Matthieu Paley: Journey to the Roof of the World

Matthieu Paley is an award winning photographer. His most recent exhibition was “An Ethereal World – Journeys to the edges of Asia.”

Matthieu Paley is an intrepid explorer and an award winning photographer. He says he has been working alongside Ismailis in Northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan for several years now, adding that these regions are his favorite places in the world. Simerg is deeply indebted to him for sending us a collection of his photos for publication on this Web site. His newest piece published in National Geographic on October 24, 2016 can be read by clicking This Remote Pakistani Village Is Nothing Like You’d Expect by Matthieu Paley


Map of Tajikistan. Credit:


The first photo shown below by Matthieu Paley was taken in Alichur (shown on map, above), a village at an altitude of 4000 metres which is comprised mainly of Ismailis. It is located on the Pamir Highway south of Murghab in the Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Region of Southeastern Tajikistan. The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. In this region, as in other parts of the world, Ismailis hold a deep reverence for their Imam, the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). Pictures of the 49th Imam adorn most Ismaili homes. The Aga Khan and his Imamat Institutions and Agencies play a key role in the community’s survival and development throughout the world.

Ismaili girls proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. See story above. Click for enlargement. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Ismaili women in the Pamirs. Note the Golden Jubilee head band on the woman on the right. Click for enlargement. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Pamiri Ismaili youth enjoying their time outdoors at the Roof of the World music festival, taking place in Khorog, Tajikistan.Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.


A sad reality – an opium addict in a rehabilitation clinic in the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan (shown on map above). Opium is a big issue that the Aga Khan Foundation is trying to solve. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Portrait of an Ismaili girl in Wakhan. Click for enlargement. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright


Map of Hunza and neighbouring regions. Credit:

An Ismaili woman crossing a rope bridge in the Hunza valley. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Powerful portraits of Ismaili women in Hunza. Please click for enlargement. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright

Baltit Fort in Hunza. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Article publication date: August 15, 2010; Last updated: October 25, 2016.


Latest article on Web site (August 18, 2010):

AGA KHAN INTERVIEW – Voices: “The Power of Wisdom” – His Highness the Aga Khan’s Interview with Politique Internationale

Please visit the Simerg Home page. For links to all articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009, please click What’s New.

To submit feedback, please complete the REPLY box below (we won’t publish your email address). Comments may be moderated and edited for language, style and taste. They are published at the discretion of the editor.


Please click the following image for portraits of the Ismailis of the Hindu Kush by Henry Dallal, another world acclaimed photographer:

Please click for “Portraits” by Henry Dallal

18 thoughts on “Matthieu Paley: Journey to the Roof of the World

  1. Powerful images, specially the one with women from Hunza. I’m from Hunza and have lived in that region for the first 26 yrs of my life. Looking at your pictures, I was thinking that I would love to plan a detailed visit of the Tajikistan and northern Pakistan region with an outsiders point of view because the way you look at the things when you are a native is completely different from the way a an outsider would look. Thanks for sharing your amazing work.

  2. Thanks everyone for your kind comments and thanks to Simerg for giving me an opportunity to show some of my images. FYI, I have just uploaded a new story on my website (Titled “The Last Khan”), focusing on the Afghan Kyrgyz of the High afghan Pamir – all images were shot during a winter expedition in January and February 2011 in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.
    Warm regards, Matthieu

  3. The photos are incredible. I would love to visit these places but don’t know how and where to start to get the right information for travel through these countries. Time is not an issue as I would like to spend time exploring and getting to know the people and culture. Thank you for any suggestions. Regards.

    • In fact, Matthieu Paley might be your best source for an organized trip to these locations. Check out his guiding services at and write to him at the email address he has provided in his profile above.

      Thank you and all other viewers who have appreciated his few photos that are displayed here. For more astonishing photos, please visit his Web site.

  4. Great grab of pictures and the bridge, which a woman is seen crossing, is in my native village Hussaini Hunza Gojal. Now this bridge has been submerged in water due to the artificial lake of Attabad Hunza, which occured on January 04, 2010.

  5. Simerg you are doing an incredible job! Absolutely stunning pictures. Thank you for sharing this rich history and culture with all.

  6. Splendid Journey, Matthieu, you have given us via I vividly remember crossing the bridge like the one in your photo in Hunza that I had to, while I was there in 1993 for some 5 months. A couple of kind Ismaili men, my hosts to be, helped me literally, holding my hand preventing me from falling between the shaky wooden planks tied with ropes. The other brother had my luggage. He crossed it so fast that he was waiting for us at the other end. I was privileged to have this life time of experience.

  7. Matthieu: magnifique…lighting, content (esp. the realities of life), composition, angle…vision.

    I also looked at your website. The photographs show the realities we don’t see in words and the news …and generate thoughts as to how can one can solve the problems? We are a fast paced society, and many people do well understanding the issues through different media…music (hearing), art (feeling), poetry, photography (vision) such as yours…now I understand better the struggles that the Ismaili Imam, the Aga Khan, speaks of. Some of us live in sheltered environments and don’t look for ourselves…but your photography makes me think we need a stronger and more open forum to help. Many people want to get connected and provide help with an organization and some don’t know how.

    The few photos shown on Simerg are more than just the beauty of the people and area – they address the realities within that beauty, the struggle that is man’s (men and women) all over the world, in the heart, in the real requirement of basic needs and safety and health. They show that sometimes we celebrate (smile, as the Imam says) to help us look up and step up to the magnificence that can be. Only if you look up, can you reach, and in looking down take opportunities to help your fellow men and women.

    Your have brought something else to the table is soul searching and stirring. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. I just want to say what an incredible job Simerg is doing such as through the presentation of these absolutely stunning photographs. Your ideas and openness, to be inclusive, and show us so many aspects of our history and culture etc, as well as including other excellent links, is a testament that you are an educator, a friend of the community, and an idea generator. Rest assured this is deeply satisfying and heart warming for us.

    I am sure others are just as grateful.

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