A recent trip to Lesotho renewed my respect for the pastoral, subsistence herdsmen who keep the precious sheep and Angora goats safe in the distant and extremely difficult terrain in the mountains.
I was lucky enough to be invited on a horse riding trip organised by a friend, someone had dropped out and there was a spare place. It was a five day ride through some of the most extreme landscape and pristine scenery.
Our horses came from the famous Moolmanshoek stud in the Free State, they had been trucked in a few days before and we met them at Maliba Lodge. Our first day involved a 750m climb toward the Drankensberg escarpment. It was 10 hours of hard going, horses working their way over rocks and boulders and all the way climbing for the first 5 kilometres.
We ventured into the Tsehlanyane National Park and toward Afriski. Once out of the National Park we saw the beginnings of goat herds and shepherds who waved to us from the very top of rocky mountain tops. Usually accompanied by a pack of dogs, they always looked so remote and sinister, covered in a Basutho blanket and wearing a woollen cap and white gum boots.
We passed very rudimentary shepherd huts, not permanent dwellings, but usually a stone walled structure covered by a fresh grass thatch roof. How these stand up to the freezing weather and regular storms, I don't know.
We had arrived in Lesotho the night of a storm which thundered around the mountains, the next day the rivers were flowing strongly and as we rode, we could see, in the far distance a large gathering of people on horses, there were probably close to a hundred - they gathered on the side of a hill and our guide could not work out why so many had come to this remote hill. We later found out a shepherd had been struck by lightning the night before and this was the escort who had come to collect his body.
A sobering reminder of the harshness of the life these shepherds lead.
The goats I saw were in excellent condition, rains had been good and we regularly came across large flocks of both goats and sheep, bells ringing and clanging, lots of bleating and always a curious look. Very clearly the goats were shiny and white, while the woolly sheep looks a little muddy and dirty...testament to the ability of mohair to keep itself clean and repel dirt!
The fascinating variety of dogs that accompanies the shepherds provided lots of debate amongst me and our group of riders. Majority of them were very fluffy and thick coated, obviously built to withstand the freezing winter temperatures. Many of them were very large looking - wolfhound types, perhaps with some Anatolian thrown in but always a mix of sorts. Most of them were in very good condition which was heartening to see.
We came across a dog tied to a horse in a field, looking very relaxed and pensive. Most of the dogs are used to protect sheep from predators, although we certainly never heard any jackals during our time there. I doubt there are many left and do not think leopards are very common anymore.
Lesotho's rivers are absolutely pristine, clear and running over rocks. The geology, prolific plant life - we saw great drifts of red hot pokers - and sky scraping mountains was truly impressive. Also heartening to see people and animals working so well together, despite the harshness of the climate and environment, there is a purity to the life, I wished someone could write about the experience of being a herdboy/man. There must be a lot to tell.