Sparsely populated Khevsureti, bordering Chechnya (Russia), is home to some fan- tastic defensive architecture, a part-animist religion, and spectacular scenery of steep, forested valleys and blooming mountain pastures, as well as being credited with in- venting khinkali dumplings.
Men in this remote area were still wearing chain mail well into the 20th century, but to- day Khevsureti’s old culture is only clinging to life and very few villages have permanent inhabitants. Shepherds bring their flocks up from Kakheti from about June to September, when tourism also provides an income for a few families. Khevsureti makes a great trip but bring at least some food with you, and some warm clothes as it can get cold at night even in summer.
The road to Khevsureti turns northeast off the Georgian Military Highway shortly be- fore the Zhinvali Reservoir and runs up the Pshavis Aragvi valley towards Khevsureti’s largest village, Barisakho (population 200), about 100km from Tbilisi. At Korsha, 2km past Barisakho, there’s a small but interest- ing museum (admission free) of Khevsur life, with armour, weapons, traditional clothing and photos; to visit, ask at curator Shota Arabuli’s guesthouse, three doors away. There’s no mobile-phone signal anywhere past Korsha. From Korsha it’s about 8km up to Roshka, a small, muddy village off the main road, on walking routes towards the Chaukhi Pass and Arkhoti.
After Korsha the road becomes 4WD-only as it climbs to the 2676m Datvisjvari Pass (open about May to November) and then descends the Argun valley to Shatili, 150km from Tbilisi. Shatili’s old town, built between the 7th and 13th centuries, is a unique agglomeration of tall koshkebi (towers) clinging together on a rocky outcrop to form a single fortresslike whole. It was abandoned between the 1960s and ’80s, and the new village, of about 20 houses, is just around the hill. But several towers have been restored to accommodate tourists. In August or September (dates vary) you might run into the Shatiloba festival, with folk music and dance horse races and Georgian wrestling.
From Shatili the road continues 3km northeast then veers south just before the Chechnya border. At the bend, the Anatori Crypts, medieval communal tombs with human bones still visible, sit on a promontory above the gorge: in times of plague infected villagers would voluntarily enter these tombs and wait for death. The road continues 9km up the Andaki valley to tiny Mutso, where the spectacular abandoned old village on a steep rock pinnacle contains several more boneladen stone crypts. A foot trail continues up and over the very steep Atsunta Pass (3431m) into Tusheti.
|Languages spoken||Georgian, English, Russian|