Meeting after 14 years: National Geographic photo reporter repeats journey to Svaneti

Posted on November 8, 2014. Filed under: Svaneti, Youtube About Georgia |

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Svaneti- Qoruldi, Mestia

Posted on March 30, 2013. Filed under: Around Georgia, Svaneti |

Written by Tinatin Bujiashvili

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.”

The Prophet Mohammed

On August 19 GeorgianChurch celebrates the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. We were going to attend the liturgy and then go to the lake of Qoruldi. It was our plan. But it was raining hard the whole night. We were a bit disappointed, but our hostess, Nazo promised to bake Kubdari for us. You shouldn’t leave Svaneti without tasting Kubdari.


Besides, sometimes as it often happens in the mountains, it stops raining for a while and the sun shines. So we hoped the rain would stop soon…

Despite the rain very early in the morning Tinatin and I went to church of Christ in Laghami, Mestia. The church is a good example of traditional basilica style architecture. The first floor of the church dates back to the 13th century. The frescos and the facade of the church are well-known with its original paintings. Near the church there is a cemetery where a grave of mount climber Barliani is.

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It was foggy but Mestia looked more beautiful in fog.

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When we got home aunt Nazo had already baked the tastiest Kubdari. Our lunch passed in a friendly atmosphere. In the afternoon it stopped raining so we started to the most beautiful and inimitable lake of Qoruldi, which reflects the snow covered peaks of Caucasus and has a shape of Georgia. Unfortunately we weren’t able to reach to the lake as the earth was wet but what we saw while driving up and up above Mestia, was stunningly beautiful. On the one side there was Tetnuldi and on another-Ushba. Niniko, a 13 year-old tourist remembered that Tetnuldi is called White Queen. Niniko also told us that Ushba is known as the Matternhorn of the Caucasus for its picturesque, spire shaped double summit. Yes, this most beautiful mountain is considered by many climbers as the most difficult ascent in the Caucasus. These photos are taken by Dachi Papuashvili.

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While watching spectacular views of the mountains we noticed trekkers. We were excited as one of them was our friend, Dachi. It was a warm meeting in the mountains. We offered them to take their heavy backpacks, but they refused. Despite tiredness and spending night in the open air, they walked nearly 5 km in the rain. They were with tourists from Latvia and Lithuania. When we found out that they were going to stay at Khergianis’, we were happy. Later, when we had our supper together foreigner tourists said that they hadn’t seen or experienced such beauty they saw in Svaneti. One of the girls said that the sound of thunder and land sliders was heard a long time from the slope of Ushba and it was impossible to sleep.

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Some photos are taken by Ekaterine Nachkhebia

After dinner we still had time and went to Hatsvali. It is a new winter resort and one of the most fascinating skiing and snowboarding area of Svaneti highland.

Mestia looks tiny from Hatsvali and towers like soldiers, guarding the landscape…

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Back in Mestia again…You will meet many foreign tourists here, less Georgians. All the houses on the main street leading to the central square are under restoration. Many of them have already turned into the guest-houses. There are hotels and cafes in Mestia centre too.

Next morning we get up early. We have nine-hour journey back to Tbilisi. Paata (Tourist agency ONLY GEORGIA) promised to take us to DadianiPalace in Zugdidi.

We had passed about 24 km when we were stopped as the road needed cleaning from rocks. We were waiting for a tractor from Mestia more than two hours to clean the road and started again.

Paata kept his promise and despite long hours drive we visited Dadiani Palace. We weren’t lucky. The museum was closed on Sunday…

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So back in Tblisi with full of impressions and the feeling you still have left much to see. Two or three days isn’t enough for Svaneti…

I know, I promise, I will visit the region once more. I have much interesting sights left to see…

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head in his old, familiar pillow.”

Lin Yutang


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Svaneti-Kvirike and Ivlita Church of Kala. A tower of Love

Posted on March 29, 2013. Filed under: Around Georgia, Svaneti |

Written by Tinatin Bujiashvili

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
Miriam Beard

On our way back to Mestia we went to the village Kala. We saw the notice “Kvirike and Ivlita church of Kala”. We won’t pass it. So got off the car and headed for the path going up in the forest… No one can ever wish such fresh air…

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some photos are taken by Ekaterine Nachkhebia

We walked 1 km and saw the shapes of the church. There is a twelfth century church of St. Kvirike, which lies on the mountaintop above the tiny village of Kala. Kvirikoba takes place on July 28 every year. It commemorates the martyrdom of two early Svan Christians. There is one legend about the celebration.  Long ago, during the festival of Kvirikoba, a young man and young lady fell in love, but the man was already married. The man didn’t know what to do. He is married but loves another. So he decided to go hunting. He sees a stag.  He shoots at it, but misses, he is too far away.  As he walks closer, the ground beneath him gives way and he falls through the snow and into the river.  When his love finds out of his death, she goes into mourning, wearing black, staying in her room weeping constantly.  Months pass and she still won’t take off her mourning clothes, or even really stop crying.  She barely eats, won’t talk to anyone.  Her father and brother implore as to what that can do to alleviate her pain.  She answers that the soul of her lover is in the river, and that she must live on the river, so that her tears can flow into his soul.  They build her the tower  “A tower of Love” and she remains there till her dying breath, weeping for her lost love.

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Unfortunately, the church was closed when we got there. We only enjoyed the  scenary and took some photos.

To be continued…

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Posted on March 29, 2013. Filed under: Around Georgia, Svaneti |

Written By Tinatin Bujiashvili

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”  G. Chesterton

Next day was sunny and we were happy as we were planning our visit to Ushguli. As stunningly beautiful, with breathtaking views of Shkhara was waiting for us. One should never leave Svaneti without the experience. I will never forget the journey to Ushguli. You should drive slow and remember each patch of the land…

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The roads to Ushguli from Mestia are pretty rough. The road goes along the river Inguri. You have to pass many stunningly beautiful spots. Once, we came across the gate on which there was written that the one, who leaves the gate open, will be cursed. So our driver Paata was so frightened that he didn’t trust us and always closed the gate himself.

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While driving, our Spanish tourists noticed wooden poles put in the river to grow strengthening the riverbank. They said the method was newly introduced in Spain. They strengthened river banks with stones and gabions.

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And…Finally 55km and at least three hours from Messtia and the road reaches Ushguli, the highest permanently inhabited settlement in Europe at an altitude of 2200m.

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Ushguli is home to remnants of one of the most ancient fortress of Svaneti, dating from the reign of Queen Tamar. It includes 37 towers thought to date back to medieval times. Ushguli itself is a historical settlement located in the very east of Svaneti and is one of the highest settlements in Europe (2000-2200 meters above the sea level). Ushguli’s ancient constructions, just like towers and churches of Svaneti, are under the protection of UNESCO. The Church of Saint Lamaria, Mother of God is located on one of the highest points in Ushguli, together with a building tradition­ally used as a meeting place for village elders.

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Yes, in the outskirts of Ushguli on a lonely hill there stands ancient Lamaria church with regular services. Local residents believe that it was under this church that Queen Tamara, who was a central figure in Svans history, was buried. They considered her to be a Christian benefactor who built all their temples, and gave generous gifts to churches.

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The Lamaria complex includes a large stone chair with quite some intrigue attached to it. Some centuries ago, Ushguli was at the top of “ubatono” (Free, or Lord-less) Svaneti, and liked to keep things that way. Lower down the province was ruled by the Dadeshkeliani family, based in Etseri. One day the head of this family travelled to Ushguli and suggested that it, too, come under Dadeshkeliani control and begin paying tribute. Bad news for Ushguli! The man must die! But… if anyone killed him, the family of the one dirtying his hands would then be targeted for revenge by the Dadeshkelianis in the infamous Svan manner, and a tit-for-tat situation would ensue, more killings in the two families continuing possibly for centuries. Ushguli was in a quandary. A plan eventually emerged.

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The Dadeshkeliani gentleman was seated in that stone chair and a preparation for a feast begun. At some point the entire village lined up on the other side of a wall from him, near a small hole. A rifle on a stand was positioned… a string to the trigger… and all of them, men, women and children, together pulled the trigger. The would-be Lord of Ushguli was done away with to keep the village free, and in doing so, the whole village made itself guilty of his murder.


The name of Ushguli, by the way, seems to come from a contraction for the Georgian words “ushishari guli”. This translated means Fearless Heart – or Brave heart, if you prefer.

And the words can express the beauty of Mount Shkara… Nine-peak mountain Shkara is located on the central range of the Caucasus. The height of the highest peak reaches 5210 m. According to its height it is the second peak in the whole Caucasus after Ialbuzi and is also considered the highest point in Georgia. The river Inguri takes origin from the glacier Shkara…

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We didn’t want to leave the place.  We walked around Ushguli in search of towers to explore, to get inside or to climb…

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While being there we notices Svans gathered near Inguri. Unfortunately a polish woman had fallen in the river and was impossible to find her. Her dead body was found three months later…

To be continued… 

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Posted on March 29, 2013. Filed under: Around Georgia, Svaneti |

Written by Tinatin Bujiashvili

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

Mark Jenkins

Once, while in Khevsureti, my friend Ia, who is Svan, told me there was no region in Georgia as beautiful  as Svaneti. So I didn’t miss the chance and had the pleasure to visit Svaneti last summer.

It was a tour with friends but responsible, as two Spanish tourists were visiting Svaneti with us. We were seven altogether. So another adventure started…

Svaneti is situated in the north-western part of Georgia. It is nearly 456 km from Tbilis to Mestia. So despite nine hour-journey you won’t be bored on the way. You can enjoy with breathtaking views of Kartli valleys, proud monuments of culture of Imereti and Zugdidi, Samegrelo region.

Svaneti is best reached from Zugdidi. The road is quite good. The road, strewn with rock falls, follows the side of the valley high above the reservoir. We stopped our car and enjoyed the breathtaking beauty of Inguri Reservoir. It was a bit rainy but the reservoir hasn’t lost its haughtiness.

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Our way proceeds and at last we noticed the first tower of Svaneti. We are in the village Lenjeri. We got out of the car… The air was so fresh… Soon we reach Mestia.


Our destination of the day was Mestia. Our host family was the Khergianis, whose brother was a well-known mountain climber. The family greeted us warmly. The table was already set for us. Despite being tired we didn’t want to waste our time and decided to walk around Mestia. We visited the centre of Mestia and saw a newly built statue of Queen Tamar. To be frank, I wasn’t admired of the statue and neither Svans themselves, as we found out later.

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After then we visited Mikhail Khergiani House Museum. The museum was founded in 1983. Mikhail Khergiani became famous in Georgia and abroad by participating in many mountain expeditions and climbing competitions. Khergiani was distinguished by his exquisite rock climbing abilities; he saved many people during mountain rescue missions. Khergiani died tragically in Italy, in the Dolomites Mountains in 1969. The exposition in the museum documents episodes from his life. The materials exhibited in the museum belong to him.  The daughter of Nazo Khergiani guided us and told many interesting details about her uncle.

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There are many churches in Svaneti. In the entrance of the town there is the church of St. George, built in 19th century to replace an 11th century ruin. The church is famous for a good metal icon of St. George killing Diocletian and old painted icons of Christ and the Virgin and the Child. Outside, there is the grandest grave of the climber Mikhail Khergiani (1932-1969), who died in the Italian Dolomites.

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We didn’t want to go home so walked around the town. Mestia was being redecorated and we watched how fast workers work. It was already dark when we got home. A hot tea was waiting for us with a warm talk to Mr. Nugzar Niguriani. He told us many interesting things about his experience in the mountains.

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To be continued….

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