Although you may have never heard of Tusheti, Georgia, it is definitely a place you should consider traveling, especially if you enjoy experiencing nature in all its untouched glory. Situated on the ridge of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, Tusheti offers visitors the opportunity to explore lush forests and the remains of ancient villages, while also immersing themselves in a unique, old world culture. Here are five top reasons you should visit Tusheti, Georgia in 2017.
Tusheti National Park
Ideal for hikers, Tusheti National Park is home to breathtaking mountain ranges, crystal clear, ice cold rivers, streams, glaciers, and waterfalls, rolling green hills covered in colorful wildflowers, and wide open valleys where cows and sheep graze freely. Though it can be difficult to navigate the park’s rugged terrain, the spectacular sights make it well worth the effort.
While it is possible to travel the park by vehicle, it is much safer to do so on foot or horseback. After all, the road that cuts through the park (Abano Pass) is frequently named one of the 10 most treacherous roads in the world and is only passable from late May to early October. Fortunately, the friendly locals offer guided tours through the forest that typically last around three days and include overnight stops at the guesthouses located in the villages hidden deep in the pristine wilderness. Camping is also an option.
The forest is home to a wide array of flora, including birch and pine groves, as well as rare animal species, such as the Anatolian leopard, lammergeyer, and Golden Eagle. Other animals that have made the forest home include wild goats, mountain goats, wolf, bear, lynx, falcons, and chamois.
Overall, Tusheti National Park is a magical, enchanting place that will far exceed your expectations. To ensure the forest maintains its beauty for decades to come, the entire area has been deemed the Tusheti Protected Areas, providing it with environmental protection.
Ancient Ruins and Exhibits That Take You Back in Time
Throughout Tusheti, there are an array of crumbling towers and fortresses that were primarily constructed during the Mongol invasion in the 1230s. Later, they were used by villagers as temporary shelters during an invasion by the Daghestani tribes. Today, several towers, including the 3-story Keselo Fortress, which also serves as the Enthnographic Museum, are open to the public. The museum contains everything from traditional household and agricultural tools to weapons that have remained almost completely untouched for centuries. It also includes ancient Tushetian stone carvings and statues, as well as information on the beliefs and habits that existed in the area. For example, men and women were required to stay in different corners of the fortress’s common room.
In the mountains of Tusheti, you can expect to come across stone shrines and churches and mountaintop castles. You can also visit Dartio, a village dating back to the Middle Ages, that was reconstructed with the assistance of World Bank in 2011 and is now open for the public to safely explore.
The Unique Culture
Situated far away urbanized and industrialized regions of the world, Tusheti has preserved many old-world traditions. For example, Tushetian children play ancient games such as “Playing with the Ball,” “Bow and Arrow,” and “Distance Jumping,” in an effort to develop the strength, flexibility, speed, and dexterity they will need as adults to survive in Georgia’s most remote area. Locals are usually more than happy to teach visitors the rules of the game and even encourage them to play along. In their free time, the people of Tusheti often turn to folk art projects and music to occupy their time.
Using natural materials, they knit and create finely embroidered products, including colorful rugs, socks, hats, and clothes that they are more than willing to share with visitors. In fact, you will probably leave with some sort of artisanal work as a souvenir of your trek through Tusheti.
Tusheti hosts an annual folk festival, known as the Atengenoba Festival, that visitors are invited to attend. This joyous event has been held for centuries and includes horse races, various competitions, a shepherd’s blessing, toasts to various shrines and in memory of deceased relatives, and plenty of food and drink.
While life in Tusheti has remained largely unchanged for centuries, it is worth noting that the region is intent on making updates that are more likely to appeal to visitors.
Friendly Locals Who Welcome You into their Villages
Despite living off the beaten path in an area of the world that has been left largely untouched by technology and consumerism, the people of Tusheti go out of their way to make visitors feel as if they are at home. Simply put, in Tusheti, there really is no line between friend or family member and stranger. If you have traveled to their area, you can expect to well cared for by locals. This is particularly true for anyone traveling solo. Locals are more than willing to help you regardless of any language barrier. However, you should be ready to answer this one important question, “Why Tusheti?”
It is not unusual for locals to invite visitors to stay overnight in their guesthouses, join them around a campfire as shepherds retell stories of past cattle drives, participate in birthday celebrations, or sit down with them for a family meal.
In Tusheti, eating good meals that have been freshly prepared is the norm and of course, visitors are invited to sit down for meals. It is worth noting that Tusheti farmers do not raise pigs and as a result, pork is not eaten in Tusheti. (Visitors are also asked not to bring their own pork into the area.) That being said, you can expect meals to include Borjomi mineral water that is believed to have curative properties, dry white wine, khinkali (a type of dumpling stuffed with various herbs and meats), khachapuri (an iconic Georgian treat of bread stuffed with melted cheese), lobio (a vegetarian bean dish), and a wide array of unusual types of cheese homemade from sheep’s milk, such as gudiskweli and brindza.