How to join a Kooch migration today

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4 July 2022

Saman Qazvinin and Yeganeh Shokrollahi take us on an odyssey with Bakhtiari nomads, courtesy of IRANomad

We are a team of sustainability enthusiasts, operating small-scale nomadic tours in Iran. We believe in the power of travelling for bringing about good changes and on the basis of this faith, we use nomadic tours as a vice to empower Iranian nomads in different ways. Pointing with a double arrow, we offer these tours both as a growth opportunity and exchange program for our hosts and guests, and a real break from the chaos of modernity, toward reconciliation with nature and solitude. Read more

Not long ago, when I got to know about the social business of IRANomad Tours and their vocation of preserving nomadic heritage, my curiosity tickled me to find out if nomadism was really such a big deal. I was a little cynical at first, to be honest. But I had the opportunity to accompany Bakhtiari nomads of Iran in their bi-annual migration or “Kooch” shortly after my pessimistic thoughts. Before the trip, I couldn’t see why any tourist would choose such a challenging experience. However, what I experienced in the week-long nomadic odyssey in the Zagros hinterlands, changed my view about the children of Zagros and completely altered the way I view myself and the world:

On the way

I reluctantly get up in the early morning. Cursing myself for agreeing to this trip, I try to get ready as fast as possible to join our small-group team for the journey ahead. I say goodbye to my comfort zone and join the ride to Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari province in western Iran.

Around sunset, we are off the paved roads and into the mountains. The scenery around us changes from deserts to oak trees and village by village, we get closer to our host family.

Exhausted and sleepy from the bumpy drive, we finally meet our hosts. They kindly greet us in their tent and give us a spot to sit around the slow-burning fire. We’re welcomed with steaming hot Chai (tea) and sit together in the tent while the sound of occasional chiming bells comes from the herd of sheep and goats that is huddled around the tent.

Around night, everybody starts finding a spot to sleep. I and Bibi jaan (mother of the family) sleep in the tent, while the men sleep outside, under the stars. I nestle comfortably in my sleeping bag and go to sleep as soon as my head touches the ground while the moon sheds light on our small camp.

Parting from the Tarazu family

I wake up to the sound of people talking. I check the time: 6am. Everyone is already up and ready for having breakfast which consists of flatbread that Bibi jaan has made, chai, and wild honey. Our hosts check up on us every now and then to see whether we are eating or not. A typical Persian hospitality cue.

We explore our surroundings a little bit till the afternoon and around 5 pm, after expressing our gratitude and saying goodbye to our hosts, we walk toward the next host family: The ones that we are going to Kooch with. They welcome us as warmly as our previous hosts. They bring us chai and ask us to sit and make ourselves comfortable.

Hardest day of the Kooch

It’s right before the crack of dawn and the pasture and the valley ahead look so serene and beautiful in the twilight. After the donkeys are loaded for the trekking ahead, one of the men leaves with the flock of sheep and goats, leaving dust on the road. We wait for Leyla Jaan (mother of the family) to guide us through the valley. She walks ahead of us in her plastic slippers and is still faster than all of us with the agility of a mountain goat. With a face that can almost tell stories, she keeps talking to us in her Lori dialect, reassuring us that she’ll take us from the easiest route.

Nomad women are true examples of natural and untamed beauty. They are respected by all members, but they earn the respect through hard work and commitment. Usually, they are the ones who set up the camp, fetch water, collect firewood, bake bread and make food.

While the men leave the camp early with slower sheep, the women are left behind to pack the camp, and together with the mules and slightly faster goats set off to a place where the family will reunite. Men have somewhat different duties: taking care of herding, protection and guarding the honor of the family.

Around noon and after almost five hours of hiking, when we feel like we have almost reached our physical limits, we set up our camp for the day and enjoy Leyla Jaan’s tasty pasta for lunch.

+Okay? -Okay

Today is the longest day of our Kooch. We start the trek as the sun rises. Soon there is a tidy line of sheep and goats right behind us with their shepherds, trying to find a path for them. It looks like a nomadic pilgrimage.

Whenever we are crossing a narrow path, Leyla Jaan takes my hand and guides me through the rocks, while repeatedly shouting “Don’t worry, I got you!” in her own dialect. Her English vocabulary consists of only one word: “okay”. But she puts her limited knowledge into good use and turns to us every once in a while and asks “okay?” to make sure I’m alright and I smile and say “okay!” as we move on.

After crossing a dry river bank with huge rocks, a valley, and a crystal clear river, we come across pomegranate orchards that belong to the nomads and local families. We walk through the orchards, and around sunset, we reach our stop for the night. Since this is our last night with the nomads, they prepare us a nice dinner and we cherish our last night with the nomads, under the starry sky.

The farewell

Our farewell is bittersweet. Even though we are somehow relieved that the Kooch is over and we’re headed home, the fact that our time with the nomads is over makes us nostalgic. We say goodbye to Leyla while both of us shed tears and try to talk to each other even though none of us understands the other one’s verbal language. Tight hugs and uncontrollable tears don’t need any translation though. While watching this, I feel a lump in my throat. It’s my turn to hug Leyla goodbye and it’s a real struggle to hold back tears…

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