Field Notes: Counting Sheep in Khorasan

Last month while exploring the Khorasan region of North East Iran, I embarked on what should’ve been a quick two-hour drive between Neyshabur and Kashmar, and what turned out to be an entire day of photography. 

The road was simply that stunning.

First Sheep of the Day

My friend and I left another friend’s house in Neyshabur early, skipping breakfast to get on the road in good time. Hunger wasn’t an issue – we had a stockpile of apples, pomegranates and nuts that various people along the way had donated to us. The perfect healthy diet for what turned out to be a full day of photography!

Shortly after our departure, it began to rain… which we didn’t really mind as, at that point, the trip was “just a drive”. When the rain stopped and the clouds parted we took a short break to stretch. As luck would have it, I spotted a nearby herd of sheep with their shepherds – and I couldn’t resist getting my camera out. (Yes, I know… another sheep photo session…but there are so many of them in Iran, it’s hard to resist. No point being sheepish about it, is there?!)

Meeting the shepherds of Khorasan on a photo tour with Pics of Asia

After chatting with the shepherds and snapping some fluff-filled images, we kept on driving. We also kept our Vitamin C intake up with a few juicy oranges. Mmm… 

Storm Chasing

20 minutes later, dark clouds began to amass on the horizon. It looked like the rain was to set to engulf us yet again. But hey, clouds mean drama and drama is good for photos – so we stopped the car and I looked for something to act as a foreground interest. 

All I could see was a tree, so I ran toward it (thank you, orangey vitamin boost!) By the time I’d reached it, the dark clouds had morphed into a full-blown storm, like those you see in the images of storm chasers. Something I’d personally never witnessed, so I snapped away quickly, before bolting back to the car seconds before the rain hit. 

A huge storm captured in North East Iran

We drove on in the rain for another 30 minutes. Then, just as we entered a narrow valley, the clouds parted and we were treated to some beautiful rays of light. We were suddenly surrounded by huge – and steep – red mountains; the kind of dramatic scenery change that Iran offers regularly. Driving through this valley, we stopped the car again and again for snaps of landscapes and panoramas. 

Sheep Chasing

Another 15 minutes on the road and I saw on my right what appeared to be some rock formations, just like the ones in the Grand Canyon, USA. I told my friend to stop the car as I took off toward the rocks for what I thought would be “a quick photo session”. We didn’t leave for another two hours!

When I reached the ravine I realised that the supposedly empty landscape was actually filled with people. The obligatory sheepherders and their sheep, of course, but also farmers tending their tomatoes, lucerne and saffron fields. I had an extra battery in my pocket so I was good to go (or so I thought). I looked behind me to signal to my friend that I would be out for a while – but he’d clearly already realized that, as he started a fire to boil water for tea. That guy was gold! 

Khorasan sheep herder

The people working in the fields were pretty static, squatting on the floor to plant and weed. So, once again, I started chasing sheep. I think I could title this entire trip: “Sheep Chasing in Iran”!

The tricky part, that afternoon, was that there were a lot of clouds, moving very fast. I was waiting to get that divine light hitting my subjects, to get better images. But by the time I saw a ray of light hit something (or someone), it had disappeared by the time I got to them. So as you can imagine, I ran a lot. 

One shepherd was very friendly and invited me to follow him. He was about to cross the ravine with his sheep and I told myself it would make better photos than the more stationary people working in the fields. So off we went.

Meeting the people of Khorasan with pics of asia

As I walked slowly with the shepherd, trying to exchange a few words, I willed the clouds to open up. I have no idea what this friendly man must’ve thought of me – as I went from ambling beside him one moment, to frantically running like a maniac the next, in search of higher ground when the light burst through.

I tried to explain that I was working hard on my “sheeping lines”…but I don’t think he got it.  Sheeping lines. Get it?! Oh well.

I followed him for a good 20 minutes until he signalled to me that he was going to continue up the mountainside. As I wasn’t really prepared for the cold – and I thought my friend was probably starting to worry about me – I said a big goodbye and headed back to the road.

composiing photos in Iran using sheeping lines

I still regret not having had a 400mm lens with me that day. I saw incredible mountains and rock formations that would have been amazing to photograph, as they were lit by magical rays of light. (I will definitely carry a zoom lens in the bag for the Iran Tour 2020!)

On my descent, I stopped briefly to chat with a few farmers – but the clouds were not playing ball. Some sheepherders invited me into their car to warm up a little and we exchanged a few words. (As a result, I now have a lot of new friends on Instagram, which is the go-to app in Iran!)

I made it back down and found my friend, chilling out near the car, sipping tea and quite proud of the brew he’d made. We enjoyed a steaming cup together – the ideal thing to come back to after that long walk.

Sheep, Sheep and More Sheep

Driving on, it only took another 10 minutes for the clouds to part again… and guess what we immediately spotted? Yep, that’s right. More sheep! 

This time, the sheep were wandering along a hill, towards an amazing rock formation. I leapt out of the car and took off in the direction of that hill, where I snapped a few shots and was greeted by another incredibly welcoming shepherd. This time, however, I didn’t hang around. The light was beginning to fade and I wanted to get back into the car – just in case there was another amazing sheep-based photo opportunity around the next corner!

Khorasan and its sheep

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Because what I didn’t know was that we had already reached our destination for the night – Kashmar. I wasn’t too distraught, though. After all, the day had been full of unexpected joys. As every day in Iran is. 

Best. Pomegranate. Ever… Fact!

Upon our arrival in Kashmar, we met a buddy of my friend who owns a pomegranate garden. He suggested that we still had time to make it to some fields for sunset. So we set off and on the way met a man preparing to plant saffron bulbs. The light was simply divine, and I snapped away while my friends chatted with the farmer.

Kashmar saffron farmer in the region of Khorasan, Iran

We were about to leave when two men on a motorbike waved us over. (People here don’t see too many foreigners and are always inquisitive.) They invited us to sit with them and share a shisha. While we waited for the coals to heat, I was offered, gladly accepted and devoured the single best pomegranate I have ever tasted.

I think it’s safe to say this was the single best pomegranate the world has ever produced. What an end to an amazing day! 

a huge pomegranate in Khorasan, Iran

See you in 2020, Khorasan… lock up your sheep!

This little road trip through Korason is exactly how I love my travel to be. Full of the unexpected, intense, exhausting and exhilarating. At the end of the day I had photographed several locations – none of which were planned – and I had met a host of amazingly friendly people. 

Obviously, after such an experience – which came on the back of a truly amazing week in Khorasan – I will be running a photography tour here in 2020. And I want the entire tour to be as rushed and full-on as the day was for me. So I’ll be inviting advanced photographers only, those that don’t like to follow the herd, and who aren’t scared to chase some sheep. 😉

Chatting with the sheepherders while exploring Khorasan
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Etienne

Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

2 Comments

  1. Mrs Anne Forbes on December 23, 2019 at 8:50 am

    The sheep match the landscape colours almost exactly. And what interesting wild vistas!

    • Etienne on December 24, 2019 at 9:32 am

      This area is really wild for sure! And the mountains are impressive!

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