Crossing the border from Tajikistan to Afghanistan is often dangerous or outright impossible. But in Afghanistan’s panhandle-shaped Wakhan Corridor, anyone can freely cross the border—even those without a visa. Welcome to the Ishkashim Market, a strip of no man’s land where locals from both countries meet to buy and sell each other’s crafts.
The mountainous Panj River is the dividing line between Ishkashim, Tajikistan, and the Afghan town of the same name on the other side. The river is a neutral ground between the two countries, meaning any structure in the center of the river is easily accessible for both Afghans and Tajiks so long as they return to their respective countries after visiting.
The Ishkashim Market, located in the center of the Panj River, is exactly that. The border bazaar is accessible to locals from both sides, and occasionally foreign tourists in Tajikistan who have visiting Afghanistan on their bucket list drop by, too. To enter the market, no long immigration process is required; an armed guard will take your passport (preventing you from passing on to the Afghan side) and instruct you to cross a bridge to the market.
Inside the Ishkashim Market, you can haggle for delicious food, Afghan trinkets, pakol hats, and Tajik souvenirs. In addition to handcrafted goods, foreign products can also be found, including cheap clothing and household items from China, and more disconcertingly, World Food Programme aid packages for sale. The market is also an optimal spot for people watching.
The Ishkashim Market is open every Saturday, unless violence or disease are present in the area. Whenever it’s open, it’s a remarkable display that friendship and commerce can cross both rivers and borders.
Know Before You Go
Travel through Afghanistan is, of course, dangerous. But Ishkashim is at the base of the Wakhan Corridor, which is generally safe, as is the Pamir region of Tajikistan. You can obtain a tourist visa when you enter Tajikistan at the Dushanbe airport. You will then need to get a GBAO permit to travel to Khorog, the capital of the Pamir region. From there you can catch a bus to Ishkashim on the Tajik side.