Untamed Borders Winter 2023/24 Newsletter
A Note From James Willcox, Founder
As we start 2024 it is an opportunity to look back on 2023.
It has been another great year for us in terms of pioneering trips. We ran the first commercial trip to Eastern Libya, enabled kayakers to paddle to the lowest lake in the world and helped a scuba diver break her own world record multiple times in Eritrea, Tajikistan, Afghanistan & Libya.
Personally, however, one of my happiest achievements was visiting Afghanistan last winter and playing a part in assisting the formation of a new ski club in Bamian Province. For those of you who are unaware of the Untamed Borders’ story – we started ski trips to Afghanistan back in 2011. Initially, it was on a bit of a whim, but we became part of a small group of people and organisations (both Afghan and international) who helped to develop a ski community in the country and shared it with the rest of the world.
Through the love of skiing and Afghanistan it resulted in an annual ski race in the country being set-up, along with sponsorship from a German ski brand. It led to two Afghan skiers from Bamian competing in international ski races in Europe, and a wonderful inclusive ski community developing in Bamian. In the summer of 2021 much of that ended. Many of the Afghan skiers and organisers left the country, women were not allowed to ski and most of the international support ended.
But the majority of the skiers in Bamian remained and with support from an Afghan-American led organisation, the annual ski race restarted. We joined them last winter and it really was a wonderful experience. Bamian is one of the least developed provinces in Afghanistan, which is one of the least developed countries in Asia, and yet in the valleys of the Koh e Baba mountain range, people love to ski each winter. Much of the time they use mismatched gear and many Afghan children ski on wooden skies, made by their fathers. It really is a focal point for these small communities and it is wonderful to share the experience.
To ensure that continues we also need to assist and nurture the ski community. So, since the trip last winter, a new club has formed in Bamian. Its aims are to support the local community by training Afghan children in sports, arranging competitions in the region and managing the equipment that has been donated over the years by tourists.
We support the club by bringing international skiers to take part in the nation’s only ski competition and they pay an entry fee, which goes towards supporting the event – the Afghan Peaks Ski Race. The race brings together international tourists and the fledgling Afghan ski community. Then they have the option to become a member of the club, which has now launched an international membership scheme, so people can support the organisation from afar.
We often state that an Untamed Borders’ trip is only truly successful if it benefits both the communities we visit, as well as the guests who we guide. So, it is wonderful through these ski trips to Afghanistan, that we provide a highlight to winter for both the Afghan skiers and our international visitors alike.
Wishing you an adventurous 2024.
Our trips in early 2024 are filling up fast and we have new group adventures due to begin imminently! However, we’ve got a packed schedule for 2024 and have picked out a couple of our favourites for the year ahead – including a stunning trekking adventure in Tajikistan, a number of group trips to mainland Yemen and a unique trekking experience in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. You can find a full list of our upcoming group itineraries below or online.
Tajikistan Trek – Pamir Mountain Lakes
A very special 16-day trekking adventure through the Pamir Mountain range, one of the least visited of all the Greater Ranges in Asia. Not only will you visit parts of Tajikistan that are rarely trekked, but you will also see beautiful alpine lakes and cross a pass higher than Mont Blanc. You will have chance to learn about local life, staying at traditional homestays on certain stretches of the journey and camping at others. You will also be supporting an organisation, which is training the first ever generation of female Tajik trekking guides – one of them will join our international trekking guide on the trip and you will have chance to explore the capital Dushanbe. You can see photos from last year here.
A 7-day road-trip into the remote heart of Yemen, an area rarely seen by outsiders. We begin on the beautiful Yemeni coastline, before venturing deep into the Empty Quarter. We’ll visit dramatic canyons, traverse harsh desert and stop at Shibam, known as the Manhattan of Arabia, due to its imposing mud built buildings. We’ll meet fishing communities along the coasts and the honey makers of the remote Wadi Dawan. An opportunity to experience cultures, which are rarely seen by many foreigners. You can view photos from last year’s trip here.
Trek The Wakhan
A truly epic 21-day trekking adventure into one of the most stunning and remote regions on earth. You’ll encounter some of the world’s last and least visited nomadic communities – the Kyrgyz of the Afghan Pamir, along with Wakhi nomads – and spend time learning about their cultures. This fascinating region is part of the ancient Silk Road and you’ll pass a bounty of ancient sites on the journey, while surrounded by enormous mountains and dramatic scenery. You can see photos from last year’s Wakhan adventure here.
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.
- Afghanistan in 9 Days (group trips in April, September & November 2024)
- Afghanistan Central Route (15 day group trips in April & September 2024)
- Ski Afghanistan (group trip in February 2024)
- Trek The Wakhan (group trip in August/September 2024)
- Virtual Tours with Fatima Haidari (February & March 2024)
- Cradle of Civilisation (group trips in February & October 2024)
- Iraqi Kurdistan (group trip March & October 2024)
- Iraq Ski Trip (group trip in February 2024)
– Libya (group trip in February & October 2024)
- Hindu Kush & Karakorum (group trip in May/June 2024)
- Pakistan Indus Valley (group trip – 13, 10 or 8 day options – in November 2024)
– Somalia (Mogadishu) (group trip in March 2024)
– South Sudan (group trip in March 2024)
– Syria (group trips in April 2024 & September 2024)
– Tajikistan (group trekking trip in August 2024)
In addition to the above, we can also get in touch for more information and suggested itineraries in:
- Central African Republic
- Saudi Arabia
In December 2024 we will be launching a brand new trip – a week long trek through the Wadis of Hadramout in Yemen. At the tail end of 2023 our team went out to the region to scout out routes and research the area – we now have a great adventure planned, where guests will trek in and out of the area’s wadis and canyons, stopping by ancient mud built villages and date palms along the way, before reaching up to high plateaus. The trip will be led by one of our experienced international guides and supported by the local team in Yemen. To follow in the footsteps of Freya Stark and have the chance to be a travel trailblazer, join us trekking in Yemen in 2024. We have yet to release the full itinerary and dates, but to register an interest please email – firstname.lastname@example.org – and we’ll ensure you get the chance to book before anyone else.
Jobs At Untamed Borders
Are you a person who loves people as much as you love travel? If, would you like to work for Untamed Borders? We have a couple of vacancies open right now. There is a position with our UK Sales Team, helping our guests create and book their adventures to some of the world’s hardest to reach corners. We are also looking for a freelance guide to accompany some of our cultural trips to parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. If you have experience in either role and want to join our motley crew of hard working travel lovers, then please mail your CV to – email@example.com.
Untamed Borders In The Media
A few months ago our founder James Willcox was asked to contribute to a piece in the Royal Over-Seas League magazine about our work in Iraq and our hopes for the country’s tourism industry going forward. We have two cultural trips running to Iraq this year currently, along with cultural trips to Iraqi Kurdistan, a ski trip & we will return to the Erbil Marathon (full details to be released later this year).
Meanwhile, earlier in 2023 we guided award winning photographer, Simon Urwin, around Karakalpakstan, an autonomous state in the far west of Uzbekistan – he put together a fantastic article for BBC Travel about the region.
We also appeared in Swiss media over recent months. Our virtual tour guide, Fatima Haidairi, featured in a piece on the TV broadcaster REI, about her inspiring role as Afghanistan’s first female tour guide and her work with Untamed Borders. There are two Afghan virtual tours with Fatima available to book now on our website – in February and March.
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