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What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

- Henry David Thoreau

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Focus

Dec 19, 2016

The Manu Project: Documenting the Amazon’s Remote Communities

A team of journalists, photographers and filmmakers document the evolving lives of communities in the Manu region of the Peruvian Amazon.

WRITTEN BY

Kevin Floerke

The hunter’s bare feet move soundlessly over the forest floor. He pauses, listening intently to the chorus of sounds for any irregularity that might betray the presence of his prey. To me the echoes of the Amazonian wilderness are a symphony of the unknown, but to his trained ears they are an index of the seemingly endless mass of living creatures that surround us. Suddenly he tenses, a momentary flexion of muscle before he languidly springs into action. Racing across a sprawling patchwork of vines and tree roots he reaches a clearing and in one relaxed motion strings an arrow to his wooden bow, takes aim and fires into the canopy. More than a hundred feet up a startled but relieved spider monkey scampers away, unharmed.

The scene may sound like a romantic tale of a different world, or perhaps a lost time. But in fact, Marcos Shumarapague is a contemporary resident of the Native Community of Yomibato, a Matsigenka settlement inside the restricted area of Manu National Park in Peru.

Upon realizing his prey has eluded him Marcos wipes his hands on his grey woolen slacks, checks his Casio digital watch and concludes it’s time for a short break. He pulls a stainless steel knife out of his Nike backpack and sharpens a few arrow points. He seems oblivious to the incessant clicks of the cameras held by a team of western photographers who have accompanied him on his early morning hunt. “Catching monkeys can be hard, you have to be quick, and quiet.” At these last words his eyes flash up at me knowingly. Certainly my plodding rubber boots had made a thundering cacophony of sound as compared to his agile footsteps.

Everything about the moment, from Marcos’ handmade bow and arrows fletched with the feathers of local tropical birds to his factory-made cotton clothing and the presence of gringo journalists here in the deep Peruvian Amazon reflects the changing reality of Manu National Park and its indigenous inhabitants.

Manu National Park boasts one of the highest degrees of biodiversity in the world. Debates rage as to whether the presence of communities like Yomibato help to protect or further endanger wild animals such as this marmoset, seen swinging from a branch along the Manu River. Photo: Brett Monroe Garner
Manu National Park boasts one of the highest degrees of biodiversity in the world. Debates rage as to whether the presence of communities like Yomibato help to protect or further endanger wild animals such as this marmoset, seen swinging from a branch along the Manu River. Photo: Brett Monroe Garner

Manu National Park boasts one of the highest degrees of biodiversity in the world. Debates rage as to whether the presence of communities like Yomibato help to protect or further endanger wild animals such as this marmoset, seen swinging from a branch along the Manu River. Photo: Brett Monroe Garner

Manu National Park is the epitome of the adventure travel destination. Nestled in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, it evokes all of the essential tropes of the genre. It is the perfect mix of remote, mysterious, dangerous, and exotic. But, perhaps most importantly, Manu provides travelers with a sense that what they are seeing and experiencing is somehow pure, untouched, or authentic. Of course the great irony of adventure travel is that the very elements enthusiasts seek are diminished by their finding. Fresh tracks can be made only once. A pristine beach visited by too many sunbathing tourists becomes tainted; an abandoned temple is debased when flanked by a gift shop and a café.

But Manu Park is not abandoned, and for the more than 500 people who live in communities within park boundaries negotiating a changing way of life is part of their daily reality. Despite its remote location, Manu receives over nine thousand tourists annually. Its additional value as a research area for biologists, ecologists, conservationists and anthropologists makes it paradoxically one of Peru’s most remote and heavily visited destinations. The high degree of interest and frequency of visits by foreign researchers and tourists have thrust the once-secluded and relatively inaccessible communities of the region into an evolving and sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the outside world.

A young Matsigenka woman prepares a meal of Amazonian catfish steamed in bamboo shoots. She wears a traditional cushma while she works with her mother, but takes it off when she heads to the nearby schoolhouse for lessons. Photo: Kevin Floerke
A young Matsigenka woman prepares a meal of Amazonian catfish steamed in bamboo shoots. She wears a traditional cushma while she works with her mother, but takes it off when she heads to the nearby schoolhouse for lessons. Photo: Kevin Floerke

The community of Yomibato lies is in what is known as the “restricted area” of Manu, a zone of legal protection that is only accessible with express permission of the community leaders and the Peruvian government. Two security checkpoints along the Manu River manned by members of the Peruvian environment ministry function both to prevent unauthorized access to the community and to restrict the flow of natural goods out of the park, such as illegally sourced timber or animal products. This distinction allows the citizens of Yomibato a rare opportunity for indigenous communities: a sense of autonomy and control in their interactions with the outside.

Yomibato is also one of the most geographically remote communities in Peru. To arrive here our team has traveled over 600 kilometers down the winding mountain passes of the Andes and up the thickly wooded riverbanks of three different tributaries of the Amazon. We have spent more than 36 hours in a boat riding down the clear rushing waters of the Madre de Dios River, past its confluence with the thick, brown, slow-moving outflow of the Manu River and up the at times impossibly narrow and shallow ravine of the Yomibato River. The latter section is an arduous trek. The Yomibato is much smaller waterway that is extremely difficult to navigate even in the best of conditions. In the dry season, when the river is low, the community of the same name is accessible only by a seven-day hike through the rainforest from their closest neighbors. In the river’s more difficult sections we are regularly forced to get out and carry the boat over shallow portions of the riverbed. In these moments it is impossible not to think of the several black caiman we have sighted sunning themselves on the sandy beaches on the way upriver. At one point we encounter a fallen tree that blocks our path. Mario, our young but highly capable boat captain, orders us to disembark as he revs the engine and charges at the only submerged section of the tree’s trunk. He hits it with just enough force to slide the boat’s hull across to the other side. It is not a journey for the faint of heart.

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Electric lights powered by solar panels allow community members to work into the night inside of the restricted area of Manu National Park. Photo: Lina Collado

Returning to the community of Yomibato after our failed hunt, aspects of their relative isolation from outside influence are immediately clear: children wear traditional Matsigenka tunics, called cushmas, to attend an outdoor classroom. Lessons here are taught both in Spanish and Matsigenka. It is the only school of its kind. Women wear colorful necklaces adorned with seed casings and nut-shells, as well as traditional silver nose rings. Infants are painted with huito, a temporary dye made of crushed fruit pulp and water, believed to ward off biting insects. Elements of the outside world are also present. The wooden schoolhouse is lined with solar panels to produce electricity for lights. Nearby there is a health post stocked with vaccines, antibiotics and other western medicines. The widely spread out settlement uses strategically placed radio units to communicate important messages and coordinate communal events. From an outsider’s perspective, to walk in Yomibato feels much like walking with a foot in two distinct worlds. However, for the residents of this remote community, their world is as coherently whole as any other.

Benito Chinchiquiti and his wife Romualda Yotoni have been schoolteachers in Yomibato for over thirty years. While both were born in the Andean foothills in the Quillabamba region of Peru, they are ethnically and culturally Matsigenka. Their command of both Matsigenka and Spanish helped them create a unique curriculum that combines lessons both languages. As indigenous people educated in the Catholic mission system of Peru, they also have a unique perspective on the cultural dynamics of their people. They have made it their mission to encourage the protection of their cultural history while preparing students for life outside the Park. Chinchiquiti explains, “Clearly the children must learn Spanish in order to get work [outside], to make money. But it is equally important that they learn their native language. They must learn to have pride in themselves and where they come from.”

The crew's boat navigates the narrow waterway of the Yomibato River. Photo: Lina Collado
The crew’s boat navigates the narrow waterway of the Yomibato River. Photo: Lina Collado

To that end Chinchiquiti delivers a daily message before the beginning of class to the assembled students. He alternates between Matsigenka and Spanish, expounding upon the combined importance of education and respect for cultural tradition. “It is hard to be indigenous. People try to tell you that being indigenous is bad, that we are stupid or incapable. We tell the students ‘you are not stupid.’ We tell them that indigenous people are some of the strongest and most capable people, that we have survived a lot and we are still here.” Yotoni adds “It is difficult because while we tell them to be proud of their traditions they must also always be thinking about how to make money. They must consider how they will work and eat and make a life for themselves. We have to be sure we are teaching them that as well.”

The need to adapt to a modern way of life led Chinchiquiti and Yotoni to implement a policy that all community members must wear solar-powered digital watches. This allows students to arrive to classes on time, and helps parents get used to keeping a regular schedule. While this may seem like a basic necessity to those born in western countries, in Matsigenka culture it represented a major shift. Yotoni explains, “In order to get and keep a job [outside] you have to show up on time. People always say indigenous people are lazy and show up whenever they want, but that is just because [traditionally] we have never had to know what time it was. This helps everyone to get work and make money.”

Spider monkeys represent an important source of protein for Matsigenka communities inside of Manu National Park. The use of traditional hunting methods ensure that the animals are not hunted. Photo: Lina Collado
Spider monkeys represent an important source of protein for Matsigenka communities inside of Manu National Park. The use of traditional hunting methods ensure that the animals are not hunted. Photo: Lina Collado

Worries about money and employment are not unique to Yomibato. During our journey through the various indigenous communities on the way into Manu National Park, the conflict between disappearing cultural values and the need to adapt to a modern economy has been a pervasive theme. Many communities are struggling to escape the destructive legacy of extractive industry, born during the disastrous rubber boom of the 1890s. During that time an estimated 90 percent of indigenous residents of the some Amazonian regions were killed or enslaved. In place of other damaging and exploitative industries such as oil and gold, many communities outside the restricted area are turning to tourism.

While it is understandably impossible to bring tourism to the restricted area of the park, Yomibato and the neighboring community of Tayakome jointly operate an eco-tourism lodge below the final security checkpoint on the Manu River. Their lodge, Casa Matsigenka, is one of the only tourist destinations that allows visitors to sleep inside the National Park, as well as interact directly with residents of the inaccessible communities of the restricted area. The profits from the operation are managed at a central office in Cusco, and then disbursed to community members who appeal to the director for grants based on their needs.  This allows the communities to benefit from tourism in the park without receiving regular visits from outsiders.

According to Indiana University anthropologist John Bunce, who has worked extensively in the restricted area of Manu, this kind of one-way boundary may contribute to the maintenance of unique cultural elements. “The boundaries imposed by park officials afford the communities some control over the nature of their interaction with the outside.” Although he is quick to add, “it is a separate but important question whether such boundaries are desired by the communities themselves.”

Indeed, not all of the residents of Yomibato are interested in resisting the forces of change. Many, especially the younger generations, are embracing elements of the outside world that they feel will improve their lives.

The sun sets over a cluster of Matsigenka houses. Communities in the restricted area are made up of several widely spread groupings such as this, mirroring traditional Matsigenka settlement platforms. Photo: Lina Collado
The sun sets over a cluster of Matsigenka houses. Communities in the restricted area are made up of several widely spread groupings such as this, mirroring traditional Matsigenka settlement platforms. Photo: Lina Collado

Rita Mambiro is a 19-year-old woman who has spent her entire life in Yomibato. When she meets us her arms are colored black by thick layers of huito juice, a stark contrast to her pink and white striped cotton tank top. While she proudly identifies as Matsigenka, she is part of a growing number of young women who are resisting elements of traditional Matsigenka gender roles. She explains her rejection of the jaula (Spanish for cage), a coming of age ritual for Matsigenka women. Upon their first menstruation women are sequestered alone, away from all other community members. During this time only their future husbands or a male relative are allowed to visit them to bring food and water. There is no prescribed limit for this period of isolation, and Mambiro tells us that her mother was kept in the jaula for three years. When it came time for Mambiro to enter the jaula, she told her mother she was not willing to go. “I said I was going to continue going to school.” She has also rejected the traditional idea that she will have a large family and forego paid work to work in the family fields and raise children. “I want to go to Puerto Maldonado to study to become a chef.” This is not to say that Mambiro plans to abandon all of her traditions. She proudly speaks of learning how to weave a cushma from her mother, and how she plans to teach her children to speak her native language. For Rita, and the women of her generation, cultural preservation is not a black and white option, but an opportunity to weave a tapestry of cultural traditions for future generations of Matsigenka children.

Across town Jesus Shumarapague (Marcos’ son) is currently the technician at the local health clinic. At the age of 15 he left to receive his education in Puerto Maldonado, which, at a mere four-day journey, is the nearest city. His decision to leave the park was not an easy one, as Jesus explains, “I had to lie and say I was only heading to [the small town of] Boca Manu to work for a few weeks. The community president and the park guards both tried to stop me from leaving, but I knew I had to go. I couldn’t see any opportunity here.”

Rita Mambiro is a member of a growing number of young Matsigenka women who embrace both their traditional heritage and a changing role for women in their society. Photo: Lina Collado
Rita Mambiro is a member of a growing number of young Matsigenka women who embrace both their traditional heritage and a changing role for women in their society. Photo: Lina Collado

Once Jesus arrived in Puerto Maldonado he found life outside of the park to be more difficult than he anticipated. “I worked two jobs just to pay my tuition. I had nothing to eat.” Despite his struggles he felt that the benefits of his education were great enough to endure. “Once you have seen what there is outside, you have to see more. You cannot live without knowing.” The long road to an education ultimately brought Jesus back to his home in Yomibato. “I saw a posting for a job here, and I felt I really wanted to come back. I understand this place, and I wanted to see my family again. I want to show them why I left.” For Jesus, his relationship to his home is a complicated mix of nostalgia and a sense of restriction. Over the course of three days I would ask Jesus three times where he would want to settle down and live when it comes time to have a family. Twice he answers that he would someday live in Yomibato, and once he tells me he would live outside of the park.

The internal conflict that Jesus describes is a microcosm of the relationship of his people to the outside world. While the benefits of development are at times self-evident, there is a core of identity that most would be loath to abandon. As Chichiquiti explains, “We are proud of who we are. We feel we have much to teach the world. We know how to live in the forest, how not to destroy it. We know many things that the people outside do not.” He envisions a world where the knowledge of his indigenous people is held in esteem alongside the beliefs of the outside. “For us to have peace in this world we need to respect all cultures equally. Not dominate each other as we have in the past. We are all equal; we are all people.”

Anthropologist Wade Davis has famously written, “Change itself does not destroy a culture. All societies are constantly evolving. Indeed a culture survives when it has enough confidence in its past and enough say in its future to maintain its spirit and essence through all the changes it will inevitably undergo.” In many ways the residents of Yomibato appear not to be resisting all of the changes that have been thrust upon them. Instead they look to engage with their future in a more equitable and autonomous way, one that acknowledges and respects their history and way of life. Not only is this the most morally agreeable option, it may in fact be the best thing for the future of our planet and its people.

Feature Image:A young girl is painted with huito juice and wears a traditional Matsigenka nose ring. While the world she will inherit is rapidly changing, living inside of the restricted area of Manu National Park will mean that many of the traditional elements of her culture will be better preserved. Photo: Kevin Floerke

The Manu Project is a multimedia effort made up of journalists, photographers and filmmakers who spent a month traveling and living among the communities of the Manu region of the Peruvian Amazon. You can see more of their work at www.manuproject.com

This story was part of The Outdoor Journal Autumn 2016 print edition.

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Focus

Oct 01, 2018

The Forbidden Zone: Mongols, to Your Horses

The rolling green hills, rocky passes, flower-laden meadows and clear streams of Gorkhi Terelj National Park in northern Mongolia is the birthplace of the Mongols. The Outdoor Journal spent a week on horseback with Stone Horse Expeditions in the heart of this country’s vast wilderness.

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WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

Tdrihe Khan Khentii mountains stretched before us, from one end of the azure sky to the other. Tegri, the Great Sky God, watched us with his infinite panorama. From here, I could see miles and miles into the distance. This was the “Forbidden Zone”, that unknown wilderness where Genghis Khan was born. As a child and then again much later on, he hunted here, his true home, on a horse, sheltered in a ger or under the blue sky. When he was a boy, exiled with his family into the cold and harsh wilderness of the northern Mongolian hills, his only friends were what these lands contained. After he built an empire and died, it became a sacred and taboo zone, left to the deer and wolves. For decades the area had been closed off. The Soviets enforced it as a Highly Restricted Area to allow them to do what they wished with it – from logging and military exercises, to also countering any potential rise of Mongolian nationalism around the great Khan. Despite those years, the Area remained wild.

No wonder the Mongols worshipped it.

A day before, we had crossed fresh bear tracks. There were no signs of human presence apart from our train of horses and riders. And now, this vista lay in front of us, green and yellow grassy hills, long valleys, meadows of flowers stretching to higher mountains all the way to Siberia, some still snow-dusted despite the summer sun. Burkhan Khaldun stood further behind higher peaks. And that incredible sky. No wonder the Mongols worshipped it. We all lived once under this blue infinity. As we’d ridden northwards away from Ulan Bator, the city’s pollution had faded away long ago, the gray curse had lifted and my eyes had once again accustomed themselves to what they had evolved to do – see long distances, look for hares, deer, bears, navigate passes and ford streams, climb rocks, and watch falcons circle on thermals above. And over the last few days, we had done all these things.

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The weary horseriders arrive in the ger to refresh themselves.

We had left our last camp around mid-morning, some hours ago. One half of the party broke away to ride into another valley out west, while Keith and I wanted to ride up and to the pass in the range of hills that separated the Gorkhi Terelj from the Khan Khentii. We skirted the granite mounds which punctuated the ends of this valley, forded a marshy grassland below the campsite, fought off the bloodsucking horseflies that made our horses’ lives miserable for a little while, eventually entering a tall forest of larch and birch. The ground began to rise as we entered a narrow rocky trail that started to wind uphill. Jerry, my sturdy, stubborn little Mongolian horse plodded on. This easy gait was infinitely more comfortable than the long trots of our previous days in the saddle. Keith Swenson, a taciturn, the 64 year-old owner of Stone Horse Expeditions along with his wife Sabine Schmidt, showed none of the wear I felt – my skin of my thighs were quite literally raw after 50 kilometers of riding and trotting in the wilderness. After a few days Keith opened up with wisecracks. “People ask what do you do, and I say I’m a rider”, says Keith, punning on his American accent. “They think I mean ‘writer’, “and they ask, what have you written?” “So I say, Blackie, Brownie, Ol Dirty Face…”, naming his horses.

These lands, however remote, are important.

Halfway up the trail was a shaman’s totem, poles placed on the ground to make a conical structure, wrapped with bits of fabric and ribbons. But at the base, and near a tree, we also found broken shards of glass, vodka bottles drunk and thrown by unknown travelers who no longer respected their old ways. We’d been riding for an hour or so and we stopped for a short break in the little opening in the forest. It was quite warm in the strong sun, perhaps 30C like every day of the summer, but cold at nights, often dipping below freezing.

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These Mongolian horses play a huge role in making a trip across the steppe easy and fun for riders. Each horse has a unique personality. Big Dirty Face pictured here loves coffee and will drink it straight from your cup if you let him.

The Mongols invented the modern world*

The old ways are important. These lands, however remote, are important. The Mongols invented the modern world*. When, at the age of 55, Genghis Khan rode out into Asia and Europe, he created the largest empire known to humanity, as well as its first international postal system, and the largest free-flowing network of ideas, trade and culture. But today, Mongolia feels relatively isolated and far away, landlocked in the Eurasian continent. And getting there turned out to be a greater adventure than we’d expected. Instead of flying, we took the famous Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Ulan Bator. At 11pm, the train pulled into the last station on the China-Mongolia border to change the undercarriage (the railway gauge is different in Mongolia). Three hours later we got back on the train and waited patiently for the Chinese guards to hand us all our passports back. Our intern’s passport was returned ripped from its cover. Before anyone could make a move, the train entered Mongolia… where the Mongolian border guard insisted that the 18-year old girl get off the train because she wasn’t allowed to enter on an invalid passport. Twenty minutes of arguing later, at nearly three am, we got off and watched the train leave without us.

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Mongolian cuisine is typically meat and dairy products. Vegans beware.

Fifteen hours later, after many phone calls and emails to various embassies and important officials, she was finally allowed to enter the country. The Trans-Mongolian having long gone, we finagled an eight-hour taxi ride across the great steppes (on a second-hand car coming off a goods train) for $45. Welcome to Mongolia.

REAL MEN TROT

I did not have much riding experience, but I usually don’t let a little thing like that deter me from a trip. Keith, once also a climber, agreed that anyone up for adventure would be perfectly fine on a Mongolian horse. They were sturdy and forgiving. We all gathered at their staging camp an hour’s drive from Ulan Bator – a Singaporean couple on their second trip with Stone Horse, their friend from Hong Kong, a French diplomat from Swaziland, our team of three, Keith, Sabine and their crew – Nyamaa, Buyana and Jackson, the American intern. Soon, our team of 16 horses and Stinky the Mongolian Dog, a most genuine companion if there ever was one, were off towards the north. Day one went reasonably well, with a short four hour ride to our first campsite inside the Gorkhi Terelj National Park. The other experienced riders asked me various questions about how I felt and whether my horse had cantered or galloped, and I said I didn’t know, but the horse seemed to know what it was doing. Apparently, they have many gaits.

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Nomads Yadmaa and Tavaasurn inside their summer ger, just outside Gorkhi Terelj.

I learned what that meant the next day.

The morning begins easily and we move along a gentle valley. At a stream, the horses bend to drink. They’re herd animals, comfortable only in their own numbers. Suddenly, there’s a commotion as one of the pack horses spooks and bolts. We’re unprepared, and good old Jerry decides to follow the bolting horse too, suddenly turning 180 degrees and galloping wildly. I have to pull firmly on the reins to stop him, while the teamsters have to get the other fella back. He’s bucking around wildly, his unshod feet stamping, his grass-eating brain telling him that that bee sting he felt on his hind was a wolf’s nip. Stinky ignores the commotion, running ahead happily back in his favorite hunting grounds, chasing ground squirrels to their holes. We continue, entering a forest and then riding uphill to a pass. On the other side, a wide open valley, and our first real gallop. Now I feel the sensation, riding with the animal as one, gently cycling my feet in the stirrups and gripping with my knees, all of it coming naturally to me and I urge Jerry on, on, on. Chhoo, Jerry, Chhoo! We stop at a babbling brook in the valley below where we wash our faces. Are we in paradise?

And then the long trot begins. For a horse, it’s the most comfortable way to move. But it’s bouncy. I try to “post” like all the real riders. Watching me grimace in agony, Keith smiled and said, “real men trot,” as he rode along comfortably with that rolling ankle movement to compensate for the horse’s bumpy ride. “Trotting is how the Mongols moved such vast distances. If you make him gallop, you won’t get very far, you’ll kill the horse”.

a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities

But Mongolia changed the course of human history since long before the great Khan and his riders, the ultimate, self-sufficient soldiers. Apart from the Mongols, it is also the original homeland of the Huns and the Turks. It is a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities, where thousands of years ago two language families met and separated – the Indo-Europeans and the Altaics – and possibly where the wild horse was first tamed, thereby changing the course of history. When men on horses first raced out of Central Asia, first ancient Mesopotamia, then Egypt fell. Europe’s original ‘mother culture’ and India’s Harappan civilization disappeared. Humans, moving incredible distances on horses, spread across Asia, from the western end of Europe to Korea, all the way down to Arabia and India, creating nearly all the cultures we know today. Some of the languages they spoke evolved today into English, and others evolved into Japanese, but some of their words have become so intermingled that it’s hard to distinguish which came from which. Hindi is an Indo-European language, but today the common Hindi word for “home” is “ghar” (from the Sanskrit “grhá”) which is nearly identical to the Altaic Mongolian’s word for home, ger.

When the Hunnu (“Huns”) fought the Chinese Hans, the clans that lost fled towards Europe, creating Hungary, as well as leading to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. Centuries later, the Turkics originally from the Mongolian steppes came hurtling into Constantinople, wiping out the Eastern Roman Empire.

We ride through rocky hills and rock formations, up and down defiles, over passes and across shallow streams, through meadows of flowers and knee-high grass. We ride all day, and every evening set up our traveling camp like the Mongols of old. We sleep in modern-day lightweight tents, under trees or under the stars, breathing cold clear air, drinking from fresh rain-fed streams, eating atop rocks while falcons circle above and the horses graze.

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The Stone Horse team from left to right – Jackson, Keith, Buyana, Nyamaa and Sabine.

The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

One day we stretched out the ride to reach a farther campsite, a Hunnu gravesite. We set up our tents atop 2000-year old graves, low mounds of stones marking the places where men, women, children and horses were laid to rest. “I believe that these people would have loved us to be here, living like they did,” said Keith. When they hear our horses, they’ll feel alive”. The next morning, I pulled my horse off to a side and to a vantage point to shoot the group riding further down the valley. Jerry stomped and neighed angrily as the herd passed him by, but I held him back. When the group disappeared into the distance, I quickly packed my camera gear back into the saddlebags. Then jumping back on, I let the horse fly as he wished, back to his herd. Jerry, the funny but tough little horse, galloped madly a mile north over the gently rising slope. Our hooves rang out in the valley, as two large round mounds, Hun graves, emerged in front on the mountainside. Neither Jerry nor I needed to veer, and we galloped directly over the centre of the mounds, the sound of our hoofbeats gladdening passed Hunnu souls. Their ancestors, our ancestors, had once tamed wild horses, and together changed the world. The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

Images by Madhuri chowdhury.

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