Yana Kovaleva wrote:
Do mountains beckon you? Go to Svanetia, a country of proud and harsh people.
We have prepared a travel instruction for you: what to see in one of the most remote regions of Georgia.
Golden mountain spears
Behind one of the mountain serpentine corners, you will see a view of the rock formations called Devi Gates.
According to the local legend, in ancient times the treasures of Svanetia were guarded by mythical giants with horns. In fear that people would rob them of their wealth, Devi giants threw stones in Inguri. The dam blocked the river, and water began to reach villages. Frightened villagers prayed to gods for salvation, and gods sent magic bulls. The bulls crashed a hole in the Gate and water was gone. Svan treasures remained intact: emerald forests, silver 5,000-meter glaciers, golden mountain spears sparkling in the sunshine and brilliant waters of turbulent rivers that cut gorges. Tourists from all over the world come here to admire the wealth of Svans.
Getting into this \"bear corner\" is already an achievement. It was never easy to get here: in winter, passes are covered with snow, that\'s one of the reasons why Svan culture was developed separately.
Cats. That\'s how the Svan word \"tower\" sounds for Russians. These stone structures were built by various Svan families in the 9th-14th centuries. Today\'s measuring contest is about cars, then it was all about whose tower is the highest: the richer the family was, the higher the rower was built.
From the tower people could watch approaching enemies. And they had to do this constantly: Svan clans were fighting with each other on a going basis. Highlanders are proud and vulnerable, one wrong word and animosity was right there. According to historians, for five hundred years litsvri - blood feuds - destroyed 200 Svan families in the middle ages.
Escaping from attacks, villagers brought food and water into the tower and hid there together with the cattle. In case of a long siege, houses were connected to towers by secret passages, in which they set traps for enemies. In strong, stable towers they could save from avalanches and used them as huge refrigerators for food storage.
The main points of the route in Svanetia: Mestia and Ushguli.
It is more convenient to start from Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia. These lands on the banks of the Rioni mountain river have been full of life since the 3rd Millenium B.C.
Two architectural ensembles: Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati monastery perfectly reflect the style of these places in their simplicty.
The original appearance of the Bagrati cathedral, where Georgian kings were crowned for three hundred years, was changed during the reconstruction, so it was excluded from the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, but the Gelati monastery and its mosaic frescoes remained in the List. On Abashidze street you can see a sample of modern architecture, the building of Georgian Parliament, that looks likes a shell of a crystal turtle.
A 30-minute drive from Kutaisi will bring you to unique karst caves of Prometheus. They stretch for 11 kilometers and have 7 halls with stalactites and stalagmites illuminated with colored lights. Not far away there is Sataplia cave with fossiled dinosaur footprints. Another half an hour and you are on a pedestrian bridge over the three-kilometer gorge Okatse, at the bottom of which the river rages.
Cutting: The airline flight Moscow to Kutaisi - 15,000-25,000 RUB. Taxi from the airport to the city – 5 GEL. Night in a guesthouse - from 800 RUB. Mobile providers - Beeline and Magti. It doesn\'t work well everywhere.
From Kutaisi to Mestia - 230 kilometers. 5 hours by car.
The medieval world of Mestia
The capital of Svanetia lies at an altitude of 1,400 meters. 2,600 people live here surounded by mountains. In the heart of the town you can see Alpine chalets side by side with Svan towers, and they look harmoniously in this landscape. At night time, they have romantic illumination with yellow lights. In winter, the town looks empty - only dogs and cows can be seen in the streets. And in spring, it comes alive again. Tourists from Europe, Israel, USA and Russia come here for tracking routes.
The Museum of the Margiani\'s family is a Svan house with a machub and a tower. In the centre of the machub there\'s a large hall with a hearth, carved furniture and chests. Along the perimeter there were stone stove benches, and underneath them there was a stable, where cows and goats stayed in cold weather so that people could warm themselves with the warmth emanating from animals. The smell did not bother anyone, as Svan cattle were kept clean, and people added some sort of the medieval air freshener made of pine and spruce chips into the hearth. There was a separate room where women gave birth to their children and a special room for newlyweds.
When the Museum is closed, call the phone numbers on the tower plate, and the caretaker will be there for you. Entrance ticket - 3 GEL.
With the information center of Mestia or hotel owners, you can rent a horse and guide and go on a horse ride in the foothills. Svan horses are wilful, so hold on tight. The average price for a horse ride is 70 GEL.
The Ethnographic Museum of Svanetia was nominated as the Best European Museum in 2016. Its exhibits are things of the 3rd-19th centuries: jewelry, ceramics, objects of worship and life, weapons, manuscripts and books, coins, including those belonging to the epoch of Alexander the Great. On Mondays and Fridays you can see a folklore show startinfg at 4 p.m. Entrance ticket - 7 GEL, guided tour - 45 GEL.
Cutting: A hotel room with breakfast and dinner - 65 GEL per person and 30-40 GEL without food. Lunch in a cafe (without wine) - 15-20 GEL.
Elusive beauty of Ushguli
Ushguli in Georgian means \"a fearless heart\", it\'s the highest mountain settlement in Europe, where people live all year round. It is an ancient community of 4 villages, one of which is included in the UNESCO List.
The population is around 200 people. One of the reasons for this lack of people is wars in which Georgia participated for centuries. Males were enlisted for military service and many of them didn\'t come back.
The area is hard to reach. It also played its role. For young Svans, it was difficult to get married in a detached village: family trees of the bride and groom were thoroughly investigated to the seventh generation, as marriages between distant relatives were forbidden.
There is a Svan legend: In ancient times, Tetnuld and Ushba mountains were a boy and a girl who loved each other. They couldn\'t get married because of the kinship. Then Tetnuld asked God to put them together in some other way, and he turned people into mountains. Two beloved ones are looking at each other and still can\'t be together. That is why the top of the sad Tetnuld is always covered with ice.
Now the economy rules: the youth go to cities and have no desire to work hard in villages or graze cattle in foothills.
Previously, each family in Ushguli had its own church, a tuff building with an area of 6-20 sq. m, without any ornaments and frills. Even today, the keys to the temples are kept by family members. If the temple is closed, call the phone number which can be found on a door plate of the church and someone will open the door for you. In gratitude, it is customary to donate 10-20 GEL.
You can take a bus from Mestia to Ushguli, they go without any timetable and depart from the park at 8 a.m. as they are filled with tourists. You can also rent a car in your guesthouse (6-7 seats) for the whole day and it will cost 200-350 GEL. The way to Ushguli is only 44 km, but with all stops in beautiful places it takes 2-3 hours. If you want to stay in Ushguli for the night, book a hotel room in advance, as they may be filled in a high season. The price is 65-75 GEL per person with breakfast and dinner, without food - 40-50 GEL. Lunch in a cafe (without wine) - 18-25 GEL. Take warm clothes: it is quite cold in mountains even in summer.
What else to see?
The Inguri hydroelectric station
It supplies electricity to most of Georgia, but it is worth to look at it not because of this, but for its amazing l blue color of water.
The Tower of Love
They say, once there lived one girl here who went to the mountain every day as she was waiting for her loved one to return from hunting. Her father built a tower so his daughter wouldn\'t stand in the hot sun.
The highest point of Georgia is 5,203 meters.
Do you want to the seaside? Go to Batumi. A bus drive from Kutaisi will take only a couple of hours and will cost 15 GEL.
Take a walk along the 12-kilometer embankment, which was supposed to be the longest in the world, and the old center of Batumi. Take a look at the Botanical garden and the music festival that take place here one by one during the season. Take a trip to the Makhuntseti waterfall, the bridge of Queen Tamara, the Green lake, the fortress of Peter and Gonio.
Despite their harsh appearance, Svans are very hospitable, and Georgian cuisine is famous for its delicious dishes, so if Georgians invite you their homes, agree without hesitation! An incredible party of joy and great food is waiting for you.
What is worth trying?
Svans in movies
If you want to know more about the age-old blood feud, watch the Svan movie (2007), based on real events.