juliamhammond

Photos from Ushguli

During my recent trip to Georgia, I spent a day in the hotch-potch straggle of villages collectively known as Ushguli.

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One of the best preserved Svan towers

They’re reached by an apology of a road from Mestia, the main focal point of tourism in Svaneti.  I shared a taxi with a couple of Germans to bounce and slide over gravel, in and out of potholes and scarily close to sections of road which had just fallen away.  The road’s in the process of being rebuilt, so don’t let that put you off.

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The view is worth the effort

Ushguli translates as “fearless heart” which matches the reputation of the Svans historically being a fearsome people suspicious of incomers.  Five villages form the settlement of Ushguli: Murkmeli which you pass as you go in, Chazhashi where your driver will park, and then higher up Chvibiani, Zhibiani and Lamjurishi, the highest of which claims to be the highest permanently settled village in Europe.  It’s a slightly dubious claim, though, not least because geographers and other experts can’t even decide whether Georgia is European or Asian.  (I’ll save that one for a later blog post.)

So what is it about Ushguli that makes it worth the arduous journey?  Mostly, it’s the setting.  Reached at the dead end of this rural road, all that stretches ahead of you are the few clusters of homes and Svan towers that constitute the villages and then meadows framed by the mountain peaks of the Great Caucasus.  UNESCO have had Chazhashi on their list since 1996.  Part of the attraction is just to find a quiet corner and sit.  There’s also an ethnographic museum in one of the towers which is far more interesting than it sounds.  Honestly.  I’m no great fan of museums but it was good.

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12th century cross in the ethnographic museum

In Mestia, the person to find is the lady that sells the marshrutka tickets from her agency next to the bakery in the centre of town.  She manages more of the drivers and you’ll wait for less time.  A return ticket in a shared taxi costs 20 lari.  Be prepared to negotiate how long a wait you’ll have in Ushguli with your driver.  Tip: if you wish to spend more than a couple of hours, it’s worth popping into the restaurant he’s likely to have holed up in to make sure he’s not been knocking back too many beers.

Some of my favourite shots from the day:

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Chazhashi’s riverside setting

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View from inside the ethnographic museum over Chazhashi

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Sheepdog guarding the ethnographic museum

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Young tearaway on a lively horse

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Grandma takes a rest

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Scratching post

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Cow under the public toilet

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Piglets feeding

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Tower and current occupant!

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Cow wandering through the village

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Looking down over Ushguli

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Monastery dwarfed by mountain

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Transport home? “You can go faster but I can go everywhere.”

If you’re planning a trip to Georgia – and you should – make sure you don’t miss Svaneti. You can stay in Ushguli and you can even do a three day hike there from Mestia in the short summer season. Or you can do as I did and base yourself in Mestia and visit Ushguli for the day.

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2 responses

  1. Lots of people head for Ushguli – how does it compare with other places in the region – and indeed with other parts of the mountainous north?

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    July 17, 2017 at 9:59 am

  2. Hi Simon and great to see you reading one of my blogs again. I was only able to allocate three days to Mestia as I wanted to visit Abkhazia. I therefore had to confine myself to Mestia, Chalaadi Glacier, Hatsvali and only a day trip to Ushguli. So I really stuck with the tourist highlights rather than the hidden gems. Within that experience, I’d say Ushguli was the best part of Svaneti that I visited and more scenic than the Kazbegi area (though I only spent a day trip there too so take that comparison with a pinch of salt).

    If you’re looking for a more solitary experience I’d suggest researching the three day hike from Mestia to Ushguli as I don’t think that route is heavily travelled yet. If your time is limited like mine, then definitely squeeze in your visit for June or September at the beginning or end of the season. I’d expect the crowds to thicken in July and August, especially when that road is finished. With direct tourist minibuses from Kutaisi airport to Mestia now, I don’t think it will be long before this area is well on the beaten track.

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    July 17, 2017 at 10:51 am

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