Why Iran's nomads are fading away

As modern life lures a generation to cities, some left behind struggle with drought and dust storms and wonder: What kind of life is this?

Shirin Khodadadi, 26, makes tea with her son. The family spent the night near the road after a driver they’d hired said he couldn’t drive any farther and put them out of his car.

The peaks of the Zagros mountain range are still dusted with snow. Long, twisting roads draw lines over the valleys and slopes here in western Iran. They are ancient paths, trodden by feet and hooves for thousands of years in the ever repeating movement of migration.

These days cars and rented trucks, rather than horses, bring the remaining Iranian nomads and their flocks to their summer pastures high up in the Iranian highlands near the city of Chelgard. Instead of making daylong hikes for news to the long-abandoned nomadic communication center, local Bakhtiari tribe members carry cell phones and complain about bad reception.

Iran’s nomads have been making the same migration for millennia. In spring they headed for the cooler pastures of the Zagros, where grass for their flocks of sheep and goats was abundant. At the end of autumn they would return to Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province, their animals strong and well fed to make it through the winter.

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