Just as the first rays of the morning sun appear over the mountaintop, alone figure standing on a rise overlooking the valley below, slowly raises a long trumpet-like instrument to his lips. As the surnay player issues forth an extended, high-pitched blast, the encampment is instantaneously alive with activity. Simultaneously, the entire community pulls its tent stakes, and with a succession of loud thuds, what had been a city of black goathair shelters disappears.
Less than an hour later, the entire city is on the move. Camels and donkeys grunt in protest against heavy packs carrying the folded tents, clattering cookware, and woven bags bulging with personal belongings. Out of a side of a saddlebag draped over a packhorse peer a baby goat and a small dog, wedged in side-by-side. Strapped high atop a limbering cow is a wooden cage carrying three squawking hens. Young men yell and sing and swear as before them a thousand sheep slow, stop to graze and are then persuaded to move on again. A baying donkey carries a small girl, her long colorful skirt flowing down the flanks of the animal. On her back is her infant brother. Finding the rhythm of movement, the procession, stretching over a mile long, slowly climbs up the mountainside out of the valley.
Twice each year over the past three and a half centuries, this scene has been reenacted by numerous clans of the Qashqai (pronounced Ghash-gha-ee) nomads, throughout the Zagros Mountains of southern Persia. At any given moment over the next ten weeks, over a hundred thousand people and one million and a half animals will creep over desolate mountain passes or across high alpine meadows on their three hundred mile trek to their winter pasturelands near the Persian Gulf.