Tusheti: Outside of Time

Accessible only by a narrow dirt road with a 3000m (2 mile) overpass is the Georgian region of Tusheti. Due to the remoteness of the location, there are only seven villages, a few ancient fortresses to protect from medieval raids, and less that 50 residents that stay through the winter. Most of the locals make a living through shepherding, and selling wine to the few crazy backpackers who make their way up there for hiking and camping. Naturally, I was one of those backpackers.

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The Journey

 The Road

The Road

 At the 3000m overpass

At the 3000m overpass

This is just the info. For the full retelling of how my personal journey to Tusheti went, please click the link below for my full illustrated story. This is for information. The most common way people get to Tusheti is by going from either Tbilisi or Telavi to Kvermo Alvani and then hiring a driver to take you to Omalo. Here are the steps:

  • Tbilisi - Kvermo Alvani: 2 hours, 15 lari per person / taxi)

  • Telavi - Kvermo Alvani: 20 minutes (2 lari per person / marshrutka)

  • Kvermo Alvani - Omalo: 4-10 hours (50 lari per person / 4x4)

The journey as a whole from the town Kvermo Alvani can take anywhere from 4.5 to 10 hours depending on how frequently your group stops. Since we stopped for waterfalls, a ‘quick’ break at a hot spring, and to have long conversations with various tomato salesmen, ours took 10. Although the distance is not far, the road itself is what makes the journey difficult. Considered be one of the most dangerous in the world, the road to Tusheti is not conducive to vehicles, human legs, or pretty much anything living for that matter. Barely wide enough for just one car, it snakes up the side of a huge mountain with absolutely no guard rails, offering a variety of views of spectacular landscapes, amazing waterfalls, and cliffs you could easily plummet off of. It a mix of stunning beauty and terrifying deadliness, sort of like female villains in James Bond movies.

However, you’ll be brought back to reality on the way up as there are several grave sites on the way up of. Our group (upon our driver’s request), stopped at one of these sites, which he said belonged to his friends. It was just short of the top, and upon exiting the vehicle, he drew out a bottle of vodka and some food. We were to drink to their memory, as they would have wanted. A few of us objected at first, but the driver said that the less we drink, the more there would be for him to drink. Therefore, we all agreed to partake. I would tell you more, but since this is meant to be a ‘how to’ informational post, I’ll direct you to this illustrated story I wrote about it. Spoiler alert, we lived and made it to Tusheti.

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Nature and Hikes

I’ll be direct, this is the reason I came to Tusheti. While Georgia has other notable places for trekking (such as Svaneti and Kazbegi), Tusheti is by far the wildest and most untouched. As a result, the trails are far more rugged and the amount of people you’ll see along the way, if any, is far fewer. It doesn’t really matter which route you take or which direction you head in, literally every landscape will absolutely blow your mind. Everything seems so untouched and removed from the rest of society, and there were no awful tourists waving those metallic abominations known as selfie sticks. Instead, there was the rugged countryside, herds of sheep, and occasional old ruins.

While I was there, I did three hikes and can recommend each one of them. The first I did was from a village called Darklo to Omalo (where I was staying). The day started off as a jeep trip around the region, but after our driver got fairly intoxicated en route, I opted to use my good old-fashioned legs and walk. The whole journey was about 14km and took 3-4 hours. Most of the trail was pretty easy to follow. It started out relatively flat, but as it went on, there were several long and steep uphills and downhills. I, personally, found the ending to be pretty interesting, because before you get to the more prominent Lower Omalo, you have to pass the ruins of Upper Omalo. Upper Omalo consists of a few small houses and old guard towers. Some of which are in ruins and others have been restored. It makes for an interesting stopping point, but the views you get of the town and valley below are pretty amazing.

 Darklo to Omalo trail

Darklo to Omalo trail

 Darklo in the distance

Darklo in the distance

The second one I did was from Omalo to Diklo and Diklo fortress. Initially, the plan was to go all the way back to Omalo, but as night was setting in, my friends and I had to hitch a ride from a local in the town to get back. Personally, I couldn’t recommend this one enough. The way there begins on a dirt road, but once you reach the village Shenako you have the option of splitting off and taking a trail through mountainous woods. And although that option is longer and more difficult, the views are incredible and there was no sign whatsoever of other human beings. If you take the road, the journey is about 4 hours to Diklo and on the trail it’s about 5. If you decide to go on to the fortress (as you should), it’s another half hour or so from the town.

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The third was up to a lake that was on the way up Mt. Encho. For this one, I began in Omalo by taking the main road down into a valley below. From there, I took a path that crossed a field and went into the woods. The path itself is pretty steep, but once you get to the clearing, you’ll realize that all the incline was worth it. Your entire view of the landscape will oped up and reveal endless hills and mountains of the remote countryside. My friends got lucky on this particular hike and ended up with an unexpected companion. Right at the beginning of their trek, a young dog joined them, going all the way up the mountain, back down, and ultimately to our guesthouse in Omalo. So anyway, I encourage you, my readers, to do the same. And who knows, you may find our dog friend on the way.

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The Villages

In the whole, vast region, there are just seven villages spread out over Tusheti. There is a small network of dirt roads and trails connecting them, and during my visit I saw four of them (therefore I’ll just write about those for now). The most prominent of these, and the one in which my group stayed, is Omalo. Out of all these, Omalo has the greatest availability of guesthouses and will be the first one you approach upon arriving to Tusheti. That’s where I’ll begin.

OMALO

 Omalo at dusk

Omalo at dusk

 Restored guard towers in Upper Omalo

Restored guard towers in Upper Omalo

Most likely, if you come to Tusheti, you’ll spend at least your first night in Omalo. And if you do, I highly recommend staying at Guesthouse Tishi (which is where I stayed). The lady who runs the place is incredibly nice, the house is spacious and comfortable, and the food she makes is delicious (even though the bread is sometimes a bit stale). Omalo is the perfect starting point for most of the treks in Tusheti as well, and is the easiest to find by road (in case you’re running late and need to hitch a ride before dark). Out of all the villages, Omalo definitely has the best availability of guesthouses and even contains a few small shops to buy snacks or wool products. It’s a good and (compared to the rest of the villages) easier place to make your home-base while staying in the region. There’s also a small information center in the town which, although small, is a nice place to visit if you want to learn about the area or plan a few hikes.

DIKLO

 All of Diklo

All of Diklo

 View from the ancient ruins of Diklo Fortress

View from the ancient ruins of Diklo Fortress

Of all the other towns in the region, I highly recommend hiking to Diklo. As stated above, I hiked there on one of the treks, and if I had anything with my (such as a wallet to pay for a room), there is a good chance I would have stayed there for the night. But I didn’t, so I couldn’t. Anyway though, the town itself is on the side of a hill and consists of a few houses. Some of them also serve as guest houses while others sell handmade wool products, snacks, and alcohol. There are two possible ways to reach Diklo, the first is by road and the second by trail. If you go by trail (as I did), it will take longer but the views will be nicer. Plus, you will come upon the town right after exiting a forest, which is a pretty nice introduction to the place.

DARTLO

 Guesthouse in Dartlo with really good Hachapuri.

Guesthouse in Dartlo with really good Hachapuri.

 The horror, the horror

The horror, the horror

On my second day in Tusheti, my friends and I hired a driver to take us to different places in the region. The final one I made it to (before I opted to start hiking instead) was a small village in a valley known as Dartlo. The town itself is on the side of a hill overlooking a small stream and is comprised of a few stone buildings. Although we didn’t spend much time there overall, my friends and I stopped for lunch at one of the guest houses and were treated to coffee and possibly the best hachapuri I had while in Georgia. It’s a really nice and scenic place and contains a couple guesthouses, plus it isn’t too far from Omalo. It is definitely worth the visit if you get the chance (even if just for the walk in the valley).

BORCHONA

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Although most people credit the town Ushguli as the highest village in both Georgia and Europe, that title actually (as of 2014) belongs to Borchona. The village itself is 100m higher than Ushguli, but in order to be officially recognized in the sensus, there needed to be at least one permanent resident. For decades, there was not, but in 2014, one guy decided to stay throughout the winter and has been there ever since. Now, the village has an official population of one and is the highest inhabited place in all of Europe. Make sure you go visit, even if just for the novelty of it.

SHENAKO

While I didn’t spend much time here, Shenako is a cozy little village about half way between Omalo and Diklo. There are a couple of guesthouses if you feel like stopping for the night, but my group and I just sat on the side of a hill and had a snack and coffee before continuing through. If you are going on to Diklo from here, you have the choice of taking a road path or a trail through mountainous woods.

 Small guesthouse in a village

Small guesthouse in a village

Guesthouse

For my stay, I spent four nights at Guesthouse Tishi in Omalo, and I can highly recommend it to anyone going to Tusheti. The place itself was really comfortable and pretty spacious, and the hostess was incredibly nice. She was always happy, smiling, and there to help us with anything we needed. Every morning, she cooked breakfast and made tea for everyone, and every evening, she made a large, hearty dinner. On to of that, she has a shop where you can buy snacks and wine as well as handmade wool products. It was a great place and when I go back, I’m sure to stay there. You, my readers, should too.

Costs at Tishi Guesthouse:

  • 1 Night (breakfast and dinner included): 50 lari

  • Turkish Coffee: 3 lari

  • 1 liter of wine: 5 lari

  • Jar of penuts: 3 lari

  • Sweet Snacks: 3-5 lari