Every few years, Nat Geo or Discover or someone will make a big fuss out of some heretofore unknown tribe found deep in the Amazon or one which comes out of the heart of the African unknown. It seems obvious, right? Dense forests, little to no first world interference, human imaginations. These places are ripe for unknown anythings. So it’s always a disappointing surprise when these stories are always revealed later to be hoaxes.
My name is Benny Hale and I used to work for one of those magazines which really picked up the ball on these so-called lost tribes and ran with it. By the end of my tenure there, I was really good at rotating through the same eight grainy photos from the last time this story had come up to paste into the newest iteration of the cycle. Not my proudest job, but it paid the bills until the mag went under because of declining sales. Go figure, right?
Now I’m freelance. I do what I want. Most of the time I write articles for the more reputable photo mags and even Nat Geo referenced my work one time. I have been trying to expand my talent base since writing is seemingly a dying art form and people just want pictures to click through, or better yet, a video to watch. So that’s where I am now, 38 years old learning what the D in DSLR stands for. Also the S, the L and the R.
My point, though, is that these days, no one seems to really act surprised when these lost tribe photos get trotted out again. Either we’re all used to the idea that the same new lost tribe is found every 7 or 8 years in areas of the world, where it’s getting harder and harder to hide them all, or everyone just pretends like they don't know it’s all faked for advertising revenue and let the execs have their fun. Whichever it is, the point about them being in the Amazon or Africa is a constant.
Never anywhere else. Never, say, South East Asia, where there is still a large quantity of dense rain forest, or the middle of the Australian desert. Or, more to my point, the Mongolian steppes.
Yet, here I am, in the middle of the starkest place on the planet short of the South Pole itself, the official videographer for a bunch of rich dudes looking for the lost tribes of Khan. Yes, that Khan. I already told them to just go to any Mongolian city, which they ignored. Yes, I told them about that genealogy study, also ignored. Even so, they're paying me per day, so here I am, three weeks out of Chita in southern Russia with nothing to show for it except some video of the seemingly endless snow covered plains and blisters. But, I'm told, there has to be something here. Because why the fuck not?
It’s been a month, and while my bank account back home is loving this, I am most decidedly not. The plains, at least, have come to an end and in the distance I can see the mountains. The decision has been made to turn back if we make it to them without finding anything. I have to admit I am getting better at using the new equipment I have, and have been finding incredible views to use it on. True to my promise to the group, I've been interviewing them each at least once a week; the leader, the youngest and probably richest of them, is going to have it professionally edited into a documentary he plans on selling to a TV network when they get back. I ask if I can help with that and he just scoffs and replies with a ‘don't worry, I got guys for that.’ Sometimes I want to leave him behind.
The mountains are stupidly tall. Living in NYC all the time makes you miss real world experiences like this. The others don't see this part of the world the way I do; I don't know if its that they take it all for granted because they do this all the time, or some other reason. But I wish one of them, once would make a comment on how amazing this place is. Or about how the roads all ended a few days ago and there's been a complete absence of any evidence of human activity since.
Finding dry wood for our campfires each night is getting harder and harder. One of the group has been using the emergency fire starters which has drawn heated debates about his value to the team. Now, while I have been getting all this on camera, I don't think they realise this. It might be handy to keep some of this stuff for myself.
Two months. 61 days. The mountains tower above us. We’re still probably another week out from being directly under them. Being this close, though, they do cast a long shadow and it does drag dawn out a lot longer than we’d like. It’s also extremely cold in this valley.
They've been talking excitedly, without me, about certain things as if they've been expecting something. I heard one of them mention the lack of roads and it made me feel a little better until he mentioned that that's when we should have been overtaken. Overtaken? By what? One of them keeps pointing to a particular mountain and using that as a reference point on the map they have. If I'm overhearing correctly, according to him, we’re off course.
They've come to an agreement and we’re breaking camp. We were here for almost another week. Winter is definitely closing in, but they don't seem too worried about it. After a short argument over how to use the compass, we changed our direction and are now heading more northerly than the nor-east we had been going. They're really excited now.
Holy shit. There's something out here. In the middle of nowhere, at least a month from the nearest town. The others are all laughing and clapping, congratulating each other. All of them yelling at me to record, record, record as if I haven't been recording each minute I can.
But this is definitely worth it. There are two taller than tall stone pillars here. Intricately carved out of rock that absolutely didn't come from anywhere around here. Letters and symbols from alphabets that weren't any of the usual ones that crop up back home were carved up and down the length of both of them. But that’s only the start.
The two pillars resembled chisel blades standing with the shard end pointing at the sky. They had been arranged to form two sides of a square, an arrow of sorts with a small, maybe two-person wide gap between them at the point. Looking through from the outside of the point in and you saw what you'd expect; the mountains and Russian steppe, but if you looked through the gap from inside the pillars you saw … Well, I’ll let my recording show you, but it was definitely not the Russian steppe.