Georgian splendour: trekking within the Caucasus | Travel

Walking and horse driving within the ruggedly stunning Tusheti area of Georgia reveals rustic existence and huge vistas stretching throughout the border into Russia

Tusheti reins … the very best a part of the journey, at three,000 metres, was on horseback.
Photograph: Fanny Leostic

Hardly anybody makes it right here. That’s as a result of, after leaving the Tblisi highway, it’s a prolonged drive on an unmade single observe that twists so sharply and rises so shortly that 68km takes 5 hours.

But when you can abdomen the journey, the Tusheti area of Georgia, up in its remotest nook bordering the Russian areas of Chechnya and Dagestan, is value it. It’s a pristine paradise of pine-covered mountains, deep valleys and mysterious towers. For our few days there, time stood nonetheless.

Georgia map

When we have been planning the journey, a information instructed us: your cash is not any use right here and in a method she was proper. There are not any retailers. No accommodations. No tarmac roads. No mains electrical energy. No taxis, and no bars. Just a couple of villages linked by footpaths and horse tracks. One different snag, or benefit, relying in your perspective: winter comes early and it makes the highway impassable between October and May. So for eight months of the 12 months, solely about 20 individuals keep in these mountains. Then within the quick summer season, over 2,500 Tush return to boost sheep, make cheese, experience horses, and, more and more, host vacationers.

We walked for 2 days and rode horses on the third, from one tiny village to the subsequent, by forests of Colchis pine, steep slopes of blue scabious, salvia and canine rose. Some tracks are marked, others not a lot – although a customer centre within the greatest village, Omalo, offers maps.

Oreti lake.

Oreti lake. Photograph: Fanny Leostic

It was August and I’d joined three feminine associates from three international locations for this journey. We have been picked up from the capital, Tbilisi, in a four-wheel drive Toyota by the informative Roman, who had organized the route, full-board in immaculate village guesthouses, and a information, Lasha. The 4 of us stroll collectively yearly and had by no means had a information earlier than, however we didn’t remorse it – and never simply because Roman and Lasha have been so useful.

There are nonetheless wolves and bears in Tusheti. They have been unlikely to hassle us, however they do menace the huge flocks of sheep introduced up from the plains in May. The sheepdogs don’t distinguish between packs of wolves and teams of walkers. By lunchtime of our first day, Lasha had adopted a pair from Heidelberg who had been terrorised by three growling beasts. Lasha armed himself with stones and we felt safer.

Mountain streams provide water on the trek.

Mountain streams present water on the trek. Photograph: Fanny Leostic

On our first night, we stayed within the village of Diklo, and walked to inside a kilometre of Dagestan. As we paused by a monument, a border guard appeared, and politely requested us to jot down our names and nationalities in a pocket book. Russian troopers have been just some metres away, and no person desires an unintentional border incursion to spark something. The 2008 Russo-Georgian struggle left 850 dead.

Dogs and armed males however, Tusheti is a peaceable place. There have been scorching showers and cellphone chargers and a primary menu of home made bread, cheese and no matter else comes up from the valleys. We ate nicely: uncooked cucumbers, boiled eggs, spicy aubergine casserole, khinkali dumplings, lukewarm beer and natural tea.

A track leading to a mountain village.

A observe resulting in a mountain village. Photograph: Getty Images

The mountain climbing was sweaty work on scorching August days however we have been by no means greater than an hour from a recent mountain spring, or an remoted shepherd’s hut.

The excessive level of our go to was after we took plucky little native horses on a four-hour trek from Upper Omalo to Oreti lake, a magical inexperienced pool at simply over three,000 metres. From there we gazed out in the direction of Chechnya. There was no signal of human habitation in any respect, simply peaks. The solely sound was the excited calls of bee-eaters, and the clink of our mounts grazing. We felt on prime of the world, completely alone. Later we paddled within the lake and have been simply questioning whether or not Lasha can be mortified if we stripped off to our underwear to swim, when half a dozen younger Czechs turned up with their ponies and their information. And bikinis. Lasha scarcely blinked. The spell of splendid isolation was damaged.

Peaks in the Tusheti national park

‘There was no sign of human habitation at all, just peaks.’ Photograph: Fanny Leostic

Tusheti will likely be closed for the winter now. Almost the entire villagers head again right down to their houses within the plains the place they dwell and work. Last 12 months, a bunch of cross-country skiers apparently made their method there midwinter however in any other case, Tusheti is off limits till the snow melts within the spring.

We’d love to return, there are some villages we didn’t attain. And everybody mentioned the flowers in June are essentially the most stunning in Georgia.

• Tushetiland Travel presents a three-day Tusheti trekking tour from $185-$270pp, together with transfers from Tblisi, all meals, guides and lodging, and a six day-tour from $395-$535

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