Visiting Ancient Ushguli, Georgia's Village in the Clouds
14 September, 2017
Visiting Ancient Ushguli, Georgia's Village in the Clouds
Ushguli, highest Georgian village located in Svaneti has been featured by Cntraveler, luxury and lifestyle travel magazine. Recognized as the Upper Svaneti UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ushguli is one of the highest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe.

Author of the article is Benjamin Kemper, food and travel writer. According to the article, a visit to Tusheti means the equestrian adventure of the one’s life.

Here is what the article says:

As globalization and development creep in, an ancient community asks
itself what’s gained—and lost.

When their horse let out a wheeze and keeled over dead in the snow, Aluda and Gegi Charkseliani knew they were in trouble. The nearest hospital was still ten miles away, and a friend writhing in abdominal pain between them in the saddle needed a doctor badly. Waist-deep in snow, the teenagers were terrified, left without a lifeline in the silent wilderness of the Caucasus. But then instinct kicked in: They had to keep moving. “At least the wolves won’t attack us—the horse carcass will keep them busy,” the cousins reasoned, as they took turns piggybacking Matro, their friend, down the mountain to safety.

There are no ambulances in Ushguli, Georgia, the highest continually inhabited settlement in Europe, at 7,000 feet. Here, against the snowy backdrop of Mount Shkhara, the third-tallest mountain in Europe, medieval stone towers stand at attention like an immovable brigade. Cool, thin air whips across the hills. The nearest town, located 30 miles away, is cut off by snow from October to April, which puts the Charkselianis and 30 other local families in virtual isolation for most of the year.

Out of meat? Hunt for wild boar. Have appendicitis? Prepare for the equestrian adventure of your life.

Yet in spite of Ushguli’s harsh climate, the Svans, a predominantly green-eyed Georgian tribe of Orthodox Christians with direct links to ancient Mesopotamia, have dwelled in this Tolkien-esque valley in the sky since at least the first millennium BC. Strabo, the great geographer of the Roman Empire, called the Svans “a mighty people, foremost in courage and power.” Secluded in their mountain nooks, they basked in relative autonomy while invaders from Turkey, Persia, and beyond ravaged the neighboring lowland regions in back-to-back wars.

When enemies did venture into Svan territory, they found battle-ready villages guarded by formidable blockades of stone tower-houses, many of which are still standing—more than one thousand years later. "There used to be 300 towers in Ushguli alone," Mevluti Charkseliani, the owner of the local Ethnographic Museum, told me over tea in his living room. "But today just 30, protected by UNESCO, remain fully intact—still the highest concentration in the region, and the village’s biggest draw." (Charkseliani is a name you hear often in Ushguli; Aluda is Mevluti’s son and Gegi is Mevluti's nephew.)

Georgia’s recent tourism boom—the number of international arrivals has doubled in the last five years—has brought Ushguli a glut of summer vacationers, who descend on the town by the selfie-snapping jeep-load each morning. It’s a relatively new phenomenon. Until former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s nation-wide crackdown on crime in the mid-2000s, travel here was infrequent.

geotv.ge
Ushguli once had 300 stone tower-houses, but today, just 30 remain

Like visitors to the Amish country, many who arrive in Ushguli today hope to glimpse a culture on the edge of time, before it’s “too late.” Most will scurry up a restored tower; visit the museum; and savor the succulent, meat-filled Svan flatbread called kubdari. Some will rent horses and ride along the Enguri River to the foot of Mount Shkhara. But with so much to see in Georgia—and no registered hotels in the village—few will spend the night.

For a place largely unvisited for centuries (the wheel and automobile arrived within 20 years of each other), it’s still unclear what’s to be lost and gained from slapdash tourism. With globalization comes homogenization, and the distinctive Svans, with their polyphonic folk songs, pagan celebrations, and pantheon of nature gods, stand to lose much of what has made them, well, them.

“We’re especially worried about our language, because the younger generation is starting to forget it,” said Mevluti, who speaks exclusively in Svan to his children. With local schools taught in Georgian, the future of the Svans’ unwritten mother tongue, which has been spoken throughout these mountain valleys for 4,000 years, is in jeopardy.

For now, it seems, there’s no looking back. The muddy track from Ushguli to Mestia, where Aluda, Gegi, and Matro nearly froze to death in 2012, is lined with signs and construction tape, slated to be paved by 2022. Once unreachable but for a few brief months each year, Ushguli will soon be on the tour bus circuit, tilting the social balance further toward commercialism and away from the traditional Svan way of life. But the cleared road will also mean peace of mind for a community that deserves it. Jobs will be created, buildings will be repaired, and teenagers won’t have to risk hypothermia for standard medical care. When asked about this inevitable tradeoff, Mevluti paused before speaking. “We’re not scared of change in Ushguli—what we’re scared of is loss.”

Related stories:

Life in the clouds: Ushguli, highest village in Europe

Climbing in the Caucasus: postcard views from the towers of Ushguli, Georgia – The Guardian

The Surreal World from the Eyes of an Ushguli Artist
Print
Other Stories
Breathtaking Pictures of Snowy Spring in Georgia
On March 17 Georgia was surprized with snow and the social media was full of breathtaking photos of snowy Georgia taken by Georgian photographers
The History of Georgian Firearms Development
In the 9th century, a dent was invented in China that was originally used for fireworks during religious ceremonies. Its use in military affairs began relatively late in the 11th century
Estonian Traveler  About Georgia
Anna Linn is a traveler from Estonia who has recently visited Georgia and shared her experiences with us.
How to Make Women Happy on March 8th - The Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi's Best Offer
Women's Day is celebrated around the world but for some reason, it is mostly loved in Georgia
Tbilisi in The List of The Best Cities For Female Solo Travelers
Tourlane, the leading planning and booking service for expert-made dream vacations, has revealed the top cities for female solo travelers
10 Magnificent Churches of Georgia
"John Graham Tours" Publishes the list of 10 magnificent churches of Georgia, specifically of Shida Kartli
Georgia in the list of Hollywood's busiest location sectors
The Hollywood Reporter publishes the list of the busiest location sectors of 2020 and Georgia is number one in the list
Why Georgia is the Most Underrated Skiing Destination
CNN publishes an article writing about why Georgia is the most underrated skiing destination
Tbilisi Takes Third Place in The Category of Cost-Effectivness-FDI
Famous British edition FDI Intelligence which provides up to date reviews of investment and economic development in different European cities and regions has published a ranking of 2020/21
CNN Offers 10 Of The Most Dreamiest Places in Georgia
Without a doubt, CNN's famous travel series will give you the most truthful advice on which you can count on
Radisson Collection Tsinandali Complex Among the 45 Best Hotels
The hotel located in the village Tsinandali was named among the 45 best hotels in Paris
Letter From Thailand To Georgians
“Coming to Georgia wasn’t an accident”
"There was a "ME" before Georgia and another one after."-Foreigners about Georgia
"We've never seen people describing their country with as much passion and excitement as you two are doing it. What a great thing to do!"
British edition about Kvareli's football pitch
The British edition, The Sun Dream Team, published a photo of the pitch located in Kvareli
Tbilisi winning Rynair's Instagram voting as the best 2020 destination
"We just crowned Tbilisi as Ryanair’s 2020 destination face-off winner in our Stories"
The Real History of Tbilisi
Little do people know about the real history of Georgia's capital city Tbilisi.
"Georgians will extend their arm for a friendly handshake"-Ryanair
The Irish budget airline Ryanair publishes an article about the capital city of Georgia, Tbilisi. The title says it all- "The Enchanting City of Tbilisi."
The Transcaucasian Trail in Georgia
The Transcaucasian Trail- a world-class, long-distance hiking trail, more than 3,000km in length following the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains and connecting roughly two dozen national parks and protected areas in the region.
"Home for the homeless"-BBC about Tskaltubo sanatoriums
BBC publishes a documentary about Tskaltubo's sanatoriums located in the West part of Georgia.
Georgia reaches a record number of visitors
In January 2020, a record number of international travelers visited Georgia.
Abastumani resort brought to life
The observatory renovations are completed in Abastumani resort, the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure reports.
Georgia sets a new record by exporting of 94 million bottles of wine
Georgia has exported around 94 million bottles (0.75 L) of wine in 53 countries in 2019, which is by 9% more compared to 2018.
Georgia in winter – a new holiday experience
Spring, summer and autumn, these are the main tourist seasons in Georgia. But have you ever thought about visiting in winter and hit the ski slope?
Sakartvelo TOP-1 – Why is Georgia number 1 for the Belarusian photographer?
Georgia among Georgians is called Sakartvelo. This is the name how the Belarusian tourist calls this country.
“Georgian people welcome a guest as an angel” – personal experience of resigned US soldier in Georgia
Georgia has become an inspiration for many people, from politicians to writers and singers. The latest, for who Georgia has tuned into country of new discoveries is a former US soldier... This is what he tells Georgian Journal.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
GEL Exchange Rate
Convertor
05.04.2020
06.04.2020
USD
1
USD
3.1576
3.1576
EUR
1
EUR
3.4134
3.4134
GBP
1
GBP
3.8782
3.8782
RUB
100
RUB
4.1072
4.1072