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Mega Tusheti Guide : Things you need to know when planning a trip to Tusheti

Tusheti Hike Tips

 

          Tusheti is the northeastermost historical region of Georgia, just by the border shared with Russia. This beautiful region of Georgia has taken my breath away both in a good and bad way. The journey to reach the area alone is a story in of itself, offering one of the most nerve-wracking and exhilarating experiences I’ll never forget.

           The beauty and culture that Tusheti offers are well worth all of it, and it’s all part of the amazing experience. The region of Tusheti is very remote and closed off from the rest of Georgia because of its mountainous terrain.

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It’s located at the highlands of Georgia, where fogs and freezing nights are frequent. But it also means that the region remains unspoiled, and most of the Georgian people living in Tusheti still live a traditional lifestyle.

Its history goes way back to the medieval time as can be seen with the ancient fortresses and towers dotting its landscape. Tusheti’s various villages also still retain its traditional stone buildings, making me feel like I’ve stepped into a time capsule the first time I’ve seen them.

Tusheti is a must-visit for travelers who want to see a more authentic and the more traditional side of Georgia as well as or those looking for an exhilarating experience off the beaten path.

History of Tusheti

Diklo to Dartlo

Tusheti’s history goes way back to medieval times, as stated above, with archeological evidence of the region being inhabited going back to the bronze ages. Located at the slopes of the Great Caucasus, Tusheti is mostly occupied by the ethnic group called Tush, who are mostly sheepherders by occupation, even to this day. Although there is an increase in numbers year by year of Tush people relocating to the lowlands of Georgia and returning to Tusheti for the summer. 

During Georgia’s acceptance of Christianity as the state religion in 337AD, there was an influx of refugees who moved to the more remote Tusheti where they can practice and preserve their pagan faith.

However, Tusheti got under the rule of Pankisi nobles in the 9th century AD, and the Tush people were finally forcefully Christianized. The Tush people, however, kept their pre-Christian religion and merged it with their new faith. To this day, we can still see shrines all over Tusheti dedicated to both Christian saints and old pagan gods.

Over the centuries, the Tush build fortresses and stone towers as a form of defense because of constant war with neighboring tribes. The building of these defense towers was also accelerated in the 13th century when Omalo was razed by Mongol armies.

During the Soviet rule over Georgia, the Tush people were steadily moving to lower plains, peacefully at first, but soon became forceful deportation of the Tush people by the Soviets. This caused villages in Tusheti to become abandoned.

Relocation of the Tush people back to their villages in Tusheti only happened in the 70s. This allows them to rebuild their houses, roads, and even add modern establishments in their villages like power lines from the lowlands. In Omalo, modern facilities were introduced, including a library, a kindergarten, and a health center.

It’s still heavily argued on where the Tush people came from and how they happen to settle on the Tusheti region but one thing that’s for sure is that the region is theirs.

           Only during the last 15 years was there a push for from the Georgian Government to restore and preserve Tusheti’s architectural and cultural heritage. The region is slowly being developed into a tourist destination, with several towers being restored in Omalo that were destroyed during WW2 and the establishment of Tusheti National Park.

           This initiative is slowly but steadily attracting an increase in the number of visitors to Tusheti.

How to get to Tusheti

           Tusheti is probably the most remote region in Georgia, and getting there is no picnic. You’ll have to go through the mountain road called Abano Pass to reach Omalo, Tusheti’s main town. But first, you’ll need to reach the towns of Telavi or Alvani to enter the Abano Pass and take a 4WD vehicle to cross it.

How to get to Telavi

Best things to do in Telavi

           If you’re coming from Tbilisi, go to its Ortachala terminal and get in a marshrutka en route to Telavi. It leaves approximately every hour. You’ll arrive at Telavi’s terminal, and from there, you can negotiate with 4WD vehicle drivers to take you through the Abano Pass.

           There’s also the option to go to Telavi’s tourist office, where they’ll gather a group of tourists to fit a 4WD vehicle to travel to Tusheti.

           Rich and I negotiated with our driver to take us to Omalo, wait for us there for 4 to 5 days, and take us back down to Telavi. This way, there’s no hassle in finding a ride back down, plus we have the vehicle all to ourselves.

How to get to Alvani

           If you’d rather start your journey to Tusheti in Alvani, you can get in a marshrutka at the same terminal with the marshrutka to Telavi. The only catch though, is there’s only one marshrutka a day that takes passengers to Alvani. The departure time is only at 9 AM.

           Alvani is the town where most of the Tush people go down from Tusheti and stay at their winter homes, so finding a jeep to take you through the Abano Pass won’t be an issue. I heard that it costs 50 laris a seat.

Traveling to Omalo: The Abano Pass

Albano Pass Dangerous Roads

           As I said, we hired our driver to take us through the Abano Pass, wait for us there for several days, and take us back down to Telavi. The Abano Pass is the first of many adventures you’ll have in Tusheti, and it’s probably the scariest part of the journey.

           The Abano Pass is often considered Georgia’s death road. It’s this narrow 72km dirt road etched on the side of the mountains. Our journey through it, you can read more on my Abano Pass story but we passed through rivers, waterfalls, and seen the breathtaking picturesque views.

It was well worth it when we reached Omalo at the end, even though I was praying through half our journey, especially on the way back.

When to visit Tusheti

           The best time to visit Tusheti is definitely during the summer. Anyway, no one can have access to Tusheti because of the treacherous weather that closes the Abano Pass from October to June.

The Abano Pass is the only road that connects the Tusheti to the rest of Georgia, and it’s only opened to vehicles from June to October. Although if you have more money to spare, you can hire a helicopter to fly you directly to Tusheti.

What to see in Tusheti

           For those who’ve seen the pictures of Tusheti online, it’s fairly obvious that the serene landscape of Tusheti alone is an attraction in and of itself. Trekking through the mountainous region with its winding valley and river, plus the mountains as the backdrop will make you feel like you’re in a fairytale.

Diklo to Dartlo

           The villages of Tusheti are also a wonderful sight to see. Most of the traditional buildings in Tusheti’s villages are still intact or rebuilt back to what they were before originally in the medieval times. The stone towers made for protection are also well preserved and creates for a unique sight. Going through these villages, it made me feel like I’ve traveled back in time.

Diklo to Dartlo

           There are plenty of ancient fortresses on the outskirts of the villages you can visit as well. You’ll also pass by plenty of stone shrines on the road throughout Tusheti but don’t try to approach it as foreigners, especially women, aren’t allowed to go near it.

Diklo to Dartlo

There are also huge numbers of grazing animals you’ll encounter like sheep with their shepherds. Be wary when you encounter the huge shepherd dogs that act as their guardian, they can be quite territorial and distrusting of strangers.

  • What to see in Omalo

           The village of Omalo is divided between upper and lower Omalo. The lower Omalo is more populous because its where most of the locals spend their days with their livestock due to the warmer weather, especially during the winter.

 

           The village is a beautiful sight to see and can serve as an attraction in and of itself. Most tourists use it as a base to explore the rest of Tusheti, but its main attraction is definitely the ancient fortress called Kesela located at the upper Omalo.

Rich and I visited this fortress on the last day fo our trek when we returned to Omalo. It was quite a climb, but the sights were breathtaking up there. We could see for miles away. We could imagine ourselves being back in ancient times overlooking the valley.

What to see in Diklo

           Diklo is the most common stop in Tusheti after Omalo. On the way, you’ll pass by the picturesque town of Shenako. It’s full of beautifully constructed traditional buildings with its balconies and stone roofs.

Diklo
the view of Diklo

Visit the Shenako’s Holy Trinity Church, a small old stone church on top of a hill that overlooks the village. You can also take a small hike and visit the nearby Shenako fortress, also known as the Fortress of Love.

Diklo

Diklo is a quaint, charming town in Tusheti full of friendly people. It’s the closest settlement to the Russian region of Dagestan, so border guards are quite a common sight. There are some stories of them being hostile to hikers and will demand identification but luckily Rich and I never encountered one during our time in Diklo.

Diklo’s main attraction, other than the picturesque landscape, is the old Diklo Fortress. You’ll have to take a 20-minute to reach the hilltop fortress from which you’ll have amazing views from every direction.

What to see in Dartlo

           Dartlo is one of the more popular traditional villages in Tusheti for day trips. The village itself is the main attraction and no wonder. The village of Dartlo will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a medieval fairytale. The traditional buildings from medieval times were amazingly preserved and several stone towers dotting the village are still intact. You wouldn’t think you’re still in the 21st century.

           There are several sacred buildings you can also visit at Dartlo, dedicated to either Christian figures or pagan deities. You can even spot petroglyphs carved on ancient stones on the buildings.

           Climb uphill to the nearby village of Kvalvo to view the entirety of Dartlo from above. There’s a chance that you’ll encounter eagles flying in the sky.

           Dartlo is also a great base to reach the rest of the villages of Tusheti, the farthest of which is Parsma, but we never went further from Dartlo. After spending the night in Dartlo, we trekked back to down to Omalo.

Where to stay in Tusheti

           We spent three nights in Tusheti and stayed in different villages each night throughout our trek through the Omalo Loop. Because of the increased tourists in Tusheti each year, guesthouses and homestays are readily available in most towns in Tusheti.

We only stayed at three villages in Tusheti: Omalo, Diklo, and Dartlo, but there are plenty more beyond that with establishments to choose from to stay the night. I must say though that every guesthouse and hotel we stayed at in Omalo always have wonderful views of the mountains.

If you prefer to be closer to nature, it’s a popular option to bring a tent and camp out in the outdoors.

  • Omalo – Hotel TisheHotel Tishe

           Hotel Tishe in lower Omalo was a great choice to stay in lower Omalo. The staff were friendly, the rooms were cozy, the bathrooms were clean, and the meals were absolutely delicious. It’s the only place where we ordered wine because it was the end of our journey when we spent the night there. Plus, their khinkali is a must-try!

  • Diklo – Dziveli Calavani Guesthouse

           We stayed at the nearest guesthouse we could reach because it started to rain when we arrived at Diklo. Dziveli Calavani Guesthouse was a local favorite for meals, so there were a lot of interactions from the locals of Diklo. Our host was very generous in serving us huge portions of delicious food with tea, providing us with warm rooms and hot showers. The view of the sunrise and sunsets at the balcony was a spectacular sight.

  • Dartlo – Natella’s Shankli Guesthouse

           This is my favorite guesthouse we stayed at in Tusheti. Natella, our host, was so lovely and kind. She’s easily my favorite homestay host. She made delicious raspberry and blueberry jams. The room she provided for us was very cozy with warm beds — a great experience under her roof all in all.

What to eat in Tusheti

What to eat in Tushetii

           Where to start? Food in Tusheti is always heavy and very delicious. It’s probably made with the freshest authentic ingredients and cooked the traditional Georgian way. On the nights we spent at homestays, we usually spend 50-60 laris a night, and this includes two heavy meals: dinner and breakfast.

           Breakfasts are almost like a feast in my experience that we have plenty of food to pack for lunch.

The meals we have generally looked like this: beets, khachapuri, cheese, bread, borscht soup, and cucumber and tomato salads. It’s a great way to give back to the locals by purchasing their services and tasting their delicious Georgian cuisine. The meals consist mostly of vegetable dishes, but they’re still very tasty and more than filling to the stomach.

Things to do  in Tusheti

           Tusheti is this beautiful mountainous region that’s quite remote from the rest of Georgia, so don’t expect to find activities that you’ll typically find in the hustle and bustle of the city. The open areas of the valley and the mountains will be an outdoor person’s dream with loads of outdoor activities to choose from.

           There are plenty of tours for travelers to join, and most of them require time spent outdoors. It’s an amazing opportunity to see the beauty that Tusheti has to offer. Most of the tours and other outdoor activities start at Tusheti’s main town, Omalo, and from there, the rest of Tusheti can be discovered.

  • Trekking/Hiking

Dartlo to Omalo Hike

           Other than being an outdoors person’s dream, Tusheti is also a hiker’s dream come true. There’s a main road in Tusheti that connects all the villages where vehicles can go through. Travelers who want to hike through Tusheti can follow this road to save time and see the main attractions of the villages in Tusheti.

But for those who love a challenge, there are different and more challenging routes through the mountains that also offer amazing scenic views. The entire trek throughout Tusheti’s villages can take several days, and you can either sleep in a guesthouse or bring your own tent to sleep in for the night.

  • Jeep Tours

           Jeep tours are probably the most efficient way time-wise to see Tusheti and its beautiful villages. There are plenty of jeep tours that can take you around Tusheti, starting from Telavi. This way, you can spend the least amount of time traveling through the villages and see Tusheti’s many attractions.

Although I would say that traveling between villages and attractions in the open is one of Tusheti’s main appeals.

  • Horseback Riding Tours

Tusheti Travel Guide

           Riding horses between villages is a traditional form of transportation between villages of the Tush people. You can see horses practically everywhere in Tusheti and on its roads. It’s also a popular mode of transportation through the Abano Pass, and you can hire a guide through with a horse if you have the time.

           That means you can also hire a guide in Omalo to take you throughout Tusheti’s villages and attractions on their horse. It’s one of the more authentic forms of discovering Omalo because horseback riding throughout the mountain roads goes way back to the start of Tusheti’s history.

  • Mountain Biking

           Mountain biking is also a popular activity in Tusheti with its winding mountain roads. You can even start mountain biking through the Abano Pass if you’re more of the adventurous type. We passed by plenty of cyclists on our drive through the pass. But I’m guessing that you’ll have to be a pretty experienced cyclist to take on a route that dangerous though.

It’s a different scenario on Tusheti roads, though, as the main road connecting the villages is an ideal path for cyclists. We passed by plenty of them on our trek through the Omalo Loop, and it makes for a fun and active outdoor activity to see what Tusheti has to offer.

Treks in Tusheti

           Once again, Tusheti is the ultimate hiker’s dream. You can choose the more relaxing routes where the vehicles usually take to get the best time exploring the main villages of Tusheti. You also have the option to take the more challenging mountain paths that’ll take you to the more remote villages with beautiful views.

           There are several different treks you can take in Tusheti, passing through different villages. You can stop at Dartlo and head back to Omalo like us, or you can go farther and reach the last settlement near the Russian border, Parsma.

All of this is possible in Tusheti. Most people plan their trips to the region for 3-5 days of trekking heading to and fro a village destination. Most of these trips start and end at Omalo and is commonly called the Omalo Loop.

           Omalo Loop

Dartlo to Omalo Hike

           The Omalo Loop is a series of treks routes that connect the villages of Tusheti. Which villages the hiker visits throughout the loop can vary. Some, like us, trekked from Omalo all the way to Dartlo, then back again to Omalo in 3 days.

Others go as far as the nearest settlement to the Russian border, Parsma. It’s the farthest village in Tushet making the last stop of the trek. It’ll take approximately five days to trek from Omalo to Parsma, then back again at Omalo.

           All of these routes always start and end at the village of Omalo, which inspired the name. The Omalo Loop is a must-do for adventurers who wish to see the authentic beauty of Tusheti. There’s a lot you’ll encounter throughout the trek, including amazing sights, friendly people, and great food.

           Of course, you’ll also meet challenges along the way as I did. But the entire journey was well worth it in the end, and the whole experience has left me with a lasting impression.

How to Behave in Tusheti

  • Respect their shrines and holy places

           You’ll probably encounter several of these shrines and holy places called khatebi and salotsavi, respectively, in the forms of stone mounds adorned with animals horns or bells. They’re quite easy to spot near paths and on the outskirts of villages, and it can be quite tempting to want to take a closer look and check them out.

But there are strict rules that the Tush people follow when approaching these shrines and holy places according to their beliefs. And unfortunately, one of the rules that people must follow is that there are no foreigners allowed, especially women, near these landmarks.

           The Tush people have this dualistic belief in the existence of opposing principles in the universe, which represents men and women. There are many occasions when these principles interact, but outdoor shrines and holy places are only dedicated to the principle represented by men and must, therefore, stay clean of its opposing principle–meaning women.

Respecting their beliefs and rules are very important, and even though women are technically the only ones not allowed near these landmarks, it’s best to stay clear of them altogether if you’re a foreigner.

  • No horseback riding inside villages

           Unmounting your horse outside the villages and going in on foot is just a sign of good manners in Tusheti. Their long history of being pillaged by rival tribes and the Mongols developed this custom as a sign of coming in peace.

  • Don’t bring pork to Tusheti.

           This is more of superstition more than anything, and it’s unclear where it originates from. The Tush people view pork as unclean and largely discourage people to consume pork or use any pork products like leather while in Tusheti.

           It’s probably best to respect their wishes and just leave any pork you have in the low lands. There are some horror stories I’ve read from other travelers who happened to brought pork on their trip to Tusheti, so I don’t want to risk it. Neither should you.

Tusheti Itinerary

           These are my recommended itinerary if you’re ever planning to spend 3-5 days exploring Tusheti.

Jeep Tour

Day 1: Travel from Tbilisi to Telavi or head straight to Omalo

Day 2: Explore Omalo, Diklo, and Dartlo

Day 3: Return to Tbilisi

Trekking Omalo Loop

Day 1: Travel from Tbilisi to Telavi. This is also a great opportunity to spend the day exploring what Telavi has to offer.

Day 2: Travel to Omalo, you could either rest at Omalo when you arrived or head right away to Diklo

Day 3: Hike from Diklo to Dartlo

Day 4: Head back to Omalo from Dartlo

Day 5: Travel back down to Telavi or straight to Tbilisi

What you need to know before going to Tusheti

  • You’ll find no ATMs or banks in Tusheti so remember to bring enough cash for your entire trip
  • Bring or buy food for the trail before arriving at Tusheti. There will be plenty of establishments that offer delicious Georgian food on the trail, but they can get pretty expensive added up. Just remember not to bring any pork.
  • Be mindful of your electricity and hot water consumption. Due to the increasing number of tourists coming to Tusheti every year, water sources are dwindling. Villages such as Omalo often experience water shortages, so do what you can to lessen the burden of this problem.
  • There is little waste management in Tusheti, so be mindful of the plastic you bring there. Most trash from tourists, unfortunately, gets dumped in ravines and even rivers by the locals. It’s better not to contribute to this growing problem, so only bring the plastic that you’ll need.
  • Signals are weak in the mountains, especially Beeline. Magti does fairly better, but it’s still considerably weak.
  • Download maps.me to help you during your trek. The trails are properly marked, though, but it’s better to have a backup in case.
  • Beware of dogs. The Caucasian shepherd dogs can be very territorial and distrusting strangers. They freaked me out a lot when we encountered them. When they approached you and are barking aggressively, don’t run! Wait for them to calm down and lose interest before you move on.

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