The Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous (GBAO) region of Tajikistan makes up 45% of the land but only holds 3% of the population. I went to this, the poorest of the former Soviet states in late 2013 to observe their Presidential campaign and was based in this gorgeous and extremely alpine section of the world dubbed by British explorers as the “Rooftop of the World.”
Split by apart the mighty Panj river and history, the native ethnic groups in this area also extend into northern Afghanistan. Nearly every day I could look across the river into Afghanistan and see what a difference movements make in a people’s evolution. Whereby the Soviet Union took the Pamiris north of the river in one direction with certain benefits, those living in Afghanistan have retained much of their culture at the expense of many elements of modernity.
The province is almost entirely mountainous, making the trip out to the capital of Khorog and back after six weeks in the field requires a often two-day drive along the Afghan border, sharing the road with other 4x4s and scores of trucks flowing in from China packed with goods. Few areas in GBAO lie below 10,000ft (3,000m), thus above the treeline, giving the area a lunar quality where only grasses and small shrubs survive, the cold penetrating, and the stillness often interrupted by dust storms.