So I’ve been a little remiss in updating this blog. There have been many things I thought blog-worthy in the past month, but I haven’t really been motivated to write. Also, I knew I wanted to share my trip to Khevsureti, but I also knew I wasn’t really capable of capturing the beauty of the trip. So I put it off. I’ve now given up on really capturing the trip but I still want to share. It was probably the highlight of my time in Georgia so far. Khevsureti is a remote, mountainous region of Georgia that is only accessible in the warmer months. Not many people live in the region full time anymore but a lot of families do head up to their ancestral homes for the summer. I took literally hundreds of pictures on this trip. Below you’ll find a handful of them.
So the trip started in Tbilisi where about 20 peace corps volunteers and our intrepid guide, Tengo (PC staff extraordinaire) met up at 7 am and piled in a two marshutkas and headed north. It was an early start considering I hadn’t gone to sleep until 3 am. (Did I mention I spend most of my time with 25 year olds now?) We drove north for a few hours before the ascent started to increase dramatically. Our first stop was at Datvijvari Pass which is the point at which you cross from Lower Khevsureti to Upper Khevsureti (or is it Inner and Outer?). The tradition is to get out and do a toast (typically of cha-cha, Georgian moonshine) to the travelers who pass by this point. So we obliged. We also rang the bell at the top of the mountain which is supposed to bring you male children. Even though I have no ambitions of bearing any children, I rang the bell because who can resist ringing a bell on top of a mountain. It was quite cold and windy up there, and I’m pretty sure we saw snow. I was kind of dreading the idea of camping in this weather, but luckily the skies cleared and we had gorgeous weather for the rest of the trip. Next stop was for lunch where we picnicked near an old tower. Wherever you look in Khevsureti (or most of Georgia for that matter) there are random abandoned ancient structures. For those of us from the “new world”, it’s always impressive.
Shatili was our next stop. Shatili is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there’s some history about it below, if you are interested. One notable thing about Shatili is that in the 1950s the Soviet Union forced the inhabitants to relocate because they were not able to keep up the roads and infrastructure in the area. Since the end of the Soviet Union, some families have moved back but only a fraction of those that used to live there. This was a pretty cool site to explore as there weren’t any restrictions on where you could go. So it was just a matter of if you could physically get to it. Thus, lots of hopping from roof to roof. See the photos below to get a sense.
Next was Anatori. Anatori was once a village. It was wiped out during the Black Death of the 14th Century. All that remains is the crypts where the bones of those who died rest. From this point you can see Chechnya (technically Russia, I guess) in the distance. There is only one road that goes into the Khevsureti region. We had been traveling it all day. Now, one road turned off to Chechnya (with a “do not enter” sign) and the main road turned east. We went east to literally the end of the road where we camped for the night. It was the most amazing campsite I’ve ever been to (pic below). By the way, in Georgia, you can pretty much pitch a tent wherever you like. I’ve even heard of people pitching a tent in the city park here in Kutaisi. Above our campsite was Ardoti another village that only had one family left in it. They were perhaps only there for the summer. Although I went up to the village, I didn’t speak with the family . They likely have to deal with strangers wandering about everyday in the summer. What a strange life. After dinner and some campfire time, most everyone went to sleep early that night as the next day was another early start.
The next morning we got up, had breakfast, and packed up camp. We then headed to Mutso which we had passed on our way to our campsite the evening before. In looking through my photos, I realized that I didn’t really get any photos that captured the entirety of Mutso which stands high up on a precipice. It was very impressive from below and the hike up seemed unending as each new level of the village required you to climb higher. There is a history of Mutso below for anyone interested. It was likely my favorite site we visited. The views were incredible. Because we went first thing in the morning, our group was the only one there which made it feel like we had just stumbled upon an ancient village and not a legit tourist site. It was hard to imagine what life would have been like living there. It was a winter village because its location allowed for the most sunlight during the short winter days. Ardoti, where we had camped, was the summer village.
Mutso was our last real site on the trip. Aside from a break for lunch along the river that the single road follows through out the region, the rest of the day was spent slowly making our way back to civilization. It was a relaxing ride. I swear one of these days I will write a post about my love of marshutkas. But today is not that day. Sadly, I’m not really able to capture in words or photos the incredible beauty of the region. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I can’t wait to explore some of the other notably beautiful areas of Georgia. But in general, Georgia is a beautiful country. There is a Georgian story that when God was handing out land to all of the peoples of the Earth, the Georgians were busy having a supra (feast) and missed out. After all of the land had been given out, they went to God and he said he had nothing for them. They said, that’s okay. Come with us and we will feast and drink wine. So, after feasting for days with the Georgians and experiencing their incredible hospitality God said to them “I saved the best land for myself and I’m going to give it to you.” I believe it.
History of some of the places we visited (from Wikipedia):
Shatili (Georgian: შატილი) is a historic highland village in Georgia, near the border with Chechnya. It is located on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus mountains, in the historical Georgian province of Upper Khevsureti, which is now part of the modern-day region (mkhare) of Mtskheta-Mtianeti. Located in the deep Arghuni gorge at approximate 1,400 meters, the village is actually a unique complex of medieval-to-early modern fortresses and fortified dwellings of stone and mortar which functioned both as a residential area and a fortress guarding the northeastern outskirts of the country. The fortress consists of the terraced structures dominated by flat-roofed dwellings and some 60 towers which cluster together to create a single chain of fortifications. The population of Shatili, along with that of most of the Khevsureti, was resettled under the pressure from the Soviet authorities to the plains in the early 1950s. In the 1960s, the exotic landscape of the empty village was used as a setting for a series of Georgian films about the past life of the highlanders. Shatili is still inhabited by a dozen or so families, but is inaccessible by road during wintertime. The village is a favorite destination for tourists and mountain trekkers.
Mutso (Georgian: მუცო) is a small village in Georgia. One of the former strongholds of the historic Georgian province of Khevsureti (now part of Mtskheta-Mtianeti region), it is located on a rocky mountain (1880 m) on the right bank of the Andakistskali river (ანდაქისწყალი). The village, almost completely abandoned more than a century ago, is a home to approximately 30 medieval fortified dwelling units arranged on vertical terraces above the Mutso-Ardoti gorge, four combat towers and ruins of several old structures and buildings. Difficult to access, the village retains original architecture, and is a popular destination for tourists and mountain trekkers. Listed, however, among the most endangered historic monuments of Georgia, a project of the rehabilitation of Mutso has been developed since 2004. A legend has it that the villagers worshiped the Broliskalo Icon of Archangel. They were renowned as fighters and hunters, and considered themselves permanent members of the army of the sacred flags and guardians of fabulous treasury donated to the Icon over the centuries. The legends say the treasury that is still kept in the high mountains around Mutso waiting for the chosen one to come. As the legend puts it “the Shetekauris dug Mutso”, which indirectly indicates that the family founded the village or the family history started together with the founding of Mutso.