In the second of a series of articles profiling start-up, specialist adventure travel companies whose tours are featured on Frontiers of Travel, and in conjunction with Black Frog Publishing's Spotlight series, we look at Untamed Borders who explore the ultimate travel frontiers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Russian Caucasus and even Somalia!
At a time where more and more of the world is accessible to tourists and travellers, Untamed Borders seek to explore those destinations still off the radar of most travel companies. Specialising in trips to Afghanistan, northwest Pakistan and Central Asia, they discover the fascinating and beautiful lands beyond the cliched war-torn narratives that cloud many peoples opinions of this region.
Founded by British traveller James Wilcox and Peshawar natives Price Mahir Ullah Khan ("one man tourist board and NGO rolled into one for Peshawar and the NWFP") and Kausar Hussain (journalist, photographer and tour leader/facilitator), Untamed Borders have been offering trips to northern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan for several years now, sharing their intimate knowledge of the region with bespoke trips for travellers, journalists and NGOs as well as running several small group tours every year, including their signature "Melons and Grapes" tour to Afghanistan each autumn. Recently thay have expanded their range of tours to include the remote northeast of India, rarely visited regions of Russia including Chechnya and Dagestan in the Russian Caucasus and Siberia's northern Yamal Peninsula, as well as becoming the first company to offer skiing trips to Afghanistan and the first to run a commercial trip to Mogadishu in Somalia.
Recently James spoke to Andy and Kirsty at Black Frog Publishing about Untamed Borders and why they provide tours to some of the world's least visited destinations.
Why did you set up Untamed Borders?
Whilst travelling and working in Central Asia I became friends with two guys who worked as guides and translators for journalists, researchers, and photographers documenting Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would also guide the occasional tourist as well. I told them that if they promoted their skills they’d get more work. I assisted them by setting up a website for their talents and we came upon the name of Untamed Borders. They often took guests through the Khyber Pass linking Afghanistan and Pakistan. The name seemed appropriate.
Neither of them has great written English so I helped out with the admin and e-mails. I then started meeting people in the UK and Europe who wanted to visit Afghanistan. Often they needed that face to face meeting to convince them it was a good idea. I loved travelling in the region and led the odd trip. Eventually, it reached a point where I was doing so much work it made sense to join up with the guys and go full-time myself. Once we registered the company in the UK and I joined them full-time we set some aims and commitments for the company. It was to try to replicate the combination of hospitality and insight they could offer the guests in Pakistan and Afghanistan across Central Asia and beyond. To take people to places that, for logistical or safety reasons, are hard to visit on their own.
Why did you choose to concentrate on Afghanistan, Pakistan and North East India?
Central Asia has so much to offer and so few outside tourists and visitors. You get to stumble upon incredible Mughal, Timurid or Persian buildings as though you are first to discover them. Sights that would be packed full of visitors in any other part of the world lay empty. It is also a complex ethnic and political melting pot with influences from the sub continent, China, the Middle East and Europe. Where else would you find Greco-Buddhist art or green tea drinking Pakistanis?
Why should people travel with Untamed Borders?
In some of the places we guide you might not have much of a choice when it comes to choosing a guiding service or tour operator. We are currently the only company arranging ski trips to Afghanistan, research trips to Mogadishu (right) and trips to the Russian states of Ingushetia and Chechnya. We understand that when guiding in places that see such little tourism, as outsiders we have a responsibility to the people and places we visit. We have a commitment to ensure that interactions with people are a fun exchange of ideas. That the people we visit see some benefit from our trips as well as the guests we guide.
To read more from James about Untamed Borders and travelling way off the tourist trail, check out Black Frog's Spotlight Blog. If you're interested in exploring these extraordinary and rarely visited destinations, see more details about these trips on their website.
Check our Tour Search page for a huge selection of small group tours from the world's most innovative travel companies.
If you run a start-up travel company running adventurous group tours and would like your trips featured on Frontiers of Travel, please contact us.
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