National Geographic : 2013 Feb
96 national geographic • February 2013 WakhjirAksuWakhanP a mir Zor Kol (Zorkul) Panj Broghil Pass 12,736 ft 3,882 m Broghil Pass 12,736 ft 3,882 m Irshad Pass 16,335 ft 4,979 m Irshad Pass 16,335 ft 4,979 m Darwaza Pass 14,068 ft 4,288 m Darwaza Pass 14,068 ft 4,288 m Babaghundi Ziarat Babaghundi Ziarat Kotal-e Tegermansu 15,984 ft 4,872 m Kotal-e Tegermansu 15,984 ft 4,872 m Boundary claimed by India Boundary claimed by India Boundary claimed by India Boundary claimed by India 20,768 ft 6,330 m Wakhjir Pass 16,165 ft 4,927 m Khodarg Werth 15,259 ft 4,651 m Broghil Pass 12,736 ft 3,882 m Broghil Pass 12,736 ft 3,882 m Irshad Pass 16,335 ft 4,979 m Irshad Pass 16,335 ft 4,979 m Darwaza Pass 14,068 ft 4,288 m Darwaza Pass 14,068 ft 4,288 m Kotal-e Tegermansu 15,984 ft 4,872 m Kotal-e Tegermansu 15,984 ft 4,872 m Kotal-e Shaur 16,043 ft 4,890 m BigPamir H induKushPAMIRSKarakoramRangeLittlePamir Hajji Roshan Khan’s winter camp Khan’s summer camp Ishkashim Langar Sarhad Shirk Babaghundi Ziarat Babaghundi Ziarat AFGHANISTAN CHINA TAJIKISTAN AFGHANISTAN PAKISTAN ASIA WAKHAN minded. They don’t often rally around a leader, says Ted Callahan, an anthropological researcher who lived with the Kyrgyz for more than a year. A Kyrgyz joke goes that if you put three people in a yurt and come back an hour later, you’ll find five khans. Some say the new khan is too young. Or too inexperienced. They say he’s an opium smoker. (He insists he’s quit.) They say he is not san- geen, which means “like a rock,” representing the strength and toughness the Kyrgyz look for in a leader. One faction argues that a rival who lives on the other end of the valley should have become khan. Others insist there is no need for a khan anymore; the time of the khans is finished. The new khan’s biggest supporter, though, is Er Ali Bai. Some critics complain that an aksakal—a “white beard”—should have been picked. “Yes,” Er Ali Bai replies. “There are people with long beards. Goats also have long beards. Should we have selected a goat?” There’s no need for con- cern, he adds. “He will become a great khan.” Still, the young khan worries. He’s striving to convince his people that he is the right per- son for this job. And he is working to resolve the tremendous problems the Kyrgyz face as they fight to survive in one of Earth’s most un- forgiving environments. o n moving day the khan must focus on making sure the loaded yaks arrive at his summer camp. Though it’s late June, snow falls, swirling beneath cottage cheese clouds. But the khan can’t wait. The grass at his winter camp requires every day of the brief growing season to renew. The khan and his family live in a gloomy, thick-walled mud hut in winter, and in a yurt the rest of the time. Each Kyrgyz camp follows a relatively simple migration pattern, living on the warmer, south-facing side of the valley in winter, then trekking the five or so miles to the other side in summer. I catch a ride on one of the khan’s tamer yaks and join the procession. The horizon, everywhere you look, is halted by towering chiseled peaks. Here, on the roof of the world, several of Asia’s highest ranges meet—the the Kyrgyz feel locked in a distant outpost, encaged by a spiked fence of snowy peaks, lost in the swirl of history and politics and conflict.