Stranded on the Roof of the World

Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz nomads survive in one of the most remote, high-altitude, bewitching landscapes on Earth. It’s a heavenly life—and a living hell.

  1. The khan dreams of a car. Never mind that there isn’t a road. His father, the previous khan, spent his life lobbying for a road. The new khan does the same. A road, he argues, would permit doctors, and their medicines, to easily reach them. Then maybe all the dying would stop. Teachers too could get to them. Also traders. There could be vegetables. And then his people—the Kyrgyz nomads of remote Afghanistan—might have a legitimate chance to thrive. A road is the khan’s work. A car is his dream.

    “What kind of car?” I ask.

    “Whatever car you want to give me,” he says. The ends of his mustache curl around a smile.

    But for now, with no car and no road, the reality is a yak. The khan is holding one by a rope strung through its nose. Other yaks are standing by. It’s moving day; everything the khan owns needs to be tied to the back of a yak. This includes a dozen teapots, a cast-iron stove, a car battery, two solar panels, a yurt, and 43 blankets. His younger brother and a few others ...

The complete text of “Stranded on the Roof of the World” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on ngm.nationalgeographic.com.

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