In December of 2017, I embarked on my first trip to Tajikistan, a mountainous country that is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and China to the east. My primary purpose was to hunt for Ibex. I booked my hunt with Hunting & Conservation Alliance Tajikistan through BookYourHunt.com, the online marketplace that makes finding and booking hunts quick and easy. Aleksei, the founder of BookYourHunt.com, Saadi, who was an incredible interpreter, and other H&CAT people who I communicated with all spoke three languages fluently and were invaluable for educating us about the customs and culture of the people we met both from the cities and in the mountains.
When I arrived in Dushanbe, the capital, I was met at the airport by the guides and their staff. From there, we went to an amazing dinner at a Turkish restaurant before setting off on an eight hour drive up through the mountains. At the beginning of our journey, the highways were somewhat rough, but as we traveled further along the Afghan border, we began to marvel at the impressive feats of engineering needed to construct these roads.
We stopped for the night at a Markhor camp where the food and lodging were both excellent. There were some local biologists there with whom we had some fascinating discussions about the Markhor populations (which have been increasing in recent years). We left early the next morning to continue our trek north, with a small village being our ultimate destination and where we would begin our hunt. After another eight hours of traveling deeper into the mountains, we reached our destination and were welcomed into the home of our guide who is also a biologist.
As this was my first experience traveling in Asia, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone we met was very friendly and accommodating. They invited us to eat, have tea and generally made every effort to make us feel at home. Most of the population in this area are subsistence farmers but have another trade as well. The way of life in Tajikistan is considerably different from that of the US. From my vantage point, it seems that the local people are accustomed to working with a certain amount of discomfort, whether from the weather, the agricultural challenges or the general difficulties of life in such a remote region. It was fascinating to see how the locals appeared, always smiling, always helpful and happy. The individuals I met on this trip included some of the toughest men I have ever come across, and that includes my 20+ safaris through the jungles and savannah of Africa.
The hunt began with a hike of about 20 miles up into the mountains. There were small, well trained donkeys to carry our gear. Everyone on the hunt knew their responsibility and performed their job exceptionally well. In addition to being guides, the Palmieri people are trained biologists and have been in these mountains their entire lives. I was impressed with their exceptional ability to cover ground quickly and seemingly without effort. They are a confident group of men who work well together. They led the way up the mountain trails while we followed closely with walking sticks, carefully watching and following their moves. They kept a close eye on us, making sure we were acclimating to the climate and the altitude. The food consisted mainly of very good stews served with tea.
The following day, we began our hike into the main area we would be hunting in. At one point, several of the guides unpacked the spotting scope, set it into position and within a few minutes, we were looking at a group of 9-11 ibex on a hill about 2 hours in the distance. They invited me to look through the spotting scope and I saw 2 good, mature rams and one exceptionally good ram. My guide, Munavvar, explained that the ibex was very good and we should try a stalk. He said if we weren’t successful, in a few hours, we would see many more. I appreciated that he explained the situation to me.
I was fortunate to take an ibex in 2 1/2 hours and it was a tremendous trophy. Everyone in camp was very helpful in carrying the trophy and the skin down. Because it was dark when we finished, they insisted on coming back the next day to get the meat. They were more concerned with me getting back to camp and resting after a great experience. The next day, we had ibex stew in camp. My friend also harvested a beautiful ibex the same day. It took us a lot less time to climb down through the mountains and back to the village. Of course, by then we were much better acclimated to the elevation.
We came back to another wonderful home cooked meal at Munavvars home. The following day, we traveled to the hot springs, which was great. We said goodbye to several of the guides that lived in villages along the road. It was a great experience, physically demanding but very gratifying. I felt that I made friends with the people I met and the experience was one I’d like to relive. I have rebooked another hunt for November 2018 to return this amazing place.
by Frank Zitz.