This week’s dream
Tusheti—‘the last wild place in Europe’
A 13th-century fortress tower near Zemo Omalo
I risked my life to see Tusheti—and it was totally worth it, said Benjamin Kemper in TheDailyBeast.com. The remote corner of northeast Georgia remains snowbound nine months a year, and the only road in is a treacherous dirt track “plagued with avalanches, rock falls, and vodka-swilling mountain men careening around switchbacks in Soviet trucks.” I drove in with a friend last spring, and my heart pounded as our wheezing 4-by-4 crawled up the Greater Caucasus, passing memorials to dead travelers. On the other side, though, lay a land of “untamed alpine beauty” and a proud, welcoming people who’ve maintained a unique Christian-animist culture against all odds.
When a sea of sheep halted our progress, my friend, Kartlos, cursed in Georgian and leaned on the horn. “Rush hour in Tusheti, brother,” he shrugged. We were in fact witnessing “one of the world’s most awe-inspiring animal migrations.” Every spring, tens of thousands of sheep clamber over these mountains, and the shepherds who lead them shear them for the wool used in the region’s hardy quilts. Farther on, I began spotting koshkebi—the sentry towers that Tushetians used for centuries to fend off Persians, Ottomans, Mongols, and other invaders. Up close, you can see the towers’ triangular arrow slits and other ingenious defense mechanisms. “Medieval Tushetians did not mess around.” Kartlos and I spent the next two days exploring ancient stone hamlets, some abandoned. “Shrouded in mist and blanketed in wildflowers, these lost villages are the stuff of fantasy novels.” The Soviets drove everyone out of the mountains decades ago, but a couple dozen Tushetians now stay year-round, letting the others leave with the sheep.
Irakli Khvedaguridze, a 77-year-old doctor, told me he sometimes trudges nine hours through the snow to make house calls. “I’m not a hero,” he insisted. Later, I asked a guesthouse owner about some planned infrastructure, and whether he worries about modernization. “The Soviets tried to destroy our culture, and they were almost successful,” he said. “If we Tushetians survived that, we can survive anything. We are proud of this paradise we call home, and we are ready to show it off.”
InterGeorgia Travel (intergeorgia.travel) offers a three-day Jeep tour for $856. ■