Alpine Club of Canada

Spring Gazette 2015

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22 Alpine Club of Canada Gazette spring 2015 Wakhi people (mainly Ismaili Muslims) living in villages along the Panj River's south bank and its upper tributary, the Wakhan River. ey cultivate wheat, barley, peas, potatoes, apricots and sup‑ port livestock. To the east, the Hindu Kush, Karakorum and Pamir ranges converge in the wide, high elevation valley of the Afghan Pamir, which has two main grass‑ land areas: Big Pamir to the north and Little Pamir to the far east. In these very remote, high grassland areas, the Kyrgyz nomads roam with the seasons in search of grazing land for their sheep, goats, yaks, horses and Bactrian camels. My recent trip into the Wakhan was to assess the current health needs of the 12,000 Wakhi of the Wakhan corridor, 2,000 Kyrgyz of the Great Pamir and the 1,200 Kyrgyz of the Little Pamir. It took four days' driving on rough roads and six days of hiking through challenging mountain terrain and high rivers to reach the edge of the Kyrgyz settlements. e Wakhi people, overall, have a better standard of living with a more reliable food supply and some access to health care and education. e Kyrgyz, a Turkik pastoral nomadic group of Sunni Muslims, live between 4,000 and 5,000 metres in felt yurts (oey) and move seasonally according to available pasture, sunlight and protection from the wind. ey trade livestock, wool and dairy products for tea, rice and flour with their Wakhi neighbours and travelling mer‑ chants. Unfortunately, today they are also trading sheep and goats for opium as a source of pain relief. ey have no access to health care, medicines or education. e nearest health post is a 14‑day round trip walk, weather permitting. A dental abscess or infected wound could mean death. Outbreaks of measles, menin‑ gitis and pneumonia can wipe out two or three children in one family over a winter. ere is no vaccination program available. Approximately one in two children don't live beyond five years. e Kyrgyz have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; one in five women reportedly die in childbirth. is is catastrophic and very preventable. e opium addiction problem is unfortunately rampant among men and women. e effective health care link between people in the remote pasture areas, local village community health care centres and regional specialist care services through a satellite supported e‑health program. Our trip launched on an adventurous note, with a political diversion to Lahore for 15 hours, with four hours of disturbed sleep in Islamabad followed by a two‑day drive up the Karakorum Highway, a boat ride across the landslide‑created Atabad Lake, flooded roads, and a rockslide on the cliff‑hugging narrow gravel road that negotiates the lower Shimshal River gorge leading into the beautiful upper Shimshal Valley adjacent to the China border. Shimshal Valley has produced more accomplished mountaineers than any‑ where else in Pakistan. Shimshalis are to Pakistan what Sherpas are to Nepal. ere is an active mountaineering school that benefits greatly from such local residents as Rajab Shah (summitted all five of Pakistan's 8,000‑metre peaks), Mehrban Shah and Samina Baig, Pakistan's first woman to summit Everest. e area does host some international climbers and trekkers, but a lot fewer since the Nanga Parbat incident of 2013. After working with nomads in the remote Shimshal Pamir, we travelled to the west side of the Karakorum Highway and visited residents of remote pastures in the Chipursan and Misgar Valleys and Batura Glacier. In spring, Wakhi and Kyrgyz shep‑ herds cross over the high passes from Afghanistan's Wakhan Valley to trade with the Chipursan people in Baba Ghundi pasture and Zood Khun. is tradition has endured for centuries. In recent years numbers have dwindled because of border closures, army presence and more restrictions on the nomads because of terrorism fears. Although many of the Wakhi and Kyrgyz nomad camps are only three to four days' walk over the Hindu Kush range, it is not pos‑ sible for Westerners to cross the border today. As a result, in late August 2014, I returned to the Wakhan Corridor and Afghan Pamir via Istanbul, Dushanbe and Khorog in Tajikistan. e deep valley of the Wakhan corri‑ dor is inhabited by approximately 12,000 by bill hanlon A s a teenager growing up in small town Ireland in the 1970s, I was fascinated by the adventures of Marco Polo and the 13th century caravans of explorers, traders and pilgrims who traversed the Silk Road linking Europe with Asia. Many of these caravans crossed the high passes of the Pamir and Hindu Kush ranges, traversing between present‑ day Pakistan and Afghanistan. I dreamed of one day travelling part of this route into such areas as the Hunza Valley of northern Pakistan, and the Wakhan Valley and Pamir range of northeast Afghanistan. In spring/summer of 2014, I visited both regions. Last June, as medical director of Basic Health International Foundation (BHIF), I returned to the Hunza Valley to build on existing medical programs and to expand our work into the remote sum‑ mer pastures of Shimshal Pamir (4,700 metres), Chipursan Valley (3,500 metres), Misgar Valley (3,075 metres) and Yashpirt (3,302 metres) on the Batura Glacier. I was accompanied by dear friend and accomplished Canadian mountaineer and photographer Pat Morrow who documented the trip with video and still images. e focus of our trip was to carry out a health assessment and treatment of all nomads in their remote high summer pastures, provide health education in the field (literally) and plan future programs. Our long‑term plan is to establish an Medicine in the High Pamir Bill Hanlon, Pat Morrow and their fellow travellers were obliged to portage across a patch of road blocked by a rockslide in the Shimshal River Gorge, Upper Hunza, Pakistan. The road was blocked for five days. photo by pat morrow

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