2018 Banff Mountain Photo Essay Competition Winner

Winter in the Afghan Pamirs

2018 Banff Mountain Photo Essay Competition Winner – Beth Wald

The Afghan Pamir is a high, remote and road-less region at the end of the Wakhan Corridor, where the Afghan Kyrgyz follow a nomadic life, intimately dependent on herds of sheep, yaks and camels for food, transport, fuel and shelter and as trade for other essentials.  In winter, it is a harsh, windswept and mostly monochrome world, brightened by the bright red worn by the women and girls.

Beth Wald is a documentary photographer who creates compelling visual narratives that explore the rich diversity and beauty of natural environments and cultures under threat around the world and tells stories about struggles to save ecosystems, species, ancient knowledge and ways of being, and about our often conflicted relationship with the natural world. She thrives far off the grid, immersed in a place and a culture.  Her work has appeared in National GeographicSmithsonianThe New York TimesOutside and many others and she has partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Panthera, Tompkins Conservation, and many organizations. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Rowell Award and POY.

A small population of Kyrgyz live a nomadic life year-round on the high plateau of the
Afghan Pamirs, moving seasonally with their herds of yaks, goats, sheep, camels and horse, on
which they are completely dependent – for food, clothing, shelter, fuel, and as currency.


article continues below
Nomadic herder with yak on frozen river
A Wakhi man sprinkles sand on a frozen river so that he and his yak won’t slip on the ice, during a journey up the Wakhan River into the higher regions of the Little Pamir to trade with the Kyrgyz. The Wakhi are thought to be indigenous to the region, which is named for them.


Kyrgyz girls in traditional red robes gathering water on frozen creek
Kyrgyz girls in traditional red robes brave frigid temperatures and icy winds as they fill plastic jugs with water at a stream near their family’s winter camp (4,200 metres), and load them on to their donkeys – a cold but necessary daily outing. All women and girls wear red; after marrying, the red headdress is replaced with a white one.


Kyrgyz women prepare a meal of yak meat and bones in a mud hut
Kyrgyz women prepare a meal of yak meat and bones in a mud hut at their family’s winter camp. For cooking and heat, they rely completely on the dried dung of their animals, as there are no trees in the high valleys of the Pamirs.


A Bactrian camel stoically braves a snowstorm at a Kyrgyz winter camp.
A Bactrian camel stoically braves a snowstorm at a Kyrgyz winter camp. These woolly, double-humped camels used by the Krygyz are domestic relatives of the wild and critically endangered Bactrian camels of southern China and northern Mongolia.

Instagram: @bethjwald

Find out more about the Banff Mountain Photo Essay Competition. 

View this photo essay at one of our many free exhibitions during the 2018 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival in Banff, Alberta.
Tickets on sale Wednesday, August 1.

Interested in more on Afghanistan?  These women are fighting for equality.