The straightaway wasn't too bad; in fact, as long as I didn't look each time the jagged boulders loomed into sight, it was rather thrilling in an Omar Khayy�mish way. The wind was whistling and roaring past my ears and stinging tears into my eyes. I didn't mind the uphill too much, but the downhill started to get tricky. The real moment of alarm came when I spotted a dried-up riverbed straight ahead and estimated in a horrified glance that it must once have held at least four feet of water.
In one mighty leap, the Shah's horse sailed gracefully across the chasm. Still gaining on him, Bombast and I were suddenly airborne. In retrospect, the part about this ride I find hardest to believe is that, although the horse and I definitely parted company crossing the river, we somehow managed to land as one on the other side. Unfortunately I lost my stirrups in flight and nearly slid off the horse as he plunged straight up a virtually vertical mountain but, with a firm grip on his mane, I decided this had finally become a question of honor. We evidently crossed the finish line at just this point because the Shah came to a halt, winner by a length. He turned to me with that completely disarming smile and said, "Everywhere my horse goes, your horse follows."
We finished going up the mountain on foot, and fortunately the army had enough sense to stay at the bottom. His Majesty went straight to the top without stopping to rest. He ducked down as we reached the crest and motioned me to come along. When I was at his side he continued to wave me forward. This put me momentarily in a quandary. I had been warned not to walk ahead of the Shah under any circumstances since this would violate protocol, but here was a case of imperial command.
The Shah solved the dilemma himself, and I should have realized that he would be as charming under these circumstances as he had been under all others. "You go on ahead," he whispered in a very low voice as we crouched just behind the crest. "I have a telescopic sight and I can shoot from here. The game will surely see us if we both try to cross the top and it is good for you to be closer with open sights."
Just as I crawled over the top all the sheep looked up, shuffled their feet uncertainly and stampeded off in the other direction. My one shot at a departing speck in the V of my sight missed by a mile, and I ducked down to give the Shah shooting room as he sent three Weatherby 300 bullets into as many sheep. I balanced the score somewhat later in the day by taking two rams from two different herds, but I suspect it will be a long time before anyone matches that Imperial Triple.
My best shot came while hunting boar near the Caspian Sea a few days later. His Majesty, whose religion forbids him to shoot boar, had arranged for me to hunt both boar and pheasants on his property overlooking the water at Ramsar. "It is as green as any place you will ever see," he said when he described the area. After the arid, rocky mountains that stretch from Teheran for miles in all directions, I was unprepared for the lush, tangled mass of tropical vegetation that forms a dense, mist-shrouded jungle from the base of the mountains to the sea. In the eerie half light of evening, the Imperial Hotel rises spectacularly above the steaming gardens, looking like a fairy-tale palace. There were pheasants everywhere. Walking through the wet sea of green directly below the hotel, I had no problem flushing birds every 10 feet in spite of the rain that fell unceasingly. But even with dogs the birds were virtually impossible to recover in the brush, and, after losing three, the lure of a hot shower and fresh caviar at the hotel became overpowering.
Besides, my guide had more exciting game in mind. After dark, we were to go out to the rice farms where great, tusked boars often root up entire fields in an evening, doing damage that takes weeks to repair. The farmers are grateful to anyone who will shoot them.
Sarkis Geworkian is their hero. He is always ready to take on one more boar. He considers himself, in fact, the Master of the Persian Boar, and he is not being immodest. In a lifetime of hunting, kings, princes and heads of state have sought his services as a wild boar guide, as well as on hunts for other game, and none went home dissatisfied. Sarkis is not, however, a professional guide in the ordinary sense. When he is not oft stalking game he is something of an entrepreneur in a variety of businesses from service stations to fruit farms. Indeed, the giant grapefruits and oranges he grows on his ranches along the Caspian Sea are a source of almost as much pride as the reputation he has gained throughout his country as a master hunter.
I have the luck of hunting," he explained, using the few English words he knew. "If I, Sarkis, am there, there the games are coming. I am walking through the forest where no leopards are coming. Everyone tells me no leopards are there. But I, Sarkis, look into the forest anyway, and I see not one leopard is coming but five leopards are coming.
"There is Madam coming, HUH HUH HUH. There is three beb� coming, huh huh huh. And there is Monsieur coming. HUH HUH HUH. I have five shots. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Now no more leopards are coming."