Efrail’s stubble-covered face is creased by age and exposure to the elements. He says he migrates to the mountains in summer, as countless generations of his ancestors did, for two reasons: first, it provides time for the pastures he uses in the valley to rejuvenate after they’ve been grazed in spring and before they’re grazed again in autumn. Even more importantly, he says, the climate is much, much cooler in the mountains than in the valley, where daytime temperatures in July can easily reach 100 degrees. The lower alpine temperatures are crucial for the process of making certain types of cheese, including the region’s famous tulum peyniri, which fetches much higher prices than any other kind of cheese made in Munzur. It isn't made in winter, Efrail explains, because the sheep produce much less milk then. “For us,” he says matter-of-factly, “coming up here is necessary.”
Despite the challenges of camping out in the mountains for over three months of the year, Efrail and Aynur like their nomadic life and say they would never choose to remain sedentary as long as they remain physically able to migrate. But not everyone feels the way they do, particularly those from the younger generations.
From the Efrail and Aynur's camp, if you hike up past a small lake, up and over a couple of saddles, and down a grassy chute of a valley, you'll reach another meadow called Türk Yaylası - Turkish Pasture - where an extended family from the village of Güney Konak spent the summer of 2014.
One tent was home to Yusuf and Birgül Varlıel, and their 9-year-old daughter, Eylul. Birgul, in her mid-30’s, expressed her utter weariness of nomadic life, and wished she never had to migrate to the meadows again. “Everything is difficult up here – there’s no electricity, there’s no firewood, making bread is much harder than at home, doing laundry is a pain, and staying clean is impossible! Just look at me!” she said, laughing, but dead serious.
In the neighboring tent, Burcu Varlıel, who was twenty, agreed with Birgul. She missed her friends and, with no mobile phone connection, text messaging and Facebooking was impossible. Most people her age don’t want to live as shepherds for the rest of their lives; and most of those who go to college, even if they return home to Munzur in summer to help their families, will ultimately find other careers.