Whilst we are having time off our bikes in Georgia, we have decided to try out some trekking high up in the Caucasus mountains, this little adventure will start in Mestia and we will cross the Karetta Pass to Ushguli, as much as we like to cycle, the best way to see some of the best places is by foot.
A little bit about Ushguli
Ushguli – UNESCO world heritage site is the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe, located in Svaneti, at the feet of Shkhara, one of the highest Caucasian summits. About 70 families, approximately 250 people live in the village, which dates back more than 2000 years. For 6 winter months, snow covers the whole place and sometimes the road to Ushguli is closed. However, a small school is always open and life goes on.
The village is located in some 45 km from Mestia town – the center of Svaneti region. To get to Ushguli local 4×4 Jeeps are needed, which can be hired in Mestia. The way to the village is off-road and takes approximately 3 hours one way. It passes several villages, like Ipari and Kala, where you can find small churches with old murals and frescos inside.
The mountainous region of Svaneti in the northwestern part of Georgia is one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of the country. Svaneti retains a pristine medieval quality. This sense of time warp, combined with the grandeur of the natural setting, makes a trip to Svaneti well worth the effort no matter how difficult it may be to get there.
The Svans are indigenous Georgians and speak their own language. Svanuri belongs to the Southern Caucasian language group known as Kartvelian. It has no alphabet and is mostly spoken at home and socially. The harsh climate and mountainous landscape of the region are the principal factors behind the Svanetian character. They are proud, laconic people who find the virtue in a certain austerity and stoicism. Hunters and alpinists are the most respected members of the community. Svans in no way remiss in the practice of traditional Georgian hospitality.
Over 20 medieval typical Svanetian protective towers are found throughout the Ushguli with goats, pigs and cows happily mingling with the local population on the narrow cobbled lanes. There is an Ethnographic Museum in a tower located in the center of the settlement containing the first-rate examples of medieval repousse work, icons, and processional crosses from churches in this region and other parts of Georgia. A short walk above the village leads to a small hilltop where the Lamaria Chapel is located, dating back to the 12th century. The Chapel is full of magnificent old frescoes. From there a broad valley leads to the foot of Shkhara through flower strewn alpine meadows.
The superb location of Ushguli and the unique lifestyle of the people in the village turn the place into a popular destination to visit. The severe location isolates Ushguli from the rest of modernized Georgia, and as a result, many Svanetian religious and cultural traditions have remained virtually intact.