Snowman stories in Tajikistan
Yeti, Snowman, Pamir, Himalaya, Tajikistan, Expedition, Stories

Vladimir Sazonov, 1982-1985


1. Ghyls

A ghyl is some sort of huge ape wrapped head-to-foot in long dirty hair. The sherpa word is yeti, but in Tajikistan, it's ghyl and the vowel is a hard "ee". People who meet one never forget the stench. They only appear from twilight to dawn and their whistling chills to the marrow. Folklore holds that anyone who manages to get along with a ghyl develops uncanny powers. And ghyls only appear to the very good or devout. Indeed, anyone with something on his or her conscience would think Satan himself were calling to collect his due. And ghyls know this. Anyone who does see one is bound to silence lest it become the cause of his or her death. Ghyls are multilingual. Or well actually, they have this active telepathy. They pick up the thoughts behind your words rather than speech proper. Ghyls also like to pick fights with big husky men. Anyone too self-confident or handsome is also likely to attract one. But they are also gun-shy and can detect the smell of gunpowder from miles away, so hunters never see one. I guess now you have some idea of your chances of crossing one some day.

2. The Ghyl and the Strong Man

Once upon a twilight, a strong man was driving a cart somewhere outside Tajikobod, which is in Karategin. Along the way he pulled over for a rest and unharnessed his horse. As he stretched out, the horse suddenly startled and bolted off out of sight. Then some sort of shepherd transpired out of the darkness and challenged the cartdriver to a fight. The fight went on and on until it became plain they were an even match for each other. So they called a truce. At sunup the cartdriver saw the shepherd was all hairy, from head to foot. And the shepherd yanked a tuft of hair off his arm and gave it to cartdriver, adding "From now on, we are friends and if you ever need me for any reason, just burn this hair and I’ll be there." Upon which, the shepherd walked off into the horizon.

3. The Strong Man Beats a Ghyl

Once upon another time, there was a man who was the strongest in Garm and often had occasion to ride horseback by night. On such a night, a stranger appeared out of nowhere and the two wound up in a fight. The stranger proved surprisingly powerful and the fight dragged on for hours with no decisive outcome in sight. At one point the rider realised his opponent could go on indefinitely and so he concentrated his entire strength into hurtling the stranger at a rock and trying to break him in two. And it was all over.
Well, daybreak came along and the rider noticed there was something unhuman about the stranger. He tied the corpse to the saddle and dragged it back home to Garm where it got strung up by the legs in the market square like game until everybody started ignoring it after a week and so somebody went and buried it.
As for the rider, well the October Revolution came along a few years later and he got shot by the Red Army as a counterrevolutionary guerrilla.

4. The Ghyl and The Helicopter

Soviet geologists used to have their own helicopters until somebody realised they were being diverted into unofficial business all too often and so then the government turned over the entire fleet to the Civil Aviation Ministry and geologists have had to book them just like any other government agency ever since. Poaching was one such kind of unofficial business. Senior government officials are particularly fond of poaching around by helicopter. You just bomb a net down on a boarpig or whatever and then haul it up with the airborne winch. I know of one case of a cow that got rustled by helicopter and airlifted all the way up the pass to Kuliab where it was auctioned off on the local cattle market. These "helipoachers" have even been seen breezing along over the Komarou Valley, which is a national park full of bear and other endangered species.
But on this flight they spotted something really special: a ghyl that stood something like 12 to 15-foot high. Well, they dropped a net in a bid to catch it but it was pretty tough prey they had in mind and the ghyl started ripping it to pieces. When they saw it tugging down on the net, they really got scared, released the net and called it a day. But one of poachers filmed the incident and there was an illustrated item about it in the local paper. This all happened in 1980 but according to a KGB source, the film footage is still on file somewhere in the airport. Garm Airport.

5. Ghyl Attacks the Sheriff

Once upon a holiday, the sheriff of Tajikibod decided to drive his Lada, or Soviet-built Fiat, into nearby mountain country. At a cliffside rest stop with a view, he took a hunk of meat out of the trunk that he put in a big plate and set down in the grass for a picnic before opting for a quick nap in the back seat. Quick it was because he was soon awakened by the none too gentle pitch and yaw the vehicle was experiencing. He paled at what he saw: there was a ghyl outside the back window trying to heave the car off down the ledge. Well then the ghyl noticed the meat and tore off a piece before returning and applying his hands to the back window. By now the officer had drawn his service pistol and fired a warning shot. The ghyl fled instantly, leaving behind two full handprints the victim didn’t miss. They are still on file under "unsolved attempted murders" at regional headquarters in Dushanbe.

6. The Road to Pamir

The first part of the road from Komsolobod to Pamir is a treacherous series of curves and hairpin turns that go up and down, making for an unpleasant drive before you even start thinking back over its record of sudden murderous mudslides. Well, the little stretch that regular drivers consider the worst is where you see the big white rock just outside the village of Yafuch. You see, there's this ghyl that likes to stand on it and scare the daylights out of drivers after sundown.

7. The Non-Smoker

Shortly after World War II came to a close, my brother left our native village in Vahio valley, to study at the University of Stalinobod, since destalinised into the University of Dushanbe. He graduated to become the general manager of a sovkhoz government farm until the local population got evicted over into the cotton belt. But that's another story.
After college, he came back to our native village and proved quick to laugh at our "ignorant and superstitious" belief in ghyls. What with all his education and brash fearlessness, he did make us feel pretty stupid more than once.
Now our village was several miles uphill from Langar and one day my brother took the shortcut home, along the Obi Hingou river before veering straight up the hillside instead of just following the road. Well just as he started heading uphill, he heard someone whistling and was overpowered by a foul smell before he realised what was happening. Then he saw the ghyl and promptly decided to go right on climbing even faster. He tried a bit of evasive action to secure permanent escape out of pure fear, but the ghyl had no trouble keeping up the pace. The ghyl surged at him several times in an attempt to close in, but would always back off at the last second. When my brother realised that, he decided it was safe to head straight for home. By now the ghyl had stopped trying to close in and seemed content to tail him from a distance.
What I forgot to say was that my brother had gone into Langar to buy a pouch of tobacco, because at this point in the story, the ghyl started telling him over and over to drop his tobacco. Well my brother immediately deduced the tobacco was probably saving his life and developed no intention at all of dropping it. And the ghyl began ordering him to drop it ever more insistently.
With his last few ounces of energy, my brother finally almost made it home but collapsed about 100 yards short of the doorstep. At this point the dogs came out and started barking their heads off so the ghyl gave up and turned tail. Family didn't find my brother until the next morning and he didn't snap out of total delirium until sundown.

8. The hunt

I was only about five and sleeping in bed when I woke up to hear my very first ghyl story. My father was out in the field night when he heard some whistling and was the first to see it. He made a beeline for his horse and galloped straight to the villadge. Ghyls are extremely light on their feet and this one caught up to within a few paces of the stallion when father decided to head it for a gulley which the horse jumped easily enough. Now ghyls are runners, but poor jumpers and my father was able to put enough distance between them for the ghyl to give up.
I come into story when I heard noise because my father stormed into the house looking for a gun. I panicked and started crying but mother pulled me into her embrace and the tears drifted away. Some neighbours turned up at our doorstep, ready for a hot pursuit and they set about tracking him for about a mile down to the river and along the banks for bit. But he was already long gone.
A few years the War started, and every able-bodied man got drafted to the Army
. I was still in grade school then. But it was up to every child to do a grown man's job on the farm so we often found ourselves in the fields well past sundown. And we loved to frighten ourselves with ghyl stories. So we lit lots of campfires to keep them at bay.
One night we really did hear eerie whistling. We immediately grabbed matches, lit torches, jumped up and down and started shouting ourselves to pretend we were not afraid. Well, it worked and we never saw it. But from then on, there would always be a grown-up beside us whenever we had to hoe or harvest after sundown.
Still, he came back a few more times and finally the villagers decided to organise a ghylhunt and the handful of male adults left in the village would take turns standing watch through the night.
Then a stranger turned up in the village who had just gotten his army discharge (he later joined the police force). But he had kept his service pistol and a small supply of tracer bullets. He was also very self-confident about catching the ghyl. The bullets and self-confidence impressed deeply every kid in the village.

Well, the villagers laid a trap to catch him alive rather than dead but the stranger didn't know about that intention and he was the first to make a sighting. So he opened fire without a second thought despite pleas from the villagers pleading him to holster his weapon. Anyhow, the ghyl must have been out of range. Nobody ever found a body and he hasn't been seen again in the last 45 years.

9. Piggyback Hiking

There was a very strong man who once managed to strike up a friendship with a ghyl. At some point in the conversation, the ghyl wanted to move on and asked the man to carry him on his shoulders. The man did so, carrying this very heavy companion until he became thoroughly exhausted. So they swapped places and the ghyl carried him. And they travelled for miles in this way, taking turns carrying each other. Then the ghyl suddenly decided it was time to go home and they piggy-backed into the night all the way to the woods up behind the village.

"Have a look," the ghyl calmly told his friend at dawn.

He did and there was nothing to see. The whole village was buried under a huge rock. The mountain had split wide open. It was the famous Hait earthquake of 1948 and he was the only survivor in the township.

10. Albasty

An albasty is a tall woman covered in long unkempt hair. They spell trouble. But she'll leave you alone if you have the presence of mind to wrap some of her around your hand and say Bism-Illoh-ir-Rahmon-ur-Rahim. That neutralises her bad intentions.


11. Lakeside Meeting

Near Hait it was a man, who came every night to the lake for a meeting with an albasty. His wife did not know, where he was going. So, one night she followed him and saw, how he swim in the lake with an albasty. The wife became very angry and went away from him. Now he lives alone.

12. The Ajinah

An ajinah is a small demon. I haven't heard many ajinah stories but someone once told me he had seen one in his childhood. He said it looked like a small piece of wood or little bunch of straw. He didn't remember exactly what it looked like, just the quality of horror it struck up inside him.

13. The Paree

A paree is a fairy that lives near lakes or rivers. If you listen to a river very carefully towards evening, you can pick up a melody of something like drums, xylophone or violin. That's the sound of parees dancing by the river. Parees are heard but rarely seen. They are exceedingly delicate, fragile and practically transparent. Only the devout really ever see them.

There's a lake north of the town of Hissor called Payron that takes it name from pareeyon because it has a reputation for having lots of parees. Some people say they've seen entire cities under the water where they live. Some parees are unusually good-natured and helpful while in other places, they are just hotheaded delinquents. The nice ones tend to be Moslems and the nasty ones, Russian.

14. Falling in Love with a Paree

The beauty of parees is legendary and they need a man as much as any woman. Any man who sees one falls in love on the spot and gets totally wrapped up in her. But man and paree cannot live together for they belong to different worlds and the relationship is a painful one. Whoever of the two falls in love with the other is doomed to fall ill.

One paree who fell in love with man experienced just such suffering. Her community got together to decide on how to snap her out of her pain, whose cause they ignored for she had kept it secret. The spiritual leader, a mulla, realised she was in love with a man and said the man had to be banished from the region. At this point, all the parees began to dance and beat drums.

The mulla recalls she started recovering just as the man was being put into a cloth sack and started being beaten for hours on end, until he lost consciousness. He was later admitted to the psychiatric ward at Dushanbe Hospital for a month of care.

But he's out now and working on the sovkhoz in Miyonadu.

15. Living with the Albasty

One day a villager saw a woman washing her dirty long hair in the lake. He went up to her, rolled some of the hair around his hand and pronounced the talismanic formula of man had seen a woman, washing her dirty long

"Bism-Illoh-ir-Rahmon-ur-Rahim" (see story 10). Well, one thing led to another and she eventually moved in with him.

She made a reasonably loving wife and good housekeeper as far as anyone could tell except that she would disappear in the middle of the night now and then. Part of their arrangement was that the husband must never ask any questions about that or ever try to investigate it in any way. But he did get very upset once when she was gone for several days. Otherwise they were getting along well enough.

About a year later, a woman in the next village had started going into labour. Which happened to be one of the nights his wife had chosen to step out. She was back by dawn but the news came round the following morning the baby was stillborn. And oddly enough, it arrived without a drop of blood in its veins.

Well that raised suspicions in the husband's mind. But she denied having anything to do with that. And so that was that. For the time being. Because exactly the same pair of events concurred one month later, if in not quite so neighbouring a village. This time he got much more upset this time and made a divorce threat.

Well, women have a way with men and she just exploded into tears and confessed before promising and swearing she would quit. And their marriage got back on track. For awhile.

Then she stepped out more night a few months later and there was news in the village the following morning about another bloodless, stillborn child in the area. Well, human understanding has its limits so he beat her up once and for all in a rage and kicked her out for good.

Editing by Arthur Borges