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Ancient Silk Road barter trade continues across High Asia’s peaks

Trader Afzal Baig tugs at his horse, frustrated by its stubborn refusal to take another step along a treacherous, snow-covered mountain pass that is peppered with the skeletons of those who have already failed the journey.

The Irshad Pass, a narrow trail more than 16,300 feet above sea level, is part of the ancient Silk Road network, used for centuries by traders from northern Pakistan’s Hunza valley to cross the Karakoram mountains into Afghanistan’s windswept, barren Wakhan Corridor.

One wrong step through the ragged mountains can end in a fall of thousands of feet, and as Baig’s horse refuses to budge a blizzard is growing.

“Don’t trust this route,” Baig tells an AFP reporter accompanying his group. “It can betray you anytime.”

They are riding to meet the Wakhi tribe, inhabitants of the remote corner of Afghanistan, who will barter yaks and cattle in exchange for the traders’ wares.

It is a treacherous journey made by only a handful of people each year through the “Pamir Knot”,

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