Tusheti, a small historic region located in eastern Georgia, lies on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains and covers an area of 796 square km. The area is one of the most ecologically pure regions in the Caucasus. The extraordinary beauty of Tusheti National Park’s mountainous landscapes, architecture and castle-like inhabited buildings caught the attention of UNESCO who placed it on its World Heritage List in 2007.
The region is bordered by the Russian republics of Dagestan from the East and Chechnya to the North. The area is 2,800 – 4,500 meters above the sea level, which means winter season for at least seven months. Spring comes late, autumn early and it often snows in September, while summer is short and breezy.
A Look Back at History
Due to the climate in the mountains, gardening and agriculture have never actually developed. Traditionally, Tushs are sheep herders and famous for their goat’s cheese.
Each family in Tusheti possessed hundreds of sheep and was rich in wool. Therefore, the knitting industry became one of the most important parts of the culture. Over the time, embellishments appeared on the products – geometrical ornaments were replaced with floral, animal and human-like shapes.
The population used to be divided by their family names and had their villages. Each household used to have their ancestral tower which served as a shelter during invasions. The tradition is still present in some areas, but a big percentage of Tushs live in lowlands today.
Getting here is quite challenging. The road lays on slopes and goes up to 3,000 meters over gorges of Tusheti. It is one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
The only way to get there is via 4×4 car from Kakheti through Abano Pass. The road is so narrow that sometimes wheel of the car is in the air and one careless maneuver can be dreadful. Just a glimpse from the window down the gorge is enough to feel your heart miss a beat.
The road is full of grave stones or simple crosses to honor those who died here due to different reasons. I had counted at least 20 of those before we hit the end of the Pass.
The weather, both on the road and villages varies, one minute the sun is shining, the next, you are covered in dense fog and cannot see a thing. Evenings here are quite cold, so be well prepared.
The villages here are 2000 meters above sea level, presenting some impressive views over the most beautiful grass valleys of the Caucasus. The biggest community is Omalo, from where you can take three different directions depending on where you want to go. Here you will come across Keselo fortress dating back to the 18th century. It now serves as an ethnographic museum and offers visitors various products and treasures indigenous to the region.
During our Jeep Tour, we stayed in Shenaqo village east from Omalo, where you will stumble upon one of the prettiest towns in the area. Stone houses with wooden balconies, breathtaking landscapes and only functional Orthodox Church in the region is here.
Diklo village, just 4 kilometers east from Shenaqo, is home to the old fortress overlooking the spectacular valleys.
One of the most remarkable and my favorite of all is Dartlo. Located 12 kilometers east from Omalo, the village has ancient defensive towers visible far from the road. Have a small hike towards the upper village to have even more breathtaking views over the valley.
The road continues until the border of Khevsureti region, but the villages get less and less populated, with Girevi being the last one. From here, there is a trekking route which takes you to Khevsureti and takes about 2-3 days. When I master trekking skills, I want to do this for sure!
Tusheti has a long history and proof of the old animistic religion. You can find stone shrines almost everywhere. Women are not allowed to come closer or even be in the vicinity of it. So be very cautious where you step.
As “a picture is worth a thousand words,” enjoy the scenery from your device for now. I hope you will make it to Tusheti one day.