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A Taste of Mountain Rain
Fond childhood memories of tending sheep in Kyrgyzstan's vast wilderness
Ryskeldi Satkeev (ryskeldi64)     Print Article 
Published 2009-04-27 10:47 (KST)   
Kyrgyz mountains
©2009 kyrgyzstantravel.info
Every summer my parents would drop me off in the village with my grandparents. I have many cousins, uncles, aunts and nephews so you bet it is a lot of fun to have all of our relatives located next to each other. Most of my uncles have been in cattle farming and we have been supporting each other in case if one of us needs help, we were there to give a hand.

My home country, Kyrgyzstan, is described as a mountainous region of which 80 percent is a combination of continental mountain chains and valleys across the area. In order to keep cattle in good shape, farmers move around the mountains to find better pastures at altitudes up to 3,000-4,000 meters, particularly during the summer when the grass gets burned by the extensive heat in the valleys.

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That particular summer after finishing 5th grade had been hot so most of my time I played with my cousins and nephews around a small creek right off my grandma's backyard. One of my uncles told me that he would need my help for a couple of weeks, which I agreed to, along with my other cousin who also joined us. Uncle supplied a horse on which our tent was loaded and with approximately 200 sheep it took us a day to get to our destination. I must mention there was no infrastructure along the way.

As experienced as my uncle was in cattle farming he knew where we were heading and place we would stop, depending on space due to the migration of other farmers as well. So when you are up 2,500 to 4,000 meters, when the landscape goes literally close to vertical, all you see is ridges, snow peaks, alpine-subalpine grass. That's the grass every farmer looks for.

©2009 travelblog.org
The subalpine grass contains nutrients for animals along with freshness or simply put, it keeps cattle in good shape. Now, I must note that the mountain climate changes as you go up in altitude. For instance, there are a few climate zones before you get to the top and they are changing as the landscape gets higher as you go. Frankly, there is a difference in the type of grass, humidity, wildlife, forestry and rain cycles. It is associated often with oxygen-rich air, temperature and cold arctic zones, where glaciers create their own unique landscapes.

We'd reached our destination and unloaded everything we had. My cousin and uncle decided to go down a few kilometers to pick up more supplies. It's good to have a dog if you are a sheep farmer because if you don't, you will experience difficulties, and I found myself with 200 sheep on my own. I should have kept one dog at least, but they ran away with my uncle.

As I remember it was quite rainy, with a few dry spells in between. The rain would fall for half an hour then stop for a bit and come again. The day was like that throughout my runaround with the sheep. Amazingly, the sun would come out for a few minutes then it would get cloudy just as dramatically. The area where we camped lay between ridges, with a noisy river coming out of a glacier 2-3 kilometers away. We had a magnificent view of the snow peak.

The sheep had been unstoppable, which became a major headache that day. Without the dogs, I'd been up and down the ridge a hundred times over a few long hours. As I would bring them down the sheep would stay for awhile and go up again. It seemed the grass in the lower areas looked fine but those sheep were outstandingly picky.

Later, it crossed my mind that as the grass goes up the ridge the more it remains untouched by animals, which is why the sheep had been giving me a hard time while my cousin and uncle were away. The sheep wanted more even if there was quite enough just on one side.

During the runaround I'd changed two heavy duty coats due to heavy rain. Between ascents and descents I would sit and relax next to the river. The sun would come out. Everything around would get shiny, the gorgeous snow peak before my eyes would show its power, fog up the ridge would disappear for awhile, the grass shone with its natural colour and I would site on a huge rock and take it all in.

There's one thing I still have in my mind about that day. The rock contained a flat spot on top where I would rest and it had a few little hollows where rain would pool. After all my activity I would get outrageously thirsty and turned my attention to the spots filled with mountain rain. The taste of that water is still with me to this day. Maybe it's because of the natural mix of rock and rain that made it unbelievably tasty. The more I drank, the more I wanted.

I would do my tour tending the sheep and then I'd return back to the same spot and drink another round until my uncle and cousin arrived in the early evening. They brought food and we finally set up our tent. I made a fire with my cousin, who cooked us a meal with soup, and you couldn't find a happier human being on earth that day. Hot food comforted me after a long, cold day and my drinking the mountain rain.

The next day, I realized I had a fever. My uncle decided to send me back to the village. I packed up before lunch, uncle prepared fresh sheep meat for us, which my cousin cooked and we ate lunch.

I took my horse down the river through the forest line and when I got to the valley it was hot again -- I couldn't believe it. I took my coat and sweater off but even then it was still hot. I got to the village, left the horse at my uncle's house and that was my whole journey. I got better a week later and by then it was September already, which meant going back to school.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ryskeldi Satkeev

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