When photographer Matthieu Paley hiked up into the Pamir plateau of Afghanistan in the winter of 2008, the place had not been visited by foreigners since 1972, he says. That's how remote and inhospitable the region is — at least to outsiders. This rugged stretch of land, way up in the Wakhan Corridor, wedged between Pakistan and Tajikistan in Afghanistan's panhandle, is home to a population of about 1,100 nomadic Afghan Kyrgyz.
I called Paley in Turkey, where he's based, to ask him about his story in National Geographic's February issue — but also as an excuse to talk more about what has been a labor of love. "It's absurd to be here where no one should live," he says.
Paley has been documenting the region for more than a decade and just published a book, Pamir: Forgotten on the Roof of the World. The title refers to the Kyrgyz term for homeland, which he knows well: "I speak the language. I know the people's names; they give me nicknames," he says. "So that makes it very enjoyable for me up there: Even if it's harsh I feel like the witness of something very unusual and special."
The Geographic article answers all the questions you may have about where these people come from and where they're headed — both literally and metaphorically. And there are many more incredible photos where these came from on Paley's website.