News In Pictures: The last shepherdesses of Pamir in Pakistan

The valley at an altitude over 4,500 metres has seen gradual desertion as youngsters move out for better opportunities.

News In Pictures: The last shepherdesses of Pamir in Pakistan

The valley at an altitude over 4,500 metres has seen gradual desertion as youngsters move out for better opportunities.

12 October 2017 Thursday 02:55
News In Pictures: The last shepherdesses of Pamir in Pakistan

Underneath 6,000 metre-high mountains sits the Pamir plateau. Shimshal is marked by high-altitude meadow and lakes.


Two ascending villagers come across a shepherd and his donkeys returning from supplying the summer village with food and other necessities. A strenuous path that cuts into cliff faces connects Shimshal to the Pamir plateau.


In harsh and inclement weather conditions - subject to the whims of the sun, wind and snow - shepherdesses take care of over 1,000 cattle, sheep, goats and yaks.


A shepherdess milks her cattle. Days flow by monotonously, punctuated by milking and the tedious making of traditional cheese and butter.


Yak riders returning quickly to the summer village for Woolio; this annual faith-based festival celebrates yaks, the emblematic animals of the Pamir. It is one of the very few entertainment opportunities for the local people each year.


During Woolio, a local meal called 'chamurk' is prepared out of shreds of thin wheat bread mixed with yak butter. Rock salt is traditionally added to milk tea to warm oneself up. More recently, refined sugar tends to replace the rock salt.


Some local villagers gather during Woolio. Even the ominous weather doesn't stop men and women from singing and dancing.


Several thousand yaks, sheep and goats graze in the Shimshal Pamir, a vast grassland at over 4,500 metres in altitude.


In the summer of 2016, only 17 out of 40 shepherd's huts were occupied. This gradual desertion is the result of the desire for further education, the aging of the shepherdesses and few replacements. The end of this singular feminine pastoralism seems inevitable. 


Pok Doman, left, and Nar Begum, right, are among the oldest shepherdesses in the region. 'Some of my friends don't have good enough health to come, others are just gone forever. As for me, God knows,' sighs Nar Begum, 65.


Despite the weather conditions, sheep and goats are milked in the same pen every day. Shepherdesses have to work quickly before the night falls and the severe cold arrives. Only a tiny coloured string run through the animal's ear enables one to differentiate them.


Inayat Bakht, 21, sits on the roof of her hut. Here, she shapes a thick paste made out of boiled milk, which will become cheese.


This sun-dried cheese, 'qurut', represents the local way to put the abundant milk to good use. It offers an additional source of income, along with the sale of livestock. Fresh qurut, left, and dry qurut, right.


Young men playing cricket on an improvised ground at 4,500 metres above sea level during Woolio. The younger generation tends to prefer the comforts of the classroom and social recognition of a future 'office life'. But most of all, through education, they yearn to bring positive changes to their communities.


Shepherdesses, between the ages of 20 and 65, and a few men, sit outside the Jamaat Khana, the place of gathering and prayer.


Aljazeera

Updated: 13.10.2017 10:20
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