Tusheti Travel Guide: History and Culture
Tusheti is a historical province located on the northern slopes of Great Caucasus Mountain range, in the north-east of Georgia. On the northern side, Tusheti shares borders with Chechnya-Ingushia of Russian federation, on the eastern side it borders with Dagestan of Russian federation, on the western side – Fshav and Khevsureti provinces of Georgia, on the southern side – Kakheti region of Georgia. Tusheti is surrounded by high mountains such as Tebulo (4507 m.), Qachu (3493, and Kvavlo (3988). The climate is harsh, in summer average temperature reaches up to 14 Celsius, while in winter it drops to -18 Celsius.
Tusheti is divided into two main parts: Pirikita and Pirikata Tusheti by the Pirikiti mountain range. Due to its geographical characteristics, Tusheti has for main communities of Pirikita, Gometsari, Tsova and Chagma. Pirikita Tusheti includes villages of Dartlo, Parsma, Kvavlo, Chesho and Girevi. Gometsari unites villages of Alisgori, Verkhoani, Jvarboseli, etc. Chagma community unites villages of Shenako, Omalo, Dartlo, Diklo, etc. Tsova community includes Etelta, Indurta, Sagirta villages which are mainly deserted villages.
Tusheti has been populated by Tushi people. They have been nomads keeping flocks and kettles. Therefore, we have not many historical sources describing Tusheti and Tushi people. Some of Georgian historians describe Tusheti and Tushi people as nomads living in mountains within the kingdoms of Georgia. Tushi people populated Tusheti at least since 4th century when Georgian kings tried to spread Christianity into the historical provinces of Fshavi and Khevsureti. Mountainous people deserted their villages and immigrated to Tusheti where they found a safe land to populate. This process continued in the following centuries. Georgians kings on their behalf were interested in strong and powerful Tusheti as it was a reliable defensive shield against northern Caucasian tribes. Tushi people were powerful warriors, literally every man knew how to fight and their loyalty to Georgian kings were unquestionable. However, wars between Tushi people and north Caucasian tribes forced Tushi people to build defensive strongholds. Due to this reason, every village, community or extended family built their defensive towers which still can be seen in Tusheti today.
Defensive towers in Tusheti had two distinctive architecture. In Pirikita Tusheti, towers are narrow and high, usually has 6 floors and reaches 20 meters in height. Such towers can be found in villages of Dartlo, Girevi, & Chontio.
First floor was used to keep hostages. Second, third, fourth, fifth floors were used to live, while the last, sixth floor was used mainly for defensive purposes. From here, men were waged the fighting against invaders. Each floor was connected with each other by wooden stairs.
Another type of tower can be found in villages of Omalo and Tsaro. These towers have 3 or 4 floors, tower has quadrangular shape and is wider than the first type of towers.
This defensive towers were used in times of war. Ordinary, local people used another type of building to live – Stone-houses. These houses have 3-4 floors and were used to accommodate entire extended families, but, at the same time, houses had gun-ports to wage wars against thieves or invaders. The houses were built by stones found widely in Tusheti.
Tushi people are Christian people but their faith is modified according to local culture. Their main sacred places are built by stones (usually no more than 2 meters). These places, called Khati, are absolutely sacred for local people and no foreigners should enter into the territory of Khati. These sacred places usually are dedicated to Christian martyrs and saints. For instance, there is St George Khati in Parsma village, St Virgin Mary Khati in Omalo, and etc. All these places had/have a special person which is dedicated to perform the sacred rituals of Christianity religion. This person is called in Georgian language – Dekanozi, which is a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. Dekanozi have the authority or power to administer religious rites; but in the past, Dekanozi was also a leader of the village/community who was leading Tushi warriors in wars.
Each year, all villages celebrate religious holidays called Atengonoba. Atengenoba is dedicated to the local Khati of particular Saint (e.g. St. George Khati, Lashari Khati) which is a protector of the village. During Atengenoba, local people sacrifices animals (usually sheep or bull) and make local beer. On this day, youngsters compete with each other in horse riding. Winning this competition is one of the highly reputable things for local people.
Tusheti is a mountainous area and is accessible by car road only from May till October. You need a SUV car and a good experience of driving to reach Tusheti. Tusheti road starts in Zemo Alvani. You can reach this village from Tbilisi by taking minibus from Samgori or Ortachala bus station. Minibuses runs couple of times in a day and costs 8 Gel(4 $). They will drop you to the bus station in Zemo Alvani where you can take local taxi to Omalo village. One taxi (SUV) costs around 300 GEL (150 $) for one way. From Zemo Alvani to Tusheti distance is just 72 km but driving to this road takes at least 5-6 hours due to the bad condition of the road. In fact, Tusheti road (Abano pass) is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Check my video below
Tusheti Road via Abano Pass
And last, Tusheti is really the must-see place in Georgia, especially if you are in love with nature and hiking.
For Tusheti, we offer visitors hiking, trekking, and horse-riding tours. Check below:
Our small-group 7-Day Trekking from Tusheti to Khevsureti takes us through Greater Caucasus mountains, characterized by alpine meadows, snow-covered peaks, pine trees, and medieval-type villages.
6 Day Trekking in Tusheti gives you a change to walk in stunning alpine meadows, hike to medieval villages, walk near the ruins of fortresses, snowy peaks and enjoy an unspoiled Caucasus mountain.
Our 4-Day Off-Season Hike Tour will give you an opportunity to do moderate hiking in both Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains in an off-season time.