National Geographic : 1968 Sep
In an instant Lal and one of the yak driv ers jumped to the rescue, hauling me up and freeing the horse. No bones broken, we con tinued down, the lame leading the lame. We pitched our tents at 14,000 feet, near a summer camp of villagers from Sargaz. The spongy grass hummocks reminded me of the Alaskan tundra. Much of the year they are buried in snow. "The yaks can't stand the summer heat in the valley," Lal explained. "Half the village spends the warm months with the herds." Tajik women in long red dresses were milking rows of yaks. They hurried to finish before sunset. Now it was warm, in the mid 80's; half an hour after sunset, water would be freezing in our canteens. Mountains Harbor Wary Wildlife An easy day's ride brought us to the Touli boy Valley, one of the last preserves of the Marco Polo sheep (Ovis poli). The govern ment periodically opens the valley to hunters -who pay $6,000 to bag a single sheep. The difficulty of the hunt makes the massive spi ral horns of the Marco Polo the most coveted of big-game trophies. At a small camp I found Ali Gohar Sheikh, a leathery old hunter, who now spends his summers as game warden at Touliboy. "I've taken over 200 sheep and ibex in these hills," Ali Gohar said. "Many hunters worked together, one team driving a herd to gunners waiting in stands near the passes. Those days are over. The government con trols the hunting now. But if you're just shoot ing with cameras, I can find you some sheep." Before dawn next morning, Ali Gohar was ready with three yaks. I rode behind him up the steep slope, guiding my shaggy beast with a rope rein tied to a ring in his nose. I soon found that the yak, though clumsy looking, walks nearly as fast as a horse and is far more sure-footed. I could feel his giant heart beat ing under the lambskin saddle as we passed 15,000 feet. Suddenly Ali Gohar stopped. "There they are!" he whispered. I saw noth ing but the gray hills. On foot we edged toward an outcropping of rocks, and Ali Gohar passed me his binoculars. Across a Pick of the Afghan fruit basket invites shoppers at a market in the capital. Family gardens crowd the rich Kabul Valley, yield ing pomegranates, lemons, oranges, egg plants, tangerines, and the region's renowned grapes. Framed mottoes ask Allah's favor. 312 EKTACHROMEBYTHOMASJ. ABERCROMBIE© N.G.S.