National Geographic : 1972 Apr
on, the riverbank is strewn with giant honey colored rushes. "Name inja chist?" I ask Sultan Shah, who owns my horse. "What is the name of this place?" "Jangal,"he replies. The forest. The word evokes something far different from this dry brown landscape. A frightened hare bursts from a thorny bush and zigzags ahead of us. Abdul Wakil shoots it with his revolver. The gunshot echoes repeatedly, a flat, dismal sound. We will have rabbit pilaf tonight. At Rorung, at an altitude of 10,500 feet, we halt for the night with a friendly Wakhi family whose house perches over the valley. Far below, the frozen Wakhan winds like a ribbon across dark-gray sands. We enter the stone house through a series of doors and rooms built like a maze to ward off wind and cold. Several anterooms shelter the family's livestock; the large living room, hub of home life, is lighted and aired only by a hole in the ceiling. Four elevated, felt-padded alcoves serve as dining and sleeping quarters. In the small kitchen, women kneel beside a narrow fireplace. They pat slabs of dough against its baking-hot walls and remove the bread with tongs when it is cooked. Roland and I sleep in one of the alcoves. Parents, chil dren, grandparents, and visitors settle in the others. They sleep naked under their covers. French Marriage Customs Puzzle Kirghiz We ride the entire following day on the dasht-a tranquil and monotonous plain. We splash through a marshy meadow, and Abdul Wakil brings his horse alongside mine. "Is Roland Michaud a rich man?" he inquires. "No, Roland Michaud does not own any land," I reply. "Nor any livestock?" "No, but he has studied a lot." "Studying doesn't make money. How was he able to buy you then?" "In France, the money does not matter so much. It is better to have a good education." He remains silent for a long time, mulling over this conversation. Abdul Wakil is wealthy. He owns some 10,000 goats and sheep, 100 yaks, 17 camels, and 12 horses. This gives him much prestige in the Wakhan, where peasants come to kiss his hand eagerly. He bestows a great honor simply by talking with me, a mere woman. "If there were good roads, I would have several cars," he asserts. 444 He doesn't realize that Zasie and its con tents would cost his 17 camels and more. Toward night we enter a valley where the muted sounds of a settlement rise with the evening mist. It is Sarhad, the last Wakhi vil lage this side of the Pamirs. We are at a crossroads of three worlds. To the north lies the U.S.S.R.; to the south, Pakistan. We are moving east, toward the Little Pamir (map, page 439), where a cluster of caravan trails the old Silk Road-leads directly into China. "Al-hamdu lillah-Praisebe to God. All 17 of them are here," Roland informs me, peer ing down the path ahead. We have caught up with the camel train. Trade Changes as Politics Change I share his happiness. A full moon shines like an egg yolk in the lapis lazuli sky, and the valley unfolds like a felt rug beneath mountains painted blue in the January cold. Beside a few stone dwellings the 17 camels graze amid sweet rushes. Five swarthy Kir ghiz cameleers squat around a fire, savoring their bowls of salted tea. "As-salam aleikum-Peace be upon you." One hand on the heart, Moslem fashion, we greet the camel drivers. "Aleikum as-salam," each responds. Here is Anal, who is in charge: small, unob trusive, precise. Then Schahchik, whose eyes are green. There is pockmarked Suleiman, hunter, cook, jack-of-all-trades. Then Ay Bash, ever smiling, the most Mongol-looking of the Kirghiz. And finally Abdul Wahid, a refugee from Russia, enigmatic and pensive. These men, like Rahman Qul and Abdul Wakil, descend from Turco-Mongolian no mads of the Russian Pamirs and Chinese Tur kistan. After the Bolshevik Revolution many drifted to the Afghan Pamirs with their herds and flocks. In summer milk products make up their basic diet, but in winter when there is little milk, they depend on bread and tea hence this caravan. In the past their marketplace was Kashgar, in Sinkiang. But in the 1950's, when political events in China inhibited trade with Kashgar, the Kirghiz began coming westward to stock up on tea, sugar, cloth, and other supplies at Khandud, and to trade for grain with the Wakhis on the way home. The next morning we witness a scene that gives us the key to the commerce between Kirghiz and Wakhis. Abdul Wakil takes over: "Eddye Mohammed, is it you? My father tells me you have wheat to sell."