National Geographic : 1952 Jun
We Dwelt in Kashgai Tents An Adventurous American Couple Shares Daily Life in Camp and Saddle with Nomad Shepherds of Iran BY JEAN AND FRANC SHOR With Illustrations from Photographs by the Authors FROM Istanbul to rugged Afghanistan, across desert wastes and barren mountain ranges of the Near East, the word "Kashgai" spells red-blooded adventure. Ranging from Persian Gulf pastures to wind-swept highlands in the Zagros Moun tains, the Kashgai tribesmen are saddle-bred, tent-dwelling descendants of the conquering hordes of Genghis Khan. In their ancestral lands of southern Iran, these proud and fiercely independent people preserve a nomadic way of life rare in our modern world. The suave, slender man sitting across the table from my wife and me in a Tehran res taurant seemed far removed from such an existence. His well-tailored clothes and Ox ford accent bespoke, rather, a London draw ing room or gentlemen's club. Yet Malek Mansur Kashgai-proudly bearing the name of the tribe-is one of its hereditary chiefs and is famed throughout Iran for his horse manship and prowess as a hunter (page 832). "When you return to Iran," he said, "make us a visit. Live with the tribe, travel with us on our migration, share our everyday existence. Then you can tell others about the life of nomads." A year later new assignments took Jean and me to the Near East. We wrote to Malek Mansur, asking if his invitation still held good. Back came a cable: "We are in summer pas tures. Hurry to Tehran. My cousin will escort you to tribal lands." To Iran's capital we flew, only to receive bad news. The Anglo-Iranian oil dispute was reaching a crisis, and the Government had issued a decree strictly forbidding foreigners to enter tribal areas.* His Majesty the Shah Intercedes Appeals to the Press Ministry and Army were fruitless. In desperation we took our case to Mohammed Riza Shah Pahlevi, our gracious host during part of our previous visit. The Shah was sympathetic. Two days later the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Army handed us a pass that permitted us to travel freely in Kashgai land. "With the compliments of His Imperial Majesty," he said with a smile. With Habib Kashgai, Malek Mansur's cousin, we flew to Isfahan. He was accom panied by two servants. One carried shot guns, rifles, and a case of Coca-Cola, while the other gingerly held a package that was encased in a box of crushed ice. Half a dozen tribesmen in a jeep and a com mand car met us. Our luggage and Habib's supplies were loaded into the car. We climbed into the jeep and set out on the 50-mile drive to the town of Shahriza (see Southwest Asia map, a supplement to this issue). At every large village sentries stopped us, but our pass proved an open-sesame. One glance at it and the soldiers saluted and sent us on our way. We left the main highway at Shahriza and jounced overland on narrow trails that grew more rugged by the minute. Often we crossed swift mountain streams; each called for a halt to wet our dusty throats. Every time we stopped, Habib's servant cooled his mys terious package in the rushing water. Share Tribesmen's Rice and Lamb At trail's end we camped for the night. Kashgai families had pitched black goat-hair tents near by, and we shared their dinner of fluffy rice and lamb broiled over open coals. Early next morning, mounted on horses and burros, we set out for Malek Mansur's camp. "Now we're in Kashgai territory," Habib informed us. "All the people you meet from now on will be our tribesmen." The jeep ride had taken us through arid country, bare and desolate under the scorch ing sun. Now the land changed as we rode toward the towering Zagros Mountains. Snow still capped their highest peaks, some of which reach up to over 14,000 feet. Our horses picked their way through flower strewn valley meadows and an occasional field of grain ripening beside the trail. Herdsmen in brightly colored robes tended flocks of fat tailed sheep. White camels grazed every where. Horsemen, erect on finely bred ani mals, raised guns in salute as we passed. Dusk found us in Malek's camp, pitched in a high mountain valley. A snow-fed stream, lined with trees, ran through the cluster of canvas and goat-hair tents. The canvas shelters were bright blue, yellow, and red, in contrast to the usual black Kashgai tents. *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Journey into Troubled Iran," by George W. Long, October, 1951, and "Mountain Tribes of Iran and Iraq," by Harold Lamb, March, 1946.