Every year thousands of sheep in Georgia make a dangerous journey from the mountains with a height of 3000 metersBy Pictolic https://pictolic.com/en/article/every-year-thousands-of-sheep-in-georgia-make-a-dangerous-journey-from-the-mountains-with-a-height-of-3000-meters
Life in the north-east of Georgia, in the Tusheti region, has changed little over hundreds of years: there are dangerous roads and inhospitable nature, and there are more sheep than people. Every October, several shepherds, risking their lives, lead a herd of hundreds of heads from the mountain peaks to the low valleys of Kakheti. To do this, they need to overcome the Abano pass with a height of 2800 meters, where people and animals die every year.
The New Zealand photographer of Radio Liberty, Amos Chapple, went after the shepherds and took breathtaking photos in three days. On the way, he had an accident and was forced to change five car tires.
Dato Chhareuli is one of the six shepherds who lead 1,000 sheep through the mountains. They have only dogs, horses and sticks at their disposal.
The idea of traveling through the mountains came to Chapple during a business trip: "In the summer I was in Georgia and spent two days in Tusheti: I was given the task to film the whole country from a drone. I couldn't stay in Tushetia for a long time, but these landscapes just shocked me. When I heard about the shepherds who need to overcome these mountains every year, I realized: if I can return, I will get a great series of photos."
Chapple was walking with six shepherds who were leading the herd from the mountain village through the Abano Pass to the relatively safe plains. It is necessary to have time to do this until winter comes. Locals have been making such trips for centuries. Abano Pass (it is about 200 kilometers from Tbilisi) — one of the most dangerous points of travel. This road lives up to its deadly reputation. It takes 12 hours to drive, and then even longer to walk carefully.
Before setting off, the men had lunch with sheep cheese sandwiches and drank chacha. They took a minute to remember a friend who died in a car accident on a rocky road a few days ago. On the way down, Chapple saw the remains of this man in a wrecked car being transported to the foot of the mountain by truck.
During the time it takes to overcome the Abano Pass, the weather can change a lot. Every year people die in accidents here.
Shepherds also met bulldozers to clear roads. This was a bad sign: it means that a heavy snowfall was waiting for them ahead. Chapple explains that during migration, residents of Kakheti often have disagreements with shepherds, because herds block narrow roads and interfere with transport.
The head of the group of shepherds, 29-year-old Sulkhan Gigoidze, told Chapple that he prefers life in remote corners of the world to cities and does not want to be among people.
"The grass was covered with snow, so everyone walked very carefully," says Chapple. "The shepherds had heavy sticks with which they leaned on the ground, but I didn't have anything like that, so I almost all the time went down on all fours and took pictures at random with mud—covered hands."
Besides, Chapple could not communicate with the shepherds without his driver: he speaks a little Russian, but does not know Georgian. Therefore, the photographer tried not to interfere with the others. It was important that he did not slow down the movement and did not affect the process in any way. Any sudden movements could frighten the sheep, which were to be slaughtered in the fall. Each sheep costs the shepherds $60, and they raise the flock more for meat than for wool.
"I had to try to move carefully so that the sheep would not shy away from the trail. If I stood on a rock or something like that, I could destroy the whole herd, so I ducked and moved slowly."
In addition to the shepherds, Chapple had another companion — a three-month-old puppy Georgik. The mother refused the puppy, and Gigoidze and his company sheltered him. For the dog, this was the first migration, and on the most terrible and steep sections he had to be picked up.
Shepherds use an ancient breed of Georgian shepherd, bred so that it does not stand out among sheep. This is necessary so that the surrounding wolves could not distinguish a sheep from a dog and kept at a distance.After two days of driving through rain, snow and ice, the shepherds overcame the harshest and highest sections of the way. From here they headed for warmer valleys. During the transition, the shepherds lost eight sheep — for them this is a typical cost of a hike. Chapple says: "If tired or injured sheep stop to rest, they will soon die from external factors, they will be dragged away by wolves or taken to slaughter by local residents."
After all the vicissitudes of climbing mountains and dangerous descent, Chapple was finally able to think with relief about beer and going to the shower: "It was amazing to share with the shepherds the general relief and sense of accomplishment. I set about fulfilling my promise to feed them a delicious lunch after arriving in the valley and give them the photos I took."
But the story didn't end for Chapple: he also had to deal with the accident and go to the police together with the driver. There it turned out that the truck driver who crashed into them claims that everything was the opposite: "George was very upset, so I was too involved in this situation to feel relief. In the end, everything cleared up, and the police showed that the guy was lying. I was able to get into my car and drive down to get the latest photos of shepherds on the plain. It was an amazing feeling, and that's why I love difficult business trips: when they end, every bottle of beer tastes better, and the shower is more pleasant."
Despite all the difficulties, Chapple wants to repeat his adventure, come back in the spring and film the return migration to the mountains: "It seems that they all think that I am not able to overcome such a road. This is a difficult request. On the way back, if someone gets injured or runs out of steam, he can ruin everything: if the sheep freeze or starve when the hike slows down, the shepherds will lose their livelihood. I will need to make sure that I am not just in shape, but in super shape. The road down was difficult, but the hike back is much, much harder."
Keywords: Altitude | Mountains | Georgia | Migration | Sheep | Amos chapple
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