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The place where my soul remains

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Author: Tanya Ruban-Shchukovskaya, Hannover, Germany
Teamleader: Anna Belova
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What did I know about Georgia before? It was completely standard concepts: "Borjomi", the wide hospitality of the Georgians, multi-voiced singing and unique dances. And then there is the Caucasus, which inspires many poets, but what it is, I had no idea, only saw in pictures of beautiful, ice-covered mountains.

When I read that the club “Kuluar” has the opportunity to get acquainted with Georgia in an easy hike, and even in Svaneti, which still retains its primitive appearance, I signed up for the group without hesitation.

Hiking in Svaneti is not Lykia

I had an experience of hiking with Kuluar in the same format “with light rucksacks and in small houses”, but along Likian Trail in Turkey. The organization was perfect. I expected the same here, of course. And my expectations were met. By the way, my group was the first to have passed this route without tents. But very much I want to note that this hike is incomparable with the same hike along the Lycian trail. Symbols “Easy” and “It is possible without any experience” do not mean that it will be an unbiased walk on the mountains. Anyway, the Caucasus is harsh and proud, and does not forgive frivolous attitude. It is worth to be prepared physically at least a little, even if it’s very light. Here are other drops in altitude, there are rocky and difficult roads and long passages. I didn’t regret for a minute that I started jogging after Lykijki to get ready for the new journey. So this hike through Svaneti was really easy for me.

Such sunless sunny Batumi

Having arrived a few days early, I decided first of all to explore Batumi. This city greeted me with torrential rains for all three days of my stay there. Plus, because of the pandemic, public transportation was canceled, so the only way to get around was by cab. But that didn’t dampen my mood one bit. I could easily see the city on foot, wearing the raincoat I had taken for the hike anyway. In between rains I rode the cable car, visited several old churches, visited a huge botanical garden, and explored the center of the city to the smallest detail. And also rented a bike and rode along the waterfront. I recommend it to everyone! There’s a good bike path length of almost 8km and you can see a lot of interesting urban landscapes and breathe the pleasant sea air.

Wooden cabins, “live” Ushba, photo shoot in a dress on the background of Shdugra waterfall and breaking the rule

Compared to Batumi, we had nice weather during the whole trip: it was slightly cloudy, not hot, and the rain was raining only at night.

The first place we spent the night was cozy, brand-new wooden houses in Mazeri, behind which the Ushba Mountain rises majestically. After the guide’s stories about this inaccessible and sacred to the Svans mountain, I began to feel a kind of reverence for it myself. I’ve always believed that the mountains, like living beings, see and feel everything. Imagine such a picture: we arrived and settled in. We couldn’t see the top of Ushba over the clouds. And as soon as the guys and I went for a walk, where we started fooling around like children, laughing and taking funny pictures, the mountain looked out from behind the clouds, as if it wanted to see who was making noise there. And then a few minutes later it hid again. I had the feeling that it was watching us and generally watching the order.

Who knows, maybe the Sovanians believe the same thing?

From Mazeri we had the exit to Shdugra Waterfalls. It is very picturesque road! Along the river through the forest, then uphill with breathtaking views. That’s where I did my first photo shoot in a dress. The thing is, on the Couloir’s list of recommended things to take with you was a dress for beautiful photos. Girls, believe me, it’s worth it! The pictures in the dress on the background of the waterfall and mountain ranges came out just incredible! And don’t be afraid that you are carrying extra weight, because in the closet of almost everyone

girl there is a very light beautiful dress that you can take with you. And the guide gives plenty of time for the photo shoot and change of clothes. So, I got quite a few pictures of myself in a dress with the mountains as a backdrop.

On the way back we, obeying the instinct of a mushroom hunter, broke the rule. The fact is that at the very beginning of the all signed under the instruction that you can, and what is forbidden to do in a hike. Gathering mushrooms was not allowed. But as soon as the road began to come across real porcini mushrooms, the size of caps which in diameter sometimes reached the length of an adult’s palm,

some members of the group could not resist the temptation to pick a couple of these “giants. And then another and another… In Georgia, apparently, it is not customary to pick,

dry and eat porcini mushrooms, so there were a lot of them! Well, how can you not pick just a little? Quite rightly, all the mushroom pickers were reprimanded by the guide. And then they made up for it with deliciously fried porcini mushrooms. The owner of the wooden houses even provided us with pots and pans and gave us some onions and oil. None of the participants of the hike after tasting the fried boletuses were not hurt. But nobody collected mushrooms anymore either.

Very touristy Mestia, acquaintance with the history and way of life of Svaneti, the house of the mountain climber Michael Khergiani, renaming the trek to “gastro-tour

Mestia is the capital of Svaneti. The city, which combined centuries-old past in the images of Svanetian towers and noisy present with various souvenir stores and numerous tourists. A city that already seems to speak all European languages. It is peacefully nestled between the mountains along the river, giving all visitors the opportunity to touch the history of Svaneti. I liked this city very much at night, when the silence came, and the towers were pleasantly illuminated by lanterns. It was even something mystical in their golden night glow… Do not miss the opportunity to wander at night not through the main streets of the city, but a little higher. You will have a lot of impressions for a long time.

In the museum of mountain climber Michael Khergiani, we met his relative, who gave us a tour with his typical Georgian emotionality. Here, for the first time, I saw a typical house of the Svans, where, as I understood, they used to live until quite recently. We asked him lots of questions, and he answered them patiently and friendly. It was very educational! We will meet such dwellings again and again on our way. We went up to the tower, we walked by the rooms, where the climber M. Khergiani, once known in the former Soviet Union, lived, he was an amazing man, how many lives he saved! But you will be able to learn about it during the tour.

In Mestia we lived in a house whose hostess’s name was Manoni. We had previously experienced Georgian hospitality and the desire to feed our guest. But what awaited us here was simply unbelievable! When we came for dinner we had the impression that the tables were laid for a large wedding. Various salads, khinkali, khachapuri, first courses, potatoes, eggplant dishes, fruit, etc. – It is impossible to count all! And everything was delicious and self-made! That evening we jokingly called our trek “Gastro Tour in Svaneti with light backpacks but heavy stomachs. Breakfast was just as rich, after which it was extremely difficult to get up from the table. Such lavish breakfasts and dinners accompanied us almost throughout the entire hike.

My favorite day of the hike

It was an unforgettable adventure that our guide had been preparing us for since day one. The hike of 17km, the pass at an altitude of almost 3000m. That day I felt like a part of the wonderful world. The immense beauty of the Caucasus just flowed into me with every step. I had the feeling that the mountains themselves gave me strength to go up. I realized only during resting that my legs were a little tired.

The cute, brave horses carried us across the mountain river, to the place

crossing which we were bound to reach before lunch, for afterwards the river grew deeper and more dangerous. My excitement was boundless! Except that my horse stopped for a minute in the middle of the turbulent stream, wondering where to step next, thereby sharply raising my adrenaline level. I really asked her to keep going. And she kept going until she was stopped by the guys on the other side.

At the pass, I could hear huge ice floes falling and crashing down from the glacier, and I thought it was a thunderstorm coming. Nature showed its power, which is impossible not to respect and it is impossible not to admire.

From the height I saw how a river is born and grows. I saw the greatness of the Caucasus.

With the help of pictures on the pass we tried to pass all our sensations. Almost every one of us must have felt like a bird or a wind, free and strong.

The village that took my heart

We spent our last days in Ushguli. Far from the usual civilization between the high mountains, the village has still retained its identity, despite the fact that it is also gradually becoming more and more touristy.

There are still functioning old towers and ramshackle houses in which the Svans live. There is even a small church of Lamariya (Saint Mary’s Church) which, if I am not mistaken, was built in the 9th-10th century and one could see old frescos there.

We met the keeper of the old house, a wonderful Svanese grandmother who smelled like milk. She showed us the house where she and her son used to live not long ago.

Early in the morning with the sunrise we climbed the mountain with our guide from where we could see how the sun rays were filling the gorge and Ushguli was waking up. The majestic Shkhara was open in all its beauty. She must have been greeting sunrise with us to the sound of bells of cows going to pasture. Peace, tranquility, and awe I felt at that moment. And then I realized that this place had taken a part of my heart.

There was a lot to write about.

On the day of our departure it rained. It seemed to me that the mountains reflected our condition: they were crying just as we were, not wanting to say goodbye.

Each day was not like the other. We walked up the big rocks close to the glaciers, we drank refreshing water from the mountain streams, we were welcomed in every house. Hundreds of pictures would not convey the beauty we saw. I was imbued with respect for this proud and unconquered people, the Svans. They often survive in very extreme conditions, because the mountains are not always sunshine and good weather. At the same time, they build new houses, so that anyone can visit their land, to get acquainted with their ancient culture. And let it be that the hostels sometimes have only one shower for 6 people, the drain doesn’t always work well, and the beds creak at night. Let it be that the rooms are sometimes a little damp. It’s nothing compared to what Svaneti offers. In any case, we were warmer and cozier than our fellow travelers on the route with tents. By the way, they were what we called “real hikers,” because our version of the hike was really easy.

A guide who gave his heart to the mountains

“Do you love the mountains as I do?” – This is the phrase I can describe our team leader, Anna Belova. A person, who simply left all blessings of civilization of the capital life in the name of mountains. Communicating with her you understand that her heart does not belong to people. She loves and knows mountains, she tells with infectious inspiration about every peak, every river and every settlement. Anna was strict with us (how else could it be in the mountains!) if we were a little stubborn. She is a person with her own established principles. She sincerely believes that if people go to the mountains, it is for the mountains, so she was very upset by the caprices and discontent of some members of the group, and it was felt.

I am very grateful to her that she was able to find comfortable guest houses for us, and, remember, we were the first group in Svaneti in this format.

It is always very important for me to trust my guide. I trusted Anna. There was no fear with her. And at the same time she didn’t “coddle” anyone and didn’t pry, giving everyone the opportunity to realize their potential, to motivate themselves in the moments when it was a little difficult. But if you turn to her for help or advice, of course, you will get tremendous support.

And Anna also loves taking pictures of everything and she manages to capture just unique moments. To convey the beauty of the mountains through the camera, I think, is also a talent. And she is happy to share her photos and impressions in social networks, showing people how beautiful Svaneti is.

A few words of advice to those who are going on a trip and what I got for myself from the trip

I have absolutely no idea how to create a hike of this format “Lightweight and in cabins” and I’m sure that everything was thought out to show us the maximum possible without much stress for the tourist. But it seemed to me sometimes that we travel a lot by minibus. Therefore, anyone who is going to this hike, I recommend making sure to take sleeping pills, as none how serpentine the road gives of itself. Personally, I would have left more walking roads. But then, perhaps, would have to increase the number of days hike or reduce the number of places to visit.

In the description of the hike is a sign that you can go with children. Yes, that’s true. But the child should be not bad physically prepared. We had a ten years old girl in our group, she tried very hard, she perfectly managed to pass difficult stages of the route with parents support, but it was visible, that in some places it was very heavy. And it seems to me, that in such campaigns children will learn not to give up and learn to behave in collective with absolutely unfamiliar people in unusual for them conditions under rules of a campaign. Be prepared for that. Sometimes it is not easy. Every member of the group determines the success and good mood during the trip.

And, of course, do not overload your backpack extra things and food. There is no one to carry it except you. Hungry you will not stay exactly,and on the stays will be light snacks.

And I, having been twice in hiking “light” format, came to the conclusion that I want to continue traveling, but with tents. It’s so great to pull yourself out of your comfort zone and fully obey nature. And something tells me that my first camping trip will be in Georgia.

Thanks to the crew “Kuluar-Hiking” for organizing such a great trip! You are the best!

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