These days people living in Tbilisi are hiding themselves in sweaters, coats and warm jackets; in the streets one can see the endless river of hats, and sometimes sunglasses – even if the days are getting colder, Georgian sun still reaches rushing Tbiliseli. Nevertheless, everyone feels that something is different – winter is coming.
The cold and wind come here from the roof of the world – Caucasus mountains with snowy peaks, glaciers and freezing rivers. Some of the roads in the Northern Georgia are already closed, and it is not advisable to travel on the others. I understood after my recent trip to the mountains that this small expedition was the last one this season. However, I managed to visit four wonderful places surrounded by mountains, which have many different stories and secrets.
The very first meeting with previously unfamiliar landscape took place in Mestia and its surroundings in Svaneti historic province. People there are still telling the stories about old Georgian gods, worshiped long time before saint Nino of Cappadocia brought Christianity to Georgia. But even after the conversion to Christianity in the 4th century some pagans and zoroastrians followed their old gods high up to the mountains, so their hymns became louder and they opened their eyes widely. And we felt while sleeping under the open sky in Svaneti that someone is watching us in this country of shepherds and gods.
The Mount Kazbek (I think that sometimes I can see it through the window in Tbilisi) seemed to be a good idea for the beginning of October. It is located in historic area of Khevi, surrounded by fog, clouds and… sheep. To reach the church of Gergeti Trinity, which is under Kazbek, one has to follow the narrow path while climbing up. Sometimes it is so sunken in fog that you can only see 1 meter towards you, and when the fog suddenly dissipates you are so shocked and amazed of the view which was hidden that the only thing you can do is scream! It seems that the mountains, appeared out of the clouds, are breathing in the fog and breathing out the countless number of sheep.
The second time when I saw so many sheep was on the way to Tusheti, the place with gentle and delicate mountains, looking more like made of velvet rather than stone. When the cold days are coming, the shepherds move their herds down, where the weather is not so harsh. It’s very important for the people living in the mountains to take care of their herds, because from it they are producing milk, meat and wool (and long horns are used as mugs for wine and chacha while raising them in a toast) – the land is too harsh for other agrarian activities to prosper.
Tusheti people, living in the village called Omalo, told us that after the roads are closed, the only way for them to reach the external world is to use helicopter, which comes to the village once per month. Even if the mountain road to Omalo doesn’t seem too dangerous looking from the further distance, it is extremely difficult to travel there after the first ice appears on the ground. Locals are saying that Tusheti region is very lady-like because of its gentle appearance and subtle dangerousness.
Next to Tusheti one can find Khevsureti region, bordering with Chechnya. Mountains in Khevsureti are extraordinary because of all the hidden treasures laying deep in their valleys and between mountain passes. The three gems of this region are the Lakes of Abudelauri: the White, Green and the Blue one. To reach them you have to hike a lot from the main road, and the snow makes everything more complicated – on one hand, it’s difficult not to lose the hiking track, on the other hand, when you reach your destination (after all the struggles) you have to go the same way back. And continue the trip to Shatili, the village which is considered to be an example of the past life of the highlanders.
The traveler can hear one of the most interesting and dark stories in one of the valleys of Khevsureti: on the top of the hill medieval Anatori Crypts are facing Chechnya. In these old communal tombs one can see well preserved human bones and skulls – nobody is touching or trying to remove it. Ananori crypts keep the bones of those plague infected inhabitants of the valley, who were ready to go there during the epidemic, to voluntarily close themselves only with a little bit of water to prevent the spread of disease and to wait for death. Locals told us the story about one boy who was supposed to die in the crypt, but after some days he came back to the village healthy. People were asking curiously where did he come from, but the boy only said “from the place where the sun rises two times in a row”.
Sometimes it actually happens in the mountains – if the valley in which you are is deep enough, morning sun might reach one peak of the mountains and then disappear just to rise again.
After the last trip I finally realized that the winter comes to Tbilisi from the highest point of the mountains, that have not been explored by human feet yet, from the animal horns and frozen lakes, and from the dark Caucasus nights.