Wildlife: Barmanu-fact or fiction

Published April 19, 2009

“They are up there,” says Rahim Shah an elderly mountain man of Alai valley, a remote area off the Karakorum Highway in N.W.F.P., sandwiched between inhospitable Kohistan to the north and Kaghan to the east. He gestures towards the range of rugged mountains towering 4,944 metres above the far end of the valley which is his ancestral home. “They only come down into the valley during periods of heavy snow. I have been seeing them all my life but this winter, for the very first time, I saw a mother and child together up on the 'maidan'. She was holding its hand.
 
This was very early in the morning, just around dawn. I had spent the night in our summer home as I had gone up the mountain to check on some things and it got too late to come back down until daylight”.

“Weren't you afraid?” I asked him, absolutely spellbound.

“Why should I be?” he replied in surprise. “They live up there and have always done so. I see them often. They don't bother me and I don't bother them. They are mountain people too.”
 
The subject under discussion is 'the big hairy one' or 'Barmanu' as they are known in Northern Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan. They are also described as 'Neanderthal hominoids' by serious cryptozoologists and as 'phantoms of the imagination' by others.

The name varies from country to country, the most well known being the 'Abominable Snowman' or 'Yeti' of Nepal and Tibet, 'Bigfoot' or 'Sasquatch' in North America, 'Yowie' or 'Yahoo' in Australia, 'Chaing Mi' or 'Yeren' in China, 'Mie Tie' in Malaysia, 'Kiboornee' in New Guinea, 'Moeau' in New Zealand, 'Almasti' in Russia and 'Kaptars' in Mongolia to name but a few.

Here in Pakistan, as Spanish zoologist Jordi Magraner (1967 — 2002) of the Paris National Museum of Natural History found, during a 12 year long scientific expedition, the Barmanu is mostly observed in the Hindu Kush Mountains with Upper Chitral being a favourite 'haunt'. Prior to his murder in Chitral, Magraner and the rest of his team, recorded dozens of interviews with local people who had seen these 'relics' firsthand and made plaster casts of their huge footprints.

Descriptions of the creatures hardly vary around the world and those recorded in Chitral were exactly the same as given by Rahim Shah and others in the Alai area.

The males are a little over six feet tall and very hairy, females are smaller in size, have less hair and pendulous breasts. They walk up right; appear muscular and extremely strong, have longish arms and large feet. Speech is limited to guttural grunts and high pitched shrieks when angry or hurt. Their food is nuts, berries, fungi, roots, leaves and, quite possibly meat but, whilst they do prowl around remote houses during the winter, they do not steal livestock.

”They must live in hidden caves or underground,” Rahim Shah continues. “As, even though I have wandered through these mountains all my life, I have never discovered their homes. My grandfather saw five of them together but the most I have seen at one time is three adults though I have heard what sounded like more in the undergrowth”.

He surmises that there are less Barmanu around now than in his great grandfathers or grandfathers' time as they are not seen as often these days.

He also feels that the catastrophic earthquake of October 2005, in which Alai was totally devastated, badly affected the Barmanu too. “The number is even less since then,” he reports, adding “They could have been killed in the quake or maybe they have moved to some other, safer place as, since then, more people have learnt of our valley and we now have a government presence plus people from NGOs who go exploring in the mountains.” The Gujar nomads who bring their herds here for the summer grazing also tell me that they are seeing less Barmanu in the high pastures than before. This is sad as Barmanu are part of mountain life and have the same right to live as we do.

Barmanu and all of its various relatives, have proved totally elusive to countless expeditions aimed at capturing or photographing them although there have been some extremely close misses.

In China in 1940, a biologist, Wang Tselen, claimed to have examined the body of a creature which seemed like an ape crossed with a human but local people hid the remains before government officials could make any confirmation.
 
 In 1950, Chinese geologists claim to have seen live ones in Shanxi Province; in 1961, road builders in Xishuang claimed to have killed a female, from 1976 -'77 a 100 member Chinese expedition tried to find evidence but the nearest they got was when a soldier came face to face with one and was so frightened that he shot himself in the leg and the creature fled. Another huge Chinese expedition collected over 200 footprints from 1980-'85 on the slopes of Mount Quiangdo but didn't manage to catch even a glimpse of the creatures.

The Russians got a little closer in 1993 when the leader of a scientific expedition to the Russian Far East, Alexi Sitnikov, came within three metres of an Almasti which was clothed in reddish brown fur. Soviet Scientists later concluded that the creatures are remnants of Siberian paleo-asiatic aborigines who inhabited the region over three hundred thousand years ago and who still survive in isolated pockets; this is backed up by Siberian hunters who claim to know of settlements.

Some people are of the opinion that these creatures are 'Gigantopilliecus' or Giant Apes but those who have seen them, along with some who haven't, feel otherwise and, whilst the existence of Barmanu in Pakistan remains scientifically unconfirmed, the Government of Nepal has no such qualms about their Yeti. Back in 1961 they declared that the Yeti exists and even adopted it as the Nepalese national symbol.

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