Mestia – the capital of mountainous Svaneti (Georgia)
Русская версия After Gori, we went to Zugdidi by the night train, to get to Mestia from there. As soon as the train arrived, the crowds of those who were ready to take the travelers anywhere were there at the railway platform. Luckily, we found a marshrutka to Mestia at once (with a price of 20 laris per person). Since many people were going there, marshrutka started very soon, at 6.45. The trip took about 3 hours. Most of the road lied along very boisterous river.
At first, the water was of course blue, as if from the fairy-tale; the closer we got to the source, the more crazy though. At the bottom it falls into the storage pond.
The driver told us that a week before we came a car with a mother and two daughters had fallen into the river, and the car had not been found yet. It must have got into the storage pond with the river, and the pond is so deep, tat is is very difficult to find anything there. So, the road is indeed dangerous, and the drivers are, to put it mildly, very careless.
On our arrival to Mestia, the capital of Svaneti, we called Koba whom we had found in advance on one of the travel forums, and who had promised to drive us to Ushguli village as well.
We decided to stay in Mestia in his house, and to go to Ushguli the next day. On his second floor, Koba has a veranda opening this kind of views:
The towers on the photos are the symbols of Svaneti, they are widespread here. Once, the towers testified the richness of their dwellers (the taller – the richer), and protected the people from avalanches cutting them into twos, and giving the shelter on top.
By the way, we enjoyed not only the view, but also a great breakfast:
Time in Svaneti does not flow fast, nobody is in a hurry. We asked Koba to get the horses for us, but got them only by the second half of the day, when he could find only one free horse. So, we rode it one by one. Renting a horse cost 20 laris for 2 hours (the same price as for the bicycle), 40 laris for the whole day.
The horse was, to say the truth, more of a donkey, very slow and melancholic. Also, we are far not the best riders: we did not want to hurt our donkey, did not know how to give orders to him; so, he could remain true to his melancholic nature. He was walking 5 kms per hour, all the time trying to turn towards the grass to eat.
Moreover, he knew only Georgian commands to obey, and we did not know them. So, he was leading his own life sometimes kindly agreeing to walk 10 kilometers on the side of the road we wanted him to walk.
In addition, we were riding on the road going along the same strong river, and the donkey preferred the very edge over the river to walk, which we also did not like.
So, it is difficult to say that we were absolutely happy with this experience, but it was nice. Having returned our horse, we went to the museum of Svaneti, Before that, we occasionally got to the dead commemoration drinking and got some chacha – local home-made alcohol – to drink. Svans are as Georgians – very hospitable. But still, they are very different because of their different language, architecture and the way of life. The Svans today count from 14000 to 30000 people. They are historically famous for their crafts (making things of gold, bronze, and copper. The well-known blacksmiths, stonemasons, and wood-carvers of Svanetia made dishes and various articles for everyday use. They were also the beekeepers.
The museum where we learned about this and other facts was free and newly renovated. And although we are not the big fans of archeology, there is something to see there.
And on the exit from the museum there is another beautiful Svaneti landscape:
We should mention that renovation was all over Mestia with the further aim to attract more tourists. The renovation of the museum is the part of the same plan. So, we suggest that those of you who would like to visit Mestia should do it now: it is possible that the place will use its unique charm and become a trivial tourist center.
After the museum, we went to the information center: we wanted to know how to get to one of the famous Svan towers – as there is one open for visitors. On our way, we were enjoying the views:
This is the tower. Finding it was a whole adventure. There were so many curves, the streets did not have names, etc.
The tower-keeper’s daughter made an excursion for us. The house itself is very interesting: this is the living room, not only for the family, but also for the cattle:
But it is even more thrilling to get to the tower over the house, and to the roof then.
That is how this day passed.
And the next day we went to Ushguli – the second-highest settlement in the mountains in Europe after the village of Kurush in Dagestan.