Upper Svaneti

North Georgia

September 2019

I welcome you to the highest part of Caucasus mountains. These great mountains start from Blacksea on the west, runs the length of Georgia&Russian border, continues into Azerbaijan and ends at Caspian sea on the east.
While traveling one of my greatest interest is nature and landscapes. I need to say, to be in the mountains has a special place in my explorations. Mountains -in their nature- reserve high frequencies. If you open yourself fully then unforgettable experiences unfold one after another.

Sitting in my silence, I feel the precious existence of the mountains, forests, each and every being living there. And the rivers that run relentlessly to bring life. And the moon that illuminates the darkness. And the fire that heats my every muscle and bone in cold nights. . .
These felt senses in their nature bring a limitless joy and love into the moments. Through the great interconnectedness of all beings, my heart sings. This is one of the reasons why I travel. My experiences through travelling end the longing, end the sense of seperation. I deeply feel one with everything as everything.
I am in LOVE with the mountains.

The north part of Georgia, Svaneti is a unique place. 4000m plus snow covered peaks are rising above alpine meadows. There are spectacular mountain sceneries all over the place and there are many trekking routes. It’s also a well preserved area in terms of historical heritage. You see many medieval age villages with towers.

The easiest way to go to Mestia is taking the night train (10 hours) from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, then taking the marshrutka (4 hours) to Mestia. The vehicles are full of mountaineers, trekkers from all around the world. The journey with this minibus takes you through wonderful green valleys right into the highest heart of Caucasus mountains.

Mestia is the capital of Upper Svaneti region. It is surrounded by many beautiful and high mountains.
Above right we see Banguriani mountains (3838m) and above left we see Ushba (4710m) that is rising sharply over Mestia.

Svans are the ethnic group living here through many centuries. Svan towers –also known as koshi- gift Mestia its unique look (above). They were build between 9-18th century primarily for religious purposes but then they started to be built for the protection from invasions of the clans. Since there was no higher power, every clan was responsible for its own protection. Blood feuds between the clans were well known that could last for decades. These 4 or 5 floor towers were also used in case of avalanches.

There’s a well designed etnography museum in Mestia. And also there are well preserved Svan houses (machubi) that work as little museums. Above is the interior of one of them that takes you to a voyage to medieval ages. The center of the place was used to cook, dine and live. And behind the artistic carved wooden panels, animals were kept as well as the food stocks for winter.

There is a simple life going on in the neighborhoods of Mestia. The horses, cows, pigs are wandering around freely in the roads. Especially the freedom of cows and the cow shit on the roads are reminding me of India. Above we see Laila mountains (4008m) rising on the west side of Mestia.

Georgia is a heaven for trekking. In most of the regions there are different routes in different lanscapes. Upper Svaneti – Mestia, Lower Svaneti – Racha, Kazbegi, Tusheti, Kakheti, Vashlovani are some of the destinations. Best trekking season is from June to mid-October. Some routes are well signed, some not. Some have guesthouses, some have tourist shelters. And some have just rare sheppard huts so that you need to carry your tent and food.

Caucasus mountains are at Georgia’s north border. Many beautiful trekkings start from Mestia.

I did my first trek to Shdugra (Mazeri) waterfall (above). You reach there through the beautiful remote village Becho which is in this spectacular valley in between the mountains.

The trek to the waterfall passes by the beautiful and strong river called Dolra. On our walk we came across the shelters of Georgian soldiers guarding their territory which is just a few km away from Russia.

There are times I can even hear my heart beat and I keep on walking. The more I walk the more I open up and feel charged. The energy arises and I feel stronger.

I did my second trek to the Cross and Koruldi lakes. It is a one day walk around 20km (1350m up, 1350m down). First you reach the cross at the north top of Mestia (800m) then reach Koruldi lakes at the end. During the trek at some points you walk through rising meadows with some grazing animals. Beautiful Mount Tetnuldi (4858m) –also known as the ‘white bride’- is clearly seen on one side (above, right).

Koruldi lake above reflects the image of the beautiful mountains perfectly.

Then I did my third trek which lasted for 4 days. This is one of the most popular long trek between Mestia and Ushguli.
The stages: Day 1: Mestia to Zhabeshi, Day 2: Zhabeshi to Adishi, Day 3: Adishi to İprali, Day 4: İprali to Ushguli
Each of the first 3 days takes you up on a ridge, then it is followed by a descent.

Likewise many routes in Himalayas, this route is a kind that you can find guesthouses to stay at some points. But this time I was so lucky to find companions, a group of Georgian trekkers who invited me to share their tents and camping equipments. After finishing the first day we chose this beautiful spot for our camp. And the next morning we woke up to a clean clear morning at Zabeshi (1800m).

The second day walk gifted many different perspectives, sometimes lush green forests, sometimes rocky mountains.

As we climbed to the highest point of the day we came across with these three brothers from the village below. They were so friendly and cheerful. Living their childhood in an area like this, I thought how lucky they are.

Many types of flowers in different colours are decorating the hills. Blue butterflies are dancing around. Autumn is starting to show itself in yellow, red, brown colours on the trees. You see impressive but fragile rock formations on the way.

Arriving at the beautiful little village Adishi (2100m) above. It is the end of the walk of the second day.

Starting the third day, I didn’t know that it would be one of the most impressive walks I’ve ever done in my life. During the walk at one point you have to cross a river. You need to arrive there in the morning before the water level gets high. It’s better to take it seriously as I heard about a couple who attempted to cross it in the early evening and had to struggle with the strong stream for hours until a rescue team arrived. You can cross the river with horses or else -as I did- you can cross it barefoot and trust your stable and strong steps in the powerful current. Ice cold water of the glacier gave an enourmous aliveness to my legs and feet that I climbed the next steep stage with ease.

Ta taaa! Tetnuldi and its glacier (above) It is almost a 5000m mountain, so imagine the scale. There is nothing in between me and this beauty. It’s standing just in front of me. What a strength! So alive, so real, so pure. When the deep and powerful sound of the shattering of the glacier arrives, it makes my heart beat faster.
I left Mount Ushba (4710m) behind which is one of the most beautiful as well as the most deadliest one and reached Mount Tetnuldi (4858m). Ushba is known to be the male and Tetnuldi is known to be the female mountain. It’s believed that they are in love but in a desperate love because they cannot come together.

Leaving Tetnuldi behind, in the afternoon I reached Chkhundari pass above (2730m) and saw the new valley from which I would go down through. In this new valley there are many springs popping up from many points. Some of them has mineral water.

Each night we set up the fire at our camp. In our humble meals there was always wine and cha cha (a traditional strong spirit made of grapes). Georgians -of any age- love to toast really. At one point one of the guys toasted for women, saying; without the women life wouldn’t be this much colourful. And I took the next place and toasted for men, for the precious lessons, meaning and love they bring to life.

Then I arrived at Ushguli in the end point of 4 days.
This view above was just a photograph I came across and get fascinated in internet months ago. That was exactly when I said to myself; go and live this!

I was more than happy to complete the trek and arrive at Ushguli. Crossing the mountains, leaving a valley behind and entering into the next one, I walked with the curiosity of a child. I woke up to each new day with a sincere interest. This excitement boosted the aliveness, the happiness in me.

Svan towers of Ushguli (above and below)

Ushguli -as seen in other parts of Upper Svaneti- has this unique traditional feature where towers, roofs are all made of stone. The doors are really impressive. The door on the right above has the bull head which is an icon from the pagan times of Svans.

Coming to Ushguli gifts you this magnificent view of Mount Shkhara (5193m) which is the highest mountain of Georgia (above). Its enormous size has a disorienting scale. Behind it there is Russia.
The stone building we see in front is Lamaria Monastery. It reminded me of Nepal, of Himalayas, of Buddhist monasteries there.

Sometimes my body speaks out, my heart beats so fast, my muscles burn, my head gets dizzy, I feel cold. Then I ask, who is it that feels all these? Sometimes I fear. Then I ask; who is it that is fearing? Sometimes I shed tears out of a bit of grief that I still carry from the past. Then I ask; who is it that is crying?
This is how purification manifests itself.
The gifts are overflowing. Magical sceneries of mother earth, wise whispers of the wind, a cup of soup or a warm bed. With gratitude I’m taking them. But not keeping or holding on to any of them. Then giving what has been offered; my perceptions, feelings, senses. Fully giving, offering myself to the higher Self.
This is how purification manifests itself.
Everything is merging into eachother, losing their identity as the way I knew. One consciousness is becoming visible in all phenomena. I am That.

* The ‘who’ question I mention above is a part of the practice of ‘self-inquiry’. If you are interested to know about it, you can check two of my essays in India folder; Tiruvannamalai Part I and Tiruvannamalai Part II.

This summer I am so satisfied with my experiences by the mountains, forests, rivers, waterfalls. I feel deeply grateful.

Then the time comes for me to move to a new country, Armenia.

The Author