Episode 4: Iran Nomads, a Life on the Move

Greeting and Sari Gelin Song

🎵 Sari Gelin by Hossein Alizadeh, Jivan Gasparyan

Hello, you’re listening to Padena. In Padena we picture Iran though the music, literature and travelogues. This episode “Iran nomads, a life on the move.”

Introduction of the episode

In this episode, we are going to have a closer look at Iranian Pastoral nomads and their unique lifestyle. In the 4th episode of Padena, we will give you a clearer image from the Iranian Ashayer or nomads, a handful of people who have an unavoidable role in sustainable development in Iran. You will know about Kooch, the seasonal migration to and from summer and winter quarters that Redzib experienced with Bakhtiari nomads and go along with little Arnon who has met with Shahsevan nomads at Sabalan Mountains foot and realize how milking herds and making bread make a great adventure to a little Thai boy. Here we go with the story of a life on the go.

The bride of the Mountain, Sari Gelin

You ‘re listening to Sari Gelin, a popular Azari folk song telling the story of a bride from the mountains and her love for a boy that never could achieve. Sari Gelin song has many versions with the same melody and different lyrics that are sung by different singers. This version is by the Iranian composer and musician Hossein Alizadeh accompanied by the Armenian singer Jivan Gasparyan in Persian, Azari Turkish and Armenian languages.


Iran Nomad Tours sponsored this episode of Padena. Iranomad Tours strives to organize cultural and adventure eco-tours focusing on Iran’s authentic nomad population. In these tours they take a small number of travellers to the heart of Zagros mountains nature, to experience Iranian nomad’s way of living. For more information, check their website at www.nomad.tours.

🎵 Gol-e Naz Darom by Masoud Bakhtiari

Iranian Nomads Description

Migration for survival: this is the spirit of the nomadic life in Iran. As they feel the fresh breeze of fall telling them that cold days are on their way, nomads start moving to warmer quarters with their families, flocks, and all belongings, constantly looking for green pastures and gentle weather

Mountains, rivers, plains, and deserts have been and remained their homeland.The main dwelling of Iranian nomads is a special woven tent. There are two kinds of nomadic tents, both hand-built: Siah chador or black tent and Alachiq tent, which is a dome-shaped tent.

In the nomadic community, each tribe has distinct area domination. Herding is the basis of economic life for pastoral nomads, and they possess a social communication chart based onhierarchical order in which members of the tribe have specific responsibilities and positions.

You’re listening to a Bakhtiari song named gole naz darom by Masoud Bakhtiari, the great composer and singer from the Bakhtiari tribe.

🎵 Saray by Chahgiz Mahdavi Pour

A visit to the Mt. Sabalan’s residents

Listen to Arnon and his short travelogue on his visit with Shahsevan nomads in northwest Iran. Aron is a six-year-old boy from Thailand who has travelled to Iran with his all family including grandmothers, aunt and uncle and cousins in the summer of 2019.  

On the background you’ll be listening to a folk song originated from an Iranian Azari tale named Saray. The song is by Changiz Mahdavi Pour, an Iranian Ashiq musician from Saray movie by Yadollah Samadi’s direction in 1997. Saray is a beautiful Azari girl in a Shahsevan tribe who falls in love with the herder chief, but this love story didn’t have a happy end.

Shahsevan tribal camp at the foot of Mt. Sabalan, Amin Karimi | Padena

🎙️ Aron tells about his experience with the Shahsevan nomads.

Arnon’s painting on his visit with Shahsevan nomads in Iran

International documentaries about Iranian Tribal Nomads

Grass Directed by King Kongs producers

Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, is the name of the oldest documentary film on Iranian nomads’ great migration. It’s made by the American film directors Merian C Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack in 1925. 

The film follows a Bakhtiari tribe on their six-day kooch across the Karun River and over the highest peak of the Zagros Mountains with 50.000 tribal people and countless livestock. The filmmakers became the first Westerners to make the migration with the Bakhtiari.

In 1997, Grass was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.

The Lovers’ Wind Which Embraced its Film Director for a Lif

The Lovers’ Wind or Bad-e Saba in Persian, is a 1978 French documentary film directed by Albert Lamorisse about the landscapes of Iran and its ethnology.

The film contains some frames on the migration of Baseri tribe with traditional Iranian music by Hossein Dehlavi and Abulhassan Saba.

🎵 Mal kanoon folk singing by a Bakhtiari tribal man

You’re hearing a Mal kanoon folk singing by an actual Bakhtiari nomad. The literature of the Bakhtiari tribe repeatedly reflects the kooch. Mal kanoon is a term in Luri Bakhtiari dialect that defines the kooch and means wrapping staffs for migration.

Kooch, the Great Migration of Iran Nomads

Kooch or nomadic migration is the beating heart of nomadic life; an answer to the need for fresh pastures for the flock and a Teamwork action that all members take part in.

When it comes to the migration of nomads, telling about two terms is essential. Yeylaq is the summer realm to which nomads migrate in spring and stay living there until the end of summertime.

Sheep returned from pasture feeding their lambs, Amin Karimi | TasteIRAN

Yeylaq typically has cool weather and is located at highlands or mountain hills. At the same time, Qeshlaq is the winter zone with a moderate climate that nomads move toward at the end of summer to spend half of the fall and all winter in.

Different Iranian Pastoral Nomadic Tribes

Nomads of Iran are categorized in different ils with variety of cultural characteristics. next, we introduce the different nomad tribes which are following the typical nomadic lifestyle in Iran.

The Bakhtiari

🎵 Mar Jangeh, by Astareh Bakhtiari and Rahim Adnani

Bakhtiari is the largest tribal confederacy in Iran. They are Iranian Lur people that speak a type of Lori dialect. Bakhtiari tribe’s men wear a felt hat which is black and named Khosrowi and a sleeveless coat in natural white wool with vertical black stripes named Chugha.

You listened to a Bakhtiari improvisation melody, named “Mar Jangeh” composed by Abolghasem Khan, one of the powerful Bakhtiari officials with Astareh Bakhtiari and Rahim Adnani singing. Astareh is a sightless Bakhtiari singer.

In the following listen to the migration experience of Redzib from Bosnia, with Bakhtiari nomads that Saman reads on a song by the well-known Bakhtiari singer, Masoud Bakhtiari which has played with Iranian Tar instrument.

🎵 Magham-e Kohkiloye with Tar by Masoud Bakhtiari

Migration with the Bakhtiari Nomads from the Plain to the Mountain

🎙️ With a welcoming smile on her face, the mother of the family said: “Well, we need to be here, but what on Earth are you doing here!?” Nobody replied, but I remember that I thought of what could be the only possible reply – we came to remember the things we forgot long ago.

This was my first encounter when I joined a nomadic tribe in Iran in the spring of 2018. This tribe is called the bakhtiary. These nomads have no stationary home, but they call several provinces of Iran their home, including the Isfahan province. The bakhtiari people do a 300 km migration twice a year, moving between winter pastures to summer pastures high in the mountains, to find grass for their flocks of sheep and goats.

The great migration of Bakhtiari nomads, Mohammad Malekshahi | Padena

The mother of the family was standing barefoot in front of a primitive tent, dressed fully in black clothes. This middle-aged woman who looked older than her age appeared very simple, yet very tough with a face that could almost tell stories. It was obvious she’s a very strong woman – a pillar of the family. The men – father and two younger family members – were also close by, shepherding and guarding the sheep and goats. As for the girls, they are attached to the family and their mother, at least until they get married. They work as hard as the boys, if not harder. From early morning they are responsible for milking, preparing food, yoghurt and the traditional dairy drink, as well as taking care of the camp.

The Qashqai

The Qashqai is one of the largest tribal confederacies after Bakhtiari tribe live in Fars Province and Zagros ranges. They are made up of five major tribes. They speak in Turki Qashqai dialect..

🎵 Qashqai Lullaby

you’re listening to a Qashqai lullaby being sung in the nomadic camp in Zagros hillside.

🎵 Surnay and Karnay Instruments

In all Qashqai ceremonies like wedding, which plays a crucial role in Qashqai tradition, tribal musicians play local instruments such as Karnay, Surnai and Naqqare drum. Dance is a sign of solidarity, alliance and friendship among Qashqai nomads. Qashqai women wear beautiful clothes characterized by vibrant colours and designs and dancing in a circle shaking colourful napkin in hands.

A Qashqai wedding, Bahman Mardanloo | Padena

The Father of Tribal Education

Now you will be listening to the translation of some lines from the book Bokhara- My Tribe written by Mohammad Bahman Beigi .

Mohammad Bahman Beigi born in 1920 in a Qashqai tribe of Fars Province, he is most known as the father of tribal education aimed at educating the nomadic children of Iran.  

The second of Bahman Beigi’s five books, is a collection of 19stories and memories in which he narrates a culture, the mindset and living condition of the Qashqai through pristine prose. Allah Verdi, the son of Bahman Beigi, translated parts of his father’s five published works in English in the book The Story of Lucky Mad Nomad in 2014 available on Amazon website.

من زندگانی را در چادر با تیر تفنگ و شیهۀ اسب آغاز کردم. در چهار سالگی پشت قاش زین نشستم.  از شنیدن اسم شهر، قند در دلم آب می‌شد و زمانی که پدرم و سپس مادرم را به تهران تبعید کردند، تنها فرد خانواده که خوشحال و شادمان بود، من بودم.

🎙️ I’ve started my living in a black tent with horse neigh. I started horseback riding at age four. Hearing about city life has made me be tickled pink, and that is why when my father and then my mother had been exiled, the only one who was happy in the family was me.

پدرم غصّه می‌خورد. فقط یک دل خوشی برایش مانده بود؛ پسرش با کوشش و تلاش درس می‌خواند. من درس می‌خواندم. شب و روز درس می‌خواندم .سرانجام تصدیق گرفتم. تصدیق لیسانس گرفتم. پس از عزیمت رضا شاه  همۀ تبعیدی‌ها رها شدند و به ایل و عشیره بازگشتند

چشمه‌های زلال در انتظارشان بود. کوه‌های مرتفع و دشت‌های بی کران در آغوششان کشید. باز با رسیدن مهر، بار سفر را بستند و سرما را پشت سر گذاشتند و با آمدن فروردین، گرما را به گرمسیر سپردند و راه رفته را بازآمدند.

In Tehran, I was studying severely, and that was the only merriness for my father, who was in the sorrow of exile and homelessness. Eventually, I got my bachelor degree to make my whole family proud of me.

After the abdication and leaving Reza Shah all expatriates returned to their lands and tribes, so did we. Crystal water fountains were waiting for them; high mountains and vast plains embraced them. Again, with autumn arrival, they packed and passed from the cold weather and with coming of spring, handed over the heat to summer realms and came back the same walked the path.

در میان آنان فقط من بودم که دودل و سرگردان و سر در گریبان بودم. بیش از یک سال و نیم نتوانستم از مواهب خداداد و نعمت‌های طبیعت بهره مند شوم.

بازگشتم؛ از دیدار عزیزانم محروم ماندم. به تهران آمدم. با بدنم به تهران آمدم. ولی روحم در ایل ماند. در میان آن دو کوه سبز و سفید، در کنار آن چشمۀ نازنین، توی آن چادر سیاه، در آغوش آن مادر مهربان. بیش از دو سال در بانک ماندم و مشغول ترقّی شدم. روزی نبود که به فکر ییلاق نباشم و شبی نبود که آن آب و هوای بهشتی را در خواب نبینم.

But among my tribal fellows, only me with my inconsistent bachelor couldn’t enjoy these like a displaced person. As a result, I could not benefit the nature’s gift in Ashayer and came back to Tehran to follow my progress however, I left my soul there, between those two green and white mountains, besides that dear spring, in that black tent, and in mother’s tender arms.

I worked in the bank for more than two years and had a great progress without a day free of daydreaming Yeylaq and a sole night to reach dawn without a dream of heavenly climate there.

 نامه‌ای از برادرم رسید، لبریز از مهر و سرشار از خبرهایی که خوابشان را می‌دیدم: «… برف کوه هنوز آب نشده است. به آب چشمه دست نمی‌توان برد. ماست را با چاقو می‌بریم. پشم گوسفندان را گل وگیاه رنگین کرده است. بیا، تا هوا تر و تازه است، خودت را برسان. مادر چشم به راه توست.

My brother sent me a letter overfilled with news I have been dreaming of. The snow on the mountains hasn’t melted yet. The water of the spring is too cold to touch. We cut the yoghurt with the knives. The wools of sheep are coloured with flowers. Come, as long as the weather is fine, mother is waiting for you.

آب جیحون فرونشست؛ ریگ آموی پرنیان شد؛ بوی جوی مولیان مدهوشم کرد. فردای همان روز، ترقّی را رها کردم. پا به رکاب گذاشتم و به سوی زندگی روان شدم. تهران را پشت سر نهادم و به سوی بخارا بال و پر گشودم. بخارای من ایل من بود.

Hardships got disappeared; the smell of Ashayer made me insane. The very next day I quiet the growth and moved forward toward the ongoing life. Left Tehran behind and went to my Bokhara, because my tribe was my desire, my Bokhara.

Siah Chador, the nomadic dwelling of the Qashqai, Amin Karimi | Padena

🎵 Boye joye Moulian by Marzieh and Banan

Boy e Joye moulian, composed by the noble Persian poet Roudaki, known as “Adam of Poets” and sang by two maestros of Persian traditional music, Marzieh and Gholam-Hossein Banan.

🎵 Ashik music by Changiz Mahdavipour and Mahboub Khalili

The Shahsevan

The Shahsevan tribe is from Turk ethnicity, locates in north-west Iran at the foot of Mount Sabalan. The Shahsevan speak Azari language, and the history of this tribe is interwoven with the Safavid dynasty in the 17th century. The fifth Safavid king organized a new tribe. He named them Shahsevan, which means “one who loves the Shah” to temper the increasing power of the army, which included seven nomadic tribes.

The Shahsevan musicians are called Ashik who sing folkloric stories of the Iranian Turks while playing a traditional lute named Chogur. Listen to an Ashik music by Changiz Mahdavipour and singing by Mahboub Khalili. Shahsevans live in hemispheric tents covered with natural white felt named Alachiq, and they don’t have western and central nomads’ black tents.

Alachiq, Hanie Rahmati | Padena

The Khamseh

The Khamseh is a tribal confederation in the province of Fars in southwestern Iran which consists of five tribes. Unlike other big tribes like Bakhtiari or Qashqai who have a common speaking language, the Khamseh tribes are a mixture of Persians, Turks, and Arabs.

The history of the Khamseh started in 1861 when Naser al-Din Shah of Qajar combined five existing nomadic tribes, to weaken the increasing power of the Qashqai in the province. The five tribes of Khamseh confederacy are The Basseri, Inanlu, Baharlu, Nafar and Arab.

The Baluch

🎵 Halo Halo by Mashallah Bameri

Pastoral Baloch nomads commonly live in the northern parts of Sistan and Baluchistan Province in southeast Iran and spend life on keeping herds especially goats. They speak in Balochi dialect; they don’t have any seasonal timing plan or significant migration route.

The Balochi embroidery is the most original and distinguished art of Balochi women that is globally praised. Baloch women materialise their dreams on their clothing with colourful threads and tiny mirrors.

A Baluchi girl wearing colourful embroidery clothing, Amin Karimi | Padena

You’re listening  to Halo Halo, a folk Baluchi song by the famouse Balochi singer, Mashalla Bameri.

The nomadic way of living has disappeared exceedingly. Now there are only a handful of countries which have vertical migration from mountain to plain and vice versa. This pure lifestyle has made nomads a unique tourist attraction in Iran. This episode was an attempt to introduce and preserve this ancient way of living.

🎵 Gol-e badineh by Aida Shah Ghasemi

You’re listening to Gol- e Badineh composed by Masoud Bakhtiari with Aida Shah Ghasemi singing, and Goodbye.


  1. 27 May 2022

    Very good article! We will be linking to this particularly great article on our website. Keep up the great writing. Juan Meester

  2. 30 May 2022

    A round of applause for your article post. Really thank you! Cool. Dewayne Lamarra

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