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Eric Gourlan


Traditional life of shepherd family


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        Lake Song Kul is located in the Naryn Province in Kyrgyzstan. It lies at an altitude of 3016 m in a mountainous region and the surrounding peaks are more than 4000 m high. The closest town is Kochkor from which you can start your expedition but only during a few month in the year. Around the natural lake with an area of 278 km2 you find steppe which has been formed over the centuries. The lake reaches at its lowest level a depth of 14 m. It is a natural reserve of fresh water and the second largest lake in the country after Issy Kul. All the inhabitants of the region are dependent on it. There is neither housing nor village on the mountain pastures, because winter conditions are very harsh and temperatures can reach -40 degrees.
        The shepherds of Kochkor go to the pastures of Song Kul for the quality of the grass and the freshness of its fish. From June to September Kyrgyz nomads leave the villages to go to the highlands with their herds and settle their camps on the outskirts of the lake. These camps are composed of tents and yurts similar to that of Mongolia. Traditionally, the people of Kyrgyzstan are nomads and for a large part Muslims.
        Life on the set is based on the solar clock and the whims of the weather. Long before sunrise women are busy in their yurts, preparing Arak. This is mare's milk mixed with herbs that ferment for several days in a wooden case. Five to six times a day, the Arak is shaken and stirred with a stick, then consumed without moderation during the day. When you wake up, the tradition is that you drink a bowl before getting out of the blankets. Equipped with a bottle filled with this beverage, the men drive the animals on higher pastures. Herds consist of goats, sheep, horses and cattle. On average a family has thirty horses, sheep, goats, cows and some families also own camels and yaks. Sometimes accompanied by the older children, the shepherds will not return until the evening, having gathered their livestock of the mountains. Education of children is the task of the mother and the grandparents, while that of the nomadic life is that of the father.

Eric Gourlan