Bavarian Viehscheid - Festival of the Cows
In many mountainous regions of the world, the summer months bring a tradition of transhumance. This is a centuries-old practice, where people and animals make an annual pilgrimage to the upper slopes of the mountains to take advantage of the bounty of the summer pastures.
Traveling up in late spring and returning in early autumn, they spend several months living and working on their mountain farms, grazing their animals on the myraid of rich summer herbs, grasses and flowers and turning the resulting quality milk into highly prized cheeses. These mountain dairies are frequently situated in breathtakingly beautiful locations, making you feel as if you're on top of the world.
In late summer or early autumn, when the time comes for humans and animals to return to the lower slopes and their permanent farm residences, the end of the season is celebrated with a festival. Provided all has gone well during the summer months, the farmers dress up in their best outfits (in Bavaria, leiderhosen with dark green suspenders embroidered with white edelweiss flowers - and the cows are decorated with garlands of flowers.
In Bavaria, this tradition is known as Viehscheid, and this year I was fortunate enough to witness it for the first time. The farmers started out their journey from the top of the mountain at about 4.30am and were expected to arrive in the valley floor by 11.00am or noon. As we waited for them, I strained my ears for the first signs of their arrival which was signaled by a sound that I can only describe as being identical to rushing water. This was followed by a more distinctive sound of cow bells until suddenly they appeared with a rush from around the corner moving at a fast clip towards us.
It was an amazing sight and while it was no Pamplona, certainly we had to scoot back out of the way. At the end of the procession, the cows were allowed to rest in a temporary corral while waiting for their owners to come and claim them.
Here are some photos and a slightly wobbly video taken during the event.
I can't wait to go back!