mardi 23 mars 2010

The Shiraki Steppe, Winter Pasture of The Tushs

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In the very South of the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti, the Shiraki "plain" is traditionnally the winter pasture of shepherds from Tusheti (Greater Caucasus mountains). It was given to them by Kakhetian kings to thank them for their alliance against Persians. The flocks are brought in the summer into the mountains, and come back in this vast area of semi-desert, dry hilly ranges and agricultural plains the rest of the year.

The Tushs are themselves nowadays based in Alvani, Kakheti, at the feet of the Tushetian mountains. The families live there, whereas the shepherds spend a big part of their time in the mountains or in the steppe.

The sheep economy is still organized on a half feudal system. The more important families own their flock, their "Bina" (house) and some pasture land around. They are the "patrons" and employ lower-class compatriots, as well as Kists (Chechens from Georgia) or fellow mountain Georgians (Mtiuls, Pshavs) as shepherds or as farm-boys.

Except in the only village, Kasristskhari (or Eldari), where live real families, the Tushs, besides some closely related Pshavs and some Azeri shepherds, are a majority in the Steppe. As this pastoral way originates in a nomadic tradition of transhumances, their is almost no woman in the area.

Separating the two main plains of the region, the Vashlovani Range as been declared a national park and some parts of it are a strict natural reserve. With its picturesque "badlands" and canyons, it is a (almost unfrequented) touristic attraction. And could become a really visited one if the quasi not existence of roads in the region, as well as its remote wilderness, would not make it so difficult to reach. Though, it would then loose its picturesque charm.

The Shiraki Steppe

Pictures: Nicolas Landru

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