Secrets of the Mountain Tribe

Aleksandr Kartsev (


In north-western Pakistan lies Chitral--a high mountainous region, previously known as Kafiristan, or `land of the infidels'. Amongst the local residents, one often comes across blue-eyed blondes--something quite rare for Central Asia. In terms of religious denomination, the locals are pagans (adherents of pantheism). It has been claimed that these peoples are the descendants of the warriors of Alexander the Great. To be fair, we might note that many different peoples make this same claim in this part of the world, mostly without any real grounds. (For more detail on Chitral, see:

After Kabul emir Abdurrakhman-khan's 1895 `missionary' campaign, a series of the tribes lost their faith. Some were effectively wiped out altogether. But a small number, who re-settled in north-eastern Afghanistan, continue to this day to live out their own lives, hidden from outside eyes.



When the Nazis came to power in Germany, emissaries of Hitler and Himmler took to visiting this region. It is often believed that they were interested only in problems of racial purity, but in actual fact, these expeditions had numerous ideological and esoteric components. And one deeply prosaic goal: like many other leaders, Hitler was interested in questions of longevity...

In the 1980s, while serving out the duty known in our country as `internationalism', I spent some time in these parts. There, in Afghanistan, I was fortunate enough to work with an extraordinary man. His name was Shafi. I knew that Shafi had been born somewhere in north-western Pakistan. His parents had then moved to Afghanistan, and had sent their son to study at Oxford. Upon graduating from Oxford University, Shafi worked for several years in Japan, and later in China. He taught at Kabul Polytechnic. After the death of his wife, he left Kabul and moved to a small kishlak located in the environs of Bagram. This is where the two of us made our acquaintance. And this is where I learned the story of his tribe.

Over the course of the twenty-six months we spent working together, Shafi became my friend and teacher. All this is described in detail in my novel, The Silk Road (), published by EKSMO publishers in a somewhat `excised' form under the title The Military Intelligence Officer.

In this article, I shall outline a few of the fascinating traditions which existed in Shafi's tribe--traditions which may be useful to any of us.

Let me begin with the most important thing there is: children. In the tribe, half a year before a baby was due to be born, the future father would be sent on compulsory `paternity' leave. He would be left behind when other members of the tribe departed on long-distance hikes or dangerous expeditions (the tribe controlled the Ancient Silk Route and guarded and escorted caravans in exchange for one-tenth of the goods). During this period, the future father's duties included helping his wife with domestic chores (something that would be simply unthinkable amongst other tribes). Another duty was telling the future child the fairytales, legends and customs of his tribe. Telling him that his parents were waiting for him eagerly, and that they hoped He (or She) would be a good helper to them. Naturally, such babies were born more healthy (since all these months the mother was not anxious about her spouse, since he was BY HER SIDE); more talented (try reading fairytales to your children, and you'll notice how much it changes them); and more obedient (since the baby had heard his father's voice while still in the womb).

Family massage was practised in the tribe. Almost every day (or more precisely, every evening). Wives massaged husbands, and vice versa. As a result, the onset of heart disease, stroke, cellulite amongst women, prostatitis amongst men, and many, many other health problems, were greatly delayed. This tradition is worthy of special attention; it has long been lost in Russia. There is NO alternative to this practice. Illness may come to all of us sooner or later, but the later it comes, the better.

The tribal system for educating and raising teenagers was based on the teachings of Tai Do (known by the tribe under a slightly different name). The idea is simple, and takes three main forms: training in massage; martial arts (girls were trained together with boys); and healing. For our purposes, the latter is the most interesting of the three. This healing system is based on the traditional concept of the Path (which is very widespread throughout the East more broadly). At the request of my patients, I have adapted the system's content somewhat to suit modern life and conditions.

In the Tai Do healing system, the Path is a direction made up of nine major and countless minor trails. Each of these trails may lead to healing, but may also lead to impassable jungles. On some of these trails, it is easy to lose sight of the sun, to lose one's way, and to perish. Only the Path, which brings all the trails together, can lead to the chosen goal.

The first trail is called the Monkey's Trail. Its main content is motion, aerobics, morning exercises. A brief limbering-up after each hour of work.

The second trail is the Cliff Trail. This involves work with fixed objects. Static gymnastics, geared towards strengthening the ligaments and tendons. Controlled breathing is absolutely central here.

The third is the Trail of the Reed. This trail is based on de-compression movements aimed at lengthening out the spine. Hanging and floating in various positions. But if you don't have access to a horizontal bar or a swimming pool, then it's worth acquiring the habit of stretching yourself out luxuriously when you wake up in the morning. You'll see: it's enjoyable, and good for you too. And don't forget that the morning must always begin with a smile, just as the reed smiles as it reaches towards the sun (life optimism).

The fourth is the Liana Trail. Flexibility exercises. Bending and turning at different angles, including twists combined with squats.

The fifth is the Traveller's Trail. It is recommended to walk around two-three kilometres every day. Incidentally, this is good for men in particular, as a means of preventing prostatitis. And it helps to protect against many women's health problems too. Plus: fresh air. Beautiful landscapes. And your favourite places.

The sixth is the Moon Trail. You must dance. Even if you only do it twice a week. You can dance at home. You can dance alone. But there are more pleasurable ways to dance. And more interesting places to do it. What's more, there are dancing partners, too.


The seventh is the Sun Trail. Just as the sun shines into other people's windows, such as the windows of your friends, you too, should go visiting your friends. You'll eat the same basic ingredients there as you do at home. But they will be prepared slightly differently. And you'll also eat things that you wouldn't cook yourself at home. This means significantly expanding the range of nutritional micro-elements that you take from food. And that means raising your reserves of strength. Lifting your mood. And lifting the moods of your friends.

The eighth is the Trail of the Stork. You need to spend time with your loved ones. To make love with them (your massage skills may come in handy here!).

The ninth trail is called the Trail of the Dragon. A dragon has three heads: light, water and air. They should be your constant companions, too. Try to spend as much time as possible in the fresh air. Don't forget that humans need sunshine. Spend more time near the water. You can take a bath or a shower, wash your hands, or simply contemplate running water. Let your morning cup of tea be transformed into a tiny lake. Maybe you won't see the moon or stars reflected in that lake. But you can certainly make sure that the surface of the water in that lake is calm. All you do need to do is to find a little calmness without yourself. And learn to breathe properly (all these trails are described in more detail in my fairytale, The Dragon Called Yana.)

This system makes active use of the concept of NITEN (Japanese for TWO SKIES). But the tribe understands this term not literally, but in a slightly different way. As the idea that, `There is no single correct path'. And this idea is used very broadly, in all kinds of diverse versions.

It's no secret that life is very simple for those who have a goal in life. A person with a goal has a Path, and he knows that `the walker strengthens the road'. And he follows this Path. But what should we do when the signposts in our lives have been `washed away' by health problems, personal problems, or trouble at work?

When this happens, we need to WALK. Maybe we can try starting from a different trail (this is the essence of NITEN). But the main thing is to walk. After all, you might find new encounters, new opportunities, around the next bend. Sunshine and rainbows may be waiting for you. Joyful events. And new goals.

Most important of all: thanks to this healing system and the tradition of family massage, the average life-span in Shafi's tribe is TWICE longer than amongst neighbouring tribes. Not to be sneezed at, you'll agree!

Nowadays I don't see any mystery in the secret of this longevity. It all comes down to work on the self, and the constant striving for perfection. It took me over twenty years to grasp this. But these were not lost years: they were devoted to searching for ways to preserve health, beauty and youth. A search which began once upon a time, long ago, at the prompting of my teacher, Shafi.


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