did i mention the locks? yes the older pill box hat wearing women also sport long black ringlet's that fall on both sides of their weathered faces. interesting thing is that no one has any visible white hair - even the 100 (50 something) year olds. must be that chilpindooq!
the whole village took off all saddled up on the yaks or just walking - it was a surreal sight, riding a yak on this wide open expanse in and out of a wide river bed - part dry, part gushing glacier melt, tall snow clad mountains all around. the scenery so magnificent that after a while the discomfort was forgotten - from time to time Gul would break into a faster pace (i was his passenger) - that's when id be jerked into 'oooooooo ffffff ' except i wasn't about to make a beep. at one point our yak decided it didn't want to walk in the river any more - he just started straight up the mountain - this was one time i thought id surely land back wards and crack my skull.
Gul seemed completely oblivious to any perils that might befall his rider. i simply held on tight, kept my eyes and mouth shut, and figured best not to think too much. there was nothing to it but to begin to trust Guls ability to steer him forward instead of backwards, take some pictures and just enjoy this unreal experience.
once we reached the 'rock' everyone made a large ring around its periphery - the flour and butter offerings were made to it, another prayer was read, both Quranic and Farsi.. then began song and dance. various groups of men would stand up in pairs of twos or fours and do their folk dance to the wakhi songs the crowd was singing. a poet or two were asked to give renditions of their work, poetry describing the beauty of the land. all related to Woolio, the Pamirs, gardens, the special mountain flower 'banafsheh', or love of some imaginary woman. the shimshalis have soft singing voices so it all sounded really gentle and soothing. just wonderful, even though i could only catch a Farsi word here and there.
i was asked to come bless the day with my own singing - they thought i was a 'goolukara' from Karachi!!! ofcourse i don't need any coaxing to burst into song myself, so i sat right among a bunch of shimshali men - mukhi and all, and sang every song in my telephone book. it was great - they were so easy to mingle with, no one was uncomfortable with a woman right in their midst, nor did they make me uncomfortable, it was as if this was the most common place thing to be doing here at the Pamirs!
Nadir, Farman and Gul did a dance of their own. seemed so effortless for these men - Nadir later told us he was breathless by the end of it. in the excitement it was easy to forget you were above 4000 meters - i would realise this from time to time myself, specially when walking and singing at full throttle. what was amazing though was that my voice had a whole different quality to it - a sharp clarity - you could hear every note, every high and low, as clear as the blue sky. id never heard my own voice so clearly before - the down side was that every wrong note was loud and clear as well!
and that pretty much was it - this whole 'festival'. we saddled back up - but this time the men began to race back to shuwerth. there was much noise and excitement. every yak being hushed and shushed into getting ahead of the others. Gul the ever competitive person was itching to just ride as fast and rough as he could to get there first - but would break into a run for a few minutes and realise my dead silence meant i wasn't having too much fun landing on the yaks spine every jump it took, so he'd slow down and just cantor along - then he'd itch again - how could he - the leader of this group of 'guests' be the last one in! so wed break into another painful run - this went on all the way to the village. once you got there the women greeted you by harassing the yak, hit it and tease it so that the riders fall off , this is part of the fun and games of the race. farmans sister was one such ferocious player. greeting the riders with her stick on the yaks butt. the rider who gets there first and manages to stay on his yak wins the day.
farman and nafeesh were one of the early arrivals, but it was Gul's father in law - the oldest person riding a yak, who won the days race!
the rest of the day involved cleaning up the slaughtered goats, not an inch of the animal was wasted. watch the women bring all the goats and sheep back to their large pens. milk the animals - bringing the yaks down to the pens...............will continue tomorrow just too sleepy now.
Nargis played a long game of cricket - something shes never done any other time in her life - blistered toes and all. this is another favourite woolio day activity . i took a long nap right beside Farmans three family yaks. the most wonderful late afternoon sleep.
then came the feast of the day - communal eating at its very best - just plain old somewhat tough mountain goat, stewed all afternoon with the barest of masalas, wheat chappati for dipping in the quickly congealing fatty gravy. looked most unappetizing - till we dipped right in, it was delicious. the most unadulterated taste of pure meat I've ever had.
by now none of us had the energy for goat sheering or more late night song and dance - Farmans mother gave us a few delicious helpings of goat milk tea and then off we went to the comfort of our tents - and my usual sleepless nights!!!