The Long Riders' Guild

An Interview with Louis Meunier, a Frenchman in Afghanistan

by Basha O'Reilly FRGS

The French Long Rider, Louis Meunier, after graduating from business school, decided to go on an adventure rather than follow a career mapped out in advance. He joined an NGO in Afghanistan, just as the country is in the midst of reconstruction after the war. He is dazzled by the country's beauty and dignity of its people. But above all, fascinated by the book by the French author Joseph Kessel, The Horseman, he dreamed of attending a buzkashi, a tournament where riders are entitled to go to any lengths to drop the carcass of a goat in the halal circle of justice. These formidable horsemen are named Tschopendoz.

A game of buzkazi being played in 1890 (left) and a bukazi saddle of the same period (right)

Louis guided groups of climbers in the mountains of Pamir and explored Afghanistan on horseback between Maimana and Herat with his companion, Haji Shamsuddin (the first Afghan Member of the Long Rider's Guild).

Three years later Louis realised his dream and became a Tschopendoz!

Meanwhile, despite his work for the NGO, Louis found the kindness and energy to help two other Long Riders, the New Zealander Ian Robinson and the Frenchman Nicolas Ducret.

Today Louis produces and directs films for television and cinema, including the documentary Prisoners of the Himalayas and 7,000 feet above the war.

His book, les Cavaliers afghans (Afghan Horsemen), published by Editions Kero in Paris, has just been published. His account offers a fascinating insight into the culture and customs of this country only known in the West through the prism of the news.

Who do you think was the most influential explorer ever, and why?

Roald Amundsen is for me the greatest explorer of modern times. In 1898, he participated in the first winter in Antarctica. In 1905, he discovered the Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, many of whom doubted it existence. It took him two years to complete this perilous expedition, during which he collected valuable scientific information on polar magnetism. And most importantly, in 1911, he conquered the South Pole!

Who inspired you to become equestrian explorer, and why?

Joseph Kessel, with his book The Cavaliers - in which he tells the story of a horseman, Uraz, who travelled through the mountains of Afghanistan on the back of his horse. It was he who inspired my journey on horseback. Afghanistan comes from the Persian word Ashvagan, which means "Land of the Horses". There is nothing better than a horse to discover the wild and rugged expanses that make up Afghanistan.

(Left) Omar Sharif played the part of Uraz in the film, The Horseman, while Jack Palance (right) played the part of his father.

I do not know if one can say that I am "equestrian explorer." I would say that I have a taste for travel and exploration, and that I love horses!  

Is that why you started your Long Ride with Hadji Shamsuddin between Herat and Maimana?

Yes! To trace the path of Uraz, but also to meet the Afghans from the centre of the country.

You became so ill during the journey you had to be airlifted out of the country. Are you still suffering the effects of such a serious illness?

My liver is a bit fragile, but all is well!

What is your favourite book of exploration, and why?

I would say Orinoco - Amazon, by Alain Gheerbrant. It recounts his time in the mountain range of Sierra Pamira between 1948 and 1950.  Beyond the remarkable literary and poetic qualities of the book, he recounts with a disarming simplicity and humility one of the boldest and most difficult expeditions of all time.

What is your favourite movie about exploration and why?

I just saw the documentary "North of the Sun", which pictures the adventures of two Norwegians who spend nine months in the Arctic Circle. They collect the waste washed up by the sea to build a cabin and spend their days surfing. The images are beautiful and the narrative poetic.

After all your adventures, what was the most dangerous situation you've met?

While climbing a mountain, a large crack appeared on the surface of the mountain and the snow slab which held my rope threatened to fall. If it had done so, we'd all have gone ...  

What is the greatest sacrifice you have made to become equestrian explorer?

For now ... none. Or I have a selective memory, and I do not remember!  

What equipment do you always take in your travels?

A good book!

If you took another trip today, what equipment would you take?

I would try to travel as lightly as possible! Finally, the less one carries, the more one is free and open to travel: A good book, purifying tablets for water, a broad spectrum antibiotic, a notebook and a pencil.  

Which book would you recommend to future equestrian travellers?

Les Cavaliers, by Joseph Kessel

Copyright (c) 2014 Basha O'Reilly


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