My Journey with the Sheep, the Cattle and the Shepherds

Near Abano Pass
Near Abano Pass

Between Europe and Asia to the Caucasus in Georgia to the mountains of Tusheti – that was where destiny brought me..

For me, Tusheti begins when we reach Abano Pass. In August of 2009, I made my first trip to Tusheti and I will never forget when we got to Abano and I could look into Tusheti for the first time. It was magic and mysterious and there I was looking into the magic and mystery. I cannot even begin express how I felt.

And so it was in September of 2014. I was at the top of Abano for the start of my third cattle drive. It was cold and windy and rainy but I did not care. We were going into Tusheti and we would walk out with the sheep and the cattle and the shepherds. The weather – well it is like Montana – if you do not like it wait fifteen minutes.

Sheep drive Tusheti
Sheep drive Tusheti

After meeting many shepherds over the years and spending time with them either walking or eating or staying with them in their makeshift camps, I have come to see a group of people like no other I have ever met. I have often said the shepherds are like the salt of the earth. They walk straight up the side of mountains with their sheep and cattle and spend most of the time outside whatever the weather. When they come in they are happy people and enjoy spending time eating and drinking and smoking and talking. Those of us from the city are might as well be from a different planet.

As often as I am able to join these cattle drives, I will surely do it. It is one of the most unique and unusual and interesting things that I do. There is nothing like it on this earth.

Tushetian shepherds
Tushetian shepherds

When I say there is nothing like it on this earth, I am thinking about how it is to walk these several days with the shepherds when they leave Girevi and are heading for the winter pasture. The first time you walk with them you notice the sheep move faster than you think. They are gentle and you can walk right in the middle of them at times.Most of us just see sheep by the side of the road somewhere and never get very close to them. The bleating goes on and on but they never get angry or balky.

I always say you have to be a bit careful with the dogs. the dogs are there for one reason – to protect the sheep. you certainly do not ever want to get into a position where the dogs think you are a threat to the sheep. they are beautiful dogs and the puppies they have are about as lovable as any puppy you will ever see. they are fat little crybaby pups but once you get them in your lap, you will want to keep them and take them home. I always think it is best to leave them there – they belong with the sheep and in the mountains and the winter plains.

Cattle drive in the Caucasus
Cattle drive in the Caucasus

The shepherds and the herdsmen are like cowboys. To me everyone in Tusheti is like a cowboy or cowgirl. They can all ride like the wind on their horses. I have never seen a cowboy hat or a pair of boots and not that many saddles. I hope it always stays that way. When I first came to Tusheti the comparison was really made between the American Indians (Apaches) and the Tush. Nowadays I see them more like cowboys.

I want to finish by saying I have made some of the greatest friends in this life in Tusheti and on these drives.I have included some of them along with the sheep and the cattle and the landscapes in these photographs. Everything must go together or you cannot have the complete picture of my impression of Tusheti.

Mike Bourgault
(Mike Bourgault is originally from Montana and lives now as a photographer in Tbilisi, Georgia)

Check out our Cattle Drive 2015 here