotra (group trip November)
- Syria (group trip September)
- Tajikistan (group trip in August)
- Yemen (group trip November)
Our 2024 dates will be released in the near future.
In addition to the above, we can also get in touch for more information and suggested itineraries in:
- Afghanistan ski trips
- Central African Republic
- Saudi Arabia
- South Sudan
Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea & Libya visa updates
Good news – Syria has begun granting visas again for US citizens, after a period of difficult travel conditions to the country for Americans.
The country has been open to a selection of other nationalities for a while (including UK, EU, Australian, Canadian passport holders, among others) and we’re returning in September on a 7-day cultural trip, taking in the likes of Damascus, the UNESCO site of Palmyra, Aleppo and Homs.
Turkmenistan & Eritrea Reopen
Both Turkmenistan and Eritrea shut their borders to tourists during the COVID pandemic and have taken longer than many destinations to reopen, however, that has now changed.
We can begin organising private trips to both nations again from this year.
For the first time since 2011 tourist visas are being issued on arrival for Libya.
This means tourists no longer have to visit the Libyan embassy in their home nation before travelling.
It’s an exciting development, which streamlines the process for visiting the North African nation, and you can join us there in Libya on a group tour in October.
Untamed Borders on Afghanistan in the media
We have contributed to multiple pieces over recent months about what Afghanistan is like in 2023, now it’s back under Taliban rule – among them, CNN.
If you’d like to hear more about what it’s like in Afghanistan at the moment, then please listen to The One Way Tick Show podcast, where we featured on the topic.
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 Untamed Borders adventure very soon.
The Untamed Borders Team