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Trekking in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia: Sojourn in Svaneti
Length: 44.9km, Creator time taken: 57h26m, Ascent: 2297m, Descent: 1578m
Places:Start at Lon 42.7197, Lat 43.0427, end at Lon 42.9514, Lat 42.9466 22km SE from Start Logged as completed by 1
The Svaneti trek was the second of our multi-day treks in Georgia and was quite a bit different to that in the Kazbegi region. For details of our trek in the Kazbegi region and a background to trekking in Georgia see MV track number 3659 (https://mountainviews.ie/track/report/3659/)
The Svaneti region lies some 220km west of Tbilisi and is famous for its medieval stone towers named koshki. This wild land was once inhabited by fierce tribes who engaged in blood feuds with their neighbours, hence these defensive towers which dominate the skyline of the mountain settlements, and are the reason that this region has been inscribed onto the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site List.
The Svans are an ethnic subgroup of the Georgians and have their own unwritten language. The area is steeped in history and legend, none more so than that of the ‘Golden Fleece’: alluvial gold was once won in this region from mountain streams using sheepskins, prompting the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. In the past Svaneti had something of a reputation for lawlessness; people were unused to outsiders and with numerous brigands roaming about, trekkers were sometimes robbed. But all that changed during the investment of the Saakashvili years (Georgia’s former president); the region has opened up and homestays have sprung up in even the remotest villages to cater to passing tourists. We are headed for Ushguli over 60km away from Mestia, the commercial hub of the region, and will be stopping at rural homestays en route, so we are carrying lighter packs for this multi-day trek. Getting to the Svaneti region involved an overnight train journey from Tbilisi to Zugdidi. We chose to splash out on a private sleeper compartment on the train, all for the princely sum of about €10 each. The train dated from the Soviet era and conjured up images of something that would not have been out of place in a Cold War spy thriller, particularly the colossal uniformed woman who constantly patrolled the corridor during the dead of night! The train journey was marked by a progression from the searing heat of Tbilisi (over 40 degrees) to far cooler climes as we journeyed westwards, with nought but a paper sheet (and copious amounts of Saperavi wine) to keep us warm! Arriving in Zugdidi in the early morning we fought with other travellers to get into a marshrutka, a kind of mini-bus taxi, which are the main form of public transport outside of Tbilisi. These are often crammed full with a dozen or more passengers and are not particularly renowned for their comfort! The 136km from Zugdidi to Mestia was marked by progressively deteriorating weather (dreadful thunderstorms) which dashed any hopes of seeing Elbrus, the highest mountain on the European continent. Mestia, gateway to the Svaneti region, is a curious blend of old and new, with all the tell-tale signs of recent development in its architecturally ‘innovative’ new buildings, some of which have been funded by the EU. This has arguably started to erode its distinctiveness and its main street has begun to resemble any other honeypot Alpine ski resort with its trendy après ski bars and expensive clothes shops. But the veneer of respectability soon slips once you wander into the back streets to be confronted by scores of farting, shitting animals! However, it has to be said that unbridled development throughout Svaneti could end up killing the goose that laid the golden egg, as the region has been inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site List because it is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses, and this is what draws many tourists. Suffice to say, there are a number of good hotels, hostels and restaurants in Mestia which is the starting point of a classic 4-day trek to Ushguli, a collection of villages which claim to be the highest continually inhabited settlements in Eurasia. The terrain on the Mestia to Ushguli trek is more benign than that which we experienced in the Kazbegi area, and there are several conveniently located guesthouses along the route which removes the necessity for camping. The guesthouses are generally clean and cheap, but are mostly basic – expect to experience shared showers and bathrooms. The food (and drink) provided by the guesthouses is, however, all home-grown and produced and absolutely excellent; evening meals are usually included and the chance to experience Georgian culture and life is not to be underestimated. At one homestay, Sharron was roped into making kubdari (bread stuffed with meat, onion and Georgian spices), the signature dish of Svaneti, and milking a cow for the first time in her life! Costs are moderate at about €15 per person per night. But the trek isn’t easy, with most days involving a walk of over 15km with large ascents and descents, and in some parts signposting is poor. Highlights of the trek were crossing the Adishchala River on horseback, the sight of glaciers tumbling down from some of Georgia’s highest peaks, and the deafening chorus of insects, such as we never hear any more in Western Europe, in dazzling flower-studded alpine meadows. In a world of sanitised travel, this trek was an unforgettable Technicolor extravaganza of genuine experience where it was possible to truly interact with local people. And the landscape, with not a trace of barbed wire anywhere, was unspoiled, pristine and uplifting. It will be some time before the sight and sound of an avalanche, the deafening chorus of insects, and the settling sun turning the peak of Georgia’s highest mountain blood-red, fade from our memory. For a more detailed description of this multi-day trek, read our blog at: http://purplepeakadventures.com/blog/2017/11/trekking-in-the-caucasus-mountains-of-georgia-sojourn-in-svaneti And watch the video of our Georgian adventure at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2uyKtrThSA
Uploaded on: Thu, 30 Nov 2017 (00:28:37) Trackback: https://mountainviews.ie/track/3661/ To download GPS tracks you must be enrolled and logged in. See "Login or enrol", top right - quick and easy.
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