July 3rd – Pamir – Following in the Shepherds’ Footsteps to Learn About Health

Bill Hanlon on trek to 4700 m Shimshal Pass from Shimshal village, Hunza Valley, Karakoram Range, PakistanOn July 3rd around 6am with low cloud we headed out of Shimshal village on foot towards the Pamir.

Our group included Zulfiqar (Zulfi/HC administrator + guide), porters Saieed and Hussain, Pat and Dr. Bill.

Our gear comprised of medicines/ medical equipment (including blood pressure machine, stethoscope, auroscope, opthalmoscope etc.)/dressings/ clothing for kids + LED lantern + food and fuel, camping gear etc.

A trip like this had not been done before in this area so we were not sure what to expect. We started out with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension.

I was interested in traveling the same route that the shepherds seasonally have travelled for decades with their sheep/goats and yaks.

Travelling the same route gave us a much better understanding of the many challenges they face and the impact such challenges have on their health. Traditionally mainly women live in the Pamir (4700m) during the summer months(May to October) tending to their animals and a smaller number of men spend the winter months looking after their animals in the winter pasture at a slightly lower elevation. The winter shepherds usually rotate between families. Children from the villages usually join their mothers in the summer pasture once school holidays begin. The fathers usually look after the households, tend to the gardens and fields during the summer months.

Shortly after we started out eastward along the Shimshal river drainage we encountered rain and cooler temperatures. We crossed the river a number of times and then headed northwards towards Shimshal Pass. We rapidly gained altitude shortly after we turned northward. We traversed a very narrow, exposed, muddy trail above the river. There were beautiful views back towards Shimshal and across to a glacier across the valley. We dropped altitude to cross the second of many suspension bridges we would encounter along the way. We took shelter in an old shepherd’s hut close to the river for a welcome break for chai and chapatti.

We then gained further elevation above the valley and passed a new shepherd’s house almost fully completed.

After we gained further elevation, we started a long, narrow traverse high above the river. Some of the wet, slippery rocks added to the challenge along with the elevation gain. As the day went on the clouds started to break up and the rain eventually stopped. We saw ibex/blue sheep /yak and shepherd tracks high up on the opposite side of the river.

We camped close to a side stream and shepherds hut high above the river. We had some rain on and off during the night but the weather cleared by morning.

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