21st August 2017
We encountered many beautiful and remote villages on horseback during our stay in this magical place. One days ride was out to the old village of Diklo and Shenako.
Diklo is a peak in the eastern part of the Caucasus mountains in between the border of the Russian Republics of Chechnya and Dagestan. It rises to a height of 4285m and contains many glaciers, some of which descend deep into the valleys of the Pirikitia Range. Shenako is a small picturesque village located at the same altitude of Omalo (2000m above sea level) but separated by a large mountain gorge. The village is famous for its unique architecture and house-towers. One women was proudly showing our horsemen her recently renovated home when we were there.
These residential towers were designed to protect the family’s property. The bottom floor of dwellings was used to keep livestock, with the living quarters and fireplace, while the top floor served for defence from enemy attacks. Like the other villages of Tusheti, Shenako is on the checklist of UNESCO World Heritage sites. These dats only one couple stay in Shenako all year round, during winter the rest of the houses are abandoned because of the extreme cold and deep snow that take over this area.
The only Orthodox church in the region is located here, the church of Holy Trinity and was built by the Russians in the eighteen century. Its frescoes were restored at the beginning of this century. Just behind the church you can see one of the sacred places, "nishi". This is where a shrine exists and it is a perfect example of how paganism and Christianity are intertwined in this beautiful place.
Women, especially foreign women are not allowed to visit these sacred shrines. The locals at first did not want the women in our group to enter the church but then they relented and said we could visit the church as long as we did not walk around the back. If we broke this request they feared that we would displease the gods and bring heavy rainfall. Needless to say we respected their wishes for more reasons than one!
Verkhovani is another spectacularly located village in the Gometsari valley. Our guesthouse has the typical Tushetian wooden balcony and slate roof but also a historical tower on site. This Tolkienesque tower is an extreme guesthouse experience and was to be the home for the night for some of our lucky riders. It is erected on the 200m high steep rock and overlooks the Alazani river providing stunning rooms with a view from this medieval watchtower. The watchtowers that we passed from a distance high upon mountain ridges were said to date back to the seventh century and were erected to protect the Georgian women, reportedly the most beautiful of all the women from the Caucasus, from being kidnapped by their enemies.
The village of Dartlo also bears resemblance to a place in fairytale. It is located on the beautiful alpine slopes at a level of 1850m and contains many homestays and watchtowers. A lot of renovations were taking place, due to recent government funding, upon our arrival and all houses were being rebuilt in the classic style with slate roofs and intricate handmade wooden carvings aligning their balconies. Dartlo holds a mixture of both Christian and Pagan sacred sites of equal importance.
One such site is Dartlo's Sabtcheo, a traditional court where twelve judges sat in a semi circle listening to the accused, defendant and witness and made their judgement. The daughter of the Tushetian national hero, Devdris Anta, occupied the last main seat of the judge at the end of the eighteen century.