Guest post by: Anya Sapharova

Nowadays Georgia is considered to be a European country with an admixture of its ancient culture that is cherished by every single citizen. People of different nationalities can be found not only in the capital – Tbilisi, but in many other big and developed cities and towns as well.

Tourists usually share positive feedback and emphasize high level of tolerance to the country they come from due to Georgians’ cordial hospitality. It is true that even about 20 years ago it would be difficult to walk in streets for women in mini-skirts or to walk with a stranger who is not her fiancé. Country was trying to maintain its patriarchal cultural structure that created lots of obstacles for people who were not familiar with the Republic of Georgia. Yes, the citizens and the whole population was full of stereotypes, created certain frames borders which one could not cross that easily.

The picture has changed a lot in the 21st century where the traditions and even religious ceremonies conducted in the city have become just echoes of the past. However, in some remote and hard-to-reach places old traditional Georgian lifestyle is preserved. Some of the dwellers have been to capital only two or three times in their whole lives. They dedicate themselves to mountains and traditions in order to carry the will of their ancestors. Let’s make a review about the place with the ancient Georgian traditional spirit known as Tusheti.

Tusheti is situated in Eastern Georgia and reminds of Svaneti as it is situated high in the mountains as well. Still, there is a big difference between well-known Svaneti that offers great service at the hostels and even has an airport. Compared to Svaneti Tusheti is an unknown island hidden in the mountains and that is open to the outer world only during the summer season. The rest of the time the road that connects the rest of Georgia and Tusheti is closed and not used by anyone. All the products that people get are brought from the nearest cities and villages. For example, highlanders do not usually buy dairy products because they produce cheese and butter themselves. They raise vegetables and fruit, though it is difficult to keep meat in Tusheti –people do not usually use refrigerators there so the only option is to buy it from the neighboring villages. Even khinkali is the most expensive in Tusheti region – 1 GEL for one khinkali.

You can travel to Tusheti by car but it is better to have Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) as the gravel road that leads to Tusheti is whimsical and in some places even impassable for a regular car. The journey starts in Telavi and goes through the Tusheti highway to Abano going higher into the mountains of Omalo. The hardest part of the road falls on the Abano pass. In total, you have to travel 70 km of the hard and obstinate road. The best option is to hire a taxi in Telavi and go to Kvemo Alvani (12 GEL) where you can find drivers from Tusheti. If you haven’t booked any rooms in advance those people will help you – they have connections with hosts in the mountains.

Another option to travel to Tusheti is for hikers and lovers of difficult routes. You start the journey from Shatili, Khevsureti and go hiking. In approximately five days you will reach Tusheti. This is one of the best mountain tracks in Georgia though it is not easy at all.

As it was already mentioned Tusheti region is not the place where you can taste different exquisite courses due to poor conditions in the mountains but that doesn’t mean that you will end up hungry there. Khinkali, green lobio, mutton, various dairy products – that is the daily ration you will get. Also, try to search for exclusive Tushetian beer. It is produced only in Tusheti though it does not contain much alcohol. Its flavor reminds of kvass but it is impossible to convey its taste unless you drink it.

It is not rare to see people celebrating feasts that are followed by Tushetian traditions. For example, women are not allowed to witness any religious rites and have to sit separately from men at fests. Tushetians call saint places and Orthodox churches – ‘nishi’, that also count as restricted zones for women. Men have more privileges in Tusheti, it is obvious. When brewing special beer for local occasions like Atnigenoba only men can touch the ingredients and be present at the preparations.

In fact, big portion of Tusheti is protected by the government as it is assigned to Tusheti National Park. An interesting fact is that lots of people live on the territory of the park, it is really rare. The entrance to the park is free of charge though there are several rules that have to be followed, like, you cannot hunt animals on the territory of the park and you cannot ride a car or motorcycle there.

Apart from Tusheti National Park there are some places that might interest tourists. In Omalo you can visit an ethnographic museum and get closer to the region’s coloring. Dartlo, another settlement, can be reached from Omalo in 3-4 hours on foot. Lots of buildings are being restored with the government’s support. The territory itself shows old towers that have been acknowledged as cultural monuments of the region.

Shenako is famous for its only Orthodox cathedral. In Tusheti Christianity tangles with paganism and it makes the place really exotic, doesn’t it? Diklo – another destination that has the remains of the big defensive wall that dates back to 19th century. According to the legend 16 brave Tushetian young men were protecting the wall from thousands of invaders.

Tusheti is a place for those who have already seen most of the Georgia. Its territory is like a secret, interesting aftertaste of the friendly country that slightly reveals the country’s highland traditions and preferences. In order to get closer to Georgia’s core you must not miss a chance and go to Tusheti during summer season before the road closes and it will cut its ways with the civilization till the following year.