A Shepherd’s Life in Iran

by Sep 6, 2017Communities, Iran, Off the grid, Reflections, Stories, Techniques

On this journey we take the roads less traveled to find an answer to the question: How do we want to live our life? Is a life closer to nature and to people something for us? A great reason to stay a little longer at places where people do so. In Iran we stayed a few days with a shepherd in the mountains. Read about our experience!

From Greece on eastwards we see them almost every day: the lonely shepherds with their herds roaming through the fields and mountains. If you think about a life closer to nature, then this is for sure it. But how would it be for us? While looking for a place te sleep in the remote mountains of North East Iran we meet an Iranian Shepherd and in the end we join him in his everyday life.


A dirt road leads us further and further into the remote mountain valley in North East Iran. The dry and sandy mountains hug the valley which is full of grass. We left civilization already behind: the only buildings we see are some abandoned shepherd houses every now and then. In the far distance a herd of sheep is returning home before the evening falls. After a week in the city, this seems like the perfect place to spend the night. We park our bus, get the chairs out and start cooking diner. Then an old man appears at our door. It is the shepherd that was just coming home. He invites us to park close to his hut. That is really friendly, but we love our place in the middle of nature. But the old man insists: “Not safe”, he explains in Persian. And although we doubt if that is really the case, we decide to except his invitation. A few moments later we are welcomed in his tiny clay hut. The oil lamp gives a warm glow to it. Together with the old shepherd and his young apprentice Golbedin (14) from Afghanistan, we drink tea and eat rice with a little bit of sheep meat. It feels very special and we are glad we accepted his invitation. In the few words of Persian we speak, we ask the shepherd if we could stay and help them with the work they are doing. To experience their way of life and to learn from them. The shepherd smiles and shrugs his shoulders as if he doesn’t understand why we would like that, but of course we are welcome.



The next morning, 6.30AM. Golbedin gathers all 50 sheep and goat they have. While the first rays of sunlight give a golden glow to the valley, Golbedin herds them into the green fields. It is so calm and quiet in the early morning. Only the sound of the grazing animals and every now and then a yell of Golbedin break the silence. After four hours of eating, it is time to milk the sheep and goats. Together we herd the whole group back towards the small clay hut. All the animals are back in de sheepfold. At the exit of the fold, I sit together with the shepherd on a small stool. One by one the sheep come by. The shepherd grabs their legs and I try to hold the udders firmly. I make the movement the shepherd showed me, but with a lot of effort only a little drop of milk is coming out of it. This is difficult! The shepherd takes over and one by one he milks his animals: his sweaty forehead  against the back of the sheep and there he goes. One hour later all the sheep and goats are done.

Today the shepherd is going back to his house in the village, about 20 minutes drive from the hut. His wife, children and grandchildren don’t see him much these months of the year: he is always with his herd. In the night he even sleeps outside, in a small bed directly above the sheep and goat. His wife makes all kinds of produce of the liters of milk he brings home every week. Next to their house he shows us all kinds of tools: a wooden tub to beat the milk into butter, racks to dry the milk balls and in sheep skin the cheese is waiting to mature.


That afternoon it is time to get the sheep and goats back to the field. Together with Golbedin we are sitting at a water spring. When the animals are grazing, there is not much to do for us. And although everything is so peaceful, we feel restless: isn’t there something we can do? We were looking forward to build something, to get something done. But the life of a shepherd includes a lot of just watching the herd graze. Accept for the milking, it is a lot of waiting. Or maybe I shouldn’t say waiting, but just being. That evening we get back to the clay hut. The oil lamp gives a warm glow to it. Together we drink tea and eat rice with a bit of sheep meat on top of it. It is delicious and we feel quite relaxed. Being outside all day feels great. But at the same time we miss something: we love to be challenged, to have visible results. Are these our Western mindsets? Maybe it takes more time to leave behind the urge to achieve things. But, no. I think we would like to live closer to nature, but still we like to have a great variety in our day, to build something and to be surrounded be people. The shepherd’s life is not our desired lifestyle. At least, not for now.