Gojal area of the Karakorum mountains
Pakistan glossary












16 June 2001



Section 1
Bismillah-e-Rehman-e-Rahim (In the name of God the magnificent and the most merciful).
Today is June 16, and I am going to interview Laili sahib (Sir, term of respect) at his residence. First of all I would like to tell him about this Project. SNT and PANOS are running a joint project called the ďOral Testimony ProjectĒ. In this program they interview different people to learn about their life experiences, and their ideas about different things. The main objective is to collect these ideas on audiocassette and publish them in the form of a book accessible to the general public. Fifteen people from Shimshal are working on this project, as interviewers.

So Laili, [informal address because the interviewer and narrator are friends and of the same age] I would like to thank you for agreeing to share your views and giving us your precious time.

Laili, would you please tell us about your age and your earlier life?

Today you are with me to share some of my life experiences with me; I appreciate your presence with me here at my home. I am 32 years old. Our early life was so difficult and you can say we had a very bitter experience of our earlier life without any facilities available to us here in Shimshal. And we spend a very hard life since our childhood.

Being a shpun (herder; usually used to refer to those who spend winter in the pastures taking care of the yaks) would you like to share some of your experiences and personal views about grazing of yaks with us please?
Okay, if I could, I would tell you some of my experiences in this field. I started grazing yaks when I was so young, that is at the age of fifteen only. It is a very difficult task to do for someone who is weak. During grazing we have to face many, many difficulties. Every year is not the same for us; if one year is hot then another might be cold. In the beginning when I started doing this job, it was not that much difficult for us as it is today, because people had fewer chat kala (cows, goats and sheep) and yaks. Presently, people are having more goats, sheep and yaks, and we are facing so many problems while grazing them.
Section 2
I want to know the reason that why you have chosen this field (grazing of animals) for yourself?
Thanks master sahib, we had not been recruited in the army and we had no other means of [making a] living. So I adopted this, because it is our tradition and it is a source of livelihood for us. We are getting our basic needs of our daily life like meat, butter, cheese, and milk from these animals; otherwise it would be very difficult for us to get these things from outside Shimshal.

Can you tell us the method of grazing yaks in Pamir (Shimshalís mountain pastures) and also about those pastures where you take your yaks for grazing?
Well, as I mentioned before that when I started doing grazing, at that time we had fewer yaks to graze.
We are having [many] different pastures, and we graze our yaks in one pasture for a specific period. In Pamir, first we take our yaks to Ganjdoor pasture, where we keep our animals for two months and then we go to Shuraghel, another pasture for spending two months there. In Ganjdoor, we divide the yaks into two groups (male and female); the male yaks - that is the bigger ones - we take them to another pasture called Sherelik, and the very young yaks along with their mothers are kept in the same pasture, which is Ganjdoor. During that period five of us live in the main pasture Pamir, while three of us live in Sherelik. There is a place in Sherelik called Shireen Iloq, from Ganjdoor it takes five days to reach that place, where we spend at least one and a half months, but usually it depends upon the weather. If the weather is cold then yaks can only spend fifteen days or less there. Grazing of animals in the doors (valleys) and small pastures mostly depends upon the weather: during fine weather our yaks can get grass to eat, and if not, then they have to face many problems. After spending the said period in Shireen Iloq we move to Sherelik, where we keep the yaks in a valley called Arab-a-Door. We stay in Sherelik and after every two days we go to monitor our yaks. When snowfall starts in Arab-a-Door, then we move towards another valley called Rost-a-Door, and then to Ghorsuw, and then back to the main pasture when the time of youzeen (the breeding season) comes. At that time we separate the male yaks and take them to Ghujerab where they spend one and a half months. Female yaks that are ready to give birth have to remain in the main pasture.

Could you please tell us more details about those places, which are suitable for how many yaks and for how much time to graze?
Our valleys are not suitable for grazing a large number yaks at a particular time; these are [only] enough for a smaller number of yaks to graze. When we talk about Sherelik, if the weather is not fine then it is not enough for more then 200 yaks. Arab-a-Door is only enough for 15 days. And Rost-a-Door for a month only and Chap-a-Door is also enough for only 15 days to spend.
That is why our yaks face difficulties in getting grass when snow falls. I can say that we are lazy to some extent - there is a place called Sherbuloq, which could be used for grazing when snow falls more than usual. When heavy snow falls our yaks come to Sherbuloq, which is a barren place and they spend days without grass (food).
Before the border demarcation [with China] there was a channel for that dasht (barren land) but we never tried to develop that as grassland for our animals. There is even a large amount of manure there, which could be used for [growing grass] at that place. But we are not benefiting from these spare places we have. We have another barren place to be cultivated, which can also be used to overcome the shortage of grass for our animals. If we made these lands cultivable, then less of our yaks would die every year. If there were a chance of 10, then it would be decreased to five or if the chance of 15, then 10 could be saved and five would die. So I can say it is very necessary for us to develop these lands.
Section 3
Could you please tell us about the exact number of yaks that our villagers have, and also about the number that we would be able to accommodate in the future?
Presently we are having 800 yaks. And in future we must consider the space we have to accommodate our animals. There is a wrong system of keeping the female yaks for a very long time until they are very old and die from old age. We sell the male yaks when they are young. I think this idea must be for the female yaks as well, to benefit from them. So we must sell them young enough to get the benefit.
Usually, when the number of yaks reaches to 900 maximum - then the graph falls (they start dying), and it never reaches to 1000. The reason is lack of grass and heavy snowfall in the winter. Our grazing valleys like Sherelik, Shireen Iloq etc are very far from the main pasture, we have enough grass in those valleys located in Shireen Iloq to graze our yaks, but we usually spend most of our time in the main pasture Pamir. I think we must go to those valleys in autumn as soon as possible and spend as much time as we can. After shearing the hairs of our yaks we must move our yaks from Pamir to Sherelik for grazing and this way we can save the grass of the Pamir area for the winter season. But usually we [donít do that and] have to face many difficulties in our pastures in winter.

Laili, some people are having more yaks, but some havenít any. Do you think that there is any reason behind it?
Not any special reasons behind it I think. Those people who work hard have more than those who donít.

Do you feel that there is any difference between the grazing of yaks in the summer season and in the winter season?
Of course there is a very big difference in these two seasons of grazing. During summer it is very easy and comfortable to graze the yaks, while during winter it is very hard. We cannot say that it is very easy but as compared to the winter season, which is very cold, it is. And because of this the winter shpuns have to face so many problems.

Laili! Two years ago, those people used to go for grazing the animals that had more yaks, but for the last two years all the villagers are supposed to go (rotationally). So I would like you to comment on this system?
I think it is necessary to comment on this. There is a difference between these two types of grazing yaks. We also applied the same method some four years ago, but it failed. The reason was that, those people who are sincere or you can say honest enough had done their duty honestly, but those who were lazy, they didnít.
Last year we started the same (rotation) system again, and I noticed that it is difficult for those people who have never been to the pasture before for grazing yaks. They face difficulties to find the places or to go from pasture to pasture. During grazing one has to sometimes go alone from one place to the other, and a new person who is not familiar to the area always needs a companion to move from one place to the other. This system is good in a sense that everyone could get a chance to give volunteer service to other people, but if it again failed then it might be harmful for our village and it would be the basis for disunity among our villagers.
In the rotation system, everyone should get an equal chance to complete his responsibility. But I feel that this (rotation) system has not been started fairly by our representatives. It must be started from Khizrabad and finish in Aminabad. I noticed that when it started, they left [out] three houses in the beginning before starting the rotation from the fourth house. And this I think is not fair, and people sometimes quarrel with each other on these types of things.
I want to give some more comments on the difference between summer and winter grazing. Every year our women go to graze the livestock during summer season. And they do not care for the winter pastures at all. During winter we usually take our yaks to the pasture called Shuzerav. And it is necessary for the summer herders that they must care for these pastures, which are specified for the winter season, and must not graze these pastures in the summer. For the winter season we have a specific place called Quz in Shuzerav as well as in Shuwert. In Shuwert women must graze our livestock in Quz-a-ser-Door and Loopzui-a-sar. These are the specific places for our summer grazing. Zarsunik is the place, which is called a vushdon (area where people save grass for winter) by our forefathers. So our women must be careful for that place not to be grazed during summer season. In Shuwert women should take the livestock to Bochboya sar or in the Quz area where some grass has been left. Zarsunik is specifically for the winter season so it is necessary for the women that they should not take the livestock there. Nowadays I observed that there is not that much cooperation among our women as compared to the past. They do not care for the valleys, which are for the winter season. During the last two years I saw them grazing the Zarsunik area in summer and nothing is left for the winter. It is due to lack of cooperation among our womenfolk. Our area is a very sacred place, so we have to live very carefully and united together in our pastures. If we donít then something bad will happen to us.
During winter we used to go first to Ganjdoor and then to Suraghel for grazing our yaks and then back to Chikor. But we always reserve Goz Khoon and Sher Lakhash for our bad times. We get our yaks back from the door (pastures like Sharlik, Shirin Iloq etc on the 21st March, because it is time of the thooll (breeding season) we reserve these places Sher Lakhash, Goz Khoon, and Shev Khon especially for our thooll season. Grazing of yaks needs expertise of the people in both winters as well as in summer. It is very necessary to graze the yaks on time, which is early in the morning. If it gets late, then in winter, it is very possible that the yaks will become weak or they might die during autumn season or in winter. So the responsible persons must take care of these things and work very carefully and with great interest.
Every year eight people go as winter shpuns to graze the yaks in the pasture. While in the past the method was different, only three or four people used to go for this purpose. As I told you, there are different doors where we take our yaks for grazing. Before going to the we discuss each and every issue regarding grazing of the yaks with each other and then divide into two groups. We start from the Ganjdoor, then to Shuraghel. That group who are in the door area go first to Shireen Iloq (the place for grazing of yaks in autumn), then Arab-a-Door (valley specified for winter season), and then to Rost-a-Door which is very convenient for yaks to be grazed in heavy snowfall. People in the main pasture usually stay in Gletsughel, they first graze Bochboya sar, then Qashsar, and there is a place called Shuraghel, which they always reserve for the bad times.
As I mentioned before women are responsible for our livestock and they were very careful in the grazing of livestock, but for the last two years they are not as sincere or caring as they were before. In the past they usually used to go along with the livestock to the grazing place, but now they take them to the pasture for grazing and come back to their homes and in the evening they go to get them back to their ghells (shelter for goats and sheep). And that is why the shpuns for the yaks in winter have to face many problems. I think if they do the grazing in the summer in a proper way, with careful planning according to the timetable, then we would not face any such problems in winter. It is due to their carelessness that we get a lack of grass, and yaks becomes weak and die during the winter or in the autumn season.
Section 5
What else are the people doing in Pamir, for our village, other than grazing of livestock and yaks?
There are many barren places where they used to bring water for drinking from far-flung areas. Every year they clean the water channels. From the main pasture where five people usually stay with the yaks, two of them are supposed to fetch water for the daily use. The rest stay behind to look after the yaks. Therefore it is important to supply water to these barren areas through water channels. We can develop these lands and grow grasses there that will help us to feed the yaks in the winter. There are many channels like the channel of Shevkhoon and Goz Khoon. The shpuns usually clean these channels to get irrigation water. Last year there were many people in Pamir, and they constructed a channel in a place called Chikorben in the name of Khiyal Baig sahib [following the tradition of nomus (system of donating resources for a community project in the name of a relative)]. We observed that this channel proves very beneficial for us. This year we built a house in the name of Iqbal Hussein sahib (with his financial support) in Suraghel. We built another house in Sher Lakhash by the name of the same person. So you can see that every year people are doing some construction work for our village as well as the grazing in Pamir.
Section 6
Could you please tell us the names of those persons who were (looking after the yaks) in Pamir last year and this year?
Last year there were Khyaal Baig, Shambi Khan, Shah Rehmat, Qasim, Ali dad, Hajat Karim, and Hidayat. This year we were, Iqbal Hussein, Naeem Baig, Doost Nabi, Salmat Khan, Rifayat Shah and myself.

Could you please tell us the reason that why many of our yaks die?
The first reason is shortage of grass, due to heavy snowfall. The second reason, which becomes the cause of death for our yaks, is old age. Sometimes diseases spread that also kill many animals. We had expertise in dealing with these diseases, but unfortunately, due to the non-availability of medicines we cannot cure these diseases, and as a result many of our yaks and other livestock die every year.

What do you think about the production of yaks and other livestock; I mean what do you prefer for our villagers to produce from these two?
Janab Master sahib, we must prefer to produce yaks rather than producing goats and sheep, because goats and sheep harm trees etc while yaks are the animals of the mountains and no extra care is needed for their growth. The hair of the yaks is also useful, you can say valuable, for producing the local [woven] carpet called palos, which is durable for some 200 years.
For better growth of our yaks we have to save (not graze) some of our pastures in Pamir. If we do not do that in summer then it is possible that many yaks, especially the female yaks would become weak and give birth to weaker calves, which may not survive the harsh winter season.
So it must be kept in mind that we should leave enough grass for their survival. That will benefit the villagers. Healthy yaks give birth to (healthy) mature babies compared to the weaker ones. This makes the caring of the baby yaks easier, and if the birth of the yak comes late then it is very possible for the baby yak to be weak and die during the winter season1.
So I suggest to our villagers that they must care for the male yaks by taking them to the doors (adjacent valleys) where there is enough grass. The plain areas should be kept for female yaks to graze.

How do you people utilize Qumush (name of one of the pastures)?
We keep Qumush, as I told you that on 21st March we separate the yaks into two groups, like the ones who are ready to give birth are kept in the plain areas [close to the Chinese border] under close observation, while the others are kept in the door. We always keep a close eye on those yaks that are ready to give birth so that the baby yaks might not die or some wild animal may not prey on them.

There are 800 or 900 yaks in Shimshal and only eight shpuns are caring for them. I want to know that how could you people manage to identify or differentiate between these yaks?
We have to spend the whole year with them and we identify some through their colours and some through their dogh (special identification mark made by the owner). There are many colours of yaks like white, brown, light blue, which makes their identification easy for us.
Section 7
What problems can an inexperienced shpun face during his shpunig (herding)?
An inexperienced shpun faces many problems while grazing the yaks. Especially in the first year, but we usually manage to show him all the places in the beginning of the season by sending an experienced one with him everywhere.

What factor do you keep in mind, age or experience while sending the shpuns to the door for grazing of yaks?
We keep in mind both of these two factors, while dividing them into groups of two or three. While sending them to the door, we usually send two experienced and one inexperienced shpun together. These two experienced shpuns make him familiar with all the places or pastures within Pamir or with the yaks. One experienced one with an inexperienced one is sent to check those female yaks that are ready to give birth and they bring them to the main pasture.

How do you people express your sorrows and happiness in Pamir together when for example more yaks die within your grazing period or if a few yaks die?
Sometimes many yaks die due to hunger or due to more snowfall and it make us very sad. But as far as the happiness is concerned, as I told you before, we usually live in two separate groups, one in the main Pamir (plain areas) and the second one in the door. We meet each other on the 21st of March. At that time we sing songs, we dance together, we play different games together. We enjoy that time together as much as we can. We cook different types of dishes and eat that together.

What type of games do you play together?
Shpuns in Pamir mostly play jugoon (polo) and tuksori (game similar to cricket). Jugoon has now lost its importance due to the lack of horses, but we still play tuksori.

What do you think about the future of shpunig?
In Shimshal everyone is interested to produce more yaks. There would be many types of yaks like healthy, weak, small and big. So the shpuns must be very careful in caring of all these types of yaks during their turn. He has to take care of all the animals equally without any differentiation like an owner.

Is there any system that the shpun grazes his own yaks separately?
No there is no such system. But the only thing that the shpun gives to his own yaks is doos (small balls made of flour). Another [way they] them is that they do not milk their personal yaks so that the babies will become healthy. These rules are for all the shpuns.
Section 8
How do you separate the milk for your own use, I mean for the shpunís use?
If we have 100 yaks with us, then we use 20 milking yaks in a day for our daily use, and we repeat the same method rotationally.

You said that we would produce more yaks instead of livestock [in the future], so for what purpose will we use these yaks, if we produce more?
As I told you they have so many advantages, like we can sell them and the income can be saved in a bank for the education of our children. And on the other hand the production should be continued according to our limitations, like the grass in our pastures. The birth rate per year is 200 yaks. So we should sell at least 100 yaks per year to get the benefit, otherwise this productivity will be useless for all of us.

For how many years have you been doing this job?
I started doing this job when I was only 15 years old. I mean I have been a shpun for the last 15 years, because I am now 30. Every year would be different for the shpuns to graze animals, and as a shpun being familiar with the difficulties we now know how to protect our yaks from the bad weather or from starvation due to heavy snowfall. Our yaks usually die due to lack of grass, and that is why we have identified all the places suitable for grazing of yaks for a specific time period according to the weather conditions.
I am now familiar with all the small pastures in Pamir, and I also know which place is suitable for which time, and how many yaks can be grazed for how long in a particular place. Throughout the year we have to remain very careful about the grazing of the pastures, because in the past our yaks faced starvation for five years consecutively. The reason was lack of grass. We learned a lesson from that and made planning for the grazing of yaks. Now our production numbers [of yaks] are increasing every year, and the chance of starvation is also increasing with that number. Due to heavy snowfall the yaks couldnít get the grass. So I suggest that the villagers must think over it, and they must do some thinking to overcome this problem.

What do you think they should do for it?
It would be a very time consuming and hard task to construct channels for the barren places, but I think it would be very good long-term planning for the future generation. We have enough pastures in Shimshal, but unfortunately the growth of grass is very less.
I am sure if channels are constructed in some of the pastures - where it is possible - this will help us to overcome the problem. Five years ago, we the shpuns, had decided to construct the channel for the dasht of Sherbuloq. But unfortunately our villagers refused [to allow] us to do that. But I suggest that something should be done for this purpose, because it would be very beneficial for us in the coming years. Our villagers didnít know anything about these pastures.
In the year of starvation they blamed the shpuns - why we didnít take the yaks to a pasture called Mustagh - and they said that there is enough grass [there] for 15 days. That year I was with Shumbi, Hidayat, Salamat etc. We had checked all the pastures where we can protect our yaks from starvation. We took our yaks to Mustagh for grazing but it was enough for seven or eight days only. It is also very far as well from the other pastures. So I again suggest the construction of channel for the barren places, because the places like Mustagh might not overcome our problem.
Section 9
After the construction of the channel, how many families can be settled in Sherbuloq2? It is a very wide place. At least 100 families might easily settle there.

Is there any difference in the grazing of yaks between present and past?
Obviously there is a difference between these two. In the past there were only 100 or 150 yaks in Shimshal, and the grazing was very easy, enjoyable and comfortable for the herders. But now the number of yaks is increasing every year and it is very difficult for only eight people to graze 800 or 900 yaks at a time.
We have to walk for a long time. Sherelik takes about 10 days walking from Shuraghel for a strong person like you, and for a weaker one it might take more than 10 days. Before the border demarcation there were no more doors or pastures in our hand, but after the friendship3 we can use door Sherelik. And shpuns of the past had never seen Sherelik and other doors at all.

What do you think about hunting?
I am not in favour of hunting. Because we are fulfilling all our needs from our pastures and animals, like rogan (butter), qurut (local dried cheese), meat and palos. We are all interested to produce yaks and livestock and we are not interested in finishing them and we might not get the benefit from hunting.

What is your opinion about SNT (Shimshal Nature Trust)?
I am really very happy with SNT, and with the ideas of SNT. We should work for our village according to our own ideas with collective participation of all our villagers and never let outsiders to interfere in running our life and never let them to influence us.

What do you suggest for the females who care for livestock in Pamir [in the summer]?
I suggest that they must be very careful about the grazing of livestock. During summer grazing is easier than in the winter; livestock have no any difficulty in getting grass. But in the winter heavy snowfall makes it very difficult for the yaks to get grass. So I suggest that they do care for the winter pastures.

Thank you for all your cooperation, your time and your comments. We will Inshallallah (by the grace of God) give you a copy of this interview, if translated into English.
Forgive me for the mistakes, if there are any, and thank you also.
Section 10
1 In autumn the mother is healthy and has more milk therefore new-borns at that time are also healthy. In the hard season (late winter and early spring) when it is very cold and there is less grass the animals become weaker and any young born at this time will therefore be weak as their mothers will not have enough milk and the hard conditions make it difficult for the new-borns to survive.

2 This is a local means of describing the size of an area; bongagiga jai means the number of families that could settle there. So Sherbuloq is big enough to accommodate 100 families ie smaller than Shimshal village.
3 This refers to the border demarcation between China and Pakistan. Locally it is known as friendship between the two countries, because prior to that the relationship between the royal state of Hunza (which used to include Shimshal) and the neighbouring states of Shinjiag and Sirikul sometimes deteriorated.