A wild landscape in the High Caucasus, with deep valleys, green mountains, slate cliffs and small mountain villages with medieval fortified towers. Christianity has never really been able to gain a foothold in this remote region on the border with Chechnya and Dagestan; rather, it has merged with the ancient natural religion. Thus, shrines can be seen again and again, small stone towers with a quartz boulder on top, sometimes decorated with animal horns. These are still worshipped, with the old gods replaced by Christian variants such as Saint George. However, women are only allowed to join in from a distance and are not allowed to get too close to the sacred places.
The only road to Tusheti is a jeep track that leads in hair-raisingly narrow and steep serpentines from the Georgian wine region of Kakheti over the Abano Pass. It leads to the largest village, Omalo, which is situated high above the confluence of the two main rivers. Most tourists have themselves driven to Omalo by jeep, then hike from village to village for a few days and have themselves picked up again. There are simple homestays in almost all villages.
Omalo consists of two parts. The newer part consists of scattered farms on the edge of a plateau, here are the cheaper homestays. Further up, hidden in a hollow, is the old village, above which is a cluster of defence towers.
Dartlo is probably the most beautiful village in Tusheti. It is a short day’s walk from Omalo along the jeep track, down into the northern of the two valleys. Next to the pretty slate houses and two towers, a steep gorge cuts into the hillside. Above, the abandoned village of Kvavlo can be seen, which has a particularly high tower. Kvavlo and the village of Dano, which lies at the same altitude nearby, can be visited from Dartlo in a very rewarding half-day hike. In Dano there is a particularly beautiful shrine decorated with animal horns.
If you have time, fitness and a tent, you can hike further up the river, cross a high pass and after about a week reach the village of Shatili in Chewsuretia, which is also famous for its towers and can be reached by jeeps. Another option would be to climb south shortly after the next village, Chesho, to a pass that takes you into the other main valley of the region, where you can hike back to Omalo.
Instead, we hike down the valley from Dartlo and after a few hours reach the village of Chigho, a few hundred metres above the river. From there we have to descend into the valley, cross a small tributary river and climb a few hundred metres up a ridge. On the other side we reach Diklo. Not far from here are the ruins of the old fortress of Diklo, high above the gorge that leads down into Dagestan. A border guard, in plain clothes apart from the Kalashnikov, makes sure that we do not enter the forbidden buffer zone.
From Diklo it is a good hour’s easy descent to Shenako, one of the largest villages in the region. It is not far back to Omalo, but there is a gorge in the way, so you have to walk another two hours if you find the path straight away. You must not follow the road, as it crosses the raging river in a ford. As soon as the road reaches the upper edge of the gorge, you look for a barely visible path downwards and reach an old suspension bridge that does not exactly inspire confidence. The path up to Omalo was completely overgrown in places.