Journey beyond the Clouds
Arrival at Tbilisi International Airport, where one of our representatives will meet you. Shuttle service to the hotel and check-in. Distance - 14 km, time en route - 30 min. The itinerary for Day One will depend on the time of your arrival and will be adjusted accordingly. Regardless, however, we will begin with a walk around the Old City.
Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia with a history dating back for more than 1,500 years. Today, its center has been completely restored, with a solicitous effort to reproduce the architecture of the olden days.
The excursion will begin at the sulphur baths. Ancient Tbilisi was founded here in the 5th century. It is a very interesting story, which we will tell you when you arrive.
Next we will stop by some rug stalls. You do not have to buy anything, you can just look. It is very colourful.
…we will go down into a cellar where Georgian bread called shoti is baked over hot charcoal. When we were children, there was no sweeter treat than hot shoti dipped in pear lemonade. You can try some too.
… we will stop by a typical Tbilisi courtyard. This is how people lived in our city at the end of the 19th-beginning of 20th century. Now, of course, the city architecture has greatly advanced. But if you ask the owners of these quaint houses if they would like to move, you will get a resounding “no! Not for anything!”
For those who wish, we will visit the City Museum located in the building of a former caravanserai (roadside inn). You will also find many souvenir shops selling everything your heart desires.
We will show you Tbilisi as it was in the mid-19th-beginning of the 20th century. These few photos is only present a small part. There are many places like these. You will have dinner in one of the city restaurants. We will tell you the best places and you can choose for yourself. You will spend the night in Tbilisi.
Day Two. Breakfast at the hotel. Departure in jeeps for Khevsureti. Distance – 100 km, time en route – 5 hours Khevsureti is a high-altitude area of Georgia situated in the northeast of the country in the alpine zone. People with a unique history live here. For millennia, the Khevsurs were indefatigable defenders of the northern borders of their country. They follow the knights code of chivalry that requires being faithful to one’s word, respecting human dignity, revering elders, honoring women, showing hospitality, and displaying valor in battle.
The Khevsurs have never recognized any lord over them, there have never been feudal barons and serfs here. The people appointed elders themselves who governed the community in accordance with the ancestral customs. The Khevsurs voluntarily obeyed the Georgian kings and formed troops when called upon to do so during wars. The valor of the Khevsurs is well known throughout Georgia. Everyone knows the story of the three hundred Avagrians—Khevsurs from the White Aragvi river valley—who went into battle against a 35-thousand-strong Persian army. The outcome of the battle was a foregone conclusion. But their code of honor would not permit the Khevsurs to retreat to save their lives.
Khevsur weapons also have their distinctive features: a sword with a straight blade and a small round shield of around 30 cm in diameter. The Khevsur swords that have survived until today mainly date to the 17th century. Parikaoba contests are still organized today at secondary schools in Khevsureti. School children dressed in steel breastplates and helmets and armed with swords and shields enter into single combat to the encouraging shouts of their parents and friends.
The clothing of the Khevsurs differs from the customary Georgian dress. It is made from very densely woven dark blue wool embroidered with red, yellow, and green silk and decorated with colored beads sewn in cross-shaped patterns on the front, back, collar, and cuffs. Footwear consists of gaiters made of soft leather with soles woven from leather strips.
The Khevsurs are Orthodox Christians. But, like all mountain-dwellers, elements of ancient pagan rites are still present in their religious traditions.
The first part of our journey passes through the picturesque valley of the Aragvi River. We travel along the Military Georgian Road that was laid in the mountains as early as the end of the 18th century. The road was designed to join the Northern Caucasus with Georgia. Now it is a modern highway. The Zhinvali Reservoir is situated on the middle reaches of the Aragvi River. Here we turn north and head into the Argun Gorge.
The River Argun has its source in the Georgian glaciers of the Greater Caucasian Mountain Range; 18 km further, it crosses the border and continues its course through the mountainous region of Chechnya. Hundreds of streams run down from the surrounding mountains into the Argun. The snow does not melt here even in summer. The clear cold water is full of trout. Tourists and local residents often come here to fish.
Along the way, we come across a multitude of Khevsur watchtowers; they are situated on almost every mountain crest and control the gorge.
We continue our journey and climb high into the mountains to alpine meadows covered in the rarest flowers and grasses, as well as other wondrously beautiful plants. Many of these plants are on the Red List of Threatened Species. Khevsureti has a small population. The local residents look very contemporary. They only don their traditional dress and carry weapons on national holidays and for special celebrations.
The main population settlement of Khevsureti is Shatili, an impregnable 17th century fortress. It is a single stronghold consisting of living quarters and 60 watchtowers built in tiers in a gorge on the northern slopes of the Main Caucasian Mountain Range. In the event of an enemy attack, the residents could move about inside the settlement without having to leave it. In the Middle Ages, Shatili was repeatedly attacked by hostile tribes from the north, but no one succeeded in capturing it.
Excursion around Shatili. We will walk around the narrow allies where the houses are nestled on the mountain side one on top of another. The roof of one house is the floor of the next…
Look at the many gaps in the walls of the houses leading to the street. Here, shots can be fired from every wall. It appears highly unlikely that you could walk along the street and remain intact. But this only applies to enemies, friends are given free passage.
The Khevsurs live in houses such as these. Some still live there to this day.
This gives you an idea of their domestic life.
We will spend the night in a Khevsur fortress home.
Day Three. After breakfast, we will ride on horseback from Shatili to the mountainous region of Tusheti. Distance – around 25 km, time en route (including stops and lunch) – 6 hours.
We will cross the right-hand bank of the Argun River and head in the direction of Mutso fortress. Here the Argun rushes through a narrow rocky gorge. Do not venture too close to the water.
Five kilometers from Shatili are several one-story buildings. This is a “ghost town.”
Khevurs who suffered from some fatal infectious disease (mainly the plague) came here to die. They lay down on these stone slabs and waited, without food and water, for death to come.
And this is the Georgian state border. There is a hand-written sign explaining this fact. It was done so that travelers would not end up in Chechnya, which is just around that next bend, by mistake. There are no other roadblocks (border-crossing signs) here!
Eleven km further down the road, we make a stop near Mutso fortress. In the Middle Ages, the fortress defended Khevsureti from invasions by its northern neighbors. According to some mystics, one of the few secret entrances to Shambala is located here.
And looking at this, you can see why!
Ardotis skali (Water from Ardota) runs through the gorge, a turbulent noisy river that falls into the Argun.
Such beauties as these graze on its high slopes…
Here we will make a stop. We will have a snack, raise our horns to Khevsureti, say farewell to Mutso and travel on.
We will make our next stop toward evening at the foot of the Atsunta Pass.
We will set up camp, while the cook prepares dinner. After dinner we will rest and sleep. Night at the campsite.
Day Four. Breakfast at the campsite. Then we will break down camp and set off. We will travel from Khevsureti into Tusheti through the Atsunta Pass (3, 431 m above sea level): ascent up the pass and descent to a mountain plateau in Tusheti. Distance – 20 km, time en route – 5 hours, three of which will be on horseback and two on foot. Picnic lunch at noon. Then we continue on our way.
We arrive in Tusheti – another mountainous region of Georgia located on the slopes of the Great Caucasian Mountain Range.
The Tushins are hunters and shepherds. Their material and spiritual culture is similar to that of the Khevsurs. However, they are not as severe in temperament, although they are quite combative. They are also known for their fortified settlements with towers. The Tushins are Russian Orthodox Christians. Like all Georgians, and especially mountain dwellers, they are open and hospitable. And it is quite possible that we will see such contemplative philosophers along the way, local shepherds…
… as well as menacing winged hunters – the landlords of the local skies.
Towards evening we will stop in a mountain gorge where we will set up camp. In the meantime, the cook will prepare dinner. After dinner we will rest and sleep. We will spend the night in the camp.
Day Five. Breakfast at the campsite. Then we will break down camp and continue our horse ride through the mountain gorges of Tusheti in the direction of the village of Chesho. Distance – 20 km, time en route – 5 hours. At midday we will stop for a picnic lunch and then continue on our way.
We will arrive in Chesho by evening.
We will stay in the home of some of the local mountain dwellers. This house dates back to the end of the 17th century.
In the evening we will attend a master class in goat shearing and milking, as well as learn how to make khinkali (dumplings). Dinner will be accompanied by the harmonious singing of the mountain dwellers. The khinkali will be served with the local alcoholic beverage “zhipitauri.” It’s a formidable thing…but we are looking for adventure! We will spend the night in a Tushin home.
Day Six. Breakfast in the home. Descent in jeeps to the Alazani Valley—the center of Georgian winemaking. Distance – 90 km, time en route – 5 hours.
The first part of the journey lies through mountain gorges. In Obano (2,850 m above sea level), we will stop for a picnic and then continue winding our way through the gorges…
…down to the Alazani Valley.
We arrive at the Chateau Mere hotel, check in and rest. The winemaking world of Chateau Mere is famous for its own exquisite winemaking recipes. It is made according to millennia-old traditions in earthenware kvevri, large jugs buried in the ground. Dinner will be service in the Chateau Mere restaurant. Night in the Alazani Valley.
Day Seven. Breakfast at the hotel. We will take an excursion around the Alazani Valley. First we will visit the Ikalto Monastery (6th century), where a spiritual academy that was famous in the Middle Ages is located. Theology, history, geography, philosophy and rhetoric were taught here, and of course…
… wine was made in this winery.
Then we head for the Alaverdi Monastery. It was built in the 9th century. However, monastic service began here as early as the 6th century when Reverend Father Joseph of Alaverdi arrived in these environs. He carried on the cause of Nino of Cappadocia, the founder of Georgia. In the Middle Ages, the monastery was a large spiritual center. Frescoes of the 15th century have survived here.
Then we will have lunch at the Wine Museum located close to Alaverdi.
Before lunch we will take a short excursion around the museum, during which you can taste several kinds of Georgian wine.
After lunch we will visit the Gremi Fortress built in the 15th century. It was the summer residence of the Georgian kings.
*Those who wish: may take an evening hot-air balloon ride over the Alazani Valley. Flying in a hot air balloon is an extremely emotional experience that does not compare to any other adventure in the world! After the ride, you will be initiated as hot air balloonists along with awarding of commemorative diplomas and badges. And the ceremony would not be complete without champagne!
Return to the Chateau Mere hotel.
Dinner will be served in the Chateau Mere restaurant.
It will be accompanied by Georgian polyphonic singing. These guys will sing just for you! Night in the Alazani Valley.
Day Eight. Breakfast at the hotel. Shuttle to Tbilisi International Airport. Flight home…but anticipating your speedy return!